Thank you to all who had the time to attend my keynote guest speaker presentation at the #NZIE annual Business, Management and Leadership Symposium last month. After presenting my ongoing project on relationships between businesses and consumers on social media, the discussion turned to whether businesses know their consumers enough to offer meaningful and memorable experiences both online and offline. The short answer is no. So, here are some after-thoughts following my discussion with the audience.
Quite obviously, consumption practices take on new meanings in the digital age – without being broadcast/shared/communicated on social media, they are pointless. Last year my clients called a whale watching tour off simply because they forgot to charge their cameras. I’m not surprised, I teach consumer behavior in my marketing classes 🙂 What I try to say is that if a business does not offer their consumers an opportunity to create and share their content/experiences with others (yes, it’s about user-generated content and consumers’ self-expression, academically speaking) then it’s probably wasting time on social media. The key is to learn what makes consumers engage with a brand. I’m sure that there are numerous personal as well as professional reasons.
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:
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.
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.
I have a lifelong habit – collecting funny/smart/interesting/weird business-related bits and pieces. New Zealand businesses seem to know well how to capture attention of passers-by without traditional “SALES” and “50% OFF” displays. Well, it is simple – you need a content customers can relate to and may be inclined to publically share. It’s also well known that consumers are more likely to feel emotionally connected to a brand if elements of humor and entertainment are incorporated into their brand experiences (Piven, I. & Breazeale, M., 2016). And yes, I’ve shared this display from New Lynn Mall on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… you name it.
“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”.