Traditionally, when marketing a product or service, businesses would invest in above the line promotions in the form of TV ads, billboards, newspapers, magazines, etc, in order to display advertisements in places the customer are most likely to see. However with the steady decline in sales of newspapers/magazines in circulation in the UK falling by 25% from 2007-2009 and with research concluding that outdoor advertisement (billboards, posters etc) only generates 9% of a business’s sales, social media integration is becoming increasingly popular for businesses and brands worldwide, helping to encourage interactions with key stakeholders. The viral diffusion of information through social media has a far greater capacity to reach the public than “short tail” – media such as TV, radio, and print advertisements.
Consumers are turning away from these traditional forms of media and are increasingly using social media to search for information. They regard social media as a more trustworthy source of information than the traditional instruments of marketing communications used by companies. According to a study conducted by Nielsen, 70 percent of internet users trust the evaluations of consumers on social media platforms. Consequently, marketers can expect that brand communication will cease to be generated solely by the company, but increasingly by the consumers themselves through so-called user-generated social media communication.
Social media can best be defined as content that is created by the audience. For example, social media platform Facebook is not a publishing company nor does it create any content, it simply allows its users to share and create content that can be uploaded. The concept of social media is the natural extension of the concept of the original internet, which has consequently evolved into online communities which has become of increasing interest to marketers. It has changed the balance of power in the buyer-seller process and led to a more equitable relationship between providers of goods and services, and consumers.
The main debate surrounding the use of social media marketing for businesses is the controversy concerning its estimated return on investment (ROI) or lack of it. Conflicting with expensive budgets spent on Facebook campaigns with an investigation suggesting companies are wasting large sums of money on adverts to gain "likes" from Facebook members who have no real interest in their products displaying no real return on investment for businesses. Social media marketing’s return on investment, which is full of intangibles, should not be analysed from the beginning, but rather from the end, which many marketers have failed to accept that social media won’t lead to overnight sales success and is merely about initially building a relationship with stakeholders, which invariably takes time.
Social media marketing attracts personal characteristics to individual users; it therefore has the potential to become a more credible advertising tool for marketers to communicate a more convincing marketing message. Social media platforms are built up of a variety of advertising tools available for the marketer, and are growing to become an even more important marketing platform than first anticipated. Marketers must react to consumer’s shift to online communication and embrace social media as a new form of advertising media.
However with this shift to this new form of media, social media marketing cannot be compared to traditional marketing because traditional marketing focuses on one way communication with control (i.e. controlling all content that the consumer receives), whereas social media marketing focuses on two-way communication and leaves control consequently in the hands of the user. It is therefore important for marketers to consider and evaluate the content marketed and advertised on social media in advance to marketing campaigns, in an attempt to anticipate various outcomes that the user may react to.
It is important to consider that social media varies for different customers. Its intention is not to replace telephone or email communication, but to complement them or integrate them alongside social media marketing campaigns. Social media can “create opportunities for companies to tell their own stories.” Encouraging this new digital era that we live in, social media is merely appealing to a new generation of customers globally which has the potential to shape the way marketers communicate a business’s marketing message.