The Effectiveness of Social Media Marketing in Shaping a Product's Brand Image

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Contents
1.    Introduction. 1
1.    Outline of Topic. 3
2.    Critical Reflection on Literature Review Process and Procedures. 4
3.    Literature Review.. 5
4.1.    Understanding Social Media Marketing. 5
4.1.2. Why Has Social Media Marketing Become Important?. 7
3.2.     Strategies for Effective Social Media Marketing. 10
3.2.1.      Customer Communication Channel Focus. 12
3.2.2.      Product Diversity Presentation Awareness. 13
3.2.3.      Proactive Competitor Learning Capability. 14
3.2.4.      Market Response Timeliness Orientation. 14
3.3.     Effectiveness of Social Media Marketing in Influencing the Brand Image. 15
5. Analysis and Critical Discussion of the Literature. 19
5.1. Implications of Research for Managers/Management 19
5.2. Implications of Research for Management Education. 20
5.3. Implications for Future Research. 21
6.    Conclusion and Recommendations. 22
7.    Learning Statement 24
References. 27
 
 

1.Introduction

Brands are highly prized assets for companies and firms. Marketers and managers aim to create a positive brand image in consumers’ memory and perceptions through different promotional and advertising tools and mechanisms so as to generate a high brand recall as well as high brand awareness and loyalty amongst other benefits (Escalas, 2007). Additionally, with an exclusive, unique and a positive brand image communicated with a large portion of the target audience, brands become irresistible and needed and work to win the loyalty of consumers. Brand loyalty garnished from brand image, in return promises high sales and revenues, higher Market Share and profitability for the firms and help the firms maintain, or enhance their market positions (Keller, 2008).
The brand image proposed and shown by a company is aimed towards strengthening and cementing a consumer’s relation with the brand by providing a likeable and relatable image. This enables the consumers to see brands as extended versions of themselves where the brand image is integrated with the self-image. Traditionally, the brand image had been communicated to the consumers through one-to-many communication means such as TV advertising, where the firms proposed brand image was communicated one-way to the consumers (Hoffman & Novak, 1996). Where consumers had generally modified and changed the brand image to meet their own personal needs and requirements or to match their own personalities their voices were not powerful or strong enough and could be ignored by the brand managers and marketers without any worry.
However, with the advent of social media and social networking platforms, brand managers and marketers have lost their critical authority and role in determining the brand image of their products/services (Kuksov, Shachar, & Wang, 2013). Instead, consumers have now become powerful enough to actively participate in designing a products brand image, as well as in modifying it. Consumers have increasingly used social media platforms for searching for, and for verifying information, and therefore, firms and companies require to actively place their brands on social media platforms and market them effectively in order to build a positive brand image with the desired target audience (Mangold & Faulds, 2009).
Even though social media platforms and social media marketing strategies provide strong influence and shape branding activities, including the building and communicating of a brand image to consumers, there are a few empirical studies that test the same and detail the issues relevant to this time (Hsu & Tsou, 2011). Most of the studies that deal with social media marketing, and its relation with branding provide a detailed description of what social media is, its various characteristics, and shed light on some of the strategies that marketers may make use of for branding purposes so as to capitalize on the opportunities presented by social media and in overcoming the challenges that these platforms present (Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre, 2011). There is, therefore, an important need in the literature to understand how social media marketing influences and impacts the branding strategies of companies – especially the influence of social media marketing on the brand image of a brand. Within this perspective, the aim of this paper is:
  • To determine the importance of social media in marketing.
  • To identify the different strategies in an effective social media marketing.
  • To assess the effectiveness of social media marketing in shaping the brand image of a product.

1.Outline of Topic

In 2012, fortune 500 companies had shown a quick adoption rate of social media for their brands. Researchers highlighted that more than 73% of these companies had a corporate twitter account, while more than 66% of the companies had an official corporate Facebook page (Barnes, Lescault, & Andonian, 2012). This trend identifies the long term adoption and use of social media by companies as well as by individual brands. Described as a series of innovations in the hardware as well as the software which give way to the creation of cheap content creation and sharing, and easy interaction between users and consumers, social media has drastically changed how business activities and marketing are planned and carried out (Berthon, Pitt, Plangger, & Shapiro, 2012). With the shift of consumers to these new platforms, it only makes sense that brands and companies also find their way here in order to give way to enhanced communication.
Social media marketing, however, offers from traditional media marketing in that social media is in fact related to consumers (Gordhamer, 2009). These platforms are also popularly known as user media – where users don't only interact with each other for personal information exchange as well as knowledge creation purposes but are also used by users as platforms for social interaction and collaborative learning (Nauman, Yang, & Sinnappan, 2009). For this reason, companies often require special attention and strategy in order to build and achieve the desired brand image and loyalty levels. Moreover, social media marketing is also perceived to be more honest and sincere with the consumers in building the brand image, rather than controlling it. The brand image is consistently displayed through different social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Forums (Gordhamer, 2009).
With the advent of social media, and high consumer power in determining and portraying different brand aspects the brand image has also become more complex as it is increasingly impacted and influenced by the consumer's voice. Marketers and brand managers do not solely control the brand image as was the case in past when traditional media was used for purposes of marketing. Users today have a larger voice on social media, more than they ever did on conventional media, and this also often leads to a disconnected image of the brand (Berthon, Pitt, Plangger, & Shapiro, 2012). However, researchers also highlight that marketers and brand managers can make use of social media to lessen the disconnect by reducing preconceptions and misunderstandings towards the brand as well as increase the brand value and enhance the brand image by allowing people to communicate with the brand and in exchanging ideas and information with them online through social media platforms (Kim & Ko, 2012).
Active participation in effective social media marketing practices has proved to be important for firms in order to stay competitive in the fast changing business environment of the present day. For this reason, companies are fast creating a presence on the social networking platforms, where they are communicating with consumers to build desirable and favourable brand images. In order to ensure progress, these companies have also hired social media experts to analyses consumer behaviour, and create favourable content which generates positivity for the brand in order to yield high loyalty from the consumers (Coon, 2010).

2.Critical Reflection on Literature Review Process and Procedures

The information and data for the current research study have been gathered based on academic evidence and practical real-life examples. The researcher has made use of academic journals and academic books to gather theoretical information or grounding the research in strong facts and theories that re concerned with gauging the effectiveness of social media marketing in shaping the brand image of a product. Moreover, the researcher has made use of newspaper articles and magazine articles to identify and present examples that help in building the theoretical debate and argument put forward. All literature has been gathered form secondary resources and has been critically analysed by the researcher. The critical analysis is also evident in the research paper, where the researcher has drawn personal opinions, inferences, and implications form the data and information gathered and presented as well as tried to identify gaps and shortcomings in the literature.
Secondary resources have been used in this research paper for two primary purposes. Firstly, secondary resources have facilitated the researcher in gaining access to a variety of sources that discuss the theory related social media marketing, and brand image and the connection between the two. This has allowed the researcher to build a strong and thorough understanding of the topic, and gather relevant examples to project the same. Moreover, the use of secondary resources that are broadly and mostly academic in nature has provided authenticity and validity to the information gathered and presented by the researcher, thereby giving more weight to the arguments built and presented in this research study.

3.Literature Review

4.1.    Understanding Social Media Marketing

Social media refers to the using technologies that are based on the internet to not only create, but also share and consume knowledge and information. According to Kaplan & Haenlein (2010), the usage of social media spans beyond geographic borders, and are also characteristic of being beyond political, social and demographic boundaries as the usage is dependent on the interaction of users in a collaborative environment that facilitates participation. Mangold & Faulds (2009) state that social media is observed to comprise of a variety of online and word-of-moth forums which include, but is not conclusive of, for example, blogs, emails, internet discussion boards, internal company sponsored discussion boards, social networking websites, moblogs, and consumer to consumer emails. According to Kumar & Sundaram (2012), the most popular social media websites are Facebook, which has over 800 million active users; and Twitter, which has more than 140 million users registered. Additionally, there are over 800 million unique users for YouTube on a monthly basis (Kumar & Sundaram, 2012).
Social media marketing, in turn, is seen to make use of social media channels and tools in addition to using traditional marketing channels to promote their products and engage consumers. According to Gunelius (2010), social media marketing may be described as all forms of direct and indirect marketing activities that are designed and implemented for purposes of generating awareness, increasing recall, enhancing recognition and improving response rates for a brand or a commodity or a company’s business in general – through the use of social media tools such as social networking and blogging, social bookmarking, content generation and content sharing. (Miller, Fabian, & Lin S (2009) point out that social media marketing is a relatively new paradigm in the field of marketing which has enabled businesses to develop channels for long-lasting and successful customer relations through value addition that is based on continual consumer engagement.
Interestingly, social media marketing does not only provide firms with an opportunity to engage with current and existing consumers but also allows them to tap into potential consumers. Rafiee & Sarabdeen (2013) highlight that this is because with the advent and usage of social media for purposes of marketing, marketers now have the chance to tap into various customer groups and appeal to them through showcasing its business and offerings. Rafiee & Sarabdeen (2013) further state that the consumption and usage of social media also help company cut costs which would have otherwise been incurred by these companies in other marketing channels for purposes of communication with consumers. Moreover, with social media marketing businesses, and especially brands, now have space to create and reinforce a sense of community amongst its followers (Mangold & Faulds, 2009).
Social media has been highly relevant for companies for their business’s communication and promotion purposes because of seven functional attributes that are inherent to the nature of social media tools. Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre (2011) have identified these as identity, conversation, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups. These seven functional attributes allow a company to not only connect with the consumer but also relate with the hem on an emotional and psychological need. According to Canhoto & Clark (2013), this gives way to a mutual relationship through which the consumer is able to interact not only with the company and the brand, but also with other consumers who share similar feelings and attitudes towards brand – thereby allowing the formation of brand communities and groups, and giving a sense of belonging to the consumer. Researchers such as Ashley & Tuten (2015) have identified that marketers make use of these aspects and functions to create value for the consumers. Similarly, past literature has identified five key features of social media channels, which make them a viable and a competent source of marketing for firms. These are: user-generated content, customer engagement, firm generated content, eWOM (word of mouth), and online brand communities (Sashi, 2012); (Shen & Bissell, 2013); (Schivinski & Dabrowski, 2014); (Kim & Ko , 2012); (Abu-Rumman & Alhadid, 2014).

4.1.2. Why Has Social Media Marketing Become Important?

Barwise & Sean (2010) state that the internet based technology has reshaped not only the ways in which consumers interact but has also influenced the patterns and ways through which businesses conduct their operations and activities – especially marketing. Fensel, Toma, García, Stavrakantonakis, & Fensel (2014) further add that this influence is especially seen in the case of social media – which is a novel platform through which consumers interact and which has demonstrated high growth rate and which is impacting the global face of marketing. Consequently, social media has established the fact that it here to stay for good, and businesses and marketers, as a result, must learn to coexist with the social media platform, and the empowerment that it grants to the consumer. Moreover, Carim & Warwick (2013) have found that consumers have become sensitive to traditional marketing means which use the push approach for promoting a company's services and products. Instead, consumers now look to equal participation and representation in the marketing process of a company (Carim & Warwick, 2013). Therefore, (Barnes & Mattson, 2008) state that organizations have shown an inclination towards social media, and have been quick to adopt it at a quick pace. Miller, Fabian, & Lin S (2009) elaborate that like consumers, social media has also allowed organizations with a powerful tool to network and connect with people from around the globe – transcending geographical and cultural boundaries and providing this benefit through being instantaneous, easy to use, and financially cheap. Businesses and organizations have realized that consumers enjoy using the social media, and interacting with other people across the social media platform as these help them fulfil their basic need of connecting with others, and elude a feeling of belonging. Powell (2009, p.6) also says that by deciding to interact with consumers via the social media platforms through social media marketing, companies and especially brands, work towards “understanding that need, codifying it, and using that code to better succeed in business (p. 6)”.
More importantly, companies and businesses now understand that consumers are using each other to identify their needs and demands - as well as in deciding hen, where and how to consumer various products and services. This phenomenon is described by Li & Bernoff (2008, p.9) as the groundswell, a “social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations (p. 9)”. According to Hunt, (2009, p.36), “the majority of our buying decisions have always been through word of mouth. However…thanks to the proliferation of online communities, our personal networks have gotten bigger, much bigger (p. 36)”. This highlights that consumers are purchasing products and services more on the validation by their friends and social circles. As a result, Karamian, Nadoushan, & Nadoushan (2015) rightly point out that consumers are now seeking information from the social media, which is identified as a trustworthy source of information assimilation as well as information dissemination – especially compared to traditional marketing tactics which offer  company based communicating and image of the brand or product/service (Karamian, Nadoushan, & Nadoushan, 2015). Ristova (2014), for example, has found that social media marketing has allowed organizations and companies to boost its online sales and increase the appeal of its products and services.
This has necessitated the presence of companies on social media platforms, and engage in social media marketing – to ensure that they interact with, and maintain their appeal to existing and potential consumers through more relevant means and marketing channels. For example, Home Depot now has a corporate channel on YouTube, where the company uploads do-it-yourself home projects spanning from home improvement to energy conservation. Moreover, the company is also active on twitter, where it gathers important customer feedback, and is quick to respond to customer service problems. Twitters also used to communicate with people and help them with their everyday lives. For example, the company communicated a number of useful hurricane preparation information to user sin 2008 – during the hurricane Gustavo incident (Weinberg, 2009).
Companies, businesses and brands have also been keen to adopt social media marketing because consumers were already engaging in conversation about them. According to Zarrella (2010), companies could benefit from engaging and participating in these conversations. According to Hunt (2009), active participation by the company on social media platforms leads to the building of interest amongst consumers and also leads to the dissemination of useful and relevant information. Similarly, according to Scott, 2009, p.121), “where organizations get into trouble is in failing to participate at all (p. 121)”. Active participation on social media is seen, for example, by HP – which remains connected to its target audience through content generation via relevant blogging as well as by responding to consumer comments left on these blogs routinely. This helps in a trust building relation between the company and the consumers – where the consumers appreciate the company’s efforts in maintaining transparency in holding a conversation with them (Li & Bernoff, 2008).
Lastly, companies have been quick to adopt social media marketing, and social media marketing, in turn, has accelerated its growth because of the low financial barriers towards the application and employment of social media marketing. A number of social media tools and applications are free –even for businesses, which helps companies maintain and manage budgets effectively (Weinberg, 2009). Therefore, Smedescu (2012) highlights that the growing importance of social media marketing for businesses is also rooted in the fact that social media tools and platforms allow mutual benefits for the organization as well as the customers.

3.2.Strategies for Effective Social Media Marketing

Smedescu (2012) states that social media marketing is an offshoot of traditional marketing that is based on internet based channels and technologies. Based on the rise of using social media marketing, companies and bus businesses today consider incorporating one, or more social media challans into their marketing strategy depending on the appropriateness of the application and usage toward accomplishing business goals and enhancing business performance (Chanthinok, Ussahawanitichakit, & Jhundra-indra, 2015). Usage of social media marketing has shown to influence both positively through offering numerous benefits, such as the exchange of information and ideas, increased accessibility of the business and company by consumers, and increased interaction and communication with the consumers directly and indirectly. This, in turn, leads to string consumer relationship management for the business as well as improved sales – which results in an overall expanding consumer base (Ristova, 2014). Barker, Donald, Nicholas, & Krisa (2013) also highlight that companies also benefit from using social media marketing as it helps them identify important consumer behaviour and trends, as well as allows the company to familiarize with the consumer’s lifestyle – these aspects can then be incorporated in the business communication and promotion to increase appeal for consumers.
Barker, Donald, Nicholas, & Krisa (2013) have found that the increased usage of social media for purposes of marketing, and ease of access to a wide pool of consumers and audiences, however, warrant that all social media marketing activities must be carefully planned and strategized to be able to attain the marketing goals and objectives for the company. Research has highlighted that businesses and marketers may make use of two approaches to devise feasible social media strategies, broadly speaking. The first is the passive approach, whereby the marketer and the business use social media as platforms for gathering market intelligence and as a means of gathering consumer feedback (Constantinides, 2014). This approach may be observed through the social media can be manifested through, for example, and not conclusively, the following social media marketing strategies:
  • Proactive competitor learning capability
  • Market response timeliness orientation (Constantinides, 2014).
Similarly, the second approach is the active one, whereby the business and the brand actively engage with consumers and make use of social media tools and channels as means of building public relations and as means of direct marketing to influence consumer favourably (Constantinides, 2014). This approach may be observed through the social media marketing strategy of:
  •  Customer communication channel focus
  • Product diversity presentation awareness (Constantinides, 2014).

3.2.1.Customer Communication Channel Focus

According to Chanthinok, Ussahawanitichakit, & Jhundra-indra (2015), customer communication channel focus is the ability and capacity of a company and a business to make use of social media channels and tools to connect with the consumers to announce, contact and generate awareness with them, as well as share content with them. (Kuvykaite & Piligrimiene) 2013) add that this ability not only allows the firm to communicate with the consumers but also allows the consumers to communicate with the firm. This gives the consumers a chance to hold a discussion with the business in an effective manner – which creates grounds for a lasting customer oriented relationship for the business (Badea, 2014). Keller (2001) says that a variety of customer communication channel focuses are present within social media marketing – including, but not limited to, all promotional communication forms, advertising, or public notices. According to Cray (2012), the social media marketing strategy of customer communication channel focus allows firms with the chance to experiment with, and publish a variety of content messages for the consumers, as well as an opportunity to collect feedback from the consumers directly, and observe the influence and effect of its products and services directly through individual experience noting. This strategy facilitates a business in attaining good cost utilization as well as helps the business in delivering higher customer satisfaction (Parveen, Jaafar, & Ainin, 2015); (Eagleman, 2013).

3.2.2.Product Diversity Presentation Awareness

According to Chanthinok, Ussahawanitichakit, & Jhundra-indra (2015), product diversity presentation awareness enables a form to meet the diverse needs and demand of consumers through providing them with a variety of products and services and ensuring their effective placement on the various social media channels, and the broader social media platform. This placement also includes dissemination of information regarding the company’s products and services (Jiang & Benbasat, 2007). Products may generally be grouped based on different features, packaging design, and the brand image (Frambach, Prabhu, & Verhallen, 2003). Jiang & Benbasat (2007) also state that the presentation of the products and services is an important aspect for the company as this may influence a consumers’ perception favourably through communicating product features vividly, as well as allowing for interactivity with the product. Researches, such as those by Song & Kim (2012) have highlighted that increased features of vividness in product presentations – such as colour schemes, animation, and excitation of the senses for example - leads to higher probabilities of purchase amongst consumers. The strategy of product diversity presentation awareness within social media marketing is important for the company in influencing consumer perceptions favourably, increasing the appeal of the products for consumers, and in tapping into new consumer segment – thereby allowing excellence of marketing performance, and optimal cost utilization as well as enhanced customer satisfaction (Chanthinok, Ussahawanitichakit, & Jhundra-indra, 2015).

3.2.3.Proactive Competitor Learning Capability

Chanthinok, Ussahawanitichakit, & Jhundra-indra (2015) define proactive competitor learning capability is a company’s ability and capacity to analyse its competitive environment effectively and continually to be able to identify important trends and factors in consumer behaviour and market dynamics through the use of social media tools. Moreover, it is also company’s ability to access information regarding competitor’s business offering and marketing activities as well as strategies through the use of social media tools and channels. According to Ma, Pant, & Sheng, (2011), the strategy of Proactive competitor learning capability facilitates the company in better planning and forecasting activities as well as in devising effective strategies to counter competitive forces (Ma, Pant, & Sheng, 2011). According to Bierly & Hämäläinen (1995), the strategy of Proactive competitor learning capability within social media marketing is important for the company to be able to enhance and improve its external organizational learning, and gather information about competitors and the external market environment – and incorporate these learnings towards developing a sustainable competitive advantage. This learning may also help the firm in developing its internal creativity and innovativeness, as has been stated by (Lopez, Peon, & Ordas, 2005). Learnings about the external environment continually will also enable the firm to be able to swiftly and easily incorporate changes in its operational capacities and strategic focus based on external business and consumer trends (Kohli & Jaworski, 1990).

3.2.4.Market Response Timeliness Orientation

Chanthinok, Ussahawanitichakit, & Jhundra-indra (2015) state that social media marketing helps managers in identifying and making use of knowledge and information regarding how to respond to changing consumer needs and demands, as well as in helping they retain consumers over a longer period of time through the strategy of market responsive timeliness orientation. This strategy refers to company’s ability towards gathering and making use of relevant market information regarding current customers and product domains – especially towards expressed consumer needs (Kohli & Jaworski, 1990). According to Atuahene-Gima, Slater, & Olson (2005), the focus of this strategy is one expressed consumer needs largely because this minimizes errors in problem solving, helps marketers develop more relevant and relatable communication and promotions, predict trends more accurately, and helps them sustain the current market position by being able to appeal to the existing customer base. Social media tools and channels are useful for this purpose as they help marketers and companies disseminate questionnaires and surveys, to which they are able to gather quick responses. Wang & Chang (2013) state that more importantly, social media allows the companies and businesses to access consumers across geographic and cultural borders, and collect relevant feedback from them to be able to accurately predict tends and customizing their products and services accordingly.

3.3.Effectiveness of Social Media Marketing in Influencing the Brand Image

Engel, Blackwell, & Miniard (1990) define a brand image as the perceptions that consumers hold about the tangible as well as the non-tangible aspects of a brand. According to Keller (1993), brand image is a pivotal factor that contributes towards brand equity. More importantly, Faircloth, Capella, & Alford (2001) state that the brand image directly influences the brand equity. For the consumers, brand image influences and impacts purchased decision. Accordingly, (Pitta & Prevel (1995) have found that a unique and a favourable brand image helps the brand differentiate itself from the competition as well as facilitates a strong positioning in the consumers’ mind.
The brand image is influenced and impacted by marketing activities of a company as these shape the consumer perceptions regarding the brand (Sashi, 2012). With the advent of social media marketing, it will not be wrong to say that the brand image is also influenced by social media tools and that marketers must be careful in their use of social media platforms to induce a favourable brand image amongst consumers (Ha, 2004). Execution of message delivery and other marketing tactics over the social media directly affect consumer processing and engagement, as well as other important outcomes related to the brand – such as brand image and brand loyalty. This is because, according to Chi (2001) social media marketing tends out to be more user-centred than message-centred, which helps it in gratifying consumer needs through effective message communication. Social media marketing strategies, therefore, play an important role in influencing and impacting the brand image of a product.
This influence over consumers’ perceptions through social media marketing takes place through a number of different marketing activities, which include, for example, customer relationship management, customer service, buyer research, lead generation, sales promotion delivery channel, paid advertising channel, and branding (Schmitt, 2012). Schmitt (2012) also states that all these activities, however, must provide relevant information regarding the brand to the consumer to be able to influence the brand image favourably. According to Stelzner (2013), social media marketing may be used to develop a desirable brand image of a product through consumer exposure towards favourable brand communication as well as improved search rankings and driving the traffic towards brand websites – all of which lead to the enhancement of the brand image and brand loyalty.
Another means through which social media marketing may be used to impact the brand image of a product is through customer engagement strategies and activities. Customer engagement activities are more focused on the consumers’ behaviour, ad extends beyond purchasing decisions towards enhancing the brand's image (Doorn, et al., 2010). This is because increased consumer engagement leads to the consumers being more inclined to interact with the brand, and share brad related content on the social media platforms. Merchant (2006) states that this participation with branded content leads to the enhancement of the brand image. Moreover, this participation may be passive – where the consumers only consumer the branded content; or active – where the consumer interacts, and share the branded content along with consuming it through personally-generated content regarding the brand as well (Hutton & Fosdick, 2011).
Brand image is particularly influenced by those consume behaviours in a social media platform that result in brand mention or generation of brand related content which shared amongst consumer’s social network. Li & Bernoff (2008) call these influence impressions, and favourable influence impressions are most desirable for marketers in response to their social media marketing efforts. Influence impression then becomes word of mouth for the brands over the social media sphere which can hold valuable results for the brand din terms of the enhanced brand image through desirably and favourably appealing to consumer perceptions (Li & Bernoff, 2008). The brand image is influenced by effective social media marketing strategies positively also because of the high number of users for the social media, the ease with which the information is spread within and across different social networks, and the credibility that is associated with information shared by users over various social media (Kerr, Mortimer, Dickinson, & Waller, 2012). According to Porter & Golan (2006), these factors influence the consumer’s perceptions regarding a brands image directly – largely because of the nature of trust relation shared between users of the social media platforms. Along the same lines, Trusov, Bucklin, & Pauwels (2009) state that social media marketing may be used like traditional advertising to influence the consumers’ attitudes and perceptions, and provide consumers with branded content that they can share and appraise within their own networks – thereby leading to consumer engagement at larger levels.
The brand image is influenced and impacted by social media marketing activities directly also because of the features and aspects of the social media itself. As has been previously pointed out, social media comprises of five key aspects. These are: user-generated content (Sashi, 2012), customer engagement (Shen & Bissell, 2013), the firm generated content (Schivinski & Dabrowski, 2014), eWOM (word of mouth) (Kim & Ko, 2012), and online brand communities (Abu-Rumman & Alhadid, 2014). These aspects influence the brand image individually as well as together – leading to a comprehensive impact on the consumers’ perceptions regarding a brand.
According to Schivinski & Dabrowski, (2014), user generated content has a positive impact on the brand image, and the overall brand equity. Sashi (2012) further state that user generated content influences brand image through directly impacting levels of consumer satisfaction by addressing their changing needs over a period of time. De Vries & Carlson (2014) state that customer engagement also impacts brand image, and brand loyalty directly. Zailskaite-Jakste & Kuvykaite (2013) affirm that the brand image and the overall brand equity is enhanced at all points of customer engagement levels. This is because, as Brodie, Ilic, Juric, & Hollebeek (2013) state, customer engagement leads to customer empowerment, and leads to the building of an emotional bond and a trusted relationship with the brand. Research by Shen & Bissell (2013) has similarly proved that brands and companies can improve the brand image through focusing on, and enhancing customer engagement levels on social media platforms. The firm generated content, similarly, has a direct impact on the functional brand image through being able to influence the brand attitude directly – which then influences the brand equity and purchase decisions (Bruhn, Schoenmueller, & Schafer, 2012) (Schivinski & Dabrowski, 2014). eWOM also influences brand image directly through impacting a consumers’ perceived quality regarding a brand (Ha, 2004). This is further affirmed by Srinivasan, Anderson, & Ponnavolu (2002), who have established a positive relation between eWOM and brand image – which consequently gives way to enhanced levels of loyalty. Urban (2005) state along the same lines that eWOM could be used to influence the brand image and consumer perceptions at a massive scale – and this would also have the credibility of the message being communicated by other consumers instead of by the brands themselves. Lastly, online brand communities have also been found to have built stronger and more factorable notions of brand image for the brand amongst participating consumers (Kim, Choi, Qualls, & Han, 2008).
This highlights that social media strategies which are carefully crafted and designed, and which are thoroughly planned before implementation and which understand the workings and nature of social media platforms have the potential to favourably influence the rand image of a product. This is because these strategies will be aimed at maximizing the benefits offered by social media through connecting with their target audience and influencing perception though interaction. 

5. Analysis and Critical Discussion of the Literature

5.1. Implications of Research for Managers/Management

This research study has valid implications for marketers and managers. Managers and marketers of brands often engage in social media marketing and advertising without having the prerequisite knowledge of the social media channels, and their attributes. As a result, they execute campaigns without planning and strategizing – which not only leads to promotional failures but also impacts the brand image negatively. Moreover, the consumer often starts viewing these brands as intruders in their social space because of the brand's inability to understand the consumer needs and satisfy them accordingly with their interactive capabilities.
This research highlights that marketers and manager must understand the workings of the social media platforms, and the various aspects and characteristics of social media before engaging in interaction with the consumers. Understanding of these characteristics is important to be able to devise a comprehensive strategy which will facilitate the enhancement of the brand image as well as lead to positive customer engagement levels.
This research also implies that companies and brands should, after understanding the workings of the social media platforms and channels, engage in social media marketing. This is because traditional marketing methods are quickly being ousted and consumers now seek information and product validation more through social media platforms – which offers them valid and trusted responses. As a result, it makes sense for the brands to be present in the social media space to be able to participate in consumer discussions, to be able to provide them with information as well as to clear misunderstandings. This research study also highlights the importance of brands in participating and engaging with consumers via social media marketing to be able to gather valuable feedback from the consumers. This feedback can then be incorporated into the business's brand strategy to be able to increase the level of customer satisfaction. Social media participation is also important for companies to be able to respond effectively to consumer complaints, and thereby, lower levels of customer dissatisfaction and frustration. 

5.2. Implications of Research for Management Education

This research also holds important implications for management education and business students. Business and management students are the future business leaders and brand managers. It is therefore important that these students are equipped with knowledge regarding social media, and social media marketing to avoid possible mishaps and challenges in their practical and professional lives.
Business schools and management is therefore encouraged, through the implications drawn from his research, to devise courses and lectures which impart the knowledge of social media platforms and social media marketing to the students. In doing so, management education systems should be careful to help students understand the difference between social media channels, and social media marketing, and how the former can be effectively sued to give positive results for the latter. This education should also entail and include how social media platforms are used differently by consumers and businesses, and how the two ends of the spectrum are connected through the interactive capability of these social media networks.
In addition to helping students learn about social media marketing and social media marketing strategies, it will also be useful for students to learn and gain knowledge about how the marketing strategies over social media are gauged for performance, and how their impact is measured. For this, it will be useful to employ themes of social media analytics, and how to decipher and read them, and employ hem further to strengthen the brand's position and standing over social media in the future. These courses should be made mandatory for business students instead of being optional because social media has become an intricate part of our lives – for both consumers and businesses. As a result, businesses are encouraged to quickly adopt the social media platforms for purposes of effective communication.

5.3. Implications for Future Research

The current research and literature analysis is also important for directing future research. Where the current research has observed the influence and impact of social media marketing on brand image, it has also opened a number of avenues for future researchers. Future research, can firstly, aim towards researching and understanding the influence of different social media platforms used in social media marketing to assess and evaluate the impact of each platform individually on the brand image of a product. This research will be helpful in facilitating practitioners and brand managers towards choosing of the most appropriate of the social media platforms for their marketing purposes – in synch with their marketing goals and objectives.
A second avenue identified for future research is understanding the role of social media a marketing on the overall brand equity and not only brand image. This will include assessing the impact and influence of social media marketing on brand awareness, brand loyalty, brand trust, perceived quality and brand associations in addition to assessing the influence on the brand image. This assessment of the impact of social media marketing on the identified factors will take place simultaneously to understand how social media marketing influences each factor to then have an overall impact on brand equity. More importantly, this research will also help academics and practitioner understand which aspect of brand equity is influenced most by social media marketing – and these can then be prioritized with the brands overall marketing strategy as well as its social media marketing strategy accordingly.

6.Conclusion and Recommendations

Social media refers to a group of technological applications that are based on the internet, and which have the key aspect of allowing users to interact with each other, generate and share content. Additionally, social media channels have features of participation, openness, community building, and customer engagement. Examples of social media platforms include social networking websites, blogs, forums, content communities, etc.
With the development and rapid onset of social media, many companies and organizations have jumped on the bandwagon of social media marketing to benefit from it with regard to their brands, services and customer management systems as well as for managing public relations. This trend has further been encouraged by the fact that consumers today spend a high amount of tie online, and are active member soft various social media platforms. Moreover, they use these platforms to make informed purchasing decisions, as well as for purposes of gathering information, as well as validating it – in addition to using these platforms for connecting with other people and for purposes of entertainment.
Therefore, it has become all the more critical and pivotal for marketers to understand the role that social media plays in the context of marketing. This is because social media marketing has a direct influence on marketing objectives and goals such as understanding consumer purchasing behaviour, enhancing customer relationship management, improving brand management etc. this also involves influencing the brand image positively through using social media marketing.
This research paper has highlighted the relationship between social media marketing and the brand image of a product through aspects of customer engagement and participation, as well as through the characteristic of social media to generate content, and share it. This helps the companies in increasing the appeal of its products, boosting sales, as well as increasing the positivity associated with the brand image. Moreover, companies and organizations also use social media marketing as a means to collect positive and negative information about their products and brands and engage with the target audience routinely and actively. This helps the company improve the brand's awareness and positioning in the market.
Therefore, it will not be wrong to conclude that today's digital era is marked with a spike in the consumption of social media marketing and social media channels. Consumers have become active users of social media channels, and there is no escaping it for businesses and organizations who wish to remain connected with their consumers. As a result, companies –whether large corporations or a small home based entrepreneurial ventures – have taken to connect with their target audience and consumers via the social media, as well as advertise and promote their businesses, products and services through the social media platforms and channels. It is therefore wise for companies to divert resources and rethink conventional outreach and marketing programs and tactics, and focus on incorporating social media marketing into their broader marketing strategy. It must be noted, however, that social media marketing is a complex paradigm in itself, and cannot be executed by an individual alone. The company must carefully plan and strategize it in order to ensure success and attainment of business and marketing goals.

7.Learning Statement

This research paper has been helpful in facilitating my learning about social media platforms, and helping me understand that social media channels span beyond social networking sites. More importantly, this research has facilitated my understanding regarding the key characteristics and features of social media channels and platforms, which enable them to be an attractive marketing tool for brands and organizations. Of these features, the most important feature is the social media platforms' ability to enable interactivity, which leads to customer engagement. This engagement is important in maintaining ties with existing customers, as well as tapping into new customer groups. Understanding of social media platform and social media channels has then also facilitated my understanding of how to incorporate marketing into social media channels, and use the social media paradigm to positively influence a business's marketing performance and brand image. The research paper has, also, however, highlighted that social media marketing cannot be implemented in isolation and without planning. This means that the social media marketing campaigns and promotions should be thoroughly planned and strategized before being implemented, and should also be integrated into the overall marketing plan and goals of the company and the brand. This is an important factor, as it has helped me understand the importance of social media marketing and social media channels and tools and the impact that they can hold over brands. The high number of users present in the social media sphere, and the empowerment that they have achieved through these channels where they can openly and freely voice their opinions and comments have put organizations on alert and demanded that they become honest and transparent into their communication, as well as take customer feedback into the count. Failure to do so can back fir, and result in negative outcomes for brands with negative WOM form consumers across geographical borders.
Additionally, this research paper has also focused my attention towards social media analytics as a viable tool for gauging the performance of social media marketing tactics.  Social media marketing, as I have understood, cannot be gauged and measured using the same principles and tools that have been previously used for conventional and traditional marketing channels and platforms. Instead, social media marketing is gauged through a thorough analysis of data, trends, and information – which is a learning in itself. It is, therefore, extremely important for business and marketing students to be aware of this analytics, and be equipped with their knowledge to be able to effectively use them in real-life scenarios and situations.
this research paper has also been important in helping me understand how social media platforms and social media marketing can be used as easy to use and financially heap means to reach consumers across the world – beyond national and cultural borders, and how these platforms can help marketers influence the consumers’ perceptions positively towards a product as well – just through interacting with the consumers and keeping them engaged through consumer-relevant content generation. This is ease of influencing customers has opened a world of opportunities for marketers, in my opinion, and has provided them with various means to identify consumer behaviour patterns and trends. This knowledge can then be implemented in marketing campaigns, and product development to be able to appeal to higher consumer numbers.
The research paper, overall, has helped me develop a more intricate knowledge regarding social media and social media marketing, and how these may be sued to influence consumer perceptions positively and thereby enhance the overall brand image of a product. Likewise, however, social media marketing, if implemented and left unmanaged and unsupervised, can create havoc for the company by negatively influencing the brand image.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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