Deze week heb ik m’n afstuderen weer op de rails geholpen. Zoals afgesproken met m’n begeleiders een eerste ruwe idee voor het introductie hoofdstuk van mijn afstudeerverslag op papier gezet en verstuurd. M’n afstudeeronderwerp is de afgelopen maanden een flink aantal keer veranderd, maar ik denk dat ik nu iets te pakken heb wat me echt boeit. Niet zo ongrijpbaar als het object centered sociality concept, maar ook niet zo nietszeggend als het iets-over-marketing-op-twitter idee.

Ik heb het hoofdstuk dat ik mijn begeleiders heb opgestuurd hieronder geplakt. Het is nog ruw en weinig wetenschappelijk onderbouwd, maar voel je vrij om feedback/kritiek/affakkeling achter te laten. Het kan alleen beter worden als zoveel mogelijk mensen er hard tegenaan schoppen, toch? ;)

The role of Authenticity in Social Media Marketing

When marketing entered the internet-era before the turn of the century, the first forays made into this new medium were based on earlier experiences in traditional media. The web banner was the digital equivalent of the magazine ad placement while classic advertising measurements such as cost per mille (views) became the standard, again. But as the internet progressed and experience in online marketing was gained, new techniques developed that made use of the qualities specific to the web.
Now the internet has become so mainstream that it has merged with society at large. Access to the web becomes almost ubiquitous due to cheap internet connectivity and the use of smartphones and other mobile devices. Time spent on web applications has grown exponentially. Whether we traverse social networks to find out what our friends are doing, comment on the news on our favourite blogs or upload a picture of a party to a photosharing site, we are online creating and interacting as part of our everyday life. Collectively these activities are commonly referred to as Social Media.
Social Media is an umbrella term often used interchangeably with other industry buzzwords denoting new technologies, like “Web 2.0” and “User generated content”. Though a formal definition is still lacking, we might posit that social media encompasses the current Web-based technologies that allow people to share and discuss information through the full range of multimedia; words, pictures, audio and video. It’s this participatory interaction between people that makes social media social and different from traditional media, which is commonly thought to be a top-down and one-way form of communication.
Once marketeers discovered social media, even avant-la-lettre, social media tools were incorporated into online marketing strategies. At first this meant using existing social media influencers as an extension of the PR apparatus, getting the news about the company out there. Then they used social media for direct market research, listening to their consumers online and understanding what they really wanted. But the last step was for companies to engage directly in the use of social media tools, interacting with their consumers on an equal footing (Constantinides & Fountain, 2008). Companies started blogs, communities were built on Facebook, virals were uploaded to YouTube, a variety of tactics was deployed. But not all of these social media marketing campaigns have been all-out successes. In fact some have backfired, damaging the reputation of the company and its brand.
A key factor in the success of a social media campaign may lie in its authenticity. Authenticity has been an industry buzzword for even longer than Social Media has been (Gilmore & Pine, 2007), in fact it’s been said that “the search for authenticity is one of the cornerstones of contemporary marketing” (Brown et al, 2003). The basic premise that social media is built around interaction between people may indicate that companies which operate in social media will be expected to behave in a similar manner. Whereas the savvy consumer may be so desensitized that he accepts, even expects, a certain amount of dishonesty in traditional media advertising, he might demand a truthfulness, a genuine reflection of the company and its intentions in social media – just as he would of any another person he was engaging with there. Some online marketeers have in fact remarked that authenticity is the vital component of an online social media strategy.
Though authenticity has been researched in other areas (e.g. tourism, advertising) no current research exists that provides a review of the effects of authenticity in a social media marketing context. As such there is no scientific proof yet that authenticity affects the way consumers evaluate a marketing campaign in a social media context. To further investigate this subject the first research question is:

• Does authenticity affect the evaluation of social media marketing campaigns by consumers and if so, how?

To be able to research authenticity a definition of the concept in this social media context has to be constructed. The second research question examines the dimensions underlying authenticity:

• What dimensions does the concept of authenticity, from a social media perspective, consist of?