Social Media.

The human race is a social race, a race that craves interaction with others and a race with a desire for our voice to be heard. Throughout the course of history, humans have continually developed and redefined ways of communicating with each other, fueling their passion for social activity. The result in today’s modern society is social media, however, the adoption of social media and user-generated content presents both considerable challenges and opportunities for traditional organisations. In order to facilitate conclusions, social media and user-generated will be defined and an in depth analysis of a traditional organisation, Coca Cola, will be undertaken. However, to define social media correctly, it is first essential to investigate its history and evolution over the past 50 years.

The concepts of social media and user-generated content are relatively new mediums and hence the definition is constantly evolving. Social media began in 1959, when Bruce and Susan Abelson founded Open Diary, an early social networking community. In 2004, rising Internet popularity fueled the creation of popular social networking sites such as Facebook. Dr. Dean Burgess, from the ARC Centre for Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, corroborates this idea, “Social media has become much more mainstream and is now a key part of the broader media ecology” (Sullivan 2010, 70). In comparison, user-generated content relates to the end product in which people use social media to create. Therefore, as it stands today, social media can be defined as “a group of internet-based applications…that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content” (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010, p. 61). The definition of social media is integral in understanding the challenges and opportunities in which it generates for Coca Cola.

It is essential to consider Coca Cola’s history and previous marketing strategies in order to assess its implementation of social media. In 1886, a pharmacist from Atlanta, John Pemberton, combined coca leave and kola nuts and formed Coca Cola (Moxley 2002, 76). Since the formation of the company, there have been 46 unique marketing campaigns (The Coca Cola Company 2012). The campaigns have focused on sales of the product, quality of the product and recently the idea of sharing happiness. Coca Cola continues to embrace innovation and was one of the few global brands to embrace social media strategies. Michael Donnelly, Coca Cola’s Group Director of Worldwide Interactive Marketing states, “Social Media is where our consumers are at the moment…we are very supportive of buying media within those realms” (Mayes 2011, 22). The Coca Cola Company is an organisation synonymous for its marketing brilliance and hence represents a perfect example to examine the challenges and opportunities of social media practices.

Despite Coca Cola’s marketing expertise, it could not protect itself from the challenges associated with social media integration. In February 2012, Coca Cola Australia announced a status on its official Facebook page that stated; “Here’s a little social experiment. Add a word to the person above you to create a happy story” (Zappone 2012, 3). The connotation of this message was that people would share happiness with each other, as was the aim of Coca Cola’s current marketing strategy. However, the resulting comments opposed the idea of joy and instead included a combination of derogatory and inflammatory remarks. Coca Cola faced a variety of challenges in this scenario including; immediacy of the comments, lack of filtering and censorship, the permanency of online communication and confusion internally within the organisation. These core challenges form the basis for which traditional organisations, including Coca Cola, face when adopting social media practices.

The implementation of social media strategies is especially difficult for large organisations such as Coca Cola. The difficulty lies in the integration of a unified message, where 100 000 employees are communicating with different languages and different social media platforms (Harbison 2012, 2). There is no way to control what every person is going to say in online mediums such as Facebook. Furthermore there is no way of filtering these comments, unless a designated employee is constantly watching the stream. Finally, there is the challenge of permanency; once something is posted online, it is practically impossible to be removed. In Coca Cola’s case this was evident as they proceeded to remove the derogatory replies, however, many online participants had already shared the link, taken virtual screenshots and reported on numerous online news websites (Zappone 2012, 3). Social media presents a variety of challenges, however, if managed correctly these difficulties can be transformed into opportunities.

In order to combat the challenges of social media, The Coca Cola Company was quick to release its Online Social Media Principles. The document outlines that, “these online social media principles have been developed to help empower our associates to participate in this new frontier of marketing and communications, represent our company, and share the optimistic and positive spirits of our brands” (The Coca Cola Company 2012, 1). Coca Cola’s online social media principles include core values such as transparency, protection, respect, responsibility and utilization. Through incorporating a social media policy into the organisation, Coca Cola has taken the first step in effectively managing the participation in online activities. The policy allows the company to turn a challenge into an opportunity, to accept change instead of dismissing it and to be one of the first traditional organisations to embrace social media as an integral part of the company proceedings.

Coca Cola is a company that rapidly embraces change and the phenomenal growth of social media platforms provided an opportunity not be ignored. A prominent example is Facebook, which in 2010 recorded 400 million active users (Vocus, 2010) and only two years later, active users more than doubled to 845 million (Rousseau, 2012). Similarly, micro-blog Twitter grew from 75 million users (Vocus, 2010) to 465 million (Rousseau, 2012). The growth of social media platforms between 2010 and 2012 is remarkable and something which Coca Cola shared in the online space. The company’s official twitter page nearly doubled in followers from 249 000 on April 2011 to 539 000 as of May 2012 (Twitter, 2012). The growth of social media sites provides traditional organisations, including Coca Cola, with an opportunity to connect and share with consumers unlike anything before. In a simple click of a button, Coca Cola can share a thought with over half a million online twitter users. However, Coca Cola would not just use social media, they would incorporate it into the fabrics of the organisations and utilise this new medium to its full potential.

Expedition 206 is a social media marketing campaign initiated by Coca Cola, which highlights the opportunities of social media if harnessed effectively. The campaign involved three ambassadors from the community who travelled around the world in search of happiness. The number 206 represents the number of countries that the ambassadors visited and is significant because it represents the countries in which Coca Cola is currently distributed. Social media and user-generated content were incorporated in almost every section of the journey: from selecting the ambassadors using online polls, twitter and blog updates on the teams achievements and YouTube videos of the various destinations visited (Mayes 2011, 27). Director of Digital Communications and Social Media at Coca Cola, Adam Brown, explains that the integral goal of the campaign was not for the Coca Cola brand to be front and center, but instead, to focus on optimism and joy, the core attributes in which the company embraces (S 2009, 9). The opportunities presented by social media, if harnessed correctly, can prove to be highly worthwhile for an organisation.

Communication through social media can greatly affect the workplace environment of traditional organisations. Prior to the commencement of Expedition 206, it was considered a success internally as it triggered collaboration between the communications, public relations and marketing teams like never before (Mayes 2011, 29). The respective departments worked together in all aspects of the campaign, from planning to implementation. Not only did social media allow employees to communicate with each other in a collaborative fashion, it ensured that there was a unified message in the workplace and this ultimately translated to the end consumer. The implementation of social media had an influential effect on employees and many volunteered their contribution to what is considered Coca Cola’s largest social media campaign to date (Zmuda 2011, 1). Whilst social media can enhance employee morale and enthusiasm internally, there are opportunities available externally from the organisation as well.

The success of Expedition 206 is an example of how incorporating social media and user-generated content into a traditional organisation can create opportunities that were never before imaginable. The campaign resulted in “650 million media contacts and billions of individuals involved both offline and online” (Mayes 2011, 30). Without the accessible and instantaneous features that the Internet provides, the ambassadors would not be able to communicate directly to the sheer amount of followers interested in their progress. In contemporary society, conventional marketing models are inefficient; instead, direct engagement with consumers is proving to be successful (Burns 2010, 1). Social media allowed Coca Cola to listen to fans and followers and insert themselves into real time conversations with consumers. This direct engagement with an immense amount of consumers is another considerable opportunity in which social media offers. Expedition 206 illustrates how social media provides an opportunity for direct engagement, however, it is important to understand that consumers exist within online communities.

In order to effectively participate in social media, an organisation must strive to engage in the online community. In a shift from traditional communication mediums such as press releases, contemporary society craves interaction within their online community. Social media encourages this idea of contributing to the community, instead of blatant advertising. There is nothing static about social media and it is in the organisations best interest to ensure they use “web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue” (Evans & Bratton 2012, 33). This is essentially the strategy that Coca Cola ingrained within Expedition 206 and is a direct contribution to its global success (Burns 2010, 309).  Through actively engaging the communities in which they visited, the ambassadors from Expedition 206 sparked conversation online and ensured that the physical community visited was represented by an online community as well. Whilst engaging the community is essential it is also important to consider how the organisation portrays its message.

It is integral for organisations wishing to incorporate social media practices to remain open to contributors, however, ensure the message they wish to portray remains transparent. In order for social media to thrive it must have a reason to spark conversation and the organisation should promote and maintain an active influx of new contributors online (Burns 2010, 310). However, this may lead to confusion in regards to the message in which the organisation intends on delivering. It is important for organisations to be clear with their interests and endeavor for transparency when dealing with community members online (Burns 2010, 310). Maintaining a balance between the two can prove difficult, however, Coca Cola cleverly incorporated this approach within Expedition 206. By travelling around the world, the ambassadors engaged with communities and encouraged contribution to online platforms. However, despite the vast amount of countries in which they visited, they remained transparent, they continually promoted one idea, happiness (The Coca Cola Company 2012, 3). This strategy provided communities with a clear depiction of Coca Cola whilst at the same time promoted engagement through specific online mediums.

It is essential when choosing to branch into social media that appropriate platforms are selected for the specific task at hand. Popular social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube each have their own strengths and potential weaknesses for traditional organisations. Therefore, in order to succeed in social media an organisation must first analyse whom they want to target and what information they will convey (Pash 2011, 1). Facebook provides users with an open discussion, an online community and a place where everyone can share and comment equally. However, blogging sites such as Twitter and YouTube provide a slightly different environment. Blogging sites ensure the blogger is in control of the conversation, in control over what is posted and what comments are generated (Owyang 2009, 3). It is important to utilise each different medium for its strengths and this is another area where Expedition 206 succeeded.

Expedition 206 incorporated a variety of social media platforms and harnessed the strengths of each. The Facebook site promoted online communities and the sharing of interests, Twitter was used to supply regular text updates on the trip and YouTube was used as a video blog to give a visual depiction of the journey as it unfolded (The Coca Cola Company 2012). The use of YouTube and visual user-generated content was especially useful for the campaign, as language barriers across cultures made text translation a tedious task. Dr. Jean Burgess explains, “YouTube clearly represents a disruption to existing media business models and is emerging as a new site of media power” (Burgess & Green 2009, 15). Through Coca Cola’s successful combination of social media and user-generated content, Expedition 206 proved to be a viral success.

A viral marketing campaign is often costly and arduous, however, social media allows traditional organisations to achieve viral status effortlessly. A viral marketing campaign possesses the opportunity to increase brand awareness through sublime message and encourages both immediate and long-term visitors. Expedition 206 generated hype by convincing participants that they needed to visit the site, that they were part of a relationship, that they were part of something unique (Mayes 2011, 38). Social Media also provides the opportunity for organisations to maintain a campaign for much longer, with a majority of information still accessible on the Internet long after the completion of the campaign. Furthermore, with a message that had a simple core meaning and was compelling to embrace, Coca Cola, increases the probability of a viral outcome (Taylor 2010, 5). Expedition 206 combined a multitude of strengths in which social media provides with core marketing values and represents a perfect example to depict the opportunities social media creates for traditional organisations.

Social media is a platform that is rapidly evolving and The Coca Cola Company is embracing this communication revolution. However, the adoption of social media and user-generated content presents both considerable challenges and opportunities for traditional organisations. Challenges such as immediacy, permanency and lack of censorship are inevitable, however, Coca Cola has managed these effectively through the adoption of online social media principles. Consequently, the opportunities available including; increased employee morale, the growth of social media platforms, direct engagement with consumers and contribution to a sense of community, provide organisations with contemporary mediums in which to engage their consumers. These new mediums have resulted in marketing campaigns such as Expedition 206, that break boundaries of what was possible before the emergence of social media and user-generated content. The Coca Cola Company is effectively managing the minor challenges of social media and is continually harnessing the extensive amount of opportunities it provides.

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