I was interested in this topic as social media is growing in power and popularity, but insufficient research has yet been conducted to assess its value for businesses and provide guidelines for interaction.
I decided to apply my investigation to the airline industry because sales and promotion are already conducted online, so social media could be the next logical step. I also believe that the travel sector has an opportunity to add value to customer experience by providing a more comprehensive service through social networking sites.
Brand equity can be defined as a set of assets linked to a brand’s name and symbol that add value.
The emerging model of social media emphasises two-way ‘mutual’ communication, relying on audience interactivity and encouraging feedback. Social media gives power to consumers where they were once powerless.
I argue that corporate use of social media should be a public relations activity, with the support of customer services, as it requires expertise in building and maintaining relationships, and in providing consistent, targeted communication.
Provided that brands are open to flexibility as a result of listening to feedback, I believe that empowering consumers through interactivity should ultimately lead to increased brand equity.
My exploratory research involved in-depth individual interviews with eight airline business customers, followed by one group interview with eight leisure customers, aged 18-24 years. I wanted to compare the opinions of the two customer groups but ensured that all participants had sufficient and regular experience with social networking sites so they could discuss their responses to interacting with airlines via social media.
The findings demonstrated that interactivity can have a significantly positive impact on brand equity, indicating that social networking sites provide an excellent opportunity for all brands. Participants were especially open to online engagement if it would drive a more efficient and informative service, and if the brand would be interactive and open to suggestions from them.
Some participants were initially hesitant about the idea of allowing brands to contact them on social networking sites, but they all showed interest if they were able to have control of the interaction, and would not be bombarded by the brands.
The findings also indicated that the more control or influence consumers felt they had over a brand, the more brand equity was built.
My research concluded that interactivity has a significant impact on brand equity on social networking sites. Airline brands would benefit from interacting, but must not target customers with sales-driven messages. They must also be willing to change in response to customer engagement and feedback.
However, I would definitely recommend further research with a wider sample set and within alternative industries.
Photo by Kiki’s Photos on Flickr (Creative Commons licence)