Category Archives: Publications

Social Media and Brand Communities

Before social media, marketing communications was a relatively stable and predictable business; the traditional approaches generally worked, keeping advertisers and PR managers satisfied. The emergence of social media has flipped the marketing world on its head. Suddenly, businesses start questioning whether social media is the best channel, as so many suggest, to reach consumers.

At Otago Polytechnic (Auckland campus) I taught marketing courses. The entire point was to get my students to develop a habit to scan everything when it comes to marketing – from a company’s day-to-day operation to its social media presence. As you may guess, social media remains one of the most popular topics in my classes. From my students’ perspectives, business on social platforms should be working towards one big idea – building a community. The idea isn’t new. However, whether businesses are capable of building a community on social media or not is debatable.

In a publication by Harvard Business Review, Henry Mintzberg advised, “If you want to understand the difference between a network and a community, ask your Facebook friends to help paint your house” (2015). There is also no agreement between academic and marketing practitioners regarding whether brand communities emerging on social media should be seen and treated in the same way as traditional (face-to-face) ones.

It seems that Giapo Ice Cream shop and Mr Vintage t-shirt company (Auckland) are not aware of this debate. They somehow know how to develop a highly participative brand fellowship off and on social media. This is what my research participants say about them:

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Giapo Ice Cream, Auckland. Photo credit: Zomato, NZ

He [Giapo] has created his following, and the other day he is like ‘ok, I need feijoa leaves; who’s got feijoa leaves?’ and everybody offered feijoa leaves, and he got them for free. This way he has made Twitter feel like they are a part of his endeavour. (*feijoa – an evergreen shrub or small tree that bears edible green fruit resembling guavas. It is native to tropical South America and cultivated in New Zealand for its fruit).

 Mr. Vintage has done a really good job building a brand around themselves as a cheeky kind of company that uses the community they’ve created really well… they’re always producing t-shirts that people have suggested. 

mr-vintage
Hamiltron’ by Mr Vintage, City of the Future. Photo credit: Mr Vintage for grabonestore.co.nz

If you still think that all electronic devices can do is to put people in touch with a keyboard, ask your Facebook friends to help you with your house renovation. I’m sure they will.

The benefits of curiosity for branding on social media

pexels-photo-128299.jpg“I’m not interested in a brand if it doesn’t do something spectacular on social media; I just don’t see a reason to follow” (from a random conversation with my students)

When a business wants to stimulate discussion on social media, it is important to keep in mind that consumers’ interests in brands are often motivated by curiosity.

“It’s just curiosity. You never know what that link might give you. It might give you a piece of information of business that you need for yourself” (research participant).

I’ve got a nut allergy and a beautiful Anzac recipe was posted up on one of the chefs I follow. And I asked a question, do I need to substitute it with more flour to make it more balanced, and she [the chef] got back straight away and said: “No, it’s fine you don’t have to”. I was genuinely interested, and I was curious to see also how quick they’d respond, what their response would be” (research participant).

It can be suggested that social media helps brands to supply the ingredient that seems to be missing in traditional marketing communications – curiosity keeps the conversation going, stimulates and encourages participation, and creates a conversation that potentially may get good press down the line. The recent and much publicised white/gold/blue/black dress mystery illustrates how social media use curiosity as a hook. The story started on Tumblr and took Twitter and Facebook by storm – everyone felt a need to discover what was going on. The debate surrounding the dress – whether the stripes were white and gold, or blue and black – attracted much attention from journalists, scientists, and celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, who tweeted “the dress is gonna start world war 3”.

(Piven, I. & Breazeale, M. (2016). A desperately seeking customer engagement: Five-Sources Model of brand consumption in social media community. In V. Benson, R. Tuninga, &  G. Saridakis (Eds.), Analyzing strategic role of social networking in firms growth and productivity. UK: IGI Global.)

If our life experiences are pointless without being broadcast over social media.

blog_1January and February are peak travel periods for New Zealand. Can you guess what would be the most important daily routine in tour guiding work?  It is to ensure that tourists are able to charge their devices (cameras, mobile phones, etc). Why? Because they may want to cancel a scheduled tour if their devices are not ready to explicitly document their adventures. That is exactly what happened last year when my company’s clients called a whale watching tour off.

Some time ago I researched relationships between businesses and consumers on social media. One result that has come through vividly is that our consumption practices take on a new meaning in the digital age  – without being broadcast over social media, they are pointless. How does it apply to businesses?

Supporting consumers’ desire for self-presentation/expression has certain benefits for businesses, particularly when it comes to branding. For example, KiwiYo, a fast-growing chain of frozen desserts in New Zealand, blurs the line between its offline and online presence: photos taken by consumers in the cafe go to the company’s social media profiles in KiwiYo’s colorful promotional picture frames. KISS, an iconic American rock band, is famous for allowing their fans to display their photos on the stage jumbo screens, as well as on social media during the band’s performance. According to KISS’ website, they were the first band to experiment with “interactive concert photo experiences” (KISS debuts “KISS Liveshare”, 2010).

It seems logical to conclude that if business does not offer their consumers an opportunity for self-expression, then it might be wasting time on social media. In this respect, the ultimate goal for any business, regardless of industry, is to provide consumers with personalised experiences. Here is how:

  • Learn what makes consumers engage with a brand. There are numerous personal and professional reasons. Use this knowledge to change approaches to social media content and conversations.
  • Turn consumer-brand interactions into “red carpet” or “award ceremony” experiences by taking advantage of modern technologies in conjunction with social media.

(Piven, I. & Breazeale, M. (2016). A desperately seeking customer engagement: Five-Sources Model of brand consumption in social media community. In V. Benson, R. Tuninga, &  G. Saridakis (Eds.), Analyzing strategic role of social networking in firms growth and productivity. UK: IGI Global.)