Dr. Tracy Tuten is an associate professor of marketing at ECU. A Pirate alumna, she is an expert on social media marketing, web-based survey methods, and branding. Dr. Tuten’s publications have appeared in such journals as Journal of Marketing Communications, Psychology & Marketing, and Journal of Business Research. Her book, Advertising 2.0: Social Media Marketing in a Web 2.0 World was published in the fall of 2008. She is currently writing a textbook (with Michael Solomon) on Social Media Marketing for Pearson Education/Prentice Hall. Dr. Tuten has had several guest posts (two in the role of Fulbright Scholar) at institutions such as the Center for Survey Research and Methodology in Mannheim, Germany, Korea University, the Universidad Argentina de la Empresa, and the Groupe ESC Clermont Graduate School of Management. She sat down with us to explain the role of social media in marketing.
What do you think the main goal of social media is in general?
It’s all about participation. We always say in marketing that it’s all about the customer, and social media truly makes the customer the center of everything.
What impact has the Internet had on marketing, and what changes have you seen occur in the business world due to social media?
Changes are occurring every day. Social commerce didn’t really exist before this summer, but now it does. We had social shopping a year ago and now it means something completely different than what it meant a year ago. Our technology is advancing at such a rapid level. To even think about what’s possible really is like that old saying: If you can dream it, you can be it. That’s what’s happening with marketing and the Internet right now.
How do you feel businesses can use social media to their best advantage? What are some strategies you would suggest?
You always start with what you want to accomplish. I always caution against being hypertactical, which is what a lot of people tend to be. They will say, “Oh, we need a Facebook page,” but they don’t really know what they are supposed to be doing with it. The idea is to think about the problems you have to solve or the opportunities you need to take advantage of. It may be that you have an opportunity for more brand engagement with your customers. Also, maybe you are having issues with service and you want to be able to reassure customers and be very responsive and empathetic to their issues. Social media could be a response channel for service failures. Maybe you were trying to draw traffic to your Web site because you know that once they are on your web site, you can get them to convert to sales, but you need a venue to do that. You always need to think about what it is that you are trying to accomplish because for all of these situations, there is a social media answer.
How do you see social media influencing the future of marketing? Do you see it as an even more predominate marketing tool?
I think most brands still primarily consider advertising and public relations in traditional venues as the heart and soul of their promotional mix. But then they will say, “Oh, and can we get some sort of social media to go along with that?” Then social media is like an add-on component. However, more people are using more social media every day. Therefore, I really see us shifting to a time when social media is the traditional media instead of broadcast and print.
Tell us about ad:tech. What is it?
Ad:tech is a major trade show and conference in the field of advertising hosted by DMG WorldWide Events. There were about 15,000 attendees and vendors and brands exhibiting what they have to offer in the advertising area. It’s held several times a year all over the world. There is one in New York, Singapore, San Francisco, Tokyo, London, and Sydney. I recently attended ad:tech in New York, and I was the only professor there. They had eight marketing masters present on different specific marketing areas for the conference component. I was the social media marketing master. I put together a program on social media and invited speakers to deliver case studies on social media. I gave three mini-keynotes to introduce the segments then ran three sessions that covered issues such as listening to your customers when using social media and measurement in social media. The conference was really exciting, and I met some amazing people.
What are the benefits of having social media in your business?
One of the big benefits is cost efficiency. Social media trades the cost of media for the cost of time. For instance, today, in class, we were talking about the recent Conan O’Brien campaign. He ran his campaign off his web site, his tumblr blog, his YouTube channel, his Facebook page, and his Twitter account. The only thing that he really had to pay for was his web site hosting because everything else is being hosted for free by another service. He did have to pay the people who created all of the video clips, wrote the blog posts, kept all the sites up-dated, sorted through all the user-generated content, and picked what was going to get uploaded. He had a staff of people he had to pay to make that social media campaign happen, even though he didn’t have to pay for media. Also, since I have been studying business, it seems like there is always pressure to minimize human resources. Let’s automate something. Let’s find a way to let machines do what people used to do to really minimize our reliance on human beings. But, you can’t do that with social media because it lives by the people who run and represent it. I think human resources are going to become a lot more important in the future.
What are the problems that arise with social media and ways you can solve those problems?
The biggest problem that brands deal with is lack of control because social media is alive. People can say anything. They can spread anything. They can share anything. I was in a session for the Office of Faculty Excellence on Monday and we were talking about using social media in the classroom. Someone asked the question that if they posted something, could he make sure students couldn’t share it in social media venues? Unfortunately, no, there is not a way to prevent that. In social media, people can do whatever they want. They have access to all of these channels and anyone can post anything. It’s a very democratic environment in this sense. This freedom makes some brands uncomfortable because people can say negative things about your brand. The key is to know how to respond to it. You should not stop people from talking. You should engage in the conversation and then explain yourself.
When you talk about social media policies what sorts of components do you have to think about?
Basically a social media policy is an employee manual for how people interact with social media. If you think about the information that would be in the faculty manual or whatever manual you operate under, then all of those kinds of things are in there for social media. You need to think about whether you disclose your personal identity in social media space, what you’re allowed to discuss, whether you are allowed to criticize, and what sort of transparency guidelines you have. For example, if I say that East Carolina University is the best university ever, then I may have to disclose that I work there and may have a potential conflict of interest. Just remember that your social media policy should match your social media strategy.
How does the whole privacy issue factor into social media?
I think that most people are not aware of the dangers that can arise when using social media. Just think about how you use your credit card and the data that is collected when you make credit card transactions. Those data files can be purchased by companies and merged with other data files about you and then can be used to target you by brands. This has been going on for decades, and it’s a science called database marketing. We are doing even more valuable behaviors than this in social media, and they are even more trackable. When we swipe a credit card, the companies are only getting purchase data but they are not getting information such as this is what I looked at, this is how long I looked, these are the stores that I searched at, and these are the people that I talked to about it. However, all of that information is on social media. If I go to 17 web sites during the day, it’s all recorded. The people that I talk to on Facebook are recorded. The times I liked a video on YouTube are recorded. In fact, there is a complete trail of my online behavior being recorded. We don’t know yet what marketers or anyone else will do with that data. But, if it makes you nervous to think about the credit card data that’s out there, then think about the level of data available with social media.
What do you hope your students learn from your classes?
I hope that they have learned how to learn. I was so happy today when I walked into class and a couple of the students were saying, “Did you hear about this?” The things they were sharing were the top headlines on Mashable today, which is the leading social media news source. They are reading without me asking them to. If they are learning, reading, reaching out, and continuing to acquire the new information, then I think they will do very well in life.
By Meagan Williford