The Importance of Social Media in Business

free essayIn the recent history, there have been numerous debates among the researchers and the academics about the existing challenges and opportunities of social media and online research. The social media platforms offer rich data in all areas of life and businesses. The researchers are using the data to support their work and create networks. A fact-finding project was carried out on some companies to investigate how they use social media. Previous researches have expressed the need to conduct more investigations on the strategies that businesses use in implementing the social media and the ways they impact their businesses. This analysis was used to produce the semi-structured questions for interviews. The interviews inquire into four subject areas, namely the use of social media, the social media strategy, the champions of social media and the impacts of social media.

Purpose, Scope and Objectives

The purpose of this project is to give a basic understanding of the use of strategic approaches in social media for businesses by exploring companies in North West of England. The objectives include:

  • To review the existing survey and literature in order to develop a framework that would help in understanding the different strategic approaches to the use of social media by the businesses.
  • To examine the degree to which businesses that use social media monitor its impacts on their businesses.
  • To explore the evolution of perspective and strategic approaches in new digital economy of the social media.

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Problem Statement

In the recent past, most of the businesses that have developed social media strategies have seen significant growth in their operations. These benefits have been experienced mostly by the big companies. This has posed some threats to businesses that still use the traditional methods of communication with their clients.

Constraints

One of the main limitations of the study was that the study was based on a small number of businesses in the North West. This made it difficult to come up with a conclusive answer as to the ways social media is used in the companies.

Justification

Using social media instead of the traditional communication methods can be cheaper and may have higher levels of efficiency. There is, therefore, a need for every company to implement the social media strategy in their businesses. It helps in reaching out to many customers, which could be quite challenging without it. This makes social media an effective tool for growth and development of various types of businesses.

Use of Social Media

Concerning the use of social media, Twitter was listed as one of the most widely used social media. It was used by the majority of businesses that were considered in the survey to create awareness among the customers about technical issues, networking, provision of knowledge and marketing (Guandong & Lin, 2013). It was highly valued for its interactive nature. The survey showed that Facebook was not as extensively used as Twitter by the businesses that wanted to cooperate together because it was viewed as consumer focused and too social. However, it was widely used by businesses that sell their products and services directly to the consumers. These include the businesses that operate in the Drink and Food sector (Guandong & Lin, 2013). The majority of surveyed businesses showed that they adopted a strategy of updating themselves on the social media at least once a day (Hajli, 2015). It was established that majority of the participants appreciated the advantages of using social media for business purposes, as opposed to sales and marketing. Some of the discussed activities focused on the use of Twitter in creating networks between businesses and creating awareness to the customers about service interruptions and the use of LinkedIn for staff recruitment. Some of the participants had an interest in the social media sites, such as the Tumblr and Pinterest because they were seen as a great way of promoting their businesses (Lipschultz, 2014). Other businesses used Google+ for its usefulness in reviews and high capability to optimize the searches. Several other participants used Google+ as a great opportunity to explore new platforms. From the majority of the companies surveyed, nearly all the staffs were not allowed to access the social media for the business (Guandong & Lin, 2013). There were some reasons for this, which included work requirements that prohibited staff from being actively involved in the social media usage. Another established reason was the fear of staff to use social media and saying something that is not right about the business. Another reason is a lack of familiarity with some members with the use of social media (Wankel & Wankel, 2011).

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Social Media Strategies

Nearly all of the participants had adopted a strategy of committing their time to creating regular posts on the social media and ensuring that the content is tailored to meet the needs of the businesses and those of the target market (Wankel & Wankel, 2011). Throughout the survey, it was established that the businesses were seriously concerned about the quality of the posts that they have put on social media. The majority of the participants recognized the need to offer free knowledge and expertise to the clients through social media. For instance, there are provision technical articles and white papers that can be very useful to the clients (Wankel & Wankel, 2011). Some of the participants have also highlighted the necessity of offering the informed decisions on activities and developments within the businesses to the client. However, the use of advertisement on social media was considered as not right by some participants, making them not develop the strategies that would help them advertise through the social media. It was established that ample time was required for social media strategies in order to be effective (Hajli, 2015). However, the majority of the businesses lacked a full-time staff to perform all of the duties related to social media. It was also discovered that there was no strategy of monitoring the activities of social media outside of the regular working hours. Various strategies for saving time that included scheduling of Tweets programs on Twitter were often used during the day. This helped in reducing the time the employees would have to spend in the management of social media (Hajli, 2015).

Champions of Social Media

Three participants involved in the study of the role of marketing manager had great knowledge of social media and considered themselves formal champions within their businesses (Hajli, 2015). One of the participants studied used the informal champion through a colleague with greater knowledge of social media, specifically Twitter. The rest of the associates used other methods for support and advice in social media. This also included formal training courses, consultancy and studying reports that have been posted on the social media.

Impacts of Social Media

The majority of businesses studied used various analytical tools to identify if social media conversations resulted in any conversions of customers. Various businesses mentioned the difficulties they have encountered in their efforts to establish the ways social media conversation translates to value for the business. Social media applications that include Facebook, Wikipedia Twitter Youtube, and Flickr have been used to facilitate the usage of social media content (White, King, & Tsang, 2011). The content of social media consists of videos, texts, networks and pictures. User Generated Content (UGC) has been a term that was commonly used to describe the content that the users have generated using the various applications available in the social media.

Introduction

In the modern world, social media technologies are paramount in the work of any business. It offers a great opportunity for social interactions among businesses and their customers. However, there have been businesses that have not implemented it. The businesses have been slower in implementing social media, as compared to consumers. This is despite the high number of consumers who use the social media. This paper will examine the use of social media in businesses that are based in North West, particularly the strategies that they use in their companies, what they do to monitor the outcomes of their social media usage and the usage of champions to promote their businesses through the social media. The project mainly focuses on the social media usage in businesses and aims to explore the implementation, development and the planned monitoring of social media strategies and outcomes.

Background

The progress from the use of the Internet in social media has been evolutional. It started with the simple use of web page, which was used to provide information regarding the business or the product and Internet was used for commercial purposes (Deen & Hendricks, 2012). Presently, the development of web 2.0 technologies has made it easier to create businesses’ content in the social media. The web 2.0 cannot be described as technical advancements alone without including the implementation of technologies, such as Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and Adobe Flash that help in the creation of social media (Lipschultz, 2014). Web 2.0 has helped in the technological advancement through enabling the development of computer software and hardware that assist the users to interact with each other and create content. For instance, those user-friendly websites that have been developed provide a lot of content that its users might find useful and also encourage their participation. The progress has seen the computer users move from the passive role of retrieving information to the role that involves more interactions, information creation, collaboration, and design (Deen & Hendricks, 2012).

How Social Media is Classified

There has not been established a definitive way by which social media can be classified. However, it can be classified by the type of its application. This may include social bookmarking, social networking, such as Facebook, video sharing, professional networking, picture-sharing, blogs, user forums, and micro blogging applications.

Research on Social Media, Strategies and Impact Measurement

Despite the advancements in technology, there is a lack of researches on the strategies that businesses can use for social media, so that they can easily fit the overall strategy of the business. This is an area that businesses should carry out more research about. This will help the businesses understand how they can manage their social media (White, King, & Tsang, 2011). The business should also provide more interdepartmental techniques for customers, so that they can be able to handle the negative perceptions that may arise and also be able to give the proper attention to their contributions. For the businesses to be successful in social media, the company’s expertise in social media should be treated as a part of business expertise, so that they can be able to fully dedicate their services to the company (White, King & Tsang, 2011).

The Utilization of Social Media by Businesses

The project is focused on the use social media in sales and marketing. Departments, such as marketing, are often responsible for the implementation of the social media strategy in the business but sometimes this fails to be effective for the company because customers do not usually view the business in terms of departments (Ran & Yilmaz, 2015). The only expectations of the customers are responses to their enquires, comments, ideas and expressions. Therefore, the businesses should focus their strategies for social media on customers’ satisfaction. This can be done through processes, such as responding to their suggestions for service and products improvements and resolving their complaints (Ran & Yilmaz, 2015). The use of Twitter by businesses shows a great potential for social media to be used in other areas of the business apart from marketing. The study found out that the motivation to implement technologies within the social media by the business was high and had a strong relationship with customers and those who are willing to gather the intelligence of their customers. Some of the inhibitors that were identified include the lack of needed staff resources, so that the social media strategy can be implemented and the unknown potential that the social media can have in the business (Hajli, 2015). In some states it was also established that legal restrictions have hindered some businesses to use social media.

Factors that Affect the Use of Social Media

The massive use of social media by the members of the public can significantly affect the organizational structure of business. This may be possible because the social media has enabled the businesses to shift to an environment that is driven by customers (Hajli, 2015). Nowadays, it becomes necessary to have the social media strategies in business because customers now demand immediate contacts and responses from the businesses that they use, regardless of the international boundaries (Lipschultz, 2014). Customers demand a way for businesses to deal with a variety of requests, which include customer concerns, special offers, loyalty rewards, updates on why services or products may be changing and any other information that may be helpful to the customer. Some of the businesses have made the changes in their organizational structure, so that they can accommodate some of the customers’ requirements. However, such an accommodation has proved to be difficult for small businesses to incorporate some of these changes into their operations.

Using social media instead of the traditional communication methods can be cheaper and can have higher levels of efficiency (Pa?trut? & Pa?trut?, 2013). Higher efficiency makes social media an effective tool for growth and development of various types of businesses. However, it can be challenging for businesses to come up with the best ways of managing the use of social media because it operates in a fast moving environment with its applications becoming more popular and, at the same time, being replaced with the new products.

There is also the fear of causing damage to the company’s reputation as a result of shift in power from the businesses to individuals who use the social media. Customers believe that comments and reviews from other customers on the business are more trustworthy than those from the business. This may have a negative impact on the business, especially when customers believe in negative reviews about a certain business from another customer. For instance, any negative message in tourism or hospitality sectors may affect the business because customers usually rely on online reviews and visits by other customers (Mergel & Greeves, 2013). Products which may allegedly be dangerous or performing poorly may be highlighted by the consumers through the social media. This may be risky for business if the information is spread by an enemy who wants to destroy the business. Several large businesses have made some organizational changes with an aim of managing the threat of social media (Mergel & Greeves, 2013). They have employed staffs to respond immediately to customer complaints and monitor the social media. Unethical and unsustainable practices by the company can be exposed to customers who use social media, such as wikis and blogs or the campaign groups. The social media can lead to violations of copyright. For example, customers may share the materials that are copyrighted on community content sites that include Slideshare, YouTube, and Flickr. The company’s reputation can also be affected when its staffs use social media as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction with the management or the company. Such members may promote a negative image of the company, using the social media, such as blogs. The use of social media by the businesses for advertising may be seen as inappropriate for the users of social media sites and may lower their value to the participants. This was evident in a case study that was carried out among the Facebook users (Mergel & Greeves, 2013).

The champion is critical for success when a company faces resistance to change from its employees. In this case, the company should use champion to ensure that the social media strategies are being implemented. The Promotor theory describes the need to overcome the barriers through the use of innovation projects and what the Promoter requires when overcoming the barriers. The theory describes various ways through which barriers can occur; the barriers can occur due to the resistance to innovation, lack of co-operation, lack of knowledge and various administrative barriers. For the company to overcome these barriers, it should have several promotor roles. A champion or universal promoter take on several roles to ensure that the barriers to innovation are overcome. Innovation champions can be described as innovators and risk takers. They possess the negotiation and communication skills. While champions are considered to be influential people in the company, they do not necessarily have to be the senior staff members in the company. Most of the champions are mainly existing staffs in the company and not staffs hired specifically for innovation or championing a product.

Methodology

Secondary data was used and was available from a survey conducted on social media use in the West Midlands in the year 2011. The survey looked into the use of social media in 270 businesses and included the data concerning the businesses’ attitude and various approaches to its implementations. The use of secondary data is beneficial to the researcher because it is helpful in reduction of time that is required to gather data. However, it can at times only address the research objectives partially. The analysis of survey data was carried out to examine and provide the information on how social media is used in businesses.

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Qualitative research that involved the use of semi-structured interviews was performed on businesses. An interview schedule was also prepared and was carried out on the existing literature that covered several themes that were chosen to explore the experiences of the businesses in the use and implementation of social media in businesses. Participants were first asked about the choices that they have made for the social media platforms. The following question was about the social media strategies that the companies applied, and the last questions touched on the social media champion and the impact that social media has on the company. The schedule for the interview was flexible, and this allowed the participants to raise several issues that relate to social media. This was important because the interviewer was able to explore the themes in detail and also explored other themes that have emerged from the interviews. The participants were acquainted with the purpose of study verbally and through email before the interviews took place. The participants were guaranteed anonymity and informed of the right to stop engaging in research whenever they wished to without any explanations (Hill, Dean & Murphy, 2013). Six interviews were carried out in Jan and Feb 2014 with a few businesses (Table 1). The research was not limited to specific businesses, and the secondary qualitative data was used to carry out the research from a wide range of sectors. The IT related sectors had three out of six participants because the media, entertainment, technology, IT and publishing sectors were seen as the ones which most likely need the social media in their businesses. The businesses that were involved included the business-to-business (B2B) and ones that were focused on customers, the business to consumer (B2C). The duration of the interviews was approximately 30-45 minutes. Most of the interviews were conducted at a nearby caf? or the participant’s premises.

Table 1

The Participant Profile

Business Business Size Participant Role Social Media Use Business Sector
Business 1 36 Marketing Manager Twitter

LinkedIn

Digital Media/IT
Business 2 15 Marketing Manager Facebook

Company Blog

LinkedIn

Twitter

Pinterest

IT
Business 3 12 Marketing Manager Twitter

Facebook

LinkedIn

Google+

IT
Business 4 8 Owner/ Social Media Consultant Tripadvisor

Twitter

Facebook

Food and Drink
Business 5 1 Owner LinkedIn

Facebook

Pinterest

Google+

Slideshare

Training and Development Professional Services
Business 6 Owner/Manager 5 Pinterest

Twitter

Facebook

Tumblr

Food and Drink

The transcription and analysis of the interview recordings were done using the template analysis. This method of analysis has been recognized for its ability to provide a structure that is helpful in the analysis of qualitative interview data. It has been greatly used in fields like health and sociology because of its flexibility and ability to use fewer formal procedures, as compared to other theories.

The Analysis of Secondary Data

Secondary data of the survey contained the results of 271 businesses that could be found in West Midlands since 2003 and up-to-date. All of the interviewed companies were based in various industry sectors and had less than 50 staff members. 68% which represents 185 businesses were actively using social media in their companies.

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Business Activities

The survey had questions on the type of business activities that social media was used for by the company. The results of the survey are shown in the table 2 below. It was established that social media was mainly used to contact other business entities. Most of the companies surveyed did not use social media to connect with the suppliers and customers. They also did not use the social media in brand support, online services, cost reduction and marketing of services and products.

Table 2

The Business Activities in West Midlands Survey

The Use of Social Media Number of Respondents(N) Respondents % for Yes Respondents % for No
Brand Support 184 55(30%) 129(70%)
Connecting with Suppliers and Customers 184 58(31.5%) 126(68.5%)
Online Sales 193 70(36%) 123(64%)
Contact Business 184 150(81.5%) 34(18.5%)
Reduce Costs 184 51(28%) 133(72%)
Marketing Services and Products 185 65(35%) 120(65%)

The Semi- Structured Interviews

In this study, the interviews were carried on only one member of the staff in each organization. Therefore, the responses given by the respondents do not reflect the opinions of all the staff members employed by these businesses. This has inhibited the development of full case study for all of the companies under consideration.

Summary of Findings and Conclusions

Social media has become a very powerful tool in the running, management, growth and management of the businesses. It is currently used as the platform for broadcasting and amplifying the messages that traditional media cannot be able to pass to others easily. It is able to pass the information, regardless of the geographical location. From the survey carried out, Twitter was identified to be the most widely used social media. It was also discovered that there was certain reluctance to use Facebook. It depended a lot on the nature of business, which the company was involved in. Facebook has mostly been used in business-business sectors, especially in the food and drinks industries because they have formed a good platform where the businesses can interact with its customers. The majority of the companies that were interviewed have recognized the benefits of using social media and they used it at least daily. Some were making more than one update per day. All of the participants have appreciated the importance of using social media for different purposes, apart from sales and marketing. However, not all of the staffs within the businesses used the social media for businesses purposes only. This was attributed to the fact that customers of businesses lacked time due to the commitment to their work and some lacked the familiarity in the application of social media.

Strategy

Nearly all of the businesses that were involved in the study tried to implement social media strategies. This included posting the regular social media posts and the provision of information and knowledge that would attract customers to the business free of charge. It was also identified that the companies fully enjoyed a situation where they engaged their customers in conservations, so that they can get their views. It was discovered that some of the businesses in the study adopted the strategy, whereby they used the social media for networking with clients and other firms and updating their knowledge. It was also established that none of the studied businesses extensively used social media for advertising, and most of them talked negatively about advertising in the social media. There was the recognition of time investment by the business to manage the activities of social media effectively. However, most of the businesses studied did not employ a full-time staff responsible for managing social media. The need to respond and monitor the posts of customers in the social media was also recognized. This was especially necessary during the outside of office hours. Many businesses often viewed the scheduling of posts made in the social media as a way of saving time and responding to customers, according to the arrival of their posts (Hill, Dean, & Murphy, 2013). Although the majority of the businesses had tried to adopt the social media strategy, it was identified that there was some degree of experimentation among them by trying the different social media platforms. This has helped them to identify which would work best for them.

Champion

Throughout the study, the role of innovators or champions was found to be dynamic. They were identified to be in formal positions of the businesses, most of them being at the rank of marketing managers. In other businesses, there were informal champions who had taken an unofficial role in the promotion of social media in the business. These are the people who had a general interest in the business regarding the use of social media. The business that had no knowledge in the use of social media hired external help from a consultant or sought advice from friends or even looked for the online reports which were also good at offering expertise in the use of social media.

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Monitoring and Impact of Social Media

Most of the studied businesses used analytics software to carry out their formal control on the ways social media was being used in their businesses. There was a major problem of the businesses making the connection of the benefits that they gained from the interactions with the customers through the social media. This was attributed to the fact that most of them have used multiple media to carry out their investigations, leading to different results. From the study, it was also established that majority of the businesses have recognized the need to monitor the activities of social media by instantly responding to the negative posts by the customers. This was important to ensure that the business reputation was not damaged.

Limitations of the Study and Recommendations for Further Research

One of the limitations of the study was that it was based on a small number of businesses in the North West. More research is required in order to expand knowledge about the use of social media through increasing the number of participants. These should include businesses from other geographical locations and include more business sectors (Deen & Hendricks, 2012). This would be helpful in examining the variations that exist between various sectors. In some instances, the ideas were only raised by a single participant. This would have been more conclusive if it involved a large number of participants. For instance, the case of businesses, where there were an optimum number of customers who were following the business through Twitter but with very few who actually tweeted. This means that there was very little coverage, thus requiring an action to be taken, so that the business can locate those customers (Deen & Hendricks, 2012).

The secondary data that was used for the first survey data and the interview data were limited to West Midlands regions and the North West for the interviews. Thus, the opinions that were expressed may not necessarily reflect the wide national opinions (Deen & Hendricks, 2012).Therefore, it would be more beneficial if the surveys and interviews were conducted on a large group of participants from a wider geographical location.