Social media marketing package: How to Manage Social Buzz

Earlier we examined how companies can try to engage customers on social media and highlighted the tight link between engagement and viralit...

Earlier we examined how companies can try to engage customers on social media and highlighted the tight link between engagement and virality. Engaging content generates interactions between the company and customers/ prospects and, at the same time, stimulate conversations among social media users, and word-of-mouth that goes beyond the boundaries of the single social medium.
Therefore, it is extremely important for the company to manage this type of communication about the firm. For this reason, word-of-mouth management has become an integral part of marketing strategy (van der Lans et al. 2010).

The strategies a company can employ to influence and manage word-of-mouth have been studied by several authors and conceptualized with different terms. The concept is known as “viral marketing,” “word-of-mouth marketing,” (WOMM) (Silverman 2011) “buzz marketing,”43 (Dye 2000; Rosen 2000, 2009) or “guerilla marketing” (Levinson 1989). Even though each one may present different connotations according to the kind of media used for the communication process (online vs offline), they are usually used as synonyms. Most recently, other terms were coined to describe the phenomenon: “social media marketing” and “connected marketing” (Kirby and Marsden 2006).

Viral marketing is the process of encouraging honest communication among consumers networks (Phelps et al. 2004). Kozinets et al. (2010) define word-of mouth marketing (WOMM) as the intentional influence of consumer-to-consumer communications by professional marketing techniques through a complex process that transforms commercial information into cultural stories, relevant to the members of particular communities.

WOMM goal is to use consumer-to-consumer (peer-to-peer) communications to disseminate information about a company, a brand, or a product. The message can be spread intentionally or unintentionally (De Bruyn and Lilien 2008). Intentional word-of-mouth occurs when social media users become promoter of a specific brand or product. Intention to spread WOM can be incentivized (i.e., financial incentive by the company) or a free desire to share their feelings with friends. Unintentional WOM occurs when social media users spread a message without a real intention to become a promoter of a brand, a product, or a company. An example is the action of “liking” posts or pages on Facebook that will immediately communicate to the network the preference.

The range and speed of diffusion of conversations is increasing due to Application Programming Interface (API) that allows different platforms to connect. In practice, it means the development of networks of integrated connections among platforms. The most evident example is the opportunity to use the “Facebook login” to connect to different social media that increases users content sharing among various platforms (i.e., share Instagram photos on Facebook or Twitter) and companies’
chance to complete customers’ profiles.

In the light of the previous considerations and of the motivations for spreading word-of-mouth identified in earlier, companies willing to use social media to manage word-of-mouth and to increase online conversations should develop the following actions:

social media marketing package
Pursue the objective of customer satisfaction in order to incentive spontaneous positive word-of-mouth in all the steps of consumer behavior. Despite technologies opportunities to easily spread WOM, travel companies should remember that customer satisfaction is one of the most important drivers that can generate positive WOM (Mauri 2002). Avoid letting consumers go home unsatisfied can represent a preventive way to manage eWOM. Customer relationship management during the travel experience can offer various opportunities of interaction in order to prevent service failure. A company should encourage guests to communicate eventual dissatisfaction and employees should be trained to be able to recognize, control and, if necessary, appease customer anger during the service supply (He and Harris 2014).

Social media planning: decide the social media mix and the social media approach. According to consumers/prospects’ profiles and behaviors and considering internal features (resources, etc.), the company can decide the social media mix and approach. This means to decide which social media to use and planning a progressive development, starting from a possible simpler approach, and moving to a more complex in a second step. During this planning stage, the company has to take into account that intensity of word-of-mouth can change according to the communication channel (Berger and Iyengar 2013): not all social media are equally effective for the diffusion of peer-to-peer referrals. Social networks of friends are generally considered more effective for the rapid spread of WOM due to strong-ties among community members (De Bruyn and Lilien 2008).

Identify influencers/opinion leaders for each social medium. Sometimes it could be helpful to stimulate some very active community members or online opinion leaders that, in turn, are able to start a new conversation or spread and existing one. They are called influencers and play a key role in online environment. Firms should identify a small group of influencers/opinion leaders and cultivate relationships with them, sometimes prior to extend the communication to the entire community. Due
to their credibility, expertise, and/or enthusiasm, a favorable opinion of these influencing social media users can provide more credibility to the message, generate more interest and engagement, as well as stimulate virality.

Create engaging and accessible content for customers and prospects. To sum up what uttered in the previous sections, people love to talk about topics they are interesting in (Sernovitz 2006; Berger and Schwartz 2011), innovative and characterized by strong emotions (Dobele et al. 2007; Rosen 2009). Moreover, a narrative structure (Delgadillo and Escalas 2004) and multimedia emotional content promoted by the firm or posted by other users has more influence on volume and speed of virality (Bruni et al. 2012).

Firms should also consider that customers and prospects generally talk about information that is accessible. Therefore, public visibility and accessibility may increase WOM (Berger and Schwartz 2011). In social media environment, this depends on the type of medium and its audience. For example, according to the age and the kind of job, people connect to their social networks in different moments of the day (e.g., early in the morning before starting work or late in the evening while watching TV). Furthermore, this can change according to the type of social media: Facebook rather than Twitter or Youtube. Therefore, for instance, understanding when to publish a post on Facebook is very important considering the posts’ limited time of visibility on the users’ news feed, especially if he or she is very active on the network. The ability of the company to figure out different profiles by means of statistics offered by social media pages (i.e., Facebook Insights) is very useful to understand where and when to publish. In the travel sector, this is particularly important due the possible different customers and prospects’ nationalities and therefore to various types of social media used (i.e., Facebook in not permitted in certain countries) and time zones.

Finally, the ability to publish engaging content affects also visibility. For example, engaging posts, that obtain plenty of likes on Facebook, have extended time of visibility on the news feed, and therefore they are visible and accessible for a longer period of time. The same happens on Pinterest where engaging visual content is pinned, becoming in this way visible and accessible to the user’s network.

Promote interactions and sharing. Propensity to spread WOM depends also on the opportunity to share it with friends and other members of a network. The ease of interacting and sharing online content influences the message virality. Main social media offer this opportunity with specific online functions. The “share” option is used by most social media as well as the “Like” option (pin on Pinterest). These are automatic ways that the user can employ to share preferences and dislikes with the network. Sometimes this is not completely conscious and intentional, especially in social networks that are generally used during everyday life to interact about a large variety of topics. For example, during a trip travelers, if connected to the web, will probably use Facebook to keep in touch with their network telling them about their experiences. Even if sometimes this action is not completely conscious, as could be in the case of online reviews on TripAdvisor, they are spreading positive and negative word-of-mouth on the basis of their emotional state.

In travel distribution, flash sales operators are strong users of these practices to support commercial activities. In fact, in group-buying business models WOM about deals allow to reach the tipping point and activate the offer.

Promptly reply to all social media users’ questions by means of a multiple customer support service (Social Media Customer Care-SMCC). The promotion of interactions and sharing starts a conversation with the audience that is expected to continue. People interacting on a social medium expect to obtain answers to their questions, to be acknowledged if they contribute to a conversation, to receive communications about the result of a contest, etc. If a company wants a community to be interacting and engaging has to stimulate discussions, keeping in touch with community members by means of newsletters, e-mails, notices, etc., that let them know current hot topics and generate conversations. Therefore, incentive interactions and participation could be counterproductive, if not properly prepared to manage conversations according to the rules of the specific social media employed. Sometimes, lack of training of employees involved in interactions with social media users can negatively affect customer engagement. Then, it is essential to empower and train employees who have direct relationships with community members in order to achieve customer engagement (Ramaswamy 2009).

Call social media users to action. An advanced step to engage social media users is to create specific events or promotions that ask for the members’ collaboration. We mentioned how crowdsourcing and contests can be engaging instruments to create conversations about a topic. However, firms should be aware that these marketing actions should not be improvised but properly studied considering all possible reactions. Specific and clear rules should be provided to the audience, especially when there is a contest with an award at the end. Moreover, the promotion should be linked to offline and online events that encourage conversations and enhance the sense of community, exclusivity, etc.

Engage in conversations of third party websites. Firms should be able to engage in the conversation about their products/brands not only on their blogs, or social networks pages, but also on other third party websites that are used by consumers and prospects. A first step is to monitor online reputation in order to understand the “sentiment” about a company, a brand and/or a product,47 the website where the conversation is going, and then participate if necessary. For example, a company could decide to reply to consumer online reviews on travel review websites or
engage in a conversation on a travel blog, etc. Next section will deal with the ongoing discussion about opportunity to respond to customers on travel review websites.


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