As competition within both the goods and service industries becomes more and more intense, many organisation are searching for new and innovative ways to retain their consumers (Banyte & Dovaliene, 2014). As consumer demand is constantly increasing, consumer’s involvement in the creation of a product or service is of substantial interest to many academics and theorists. In an active business atmosphere, successful customer engagement can result in increased sales, product quality, customer satisfaction, and can offer great competitive advantage (Di Gangi & Wasko, 2009; Brodie, et al., 2013; Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004).
The subject of customer engagement as an aspect of value development has evoked substantial interest from many practitioners and academics over the past two decades (Vargo & Lusch, 2004). Some preliminary research into this phenomena indicated that both consumers and organisations in the consumer engagement process can have a substantial impact on value creation – the company gains a competitive advantage, and the consumer gains satisfaction and loyalty to the organisation (Selden & MacMillan, 2006; Auh, et al., 2007).
There has been much discussion and there are many different interpretations of the influence of customer engagement on customer retention and customers’ loyalty to an organisation. Some academics and theorists emphasise the significant effect that customer engagement has on value creation and the impact this will have on customer loyalty to an organisation (Auh, et al., 2007). Other theorists stress the indirect influence customer engagement can have on value creation and how this will affect a variety of factors such as strength of relationship, satisfaction and trust. As customer engagement can affect how a consumer views an organisation in a variety of ways, a focus of researchers has been to concentrate on only one aspect at a time. This is to say, if Ooredoo wanted to monitor their engagement with their customers engagements and what benefits this may be providing, they should focus on measuring one variable at a time, instead of measuring trust, loyalty, satisfaction and more all at once.
Another factor to be considered – one that is similar to consumer engagement – is the service encounter. The service encounter has been described as the ‘existence of a contact situation between the customer and the service provider’ (Lloyd & Luk, 2011, p. 177). Traditionally, these service encounters were face-to-face encounters, but with the development and popularity of social media, they can now take place without any actual physical contact. Furthermore, consumers’ experiential value can now be considered by organisations via online channels by means of which the consumers’ valuation of an organisation or their service is given. Maghnati & Ling (2013, p. 3) provide a conceptual framework that analyses four main values. These are:
With the development of Web 2.0, social media has become one of the most powerful platforms for organisations to influence their customers and engage with consumers engagement and the generation of brand promoters (Oztamur & Karakadilar, 2014). In order for an organisation to successfully create virtual campaigns, nurture online word-of-mouth marketing (WOM), and to overcome any potential consumer resistance, trust must be established and maintained by the firm (Miller & Lammas, 2010). With the emergence of new technologies, consumers are now looking at social media as opposed to Google or other search engines to acquire information about a variety of organisations (Newman, 2013). Firms that use social media are at an advantage in encouraging the trust of the consumers. This can be done in a variety of ways that could not have been done when using traditional media methods (Deelman & Loos, 2002).
Some theorists and academics have noted the presence of a ‘loyalty ladder’ in many social networking communities. The main function of this ‘ladder’ is to split users into sub-divisions such as:
These categories of social media users highlight the complexity of social media, and the lack of standardised measures that a marketer can use to turn social media into a strategy (Miller & Lammas, 2010). An organisation like Ooredoo should conduct in-depth analysis into the type of consumers who are using their products and their social media networks. Depending on the analysis, Ooredoo should then strategise and develop specific plans for the best and most efficient way to target consumers. The questionnaires will shed light on the type of social media users who are most likely to connect with Ooredoo online.
Measurement of social media success
One of the trickiest elements of social media marketing is how it can be measured. As technology has expanded, there is an increasing amount of software that has been developed to measure the success of social media marketing, by measuring statistical data (Oztamur & Karakadilar, 2014). As these software packages are improved, the number of metrics that can be explored increases, thus making the package more trustworthy. However, organisations should look beyond pure statistical data and consider such aspects as Twitter retweets and Facebook ‘likes’ (Murdough, 2009). Measuring data that gives more than simple metrics is useful because it allows a company to manage certain increases such as increasing brand awareness and sentiment through social media. Numerical metrics, such as the number of viewers, friends, visitors or followers does not instantly translate into increased activity, conversations, order value, or sales. However, these measures are still relevant as social network marketing (SNM) can be effective at building and maintaining brand awareness and potentially enhancing brand reputation as opposed to producing leads and accumulating sales (Michaelidou, et al., 2011). Another prevalent means of measuring social media success is the measurement of the time required for every new social media marketing tactic to work (Pentina, et al., 2012).
Generally, it has been agreed by many academics and theorists that the mishandling of social media can have a detrimental impact on an organisation’s performance. This is especially true with regard to e-WOM, as this could cause irreparable damage to a firm’s brand or even impact on its financial performance. Another important issue that must be identified for SMEs using social media is that it is not free. This is popular to contrary belief, but the use of social media marketing requires time to develop online relationships, and a commitment to maintaining the campaign, employing the required staff, and allocating finance (Derham, et al., 2011). These conditions can be easy for large companies to attain, as they have more finance and employees, but can be very difficult for SMEs to comply with. Furthermore, many SME owners may be unaware or unwilling to understand the benefits of a social media campaign to the company (Bulearca & Bulearca, 2010).
However, the benefits of social media are indisputable – an organisation being able to heavily influence consumer behaviour via online channels. In addition, who the influencers are can greatly vary; they are not always celebrities or opinion leaders. This is imperative for SMEs to understand: they do not need to attract the interest of famous people in order for their social media campaigns to be effective. The majority of influential users hold significant power on a variety of topics, not just through one channel (Romero, et al., 2010). This suggests that local influencers, opinion leaders or celebrity figures could be utilised by an organisation to spread information beyond their own interests or expertise. Further, the power-law tendency in the differences amongst the potential influence that individuals can create specifies that it is significantly more effective for an organisation to target the top local opinion leaders or influencers, than to acquire a substantial number of non-popular users (Cha, et al., 2010).
Customer engagement through social media
Sashi (2012, p. 254) believes ‘the interactive nature of social media with its ability to establish conversations among individuals and ﬁrms in communities of sellers and customers and involve customers in content generation and value creation has excited practitioners with its potential to better serve customers and satisfy their needs’. This has led to academics and theorists being on the frontline in attempting to understand, deﬁne, and build customer engagement through social media networking (Mangold & Faulds, 2009; Verhoef, et al., 2010). A survey conducted by Adobe on managers across the world indicated that organisations are striving to develop a high level of customer engagement via social media networking (Adobe, 2008).
Web 2.0 technologies, tools and techniques appear to enable the co-creation of value between the organisation and consumer via online customer engagements (Harrison & Barthel, 2009). For example, an online community network will allow consumers to become active co-developers of life experiences and consumption meanings (Firat & Dholokia, 2006). However, building customer engagement in both an organisation and consumer context can be extremely tricky. Many researchers believe it requires the adaptation of the marketing mix in order to take advantage of the new technologies that are available through Web 2.0. This will allow an organisation to acquire a better understanding of their consumers and what they expect from potential online engagements.
Furthermore, in connecting with consumers, the use of social media gives an organisation a much greater reach than traditional methods provide (Thackeray, et al., 2008). Once again, the interactive nature of social media not only permits an organisation to exchange and share knowledge with its consumers, but it also allows the same consumers to share and exchange information about themselves, to other consumers and organisations. This can provide firms with extensive knowledge about their customer base that they can use to help tailor their social media strategies (Kietzmann, et al., 2011).
Using social media can provide organisations with the opportunity to forge relationships with existing and new consumers. Furthermore, it allows the firm and its consumers to create communities that interactively cooperate with each other to identify and understand problems, along with developing solutions for these issues. It is these online interactions that alter the traditional roles of both seller and customer in exchange relationships (Sashi, 2012). In fact, consumers can often add value to an organisation in the development of content, with this even leading to the consumers becoming advocates for the firm’s products. Consumers can even inﬂuence the purchasing decisions of other consumers in peer-to-peer engagements (Brown, et al., 2007).
The dominant position of Facebook as a platform for social media marketing is primarily based on the assumption that Facebook is currently the fastest growing and largest social network company in the world (Cvijikj & Michahelles, 2013). Furthermore, according to a recent study conducted by a marketing research firm (Hubspot, 2011), Facebook is considered by many organisations, particularly for B2C organisations, to be the most effective and attractive platform for their social media activities.
One of the main reasons companies enjoy Facebook as their major tool for social media marketing is because it provides ﬁve opportunities for an organisation to utilise the platform for its own marketing purposes. The five opportunities are (Facebook, 2012):
With these five factors, Facebook provides organisations with substantial potential for engagement by direct interaction with their customers through messages.
A study by Oviedo-Garcia, et al., (2014) highlights a number of other advatnages Facebook can offer an organisation. They state that Facebook users primiarly communicate with people who are already part of their social networking ‘circle’, but that they can still view an ‘extended social network’. This is because consumers can be other people who have liked a certain page or have a common friend with the individual. In addition, a degree of visibility is apparent in a number of social networking sites, especially Facebook. This can be in the form of wall posts or public displays of connection, and is a strong foundation for an organisation to create and maintain social capital (Smith, et al., 2012). Ooredoo can utilise these advantages offered by Facebook by creating a social atmosphere where consumers can connect with the organisation. The questionnaires conducted for this study may highlight the extent to which a consumer would like to establish a relationship via Facebook communication.
In an investigation on the altering role of organisational communication, Duncan & Moriarty (1998, p. 8) stated that interactivity between a firm and its consumers is a ‘hallmark of the paradigm shift in both marketing and communication’. Furthermore, Duncan & Moriarty (1998, p.8) went on to argue that an increase in interactivity allows communication to be ‘an even more valuable element of marketing’. With the great potential for unique communication between an organisation and its consumers who have elected to monitor that firm’s Twitter feed, Twitter can clearly increase the scope for online communication with potential customers (Burton & Soboleva, 2011). Therefore, it is relatively unsurprising that the majority of firms are attempting develop successful Twitter accounts as an additional channel for communication with their consumers. For example, over 60% of the Fortune 500 organisations had created a Twitter account by the end of 2010 (up from 35% in 2009) compared with only 56% of Fortune 500 organisations having created a Facebook account by the end of 2010 (Barnes, 2010).
It is has been found that Twitter can provide both types of interactivity: ‘interpersonal interactivity’ is when an organisation exchanges messages with consumers, and ‘machine interactivity’, through the use of hyperlinks which allows a consumer to follow a link and access more information (Macias, 2003; Coyle & Thorson, 2001; Sicilia, et al., 2005). Research that has been conducted into how websites can interact with consumers would propose that tweets representing a higher level of interactivity may lead to a more positive response from the recipient. Nevertheless, a variety of firms may have completely different strategic aims through their use of Twitter. This variation in why an organisations may use Twitter can be attributed to a variety of factors. One factor is the organisational type, as a company operating in a service industry might utilise Twitter differently from an organisation selling goods (Burton & Soboleva, 2011). Furthermore, there may be differences in an organisation’s use of Twitter, depending on the geographical location of its markets. Duncan & Moriarty (1998) have suggested that consistency in a social media marketing strategy can be vital for the successful implementation of marketing communication. This is because executional consistency can be seen as a fundamental premise of relationship marketing and that all messages sent to consumers should be consistent and appropriate for the target audience (Burton & Soboleva, 2011).
As Twitter focuses less on the social side and more on the influential side of social media, Ooredoo may find it beneficial to target its social media campaigns at local opinion leaders who can influence other consumers to trade with Ooredoo. The company’s strategy could be to use Twitter to indicate a strong business perspective. In contrast, Facebook, could be utilised as the social platform. The quantitative analysis of this study will explore whether or not consumers find Facebook or Twitter a more effective platform for engagement and potentially shaping their purchasing decisions.
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