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Social Media Marketing Strategy of EE

This essay will discuss the current social media strategy of EE (Everything Everywhere) and provide recommendations for how their strategy can be improved. EE is a British mobile network provider that was established in 2010 as part of a joint venture between T-Mobile and Orange (EE, 2015a). The company was the first digital communications provider to offer 4G services in the U.K., as well as the country's first provider of contactless mobile payments (EE, 2015a). As of 2015, EE provides access to its network to over 29 mobile operators which services a total of 5.7 million customers (EE, 2015b). In addition to offering mobile services, the company operates over 700 retail outlets across the county. Within its retail operations EE sells mobile handsets, tablets and branded broadband which brought its revenue to over £6 billion in 2014 (EE, 2015b).

Due to EE's operational size they are able to competitively offer services that their competition do not have. In 2013 EE developed an exclusive partnership with BT to offer customers free access to BT Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide (Thomas, 2015). In 2015, EE plan to grow their strategy in mobile communications by being the first provider to offer 5G coverage (Thomas, 2015).

Part of EE's current success is their strong focus on social media marketing as part of their marketing mix. The head of EE's social marketing states that, "digital is at the heart of (EE's) ethos" (Green, 2013) and with this they focus on using social media in new ways to communicate with customers. Saravanakumar et al (2012) argue that the role of traditional marketing is disappearing and new media marketing like social media enables a brand to communicate to a wider audience. Due to this trend EE has invested heavily in social media communications. As of 2015 EE has over 800 000 'likes' on their Facebook page and over 100 000 followers through Twitter (TalkWalker, 2015).

Saravanakumar et al (2012) write about social media playing a hybrid role in the promotions mix. While it allows for companies to talk to their customer base, at the same time, it allows for customers to talk about the brand. Due to the power of word-of-mouth, EE have focused on shaping customers discussions to ensure they are aligned with the organisations goals. Part of this strategy was to launch a social media campaign in 2014 with the brand ambassador, Kevin Bacon (Ridley, 2014). To tie in with the World Cup Kevin Bacon was part of a humorous social media campaign demonstrating the power of EE's 4G network. To enable a dialogue the public were encouraged to share the advert through social media for exclusive World Cup merchandise.

In 2015 in an effort increase brand presence EE invested heavily in online sponsorship. Part of this strategy was the sponsorship of the British Bafta awards, which allowed them to launch the social media hashtag "#EEBaftas" (EE, 2015c). From the live event over 16 000 tweets used the hashtag allowing the public to associate the awards with the brand and to further spread awareness of the brand through online word-of-mouth (Deering, 2015).

With customers no longer just being passive recipients, it is up to companies to engage and learn from customers (Hanna et al, 2011). Garretson (2008) argues that customers are now taking an active role in co-creating the promotional message and provide opinions on the role a company plays branding wise. As stated earlier, EE have social media as one of their current promotional strategies, which has ended up being a key competitive strength for them. With their business being in mobile communications, social media has allowed for active engagement from the initial purchase of the product (i.e. mobile phone) to the day-to-day usage. EE focuses on continual active engagement via a blend of traditional and social media to create experiences that involve the customers. Hanna et al (2011) argues that companies must focus their social media approach as an integrated strategy to bring the customer experience to the forefront.

These strengths are highlighted in EE's current social media campaign of the EE Wembley Cup. Launched in 2015, the EE Wembley Cup is a ten week media campaign focusing on offering EE customers the opportunity to play in the iconic Wembley Stadium (EE, 2015d). Using all social media platforms EE is focused on creating daily communication with followers to create engagement and encourage feedback. The first strength with this is the active involvement with the public, by using the Wembley stadium as the key focal point to the campaign EE are able to target audiences with a recognisable brand. Initially, traditional media drove reach to create hype behind the campaign, while social media created intimacy as EE are actively using YouTube and Facebook to provide daily updates (EE, 2015d).

Karpinski (2005) argues that for a social media strategy to work, it must empower customers. Customers are more trusting of their own opinions and opinions of their peers (Hanna et al. 2011). EE have recognised this and have focused on only using their social media accounts to post the media content, relying on customers to spread the communications virally (EE, 2015d). To further develop intimacy, the campaign focuses on customers using their mobile phones to record their footballing skills and sending it to friends via the hashtag #EEWembleyCup. EE are enabling passive bystanders to be part of the campaign as active 'hunters' who seek out and take part with the internet-based campaign (Hanna et al, 2011).

With customers actively influencing the brand message, EE are also using the strength of the campaign to seek customer's opinions on their phone services. To encourage fans to participate, EE are offering a free 4G service when using their newly launched Wembley smartphone app (EE, 2015d). Once downloaded, the app allows for EE to measure customer participation with the campaign and see who the social media influencers are. Schultz (2007) states that companies can use the social media ecosystem to view online 'chatter' - which serves as a crystal ball that helps companies determine future product of service strategies.

While EE are successful at creating a social media strategy that focuses on creating engagement with customers. Their current strategy primarily revolves around controlled events and branding opportunities. Neti (2011) argues that social media strategy can engage with customers on helping to promote a brand or product, however it can also help increase customer loyalty through customer support services. EE have demonstrated the ability to attract new customers, however their social media strategy is failing to help retain current customers.

As of 2015 EE has a one star rating with Trust Pilot, an online customer watchdog service, who rate the company poorly on their ability to solve customer issues and complaints (Trust Pilot, 2015). Due to poor communications via social media platforms, EE were accused of ignoring customer complaints and not providing accurate or adequate information. All of which accumulated in Ofcom issuing EE a £1million fine over its handling of customer complaints (Paton, 2015). Neti (2011), states that a company must have a social media strategy that is flexible to deal with ever changing issues that can emerge from its viral nature. For EE, the fallout from the Ofcom fine led to a massive campaign over social media from unhappy customers who voiced their complaints. Rather than issue a statement addressing complaints, the social media strategy was to remain silent which led to angry opinion leaders creating viral groups openly criticizing the EE brand ('EE Complaints' and 'I Hate EE' Facebook Groups received over 5000 followers). Due to the backlash the EE head office finally issued a statement directly through Facebook apologising to customers. Berthon et al (2012) highlight that a company must have a social media strategy that monitors local news and situations across all social media platforms that concerns a company's brand. What may start as a minor issue can spread through word-of-mouth via opinion leaders and must be addressed quickly to avoid a catastrophe for the brands media image (Berthon et al, 2012).

Assaad and Gomez (2011) also highlight another potential challenge with social media as a strategy is the issue of privacy and personal security. Within the social media sphere there is a niche element who are overly concerned with how their data is used. For EE a key component of their social media strategy is the interactions with customers via social media campaigns. However in 2015 EE was listed as the most-complained about provider to Ofcom due to the breach of data. Customers who had interacted with EE's social media campaigns discovered that their data was being accessed by other advertisers to target them with further promotions (BBC, 2015). Gotta and O'Kelly (2006) argue that a social media strategy must be open to all audiences to avoid privacy concerns and potential bad publicity.

From analysing EE's current social media strategy there is a pattern emerging on how EE use social media to communicate with customers. Currently EE's social media strategy is still driven by old fashioned marketing ideas and focuses too heavily on short-term effects in sales. This incentive-induced behaviour relies on the use of recognisable brand ambassadors and controlled marketing events to drive sales rather than retention (Pradiptarini, 2011).

The recommendation of this essay is for EE to address the way they deal with customer complaints via social media. As demonstrated through their current issues with angry customers, EE need a viable solution in making sure that complaints do not spread virally. Firstly EE need to create an audience strategy (Evans, 2010) and discover who are the opinion leaders discussing the brand. Assaad and Gomez (2011) highlight, that using these highly opinionated customers can provide a benefit. If addressed correctly, their opinion can actually spread a positive message about the brand and EE could turn a negative into a positive. Other telecoms providers like Virgin Media use social media to search key compliant words and directly communicate with customers to solve issues before they spread into the public sphere (Brown, 2010).

Pradiptarini (2011) suggests that for a social media strategy to work, a company must communicate humbly and honestly with its audience. For EE, having a focus on dramatic campaign's helps to capture new audiences' attention. However, they also must continue to satisfy current customers' needs for information (Pradiptarini, 2011). It is a further recommendation for EE to set up a social media strategy focused solely on current customers; which targets the need to provide information and solutions to current customer issues. A successful example of this was Ford Motor Company who split their Twitter account into @Ford who focused on brand promotion and @FordService who directly address customer queries (Ratcliff, 2014).

In conclusion EE are one of the primary examples of how to carry out a strong social media marketing strategy. EE's operational size means that they have the resources to create marketing campaigns that use a mix of traditional and new media to interact with new audiences. Through brand ambassadors, sponsorship and viral-based events, EE have created a strong brand through word-of-mouth. However this focus on creating new customers through social media is also their weakness in their current strategy. As of 2015, EE have no viable way of addressing a complaint or question via their social media networks. Instead, when complaints or issues emerge, their social media accounts either ignore or hide any issues with the brand. This closed dialogue has led to opinion leaders turning on the brand and spreading negative messages via the same social media platforms that EE use to promote the company.

From studying examples of Virgin Media and Ford, it is the recommendation of this essay for EE to directly target these opinion leaders through a specialised social media strategy and focus on rebuilding trust and creating long-term relationships. As academics have demonstrated, trust is one of the key factors in social media strategy if the target audience is going to change buying behaviour, influence peers and remain loyal to a brand. It is vital for EE to recognise the characteristics of their entire target market and ensure that all groups are addressed via their social media strategy to ensure success.

References

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