The paper is devoted to exploring the role of social media in digital marketing. It has an aim to identify the most common and impactful social media marketing activities by using the narrative literature review methodology. The total study sample included five high-quality, empirical articles that are critically appraised and analyzed to find major similarities and controversies in obtained research findings. The review results revealed that consumer interactions, content generation, and display of products and services are the most meaningful social media marketing activities. They positively affect brand awareness, brand image, consumer experiences, and overall customer attitudes. It is concluded that while social media are mainly a part of advanced digital marketing strategies, they also play an essential role in performing core marketing activities related to product/service development and promotion.
A few past decades were associated with the rapid advancement of information technology in society. During that period, the Internet has become one of the most important marketplaces and is now able to compete with traditional platforms used for transactions of goods and services. As noted by Leeflang, Verhoef, Dahlström, and Freundt (2014), as early as 2007, US online consumer spending exceeded USD 100 billion. It is valid to expect that the rate of Internet consumption and online purchases will only rise in the future. Thus, the role of web presence and digital marketing, in particular, becomes increasingly important in organizations’ competitiveness and success. Various online techniques have already become integrated into organizations’ marketing systems and, nowadays, are used on a regular basis.
Gibson (2018) defines digital marketing as “a strategy that provides an individual or organization the ability to reach clients by establishing innovative practices, combining technology with traditional marketing strategies” (p. 12). It can employ a great variety of tools and methods aimed to reach online audiences, including e-mail marketing, online advertising, and so forth. However, this paper will focus on the review and analysis of the role of social media in digital marketing. Considering the growing popularity of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other similar platforms, it can be argued that social media are one of the most powerful marketing tools existing nowadays. Therefore, the present research will aim to identify different ways of how social media can be utilized by businesses and explore their significance within the E-Marketing Pyramid.
E-Marketing Pyramid comprises four levels: 1) product and service, 2) marketing organization, 3) Web 1.0, and 4) Web 2.0. According to Constantinides (2014), the first level is basic to marketing and refers to the development of product/service value, image, and quality and includes market positioning techniques. The second level implies the creation and maintenance of market-oriented organizations (Constantinides, 2014). In other words, it requires companies to implement resources and activities needed to operate either online or offline effectively. The third level refers to web presence in general and the provision of high-quality online experiences for consumers (Constantinides, 2014). Lastly, Web 2.0 refers to social media presence and, similarly to Web 1.0, it requires a synergy between the organization’s objectives and online/social media marketing strategies (Constantinides, 2014). Noteworthily, social media marketing is “not an isolated process but rather the final step of a consistent strategic effort to improve the product/service, the organization and the traditional corporate web site” (Constantinides, 2014, pp. 43-44). Overall, it means that social media as a marketing tool work best when the company has a trustworthy and well-established web presence and effective digital marketing strategy.
Social Media Use
Social media are a group of Internet-based applications built on such Web 2.0 principles as Harnessing of the Collective Intelligence and Rich User Experiences and characterized by a high degree of user participation and openness (Gibson, 2018; Constantinides, 2014). Today billions of users across the globe have personal social media pages and are active on different platforms. According to Si (2016), Facebook alone has more than 250,000 users, while the number of tweets per second equates to 70-100 on average. These data indicate that social media provide an opportunity for any firm to reach wide audiences and consumer groups in any place across the globe.
Other potential marketing uses of social media are related to the core functions of the latter, namely, the creation and exchange of user-generated content, which make marketing communications more interactive in nature. Organizations can utilize social media to create personal brand profiles, carry out online customer services, promote products and disseminate targeted marketing messages (Bilgin, 2018). However, as noted by Tatar and Erdogmus (2016), consumers themselves often play a major role in sharing ideas and information about certain products and brands on social media. For this reason, stimulation of customer engagement is one of the core aims of social media marketing. Customer engagement is defined as “the cognitive and affective commitment of the customer to an active relationship with the brand as personified by the website or other computer-mediated entities designed to communicate brand value” (Farook & Abeysekara, 2016, p. 117). It is valid to say that unlike more conventional communication media, including organizational websites, interactive online social media facilitate consumer engagement and allow the establishment of more meaningful brand-user relationships.
Research Questions and Objectives
To comprehend the role of social media in digital marketing, the present research will aim to answer the following questions:
- What are the most common social media marketing activities described in modern literature?
- What are the major identified effects of social media marketing activities?
- Under which category included in the E-Marketing Pyramid do those social media activities fall?
Narrative Literature Review: Methodology Overview
The major study method employed in the present research paper is a narrative literature review, which is primarily based on a critical and objective evaluation of recent evidence on the selected subject. The narrative literature review usually aims to find correlations among different variables and trends observed in high-quality studies and reveal gaps and controversies in the available data and research conclusions (Charles Sturt University, 2019). In this way, the findings of the literature review can assist in the development and improvement of theories. Thus, along with the selected theoretical framework of the E-Marketing Pyramid, the chosen methodology will help to interpret and conceptualize existing information pertaining to the role of social media in digital marketing.
ScienceDirect and Google Scholar were utilized to locate necessary sources because they contain a large pool of full-text, high-quality, peer-reviewed articles that can be freely accessed. Overall, convenience and quality became the main reasons for the choice of these databases. The articles were chosen for the review based on their relatedness to the topic of social media marketing, as well as their focus on the analysis of social media activities and uses in digital marketing. Eligibility criteria also included the empirical nature of the study (generation of new evidence by researchers) and the publication year within the past five years. All older studies and secondary research projects were excluded from the search. As a result, five primary empirical studies were located and selected for the appraisal, analysis, and discussion.
The present section of the paper is dedicated to the critical appraisal of primary articles. Research objectives, methods, key findings, and the importance of the selected research papers will be discussed here. Along with this, the major weaknesses and strengths of the studies will be identified in order to evaluate the reliability and validity of the presented evidence. Consequently, research findings provided in the five selected articles will be analyzed in greater detail and compared with evidence from other sources.
The study by Wang, Wu, and Dong (2015) had an objective to examine consumer intentions to participate in brand fan pages on Facebook and find how the company’s Facebook activities help to develop a brand image and stimulate consumers’ purchase intentions. The researchers employed quantitative methods, including Likert scale questionnaires for data collection from the total number of 434 members of two Facebook fan pages (Ivy League and Cloud e-journal). Consequently, the data were encoded and analyzed by using descriptive statistics tools. Wang, Wu, and Dong (2015) revealed that participation in a fan page positively affects users’ purchase intention, which is also positively correlated with the brand image. It was also observed that, along with the display of high-quality products, communication among users, as well as between users and the company itself, on the Facebook page helps to produce and improve the brand identity.
Overall, the quantitative nature of the study by Wang, Wu, and Dong (2015) and a relatively large sample may be regarded as its main strengths. However, the focus on the educational market may be its primary limitation since the interests and motivations of its consumer base may be different from those in other industries. Thus, the study findings may be difficult to generalize to other populations.
Another study by Farook and Abeysekara (2016) utilized similar quantitative methods to explore which social media activities stimulate greater consumer engagement and development/improvement of brands’ relationships with existing and potential consumers, in particular. The researchers randomly selected 150 Facebook users and distributed semi-structured questionnaires among them for data collection. The linear regression statistical tool was utilized to test relationships among variables. It was revealed that such factors as trust in information, concern for privacy, perception of reliability, security in social media, and use of social media have a strong impact on consumer engagement. Overall, “the more the customers viewed an organization to be trustworthy and secure, the better they would interact” (Farook & Abeysekara, 2016, p. 122). The study results are reliable since the researchers conducted a strong analysis of variables by using a plethora of statistical techniques. However, the sample size was relatively small and the research focused on just one industry, which could negatively affect the generalizability of findings.
Another quantitative study by Bilgin (2018) had a purpose to evaluate the effects of social media use in marketing on brand awareness, brand image, and brand loyalty and examine the interrelations among these concepts, which are directly linked to consumer-brand relationships. The researcher utilized the convenience sampling technique to recruit 547 users (308 females and 239 males) following five large brands on social media. He utilized a Likert scale questionnaire as the major data collection tool and then analyzed responses through SPSS 18.0 and Amos 20.0 statistical package programs. The analysis results demonstrated that such social media marketing activities as entertainment, interaction, trendiness, advertisement, and customization strongly affect brand awareness, brand image, and brand loyalty. Moreover, it was found that brand awareness and brand image also impact brand loyalty. Noteworthily, Bilgin (2018) identified that customization and entertainment are the most significant marketing activities in terms of branding, whereas trendiness and interaction are the least valued by consumers. These findings are highly reliable and generalizable since the study has a strong analytical basis and explores consumer perceptions in five distinct sectors.
The study by Schwemmer and Ziewiecki (2018) was dedicated to the analysis of product promotion on YouTube through word-of-mouth mechanisms and collaboration with influences. Moreover, it especially focused on the identification of the magnitude of this activity. The total number of videos included in the sample was 139,475. They were uploaded by the 100 most popular German YouTube channels throughout 2009-2017. To analyze social media activity, Schwemmer and Ziewiecki (2018) used the YouTube Data Tools software and, consequently, employed R programming language for a more precise statistical analysis.
The results obtained by Schwemmer and Ziewiecki (2018) indicated that the number of video uploads has increased in Germany since 2009 from about 1,000 a year to over 25,000 by 2016. Videos in the entertainment and gaming categories are by far the most common among German YouTube channels. In addition, the use of referral links (direct advertisement) has grown significantly as well, and this activity is considered to make a huge impact on users in terms of product promotion and awareness. This research is one of a few large-scale studies on the magnitude and effects of YouTube use in marketing. Even though it solely focuses on the German market, it is valid to presume that the findings can be generalized to populations in other countries as well.
Lastly, a qualitative study by Veríssimo and Menezes (2015) aimed to identify how organizations in the hospitality business utilize social media in order to improve customer experience. The researchers employed the cross-sectional study design and conducted 30 interviews with hotel managers working in Brazil and Portugal. The consequent content analysis revealed that hotels apply social media primarily to impact the lifestyle and relational components of customer experience. The first one refers to the alignment of customers’ interest and needs with brand image and values, whereas the second component refers to user communication and the development of online fan communities. As Veríssimo and Menezes (2015) identified, Facebook is the most popular social media platform among hotel managers and YouTube is the least commonly used platform. A particular advantage of such social media as Facebook and Twitter is that they facilitate market research, help to improve brand image and relationships with consumers. The main value and strength of this qualitative research are that interviews with open-ended questions allow comprehending respondents’ perceptions in-depth. The main limitation of the study is the focus on the hospitality industry alone.
The key themes emerging from the review of the selected sources are a brand development and image improvement through social media. Specific activities that can be applied to achieve these objectives are interactions among online community participants themselves and between brands and users (Wang, Wu, & Dong 2015; Farook & Abeysekara, 2016; Veríssimo & Menezes, 2015) and generation of entertaining, original, and trendy content (Farook & Abeysekara, 2016; Bilgin, 2018). The display and description of products/services in a way that both reflects brand values and satisfies consumer interests and needs is considered to be a key social media marketing activity as well (Farook & Abeysekara, 2016; Veríssimo & Menezes, 2015; Schwemmer & Ziewiecki, 2018).
As noted by Wang, Wu, and Dong (2015), more active interactions among consumers and brands assist in strengthening the identity of online communities and stimulating positive consumer perceptions of a unique brand meaning and image. A similar observation is made by Veríssimo and Menezes (2015) who noted that the use of social media as an additional communication channel allows improving customer experience and making it more positive and memorable. However, the statement by Bilgin (2018) concerning a relatively insignificant value of social media interactions for consumers seems to contradict the conclusions made by the abovementioned researchers. Similar to Farook and Abeysekara (2016), Bilgin (2018) in his turn stated that the entertaining qualities of posted content play an essential role in forming positive consumer attitudes, attracting customers, and promoting word-of-mouth communication.
It is also clear that direct advertising on social media impacts brands awareness as well. The study by Schwemmer and Ziewiecki (2018) provided a special outlook on this matter by emphasizing the role of brands’ collaboration with social media (YouTube) influencers. These influencers often have large audiences and, in spite of their popularity, are usually regarded as relatable, ordinary people (Schwemmer & Ziewiecki, 2018). Thus, viewers tend to see them as trustworthy and reliable, and, as a result, the chance that the members of their audiences would show interest in products that influencers promote significantly increases.
It is also worth mentioning that social media may be used in marketing in order to conduct research. This activity was mentioned only in the study by Veríssimo and Menezes (2015). Nevertheless, it is valid to say that market research through social media is closely interrelated with businesses’ abilities to customize content and create effective marketing messages. Through social media research, companies may gain a greater understanding of ge
The results of the literature review are consistent with the findings of other studies dedicated to the research of social media roles in digital marketing. As stated by Constantinides (2014), social media marketing strategies may be either passive or active. The former approach implies listening to consumer voices or, in other words, market research. At the same time, the active approach includes many practices, including public relations through online dialogs, collaboration with social media influencers, personalization of consumer experiences, and engaging users in the generation of content and product ideas. Constantinides (2014) claims that all these activities help to foster greater consumer attraction and retention, development of brand trustworthiness, the establishment of more meaningful connections with customers, and stimulation of innovativeness by tapping into collective intelligence. Silvia (2019) also stated that social media marketing activities are important to promote brand awareness, expand customer base and engage with consumers more easily, promote customer retention and loyalty, and conduct competitor research. Based on this, it is valid to say that an active social media strategy provides much more advantages than the passive one.
A study by Duffett (2017) also verifies a favorable effect of social media marketing communication activities on consumer attitudes. In fact, Duffett (2017) claims that some primary objectives of digital marketing communication, including relationship building, establishing brand loyalty, stimulating word of mouth, and product demand, inherently comprise the attitudinal component. It is observed in his study that social media presence impacts cognitive attitudes/brand awareness, whereas the quality of content is closely interrelated with affective attitudes/liking, as well as purchase intentions. Noteworthily, Duffett (2017) focused his investigation on the adolescent (Generation Z) population associated with an especially high level of social media and mobile device use compared to many other demographic groups. In her article, Silvia (2019) also notes that social media communications are essential for attracting millennial consumers and increasing sales among them. Overall, these findings indicate that in order to be effective, social media content and activities must primarily appeal to younger individuals.
Consistently with findings by Schwemmer and Ziewiecki (2018) who claim that social media can be efficiently used for direct advertising, Voorveld, van Noort, Muntinga, and Bronner (2018) concludes that different platforms can be utilized to stimulate digital advertising engagement. However, they note that in order to do so, marketers should be well aware of the purposes, intentions, and specific moods associated with distinct social media platforms. This knowledge can help to create ads that would fit in better, meet user interests more successfully, and foster more positive perceptions of social media advertising messages.
Another significant observation regarding the effects and role of social media in marketing communication is made by Hajli (2014). The researcher explored links between networking/online community building, consumer trust, and willingness to buy from the company. Hajli (2014) found that the socialization function of social media stimulates trust which, in its turn, leads to consumer intentions to purchase products and services. It is also noted that more favorable perceptions of brand and product usefulness are mediated through positive comments, feedback, and higher ratings. Thus, while the generation of high-quality and entertaining content may assist a business in promoting a good image, the initial quality of products and services may still be a key factor defining the level of consumer trust. An important practical implication of this assumption is that companies may utilize social media to listen to consumer feedback to improve their products and, consequently, brand image.
Summing up the discussion, it is appropriate to say that while social media marketing is an obvious and integral part of Level 4: Web 2.0 in the E-Marketing Pyramid, it is also related to such basic practices as product and service development and promotion. It is valid to say that not only do social media help communicate product values but also help create new ones through maximizing positive consumer experiences and improving the quality of interaction with the brand. As noted by Constantinides (2014), continuous innovation and implementation of efficient quality control systems are essential strategic foundations of Level 1: Product and Service. As a relatively new form of communication, information and mobile technologies and social media platforms, in particular, provide enough chances for firms to enhance their innovativeness capabilities. Moreover, by using social media as consumer communication channels and monitoring tools, businesses can maintain and improve the quality of their service and product.
The findings of the present research revealed that social media plays a highly versatile role in digital marketing and works to meet a plethora of traditional marketing objectives. A few of the main purposes they serve include the promotion of brand awareness and image, product/service display, and the development of closer and more meaningful connections with consumers. Compared to conventional online and offline marketing communication instruments, social media tools offer some significant advantages. The first one is a chance to access, attract, and gain the trust of members of certain population groups, such as Millennials and Generation Z, for whom communication through social media became an integral part of everyday life. Secondly, social media afford multiple functions which other conventional platforms do not maintain. One of them is networking and the ability to build fan communities. By creating a personal social media page and undertaking efforts to maintain it, companies can expand their consumer bases, and, what is more important, engage with users in active interaction. Purposeful communication with and listening to community members foster a greater understanding of current trends and help to identify areas for improvement. Thus, these practices provide opportunities to increase organizational competitiveness.
Considering multiple favorable effects of social media on organizational performance and their pivotal role in digital marketing, it is highly recommended for all firms to improve their social media presence. An active approach to social media marketing that incorporates main social media activities, including content generation and establishment of online dialogs, can substantially benefit businesses. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the advantages that such a strategy offers can be entirely captured and maximized only when all basic levels of the E-Marketing Pyramid are attended to. Thus, when considering implementing an advanced social media marketing approach, an organization must first make sure that it has the necessary resources and structures to maintain a high quality of products and online communications.
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