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Does Academic Research Provide Practical Value for Social Media Marketers?

By Dr. Steve White
Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth

"Research you can use"—four simple words that sum up my goal for this column.

It is an honor and a pleasure to take over the responsibility for writing this column from Caroline Dangson. Caroline established this column as a must read. Her initial three articles—"Who Owns Social Media for Business?,""Co-Creating Value with Customers," and "Twitter is Ready for Advertisers, but are Advertisers Ready for Twitter?"—presented thought-provoking insight into emerging trends in social media marketing (SMM). Please join me in thanking her for developing a solid foundation on which to build.

My plan for this column is to share with you cutting-edge academic research that provides utility and assists in making your social media marketing research efforts easier. Academic research in marketing is not known for either its readability or its practicality. But a few exceptions exist. Academic journals that are written with an eye toward readability and containing an applied focus include Business Horizons, California Management Review, Harvard Business Review, and MIT Sloan Management Review. Interestingly, none are focused solely on marketing.

Academic research has the potential to provide value to social media marketers if and only if it provides instruction or insight into new research tools, methods, concepts, and/or constructs. In the area of social media marketing research, in general, marketing academicians lag practitioners in understanding, developing, and utilizing applied research tools and techniques. The good news is that this is changing. In addition to current marketing professors who are rapidly retooling, a new generation of marketing researchers is making its way through some of the top Ph.D. programs in the world, and these researchers are engaged in and excited about SMM.

It is the research of this group, the denizens of SMM research, that I plan to review and share with you in each issue of Social Media Marketing Magazine. Through this column, I hope to add value to your SMM research skillset and tool kit. In this particular issue, two must-read articles are highlighted and reviewed. The takeaways for each are clearly identified. After you read this column and the articles, please feel free to give me your feedback, because learning isn't unidirectional.

The two initial journal articles for review are:

  • Hoffman, Donna L. and Marek Fodor (2010), "Can You Measure the ROI of Your Social Media Marketing?" MIT Sloan Management Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Fall), pages 41-49
  • Hansen, Derek L. (2011), "Exploring Social Media Relationships," On the Horizon, Vol. 19, No. 1, pages 43-51

Because the first article has been out for a while, this is not the first review. A good overview of both the article and the importance of determining return on investment (ROI) in SMM is provided by Angela Hausman. Hoffman and Fodor challenge SMM researchers to adopt a new approach: "Effective social media measurement should start by turning the traditional ROI approach on its head. That is, instead of emphasizing their own marketing investments and calculating the returns in terms of customer response, managers should begin by considering consumer motivations to use social media and then measure the social media investments customers make as they engage with the marketers' brands."

They offer four Cs (instead of four Ps) to identify the key motivations for social media interaction—connections, creation, consumption, and control—as well as two case study examples of social media marketing failures. However, the real benefit offered by this article is the sample metrics provided on page 44, some easy to operationalize and some more difficult. The final gem provided by this article is a traditional 2x2 matrix entitled "Strategic Options for Social Media Measurement." Using the sample metrics based on the strategic options available should provide a solid framework for developing a ROI unique to your business model.

Hansen's article offers immediate utility. He sums up the purpose of the paper brilliantly on page 44: "This paper describes some of the techniques and tools needed to make sense of the social relationships that underlie social media sites. As relational data are increasingly made public, such techniques will enable more systematic analysis by researchers studying social phenomena and practitioners implementing social media initiatives."

The paper documents the development and release of an incredible open source network analysis add-on for Excel. Hansen explains the concept of network analysis and social network analysis (SNA). The latter builds on the former and is perfect for studying SMM relationships. He justifies the study of SNA on page 45: "Viewing the social world as a network can provide many insights not obtainable in any other way. Social network maps provide overviews of social spaces, highlighting subgroups and individuals who hold important positions within the network. Tracking changes in a network over time provides a powerful evaluation tool that measures previously hard-to-capture insights about social capital development, community formation, and marketing campaigns."

The takeaway from this article is the description of the power of the open source network analysis add-on for Excel: NodeXL. Hansen even shares that he is using NodeXL in his courses at the University of Maryland. For those of you who don't know me, my life revolves around open source. This add-on excited me so much that I purchased Microsoft Office just to use it (it won't work in my beloved OpenOffice). After four days of playing with NodeXL, it is clearly a tool that you should explore to strengthen your SMM research skillset.

Future columns will be more succinct, but will feature the same format. In each issue, two must-read academic research papers will be highlighted for your benefit. If you have any suggestions for future topics or manuscripts to review, please feel free to contact me.

Since the goal of this column is to add value to your SMM research skills, I will close with two questions: 1) Do you find this approach helpful? 2) Did this column provide you with any takeaways you can use?

Steve White

Dr. D. Steven (Steve) White is a Professor of Marketing and International Business at the Charlton College of Business at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He is also the Director of the university's Sustainability Studies Program. An award-winning researcher and classroom instructor, Steve's passion is learning new technologies and exploring their marketing applications and potential. His research interests include social media marketing, mobile marketing, international marketing, services marketing, international business, global e-commerce, open source applications, and international business education. Steve earned his Doctor of Business Administration in Marketing and Information Systems from Cleveland State University.