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Companies around the globe are embracing and adapting new media in this digital era for many different intentions: customer service, marketing, internal communications, public relations or corporate social responsibility. Social media has revolutionized the way people communicate, and how organizations engage with its publics. It is now a reality that social media is changing the way stakeholders and companies communicate daily, providing opportunities for collaboration, participation, interactivity and engagement. Therefore, social media is conceived today in the corporate world as a strategic communication partner, driving new and unique possibilities for organizations to engage with their stakeholders (Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2002: 15). We are witnesses of a new digital era where consumers are becoming active users rather than passive individuals, changing dramatically how society operates. The contribution of social media in event marketing cannot be overlooked as advertising, publicizing and sending invites to attract many people to events has been further enhanced by social media. This paper thus focuses on exploring the relationship of social media on event marketing.
Long ago, event marketing involved of simple, tried-and-true techniques of paid advertising and public relations outreach to ensure maximum and relevant attendance at an event. To earn coverage, one needed to designate a contact for media requests and then design engaging press releases. The local newspapers would henceforth alert everyone in town. A few paid advertisements in industry publications and mailed invitations were also necessary to start rolling in registrations.
Whilst these tactics remain vital in driving event attendance today, the media landscape has significantly changed. As opposed to turning to the various local newspapers, people often turn to search engines and the social media for event information. Rather than simply registering for an upcoming event, potential registrants usually turn to social media channels to get a clue of what other persons have to say regarding that event first (Gunelius, 2011: 21).
Evidently, social media has deeply shifted the way the current generation gathers and digests information. Consequently, event planners need to identify with and leverage the importance and uniqueness of social media to reach mass potential attendees in the places they seek for information both online and in real life.
Apart from event marketing, social media can help organizations publish information, and measure the effectiveness of the communication process (Argenti, 2006). This is important in establishing a strong brand image and gaining consumer loyalty to the organization’s product or service offering. For stakeholders, social media also brings opportunities to shape the message they want. Therefore, stakeholders can make a brand popular or ostracize it.
The coordination of social media marketing has become easier today with numerous of followers at the organizers’ fingertips. Social media can thus be easily harnessed to meet the goals of event marketing. Social media further offers people networking opportunities. The public can identify some potential connections that they can make at the event through publicizing the social media attendance list, especially of popular people or friends (Hudson et al, 2014: 69). Attendees can network via social media before, all through, and after the event, e.g. through hash tags (#) on twitter. This can transform the dynamics of the occasion in a more positive way, as people can engage in meaningful dialogues and participation. This is possible if attendees have an advanced common knowledge base at the beginning of the event. The aim of this paper is to identify the effects of digital social word-of-mouth on purchase intention and brand loyalty among other event marketing relationships.
Boyd and Ellison (2007) defined social network sites as web-based services that allow people to create a public or semi-public profile, and have a list of other users that share a connection. Presently with the advent of Web 2.0 platforms, companies no longer have the absolute power to control corporate information; therefore, stakeholders are claiming more transparency, open communication, and engagement through social media platforms. Today, social media is often used for promotions, suitable advertising, content creation, time management and productivity, getting traffic to a website, blog or other social networks and turning followers into clients (Evans, 2010: 16).
Whether it is a conference, a networking event or a launch party, companies have been marketing and hosting live events for decades. Improvably, in the digital era of social media, spreading the word a propos an event is easier and increasingly beneficial to an organization’s brand than ever. Today, social media is totally a must-have exclusive strategy for planning events. Not only does the company connect with more individuals at once, but also the organization is able to connect and brand itself (Biba, 2008: 13). This enables the verification of the company’s expertise to an industry and a vast audience on a digital stage.
Nowadays the internet and new technologies are playing a powerful role in informing, and connecting people around the world. Through social media platforms such as blogs, wikis, social network sites, video sharing sites, etc companies can spread news and messages quickly and inexpensively compared to traditional media. Furthermore, social media allows citizens to participate on their platforms and contribute their ideas and opinions regarding their events. This then establishes a connection and mass following, which companies can leverage upon to publicize their events and welcome registrations from potential attendees (Kose et al, 2011: 50).
With a global online presence and numerous of followers, social media can be a great way to advertise an organizations products because of the large number of audiences at their disposal which they freely get the information to. Companies no longer need to contact mainstream media to have their products or services advertised, new media tools are already offering an opportunity for companies to maximize upon freely.
An event, be it an open house, a networking gathering, class or fundraiser, is by its very nature, a social episode. People attend events for the purpose of connecting, interacting, and sharing experiences with other peers. It is for this same reason that people also join social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Given their analogous nature, it makes perfect sagacity to use social media to aid in planning, promoting, and building enthusiasm for any public event that an organization is hosting. If the aim is to get as many attendants as possible interested in the event, social media is the perfect tool for spreading the word to the members, core base customers, sponsors and beyond (Newman and Thomas, 2009: 88).
Social media events marketing makes it easier for an organization to combine the power of new media with its event strategy to boost engagement, drive attendance, and generate the type of results intended from the events (Getz, 2007: 33). Furthermore, social media events marketing makes it is easier to better organize, be prepared, and more connected with the targeted events audiences (Gillian, 2009: 40).
E-Word of Mouth marketing via social media is capable of exposing an event to numerous of potential registrants and attendees in just a few minutes. Favorably, this is a huge cost saving gain over other expensive methods of used in the past such as mainstream media or direct mail invites. Although, social media propels marketing of events to a wider public, it is the digital social word of mouth connection that markets the event further. Event followers invite their friends and share the events on their social media pages, hence publicizing the occasion and making more people interested.
It is important to realize that one needs to choose the most appropriate channel to communicate better about the event. This depends on the nature of the event and its purpose. Twitter is today gaining much popularity in such activities and it can be easily leveraged to connect with more people and spread e-word of mouth marketing through hash tags. Facebook is commonly used for less formal events like concerts, festivals and parties while Instagram can be used to share events pictures (Periera et al, 2014: 45). This gives the followers more power to help the organization on spreading word regarding the event on a digital platform. When people send invites to their friends and indicate that they are attending, they make their friends more eager and interested to attend (Grönroos, 2004: 79). The cycle continues as friends of friends keep on circulating the message. It is important for an organization to keep updating latest occurrences to keep exciting their potential attendees. They can also implement a countdown system such as 2 days to go, so as to remind people of the date. Nonetheless, albeit the free nature of accessing social media to market events, this does not mean that there is no cost associated to it. It requires an understanding of the medium, the audiences and the company’s objectives in addition to time, attention and commitment in order to truly obtain the most out of social media as well as measuring the return on investment (Sashi, 2012: 262).
Ideally, events are organized for a certain purpose. This could be to popularize and market a product or service or to launch a new product. Whatever, the aim, the organization intends to convert the attendants into potential clients, hence the idea of purchase intention. This is the plan to buy a good or service sometime in the future (Shin et al, 2013: 101). In order to convert the attendants to consumers, the event’s organizers need to provide their audience with sufficient information regarding their product or service, for which they are holding the event.
Social media can facilitate purchase intention while marketing an event if users and followers are provided with educational content. Users can self-select whatever content they are interested in and tweet about it. They can further share links with friends to popularize the product or service. Event planners can develop incredible product/service content for their events for potential consumers on social media. Moreover, after the event is over, the product/service content lives on for further consultation with clients. Social media can also extend the lifetime value of an event beyond its onsite occurrence, hence attracting even more people who were unable to attend the event (Tsai and Huang, 2007: 236).
It is important for event organizers to conduct a digital SWOM analysis to gauge their audiences’ perception of their event and products/services. A SWOM model provides insights to the key performance indicators of an organization’s critical success factors and enables companies to benchmark against best practice in the industry. The SWOM matrix thus helps identify and organizations capacity and potential as well as likely areas of improvement. It also shows the challenges that organizations are facing and provides guidelines on countering these challenges and preventing difficulties in the future. This model can be used on the digital social media space to analyze potential the impact of a communicated message to guests invited to an event and their likely purchase intention provided product/service information (Gensler et al, 2013: 21).
Upon attendants’ conversion into purchase intention by popularizing the organization’s product or service or offering pre and post informational content on social media, a strong organizational image and reputation needs to be constructed to ensure consumer loyalty to the organization’s brand. Ideally, loyalty is obtained by reinforcing the image of the organization and its product or service offering. The sharing of pictures, posters and links to the event especially showing attendants using the product or indulging in the service is bound to create brand loyalty (Casalo et al, 2010: 8). Continuous advertisements and promotional offers or discounted deals attracts more consumers to engage in the product or service being marketed hence strengthening their perception of the brand. Nonetheless, the quality of the product or service offering needs to be superior in order to avoid resistance of purchase intention from potential consumers (Erdogmus, 2012: 18). Other factors such as sustainability contribute to converting purchase intention to actual purchase and emphasizing on brand loyalty. E-word of mouth marketing is also a great tool in spreading and emphasizing brand loyalty since people are more likely to trust their known friends than the crafted organizational message (Casalo et al, 2010: 10).
Ideally, social media is absolutely the right tool to use in today’s event marketing and product or service promotion. As seen above, organizations can leverage the power of social media to register potential guests and convert their purchase intention into actual purchase and brand loyalty, through a much affordable and wide reaching platform. The digital social word of mouth marketing can further be implicitly leveraged to maximize on an organization’s marketing techniques to reach more people and consumer loyalty. As such, it is important to understand the manner in which to social media works and the right channels to reach different audiences depending on the nature of the event. Social media has already proven an invaluable tool to the industry, and the future holds a wider teaching and implementation of these tools.
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