What is Social Media Marketing?
What is a ‘good’ definition of social media marketing? When looking at academic and managerial focused publications, the term social media marketing is mostly associated with communicative or customer focused aspects. This is somehow surprising, as the implementation and management of social media marketing requires many additional tasks that companies have to deal with. I would even say that posting on social media platforms is probably the easiest part of social media marketing. More challenging factors in social media marketing include defining the scope, corporate social media culture, organizational issues and the role of employees. In a recent publication in the Journal of Business Research, we looked at these factors. Particularly, we redefined social media marketing and propose a holistic four dimensional framework.
So, what is social media marketing? How can it be defined? Here is our definition of social media marketing.
Social media marketing is an interdisciplinary and cross-functional concept that uses social media (often in combination with other communications channels) to achieve organizational goals by creating value for stakeholders. On a strategic level, social media marketing covers an organization’s decisions about social media marketing scope (ranging from defenders to explorers), culture (ranging from conservatism to modernism), structure (ranging from hierarchies to networks), and governance (ranging from autocracy to anarchy).
- cross-functional: Although it is (still) often managed in silos, there is a need for cross-functional implementation in most organizations.
- value: Value does not mean monetary value (e.g. vouchers, discounts). Value also includes information value (e.g. interesting content), entertaining value, customer service etc.
- stakeholders: besides current/potential/former customers, social media marketing can (and often – intentionally or not) deals with employees, journalists, bloggers, suppliers etc.
A Definition of Social Media Marketing
Four Dimensions of Strategic Social Media Marketing
According to our definition of social media marketing, strategic social media marketing incorporates four dimensions. These are Scope, Culture, Structure and Governance. A brief overview of these dimensions is provided below.
- SCOPE addresses the question whether companies use social media marketing predominantly for communication with one or a few stakeholders or comprehensively (both externally and internally) as a genuine tool for collaboration.
- CULTURE distinguishes between conservatism, which is represented by an encapsulated, traditional, mass-advertising approach to social media marketing, and modernism, which is characterized by a more permeable, open, and flexible social media marketing culture. Here, everyone, including the top management, believe in social media and social media marketing.
- STRUCTURE addresses the organization and departmentalization of the social media marketing assignment in the firm, ranging from hierarchies (centralized; clearly defined social media assignee) to networks (an organizational structure in which all technically everyone is somehow responsible for social media marketing activities).
- GOVERNANCE refers to the rules and guidelines and how social media responsibilities are controlled in the organization. This includes social media guidelines and policies.
The study does NOT argue that particular positions are generally better than others. We clearly argue that the ideal positions are dependent from various factors. Such factors include the industry, corporate culture, company size, and so on. However, each company should make decisions on how to position themselves in these four dimensions according to our definition of social media marketing.
A holistic Social Media Marketing Framework
We summarized the findings in a holistic social media marketing framework. What does holistic mean? Is there an ‘ideal’ social media marketing approach? No. The Oxford Pocket Dictionary defines holistic as “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole”. Holistic refers to the fact that the dimensions cannot be understood in isolation without also considering the whole, a perspective that is in line with our definition of social media marketing. From our perspective, each company (such as B2C and B2B, small/medium enterprises and larger corporations, etc.) must make decisions on how to position their social media marketing on the four dimensions identified in our study. That is, we assume the dimensions to be stable. However, the ideal point should be something firm specific.
New Job Requirements for Social Media Managers
What does this mean for social media managers? Our holistic conceptualization and definition of social media marketing provides some suggestions: First, it might make sense to distinguish between the more strategic social media managers and those who interact with users on a daily business. Strategic social media managers need to be aware of business process management, organizational management, strategy, public relations and human resources. Their tasks include responsibilities that are substantially beyond traditional creative, communication or even ‘marketing’ jobs. Without doubt, staff (e.g. ‘social media editors’) that interact with users (also) need to have very good creative and social skills.
In short, a good summary quote from McKinsey:
In short, today’s chief executive can no longer treat social media as a side activity run solely by managers in marketing or public relations. It’s much more than simply another form of paid marketing, and it demands more too: a clear framework to help CEOs and other top executives evaluate investments in it, a plan for building support infrastructure, and performance-management systems to help leaders smartly scale their social presence. (Divol et al., 2012)
Citation for the framework and definition of social media marketing
Felix, R., Rauschnabel, P. A., & Hinsch, C. (2017). Elements of strategic social media marketing: A holistic framework. Journal of Business Research, 70, 118-126.
More links and academic publications
- Collaborative Brand Attacks in Social Media (‘shitstorms’) – coming soon.
- Research on social media marketing and new technologies.
- Social Media Marketing in B2B companies (German).
- Recommended publications from other researchers on social media marketing:
Updates (August 13, 2017):
- The paper is currently the no three most downloaded paper at JBR!
- Added the correct citation / links