Social Media

An important component of digital marketing is social media. Social media are a means for consumers to share text, images, audio, and video information with each other and with companies, and vice versa.

Social media allow marketers to establish a public voice and presence online. They can cost-effectively reinforce other communication activities. Because of their day-to-day immediacy, they can also encourage companies to stay innovative and relevant. Marketers can build or tap into online communities, inviting participation from consumers and creating a long-term marketing asset in the process.

After reviewing the different social media platforms, we consider how to use social media and how social media can promote the flow of word of mouth. We then delve into more detail on how word of mouth is formed and travels. To start our discussion, consider how one company cleverly used social media to build its brand.30

DOLLAR SHAVE CLUB E-commerce startup Dollar Shave Club sells a low-priced monthly supply of razors and blades online according to three different plans. The key to the company’s launch was an online video. Dubbed the “best startup video ever” by some and the winner of multiple awards, the 90-second Dollar Shave Club video garnered millions of views on YouTube and gained thousands of social media followers in the process. In the quirky, irreverent video, CEO Michael Dubin rides a forklift, plays tennis, and dances with a fuzzy bear while touting the quality, convenience, and price of the company’s razors and blades. Dubin has observed, “We are presenting a new business, a good idea, a funny video and tapped the pain point for a lot of consumers.” While it was securing several hundred thousand customers, the company was also able to raise more than $20 million in venture capital.


There are three main platforms for social media: (1) online communities and forums, (2) blogs (individual blogs and blog networks such as Sugar and Gawker), and (3) social networks (like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube).

ONLINE COMMUNiTiES AND FORUMS Online communities and forums come in all shapes and sizes. Many are created by consumers or groups of consumers with no commercial interests or company affiliations. Others are sponsored by companies whose members communicate with the company and with each other through postings, text messaging, and chat discussions about special interests related to the company’s products and brands. These online communities and forums can be a valuable resource for companies and fill multiple functions by both collecting and conveying key information.

A key for success in online communities is to create individual and group activities that help form bonds among community members. Apple hosts a large number of discussion groups organized by product lines and type of user (consumer or professional). These groups are customers’ primary source of product information after warranties expire.

Information flow in online communities and forums is two-way and can provide companies with useful, hard- to-get customer information and insights. When GlaxoSmithKline prepared to launch its first weight-loss drug, Alli, it sponsored a weight-loss community. The firm felt the feedback it gained was more valuable than what it could have received from traditional focus groups.

Research has shown, however, that firms should avoid too much democratization of innovation. One risk is that groundbreaking ideas can be replaced by lowest-common-denominator solutions.31

BLOGS Blogs, regularly updated online journals or diaries, have become an important outlet for word of mouth. There are millions in existence, and they vary widely, some personal for close friends and families, others designed to reach and influence a vast audience. One obvious appeal of blogs is that they bring together people with common interests.

Blog networks such as Gawker Media offer marketers a portfolio of choices. Online celebrity gossip blog PopSugar has spawned a family of breezy blogs on fashion (FabSugar), beauty (BellaSugar), and romance and cul­ture (TresSugar), attracting women ages 18 to 49.

Corporations are creating their own blogs and carefully monitoring those of others.32 Popular blogs are creating influential opinion leaders. At the TreeHugger site—“the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream”—a team of bloggers tracks green consumer products for 5 million unique visitors per month, offering an up-to-the minute blog, weekly and daily newsletters, and regularly updated Twitter and Facebook pages.33

Because many consumers examine product information and reviews contained in blogs, the Federal Trade Commission has also taken steps to require bloggers to disclose their relationship with marketers whose products they endorse. At the other extreme, some consumers use blogs and videos as a means of getting retribution for a company’s bad service or faulty products. Some customer retaliations are legendary.

Dell’s customer-service shortcomings were splashed all over the Internet through a series of blistering “Dell Hell” postings. AOL took some heat when a frustrated customer recorded and broadcast online a service represen­tative’s emphatic resistance to his wish to cancel his service. Comcast was embarrassed when a video surfaced of one of its technicians sleeping on a customer’s couch.34

SOCIAL NETWORKS Social networks have become an important force in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business marketing.35 Major ones include Facebook, one of the world’s biggest; LinkedIn, which focuses on career-minded professionals; and Twitter, with its 140-character messages or “tweets.” Different networks offer different benefits to firms. For example, Twitter can be an early warning system that permits rapid response, whereas Facebook allows deeper dives to engage consumers in more meaningful ways.36

Marketers are still learning how to best tap into social networks and their huge, well-defined audiences.37 Given networks’ noncommercial nature—users are generally there looking to connect with others—attracting attention and persuading are more challenging. Also, given that users generate their own content, ads may find themselves appearing beside inappropriate or even offensive material.38

Advertising is only one avenue, however. Like any individual, companies can also join social groups and actively participate. Having a Facebook page has become a virtual prerequisite for many companies.39 Twitter can benefit even the smallest firm. To create interest in its products and the events it hosted, small San Francisco bakery Mission Pie began to send tweet alerts, quickly gaining 1,000 followers and a sizable uptick in business. “Follow Me on Twitter” signs are appearing on doors and windows of more small shops.40

And although major social networks offer the most exposure, niche networks provide a more targeted market that may be more likely to spread the brand message, as CafeMom did for Playskool.41

CAFEMOM Started in 2006, CafeMom has 20 million users across its flagship CafeMom site and other properties such as The Stir (an “all-day, every day content destination for Moms”) and Mamas Latinas (the first bilingual site for Latina moms). Users can participate in 70,000 different group forums for moms. When the site started a forum for discussing developmentally appropriate play activities, toymaker Playskool sent toy kits to more than 5,000 members and encouraged them to share their experiences with each other, resulting in 11,600 posts at Playskool Preschool Playgroup. “The great thing is you get direct feedback from actual moms,” says the director of media at Hasbro, Playskool’s parent company. This kind of feedback can be invaluable in the product-development process as well. The site’s sweet spot is young, middle-class women with kids who love the opportunity to make friends and seek support, spending an average of 44 minutes a day on the site.


Social media allow consumers to become engaged with a brand at perhaps a deeper and broader level than ever before. Marketers should do everything they can to encourage willing consumers to engage productively. But as useful as they may be, social media are rarely the sole source of marketing communications for a brand.42

  • Social media may not be as effective in attracting new users and driving brand penetration.
  • Research by DDB suggests that brands and products vary widely in how social they are online. Consumers are most likely to engage with media, charities, and fashion and least likely to engage with consumer goods.43
  • Although consumers may use social media to get useful information or deals and promotions or to enjoy interesting or entertaining brand-created content, a much smaller percentage want use social media to engage in two-way “conversations” with brands.

In short, marketers must recognize that when it comes to social media, only some consumers want to engage with some brands, and, even then, only some of the time.

Embracing social media, harnessing word of mouth, and creating buzz also require companies to take the good with the bad. When Frito-Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest invited U.S. fans to suggest new potato chip flavors for a chance to win a huge cash prize, the Facebook app for submissions crashed the first day due to high traffic. The promotion got back on track, though, with the winner, Cheesy Garlic Bread-flavored chips, joining earlier winners from other countries such as Caesar salad-flavored chips in Australia and shrimp chips in Egypt.44

The Frito-Lay example shows the power and speed of social media, but also the challenges they pose to companies. The reality, however, is that whether a company chooses to engage in social media or not, the Internet will always permit scrutiny, criticism, and even “cheap shots” from consumers and organizations.

By using social media and the Internet in a constructive, thoughtful way, firms at least have a means to create a strong online presence and to better offer credible alternative points of view if negative feedback occurs.45 And if the firm has built a strong online community, members of that community will often rush to defend the brand and play a policing role over inaccurate or unfair characterizations.

Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.

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