Why Social Networking Is Effective Branding Strategy Marketing Essay
"Recent technological advances, including the widespread use of the internet, have created what some call a New Economy. Although there has been widespread debate in recent wars about the nature of-even the existence of-such a new Economy, few would disagree that the internet and other powerful new connecting technologies are having a dramatic impact on marketers and buyers." (P70)ï¼ˆ1ï¼‰Thus, social network gradually became a very important part of a company's branding strategy. We suggest that our company should promote its brand name through keeping active in relative social networking websites and blogs regarding to its low budget of promotion. This is because, comparing to TV advertising, radio advertising and paper advertising, brand promotion through social networking has absolute and unique advantages:
Most of the time, social media marketing does not need any financial investment if the company's budget is limited because many social networking websites such as Facebook (3) and LinkedIn (4) are free. Of course, companies can hire professional bloggers to implement social network branding strategy more effectively if these companies have enough money. However, we should realize the incredible power of social networking and "When you consider the impact that social media can have for a blog, it's incredible that you can create those kinds of results without spending any money"(5).
Besides, social networking website users are usually connected with each other as friends and around 89% of personal information these users used to register on websites is reliable (8). Therefore, comparing to the other branding means, it would be easier for enterprises to target their main customers according to geographic, income, interests, etc. when they brand themselves through social networking websites. For example, companies like Embrace-learning which does not have enough marketing budget but still hopes to get a good result from brand promotion, could choose to carry out online branding strategies by facing customers based in Manchester or by facing potential customers working in the social health care sector to achieve the so-called precise marketing (9). By doing this, a company could realize branding itself effectively and efficiently without huge investment.
1.4.2 Brand promotion through social network has enormous potential
The impact of social network can have on branding a company is tremendous. According to Gilchrist (6), the author of "Community Development and Networking", social media can offer the modern blogger huge potential if they are willing to use it effectively, while it is not the easy path to success that some believe, with hard work and dedication, blogs built primarily on social media can take off and become very successful because with social network marketing, there are many other good things happening while the company is branding its blog, such as "lots of new visitors, building links, gaining subscribers, and developing content that will draw search engine traffic for years to come"(26).
More over, every large social networking website such as Twitter and LinkedIn has large audience on its own while small websites may not have high rate of page view individually. However, Mason (7) thinks that social media has given small niche sites a much larger audience than previous possible, by bloggers linking and even contributing to other people's sites, directing a larger user base to visit than would have happened before. Hence, while the website might be small, due to cross linking, it is connected to a much larger and also rapidly growing social media audience. A good example is Intuit which is a software manufacturer based in America. This company built a website for small business, which combines elements of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, at the beginning of 2009. Just 12 weeks later, this website already generated over 1 million visits and "helped spike QuickBooks unit shipments 57% in June, year-over-year"(10). Kira Wampler (11), Intuit's soical-media marketing leader says "Social (network) is one of the key trends driving our business. It's more than pure marketing. It's about fast connections with customers and building an ongoing relationship."
All in all, a company's social network branding strategy could not be achieved by getting one post to the front page of Digg or by creating a page on Facebook, but "it can happen relatively quickly, especially when compared to other more traditional branding methods". Even new blogs can achieve a strong level of branding through social media in just a few short months" (12).
1.4.5 Word-of-mouth marketing
The information transmission model of social network are more interactive, hence, it would attract more attention from audience. Besides this, as the behaviour of social networking website users are becoming more sophisticated and mature, they are more willing to take the initiative to obtain and share information. This reflects network users' characteristics of community participation, sharing and interactivity (13). Hence, comparing to the traditional forms of brand promotion, social network branding strategy with network users as transmitting vector and "word-of-mouth" as the main branding method does not need a lot of branding investment. On the contrary, as a result of the features of participation, sharing and interactivity, network users are easy to learn more about a brand and to have product awareness, therefore to form a deep impression on certain product and brand name. In other word, customers are, sometimes, the best advocates. Just ask MyFIco, a consumer division of Fair Isaac-the inventor of FICO credit-risk score used by lenders. It created their own online commuinties where consumers can evaluate the company's products and services and give recommends. This is why "those who visit MyFICO's community website are spending 41% more than other customers", says Lyle Fong (13) who is the CEO of software company Lithium, which helps build online communities for MyFICO and another 150 companies. Besides, according to Nielsen's survery of 25,000 in 2009, "9 in 10 consumers would trust their peers more than marketers"(14). For this reason, " the FTC is in the process of amending guidelines that would require bloggers to disclose their relationships with marketers whose products they endorse", Mary Engle (15), who is the associate director of advertising practices for The Federal Trade Commisions, says.
In summary, social networking, with tremendous potential, relying on "word-of-mouth" marketing, is more cost-effective than the other branding tools. Under the condition of budget inadequateness and brand name ingloriousness, social networking is a necessary tool for Embrace-learning to enforce its branding strategy. However, how could we use social network to implement Embrace-learning's branding strategy? In the next section we will evaluate different social networking tools for a company to brand itself and describe the suitable social network branding strategy to Embrace-learning.
1.5 how to use social network to enforce the branding strategy of the company.
Social network branding model is precisely consistent with the rapid development of the network users' real needs. Participation, Sharing and Interaction which represent the characteristics of Internet users are also new trends of online marketing and brand promotion. Except for social networking, no single media is able to make the relationship between enterprises and consumers to be so close. No matter if it is the company's information update on a blog, customers' product recommendation or participation in activities, all this information will, at the first time, allow customers and companies to understand each other's situation and thoughts. Therefore, if a company wants to gain a good outcome from brand promotion, the online branding strategy needs to meet the demand of internet users, which means that it is necessary for companies to speak directly to it's main customers or clients and to enhance customer services through social networking websites. In addition to this, boost official website traffic is also very crucial to a company like Embrace-learning. Out of these consideration, Blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook may be useful branding tools for different kind of enterprises.
1.5.1 Blog and LinkedIn
Source comes from:http://thelostjacket.com/marketing/blog-business-development
Blogs and LinkedIn are not marketing tools but proactive marketing and branding means for a company because an enterprise can not be sitting around waiting for clients to arrive at your site and either make a deal with you. Blogging and being active on LinkedIn are "proactive in the sense a company can do something to bring in business" (27). What we should notice is that, Blogs and LinkedIn are soical networking sites which are suitable to companies with B2B business model. This is because, as Mason (13) demonstrated, there are less than 13% individual customers will regularly browse a company's blog while more than 54% clients will pay attention to their supplier's updated information on blogs. Thus, the design of the blog and the information updated onto blog as well as on LinkedIn should be in line with big clients needs and interests. According to Shiv Singh (14), a writer in ad agency Razorfish, "these clients want honesty, and quickly". This can be seen from the 2009 twitter emergency. Twitter's service was disabled for several hours because of a hack attack in August, 2009. The co-founder Biz Stone started to give up-to-the-minute updates on the company's blog to let people know what was happening. This effectively reduced users panic and decreased the loss of both clients and the company itself (15). Thus, for the sake of enhancing communication with clients, companies should take their official blogs and pages on LinkedIn as ideal forums to offer clients a candid viewpoint.
Therefore, how to use blog to implement Embrace-learning's branding strategy? We agree that "every single page is a mini website, which means that every single post must be optimized" (17). Hence, we suggest Embrace-learning consider the design of its "single post" pages when it is building its site. First of all, because "post headline is the first thing people are going to see in a search results page and the first thing they will see in their RSS reader"(18), the post headline ought to be well thought out and needs to contain keywords such as "health and social care training" or "e-learning course", which are specific to Embrace-learning's business. Besides this, for maximum exposure, the keywords related to our business, especially related to our niche market (health and social care training) should appear in the headline. Moreover, in order to let readers share our post with each other more easily, the length of the post headline needs to be limited within specific word numbers if we don't want our user to re-edit it because twitter has become the first choice for most people to use to share information online (28). Embrace-learning, when crafting its post headlines, needs to bear in mind that there are only 140 characters to work with on twitter. Last but not least, we need to understand that people get on blogs for information, solutions to their issues and answers to their questions. Hence, the blog would not be popular if every post on our blog is a professional article. Adversely, we need to give our audience the information they want: up-to-date, relevant and reliable information which may solve their problems and confusion. In addition, information needs to be renewed on a regular and consistent basis and out of the consideration for a traffic increase as well as user-friendliness, we could underline some specific words in posts, which, when clicked, can carry readers to another web page.
However, a blog with great content and a few readers is not enough. Embrace-learning needs to know how to promote this blog to increase website traffic. We suggest that the company should combine its blog with the official website so that readers who are interested in browsing our blog will have to browse the company's website while clients who are interested in our official website would have a chance to skim our blog. This kind of combination will double both the website and blog traffic and it is user-friendly as the website and the blog are under the same domain name, which is easier for users to remember. Further more, notifying our clients about our blog through email and newsletter can be taken into consideration as well. Commenting on other blogs could also give the company an opportunity to privide a link to its own blog. Thus, what Embrace-learning should do is to put the link to blogs related to e-learning and social care training, or to comment on a blog post which is relevant to something Embrac-learning already written about.
As to LinkedIn, Embrace-learning can either register under the company's name or under top manager's name (if registered under the top manager's name, the top manager need to present as the company's spokesperson). What the company should notice when using LinkedIn is that, the LinkedIn URL should appear as "http://linkedin.com/in/embrace-learning"(http://linkedin.com/in/user'sfullname). If it doesn't, the company is missing a vital opportunity to "have its profile rank higher in Google" and to make it easier for people to find it (19). Further more, there are many groups and sub-groups which the company can join on LinkedIn. The company can choose and join groups or sub-groups which have their potiential clients or which are related to Embrace-learning's business. In this way, Embrace-learning could have more chance to make annoucements, release company's upcoming events, promote brand name, make connections, stay "in the know", understand customers' needs and expand market. Finally, once we connected with our clients who we have had a good business relationship with, we can invite them to write a recommendation for us on LinkedIn since a good recommendation would give us good credentials. In return, they will be exposured on our LinkedIn page which would be helpful them to realise personal branding.
1.5.2 Facebook and Twitter
Facebook and Twitter are currently two of the most powerful online platforms for users to share and get information. Based on Facebook's official data research (20),there are more than 500 million active Facebook users, out of which 26 million users are British. Moreover, 50% of their active users log on to Facebook in any given day and people spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. Although comparing to Facebook, Twitter only has around 75 million users (21), it is still a very big information sharing platform some kind of enterprises should make use of, expecially companies with B2C business model or companies are planning to expand their business to deal with individual customers.
Since "average user of Facebook is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events" and "there are over 900 million objects that people interact with (such as pages, groups, events and community pages)"(20), companies with B2C business model should create their own Facebook page and group in order to share up-to-date information about management, production, market trends, etc.. If Embrace-learning decided to enforce B2C business model and to register on Facebook, Group is the simpliest way to build a community around it (20). The company can put discussion topics, photos, videos and quizzes (such as tests on Food and Hygiene knowledge, etc.) on Group page to let people browse and share. It is also very necessary for Embrace-learning to create a Page under the company's name since "Pages are more customizable than Groups. You can add HTML, Flash, or even Facebook applications to your pages to extend their functionality and the depth of experience users can have with your brand"(22). Meanwhile, as a free application, Facebook Event is also helpful for our company to promote marketing events and product launches as well as company milestones. What the company needs to do after it creates an event is to invite all of its fans and customers to the event. People who the company invited will receive a special notification requesting their RSVP. Thus, just as Mason said (23), Facebook Event makes it much easier to get the word out to hundreds of people, manage the company's guest list, and build community around the company's upcoming event. Besides this, the application of Social Ads are very powerful to help the advertiser to target their main customers. This means, when Embrace-learning advertise its products on Facebook, it has the option to limit who sees it by age, gender, location, language, education level, etc. In short, during the incipient stage of B2C business model, companies could use these free applications of facebooks such as Page, Group, Event to enforce their initial branding strategy. Since the avergae Facebook user has 130 friends (20), by making use of cross linking, with dedication and efforts, we believe B2C companies can get enough loyal fans and customers gradually.
Same as Facebook, B2C companies can take Twitter as the main platform to release up-to-date information and new blog posts by using a great web based application-EasyTweets. Once it is set up, it will "pick blog's RSS up and sends the new post right to Twitter"(23). In addition to inviting individual customers to write testimonials on both Twitter and Facebook, a company could link offical website, blog with Twitter and Facebook to achieve website traffic increase.
To sum up, based on Embrace-learning's current business model which is business to business, we suggest the company reach potential clients through opening official blogs and keeping active on LinkedIn. As to Facebook and Twitter, we do not suggest Embrace-learning to count them into the initial branding strategy. The reasons are: firstly, Facebook and Twitter, as branding tools for C2B companies, can not help B2B companies to achieve its current business goals. Secondly, Embrace-learning's current budget for brand promotion is too limited to allow every online branding tools to produce the best possible result. For intance, If we advertise our e-learning courseware "Career Aheard" on Job-Hungting Group of Facebook (destination URL is: http://www.facebook.com/p ages/Job-hunting/111193155571103?ref=ts), targeting to English speaker from 18 years old to 60 years old, the advertising cost is £0.73 per click. For a comany which has less than £200,000 income per year, advertising on Facebook can be risky. Thus, out of consideration for cost-effective brand promotion and current business model, we think brand through Facebook and Twitter can be taken as a long-term branding strategy, which can be enforced when the company has decided to expand its business by doing business with individual customers and meanwhile, has enough budget as well as decent brand name.
3.1 How to contact buyers
We can not sit back in our office waiting for our customers to contact us, expecially when our brand name is not well known. Companies like Embrace-learning which is under a growing stage and could not survive without market expansion need to contact their clients and individual customers initially. There are some methods which enable us to contact customers and clients directly such as telephone, social network and electronic mails. At the same time, indirect customer contact is also crucial.
Telephone marketing, one of the most common methods of direct consumer contact, includes pre-sale and after-sale phone calls. Both of them are very neccessary to Embrace-learning because this is the quickest and most effective way to understand customer needs and to solve conflicts and misunderstandings between company and customers. Apart from this, social network such as LinkedIn and Blog which we mentioned above are also irreplaceable. By using email marketing strategy (such as emails attached with flyers. See appendix one), companies can track the exact return on investment and such kind of return has proven to be high when done properly (24) because "E-mail marketing is reported as second only to search marketing as the most effective online marketing tactic since email allows marketers to reach out to consumers with personalized, relevant, dynamic messages"(25). However, email deliverability is still an issure for legitimate marketers. According to the research on email services company Return Path in 2008, "legitimate e-mail servers averaged a delivery rate of 56%; twenty percent of the messages were rejected, and eight percent were filtered"(25). Thus, Embrace-learning need to make sure their email marketing strategy is apply to spam laws such as the European Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003. One method to eliminate the disadvantages of e-mail marketing is to use "opt-in email advertising" or "permission marketing" which means "the recipient of the advertisement has consented to receive our company's emails" (29).
Indirect consumer contact needs Intermediaries which constitute reseller markets. Different resellers vary in resources and capabilities objectively and in goals and aspirations of cooperation subjectively. Thus, it is very essential for a company to understand those differences between resellers and to select their suitable middleman such as retail giant Wal-Mart. As a reseller, Wal-Mart has a strong computer network system. Once the supplier and Wal-Mart established a fixed relationship, the supplier can check the sales of their products through a special network system in order to plan their own product production scientifically. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart's comprehensive distribution system also enables consumers to get their product quickly (30). Therefore, we suggest Embrace-learning take the following principles when it selects resellers:
a. The basic principle is to choose resellers which can reach the target market of the company's products because the purpose for a company to build partnership with resellers is to channel their products into target market and to facilitate purchase of consumers (31). According to this principle, Embrace-learning, when selecting resellers, needs to be ware that the resellers have sales channels and sales venues in the products' target market.
b. The selected resellers and Embrace-learning ought to have common aspiration of cooperation since an effective distribution channel can only be established with cooperation of all the channel members (32). In the choice of intermediaries, Embrace-learning needs to analyse the resellers' will of goods distribution and the attitudes on cooperation with other channel members.
Based on the two principles, we think the hospitality and leisure sector of Embrace-learning can co-work with chef colleges (see appendix two), leting them sell our coursewares to students; the safty and fuel efficient driving sector would work with driving schools and trucking companies; while Job hunting sector could take universities and job center as resellers. In return, we can share the profit with them. Another kind of reseller we can make use of are marketing companies. Embrace-learning can pay those kind of companies based on commission, letting them to market our product for us. Meanwhile, we still have our own marketing team, developing potential customers and clients while maintaining a long-term relationship with them.
To sum up, at the initial stage of development, Embrace-learning could take telephone marketing as a main communication tool. However, in a long-term view, opt-in email, social networking as well as building partnership with resellers would be more cost-effective and practical expecially when facing large amount of customers.
1.Kotler Armstrong Principles of Marketing(10th edition)
Gilchrist, A. (Alison).
Other Author(s) / Title(s)
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Community Development Foundation (Great Britain)
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London : Community Development Foundation, 1995
Other Author(s) / Title(s)
E-learning and social networking handbook : resources for higher education / Robin Mason, Frank Rennie.
New York : Routledge, 2008.
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