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Social media: The new hybrid element of the
Article in Business Horizons · July 2009
DOI: 10.1016/j.bushor.2009.03.002 · Source: RePEc
2 authors, including:
David J Faulds
University of Louisville
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Business Horizons (2009) 52, 357—365
Social media: The new hybrid element of the
W. Glynn Mangold a,*, David J. Faulds b
College of Business & Public Affairs, Murray State University, Murray, KY 42071, U.S.A.
College of Business Administration, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292, U.S.A.
Abstract The emergence of Internet-based social media has made it possible for
one person to communicate with hundreds or even thousands of other people about
products and the companies that provide them. Thus, the impact of consumer-toconsumer communications has been greatly magnified in the marketplace. This article
argues that social media is a hybrid element of the promotion mix because in a
traditional sense it enables companies to talk to their customers, while in a nontraditional sense it enables customers to talk directly to one another. The content,
timing, and frequency of the social media-based conversations occurring between
consumers are outside managers’ direct control. This stands in contrast to the
traditional integrated marketing communications paradigm whereby a high degree
of control is present. Therefore, managers must learn to shape consumer discussions
in a manner that is consistent with the organization’s mission and performance goals.
Methods by which this can be accomplished are delineated herein. They include
providing consumers with networking platforms, and using blogs, social media tools,
and promotional tools to engage customers.
# 2009 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.
1. Social media, the promotion mix,
and integrated marketing
Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is the
guiding principle organizations follow to communicate with their target markets. Integrated marketing communications attempts to coordinate and
control the various elements of the promotional
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org
(W.G. Mangold), email@example.com (D.J. Faulds).
mix–—advertising, personal selling, public relations,
publicity, direct marketing, and sales promotion–—to
produce a unified customer-focused message and,
therefore, achieve various organizational objectives (Boone & Kurtz, 2007, p. 488).
However, the tools and strategies for communicating with customers have changed significantly
with the emergence of the phenomenon known as
social media, also referred to as consumer-generated media. This form of media ‘‘describes a variety of
new sources of online information that are created,
initiated, circulated and used by consumers intent
on educating each other about products, brands,
0007-6813/$ — see front matter # 2009 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.
W.G. Mangold, D.J. Faulds
services, personalities, and issues’’ (Blackshaw &
Nazzaro, 2004, p. 2).
Social media encompasses a wide range of online,
word-of-mouth forums including blogs, companysponsored discussion boards and chat rooms,
consumer-to-consumer e-mail, consumer product
or service ratings websites and forums, Internet
discussion boards and forums, moblogs (sites containing digital audio, images, movies, or photographs), and social networking websites, to name
a few. As illustrated by Table 1, social media outlets
are numerous and varied.
The 21st century is witnessing an explosion of
Internet-based messages transmitted through these
media. They have become a major factor in influencing various aspects of consumer behavior including awareness, information acquisition, opinions,
attitudes, purchase behavior, and post-purchase
communication and evaluation. Unfortunately, the
popular business press and academic literature offers marketing managers very little guidance for
incorporating social media into their IMC strategies.
Examples of social media
Social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook,
Creativity works sharing sites:
Video sharing sites (YouTube)
Photo sharing sites (Flickr)
Music sharing sites (Jamendo.com)
Content sharing combined with assistance
General intellectual property sharing sites
User-sponsored blogs (The Unofficial Apple Weblog,
Company-sponsored websites/blogs (Apple.com,
Company-sponsored cause/help sites (Dove’s
Campaign for Real Beauty, click2quit.com)
Invitation-only social networks (ASmallWorld.net)
Business networking sites (LinkedIn)
Collaborative websites (Wikipedia)
Virtual worlds (Second Life)
Commerce communities (eBay, Amazon.com,
Craig’s List, iStockphoto, Threadless.com)
Podcasts (‘‘For Immediate Release: The Hobson
and Holtz Report’’)
News delivery sites (Current TV)
Educational materials sharing (MIT
Open Source Software communities (Mozilla’s
Social bookmarking sites allowing users to
recommend online news stories, music, videos,
etc. (Digg, del.icio.us, Newsvine, Mixx it, Reddit)
Therefore, many managers lack a full appreciation
for social media’s role in the company’s promotional
efforts. Even though social media is magnifying the
impact consumer-to-consumer conversations have
in the marketplace, methods for shaping those conversations have not yet been articulated.
The purpose of this article is threefold. First, we
propose that social media be considered a hybrid
component of the promotional mix and therefore be
incorporated as an integral part of the organization’s IMC strategy. The second purpose of the article is to compare and contrast the traditional
communications paradigm that relied on the established promotional mix, elements which were developed and refined over the past 100 years, with
the new communications paradigm which incorporates social media. Finally, we discuss methods by
which marketing managers can shape the consumerto-consumer conversations which are now driving
the marketplace to a greater extent than ever
2. Social media’s hybrid role in the
It has long been acknowledged in marketing management circles that successful IMC strategies clearly
reflect the values articulated in an organization’s
mission statement and contribute to the fulfillment
of the organization’s performance goals. To accomplish these objectives, the elements of the promotion
mix are carefully coordinated so the information
transmitted to the marketplace through these elements consistently communicates a unified message
that broadly reflects the organization’s fundamental
For example, the promotional efforts conducted
by Procter and Gamble (P&G) or General Electric
(GE) illustrate the underlying values of these organizations as articulated in their respective mission
statements and statements of strategic principles
(General Electric, 2008; Procter and Gamble, 2008).
When these two organizations entered the social
media arena, they carefully crafted their communications with the marketplace to consistently reflect their organizational values. By doing so, both
organizations acknowledged the importance of incorporating social media into their IMC strategies
and promotional efforts.
GE and P&G’s use of social media demonstrates
that this media has two interrelated promotional
roles in the marketplace. First, social media enables
companies to talk to their customers, and second, it
enables customers to talk to one another. Social
media also enables customers to talk to companies;
Social media: The new hybrid element of the promotion mix
however, this role is market research-related rather
than promotion-related and, therefore, is outside
the scope of this article.
The first role of social media is consistent with the
use of traditional IMC tools. That is, companies can
use social media to talk to their customers through
such platforms as blogs, as well as Facebook and
MySpace groups. These media may either be company-sponsored or sponsored by other individuals or
The second promotion-related role of social media is unique: customers can use it to communicate
with one another. In his book The New Influencers,
Gillin (2007) points out that ‘‘Conventional marketing wisdom has long held that a dissatisfied customer
tells ten people. But that is out of date. In the new
age of social media, he or she has the tools to tell 10
million’’ (p. 4) consumers virtually overnight. Gillin
illustrates this potential power by recounting the
story of Vincent Ferrari, a blogger who posted an
audio recording of his encounter with an AOL customer service representative. The representative’s
persistent attempts to convince Ferrari not to cancel his account offended listeners’ sensibilities to
the extent that approximately 300,000 of them
requested to download the audio file. The story
went ‘‘viral’’ as it was picked up by thousands of
other bloggers and websites. It eventually drew the
attention of such mainstream media as The New
York Post, The New York Times, and NBC. It can be
presumed that AOL’s management was embarrassed, to say the least.
In a sense, this second role of social media–—
enabling customers to talk to one another–—is an
extension of traditional word-of-mouth communication. But as the Vincent Ferrari story illustrates, the
uniqueness lies in the magnitude of the communication. Instead of telling a few friends, consumers
now have the ability to tell hundreds or thousands of
other people with a few keystrokes! The question for
managers becomes: ‘‘How can this power be harnessed for the benefit of the organization?’’ While
companies cannot directly control consumer-toconsumer messages, they do have the ability to
influence the conversations that consumers have
with one another. Methods for accomplishing this
are presented in section 4.
We argue that social media is a hybrid element of
the promotion mix because it combines characteristics of traditional IMC tools (companies talking to
customers) with a highly magnified form of word-ofmouth (customers talking to one another) whereby
marketing managers cannot control the content and
frequency of such information. Social media is also a
hybrid in that it springs from mixed technology and
media origins that enable instantaneous, real-time
communication, and utilizes multi-media formats
(audio and visual presentations) and numerous delivery platforms (Facebook, YouTube, and blogs, to
name a few), with global reach capabilities. The
emergence of a highly educated, historically affluent, and an increasingly skeptical and demanding
consumer population facilitates its acceptance in
Consumers’ ability to communicate with one another limits the amount of control companies have
over the content and dissemination of information.
Christopher Vollmer and Geoffrey Precourt (2008)
underscore this in their book, Always On. As they
note, in the era of social media ‘‘consumers are in
control; they have greater access to information and
greater command over media consumption than
ever before’’ (p. 5).
This shift in the information control needle is
dramatically influencing the way consumers receive
and react to market information (Ramsey, 2006;
Singh, Veron-Jackson, & Cullinane, 2008). Consequently, marketing managers are seeking ways to
incorporate social media into their IMC strategies
(Li & Bernoff, 2008). The traditional communications paradigm, which relied on the classic promotional mix to craft IMC strategies, must give way to a
new paradigm that includes all forms of social media
as potential tools in designing and implementing IMC
strategies. Contemporary marketers cannot ignore
the phenomenon of social media because it has
rapidly become the de facto modus operandi for
consumers who are disseminating information on
products and services.
3. Paradigms: Traditional vs. new
In the traditional communications paradigm, the
elements of the promotional mix are coordinated
to develop an IMC strategy, and the content, frequency, timing, and medium of communications are dictated by the organization in collaboration with its
paid agents (advertising agencies, marketing research firms, and public relations consultants).
The flow of information outside the boundaries of
the paradigm has generally been confined to face-toface, word-of-mouth communications among individual consumers, which has had minimal impact on the
dynamics of the marketplace due to its limited dissemination (Mayzlin, 2006). This paradigm has served
as a framework for developing IMC strategies during
the post-World War II era (Muniz & Schau, 2007). Its
long shelf life appears to be largely due to the high
degree of control over the communications process
that it affords businesses.
W.G. Mangold, D.J. Faulds
However, in the era of social media, marketing
managers’ control over the content, timing, and
frequency of information is being severely eroded.
In the new paradigm, information about products
and services also originates in the marketplace. This
information is based on the experiences of individual consumers and is channeled through the traditional promotion mix. However, various social media
platforms, many of which are completely independent of the producing/sponsoring organization or its
agents, magnify consumers’ ability to communicate
with one another. This ‘‘groundswell’’ (Li & Bernhoff, 2008) has profoundly affected all aspects of
consumer behavior, and has bestowed consumers
with power they have not previously experienced
in the marketplace.
In the new communications paradigm (see
Figure 1), marketing managers should recognize
the power and critical nature of the discussions
being carried on by consumers using social media.
The impact of the interactions among consumers in
the social media space on the development and
execution of IMC strategies is illustrated by the
The Internet has become a mass media vehicle for
consumer-sponsored communications. It now represents the number one source of media for consumers at work and the number two source of
media at home. The Internet reaches more than
60% of all United States consumers for an average
weekly usage rate of more than 100 minutes
(Rashtchy, Kessler, Bieber, Shindler, & Tzeng,
The new communications paradigm
Consumers are turning away from the traditional
sources of advertising: radio, television, magazines, and newspapers. Consumers also consistently demand more control over their media
consumption. They require on-demand and immediate access to information at their own convenience (Rashtchy et al., 2007; Vollmer &
Consumers are turning more frequently to various
types of social media to conduct their information
searches and to make their purchasing decisions
(Lempert, 2006; Vollmer & Precourt, 2008).
Social media is perceived by consumers as a more
trustworthy source of information regarding
products and services than corporate-sponsored
communications transmitted via the traditional
elements of the promotion mix (Foux, 2006).
The above trends have severely diminished the
usefulness and practicality of the traditional communications paradigm as a framework for developing IMC strategies. The new communications
paradigm, on the other hand, requires several important changes in management’s attitudes and
assumptions about IMC strategy formulation. First,
marketing managers must accept the reality that a
vast amount of information about their products
and services is being communicated by individual
consumers to other consumers via social media
forums. Second, consumers are responding to this
information in ways that directly influence all
aspects of consumer behavior, from information
Social media: The new hybrid element of the promotion mix
acquisition to post-purchase expressions of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Third, consumers are turning away from the traditional elements of the
promotion mix; in particular, they are reducing their
reliance on advertising as a source of information to
guide their purchase decision-making. Finally, managers who are accustomed to exerting a high level of
control over company-to-consumer messages must
learn to talk with their customers, as opposed to
talking at them, therefore influencing the discussions taking place in the social media space.
4. Shaping the discussions
As indicated earlier, social media has amplified the
power of consumer-to-consumer conversations in
the marketplace by enabling one person to communicate with literally hundreds or thousands of other
consumers quickly and with relatively little effort.
Managers cannot directly control these conversations. However, they can use the methods delineated below to influence and shape these discussions in
a manner that is consistent with the organization’s
mission and performance goals. These methods have
been gleaned from a review of the popular business
press and academic literature, as well as from discussions with representatives from advertising
agencies, public relations firms, and corporations
that have begun to use social media successfully.
4.1. Provide networking platforms
Consumers like to network with people who have
interests and desires that are similar to their own.
Organizations can leverage this desire by creating
communities of like-minded individuals. These communities can center on shared interests and values.
For example, Unilever’s Dove (2007) brand beauty
products launched a ‘‘Campaign for Real Beauty’’ to
bring together like-minded people who wish to enhance girls’ and women’s self-esteem by helping to
establish realistic standards of beauty. Roadrunner
Records’ website, www.roadrunnerrecords.com, includes a forum section to bring together fans of rock
and metal music. The Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain 2008 presidential campaigns
used their online presence to gather supporters
together and provide information. Facebook groups
and other forms of online communication have
sprung up around Steven Spielberg’s movie Indiana
Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and
Similarly, a number of online communities exist
to serve the needs of new mothers, including BabyZone.com, Michiganmoms.com, and Kentuckiana-
moms.com. These sites provide various types of
information for mothers and parents, along with
opportunities for interaction through message
boards, forums, and chat rooms. Companies that
can benefit from communicating with moms may
want to have their employees contribute to the
conversations that are occurring there, under conditions of full-disclosure. Such sites may also provide
excellent sponsorship opportunities.
Networking opportunities do not have to be based
in social media in order to be effective. For example, Harley-Davidson sponsors rallies for motorcycle
enthusiasts who are members of the Harley Owners
Group1, and Jeep sponsors Jeep Jamborees for offroad enthusiasts. A recent Harry Potter book was
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