An Investigation into Social Media Marketing Strategies Used by Small Food Businesses to Build Personal Networks – A Case Study of Tribal Burger
This research investigated how social media marketing strategies used by small food businesses to build personal networks and what motivates them to engage such strategies. Using a qualitative case study research of Tribal Bugger, a small food restaurant in the UK, several findings are made. It is established that common perceptions of the popularity of a social media platform and its potential to reach a certain target market may motivate a small business to use social media marketing. An additional factor includes pressures from current customers to constantly, provide their feedback. Small businesses also tend to use word-of-mouth marketing, as a social media marketing strategy because it is cost-effective and has a potential to strengthen networking with current customers, suppliers, community, investors, and business partners. Establishing personal contact networks through social media marketing enables small businesses to easily access information on cheaper yet high-quality supplies, recruit the most reliable employees or find financers. Also, personal contact networks established using social media generate several intangible benefits to small businesses including building a good reputation among customers, business partners, investors, or suppliers. New findings from this research also highlight the potential of cyberbullying to undermine the success of social media marketing. Other barriers include poor knowledge of social media marketing and social media management and competition for online attention from user-generated content by internet users.
Social media have revolutionised many dimensions of food businesses operations, such as customer relations, strategic marketing, and hiring and recruitment (Needles & Thompson, 2013). It appears, therefore, that the outcome of social media–instigated transformations is that small food business operators are today exposed to newer sets of opportunities and challenges to pursue their central goals of providing customers with a meal in addition to experiences that their customers would consider being value for their money (Bredican & Vigar-Ellis, 2014; Needles & Thompson, 2013). Indeed, the tight cost structures of small-scale food businesses imply that social media, which is a validated low-cost marketing tool, would mechanically suit the marketing strategies of restaurants (Bredican & Vigar-Ellis, 2014). Social networking sites are fast eliminating spatial and time barriers that at the outset were the mainstay of traditional communication techniques’ limitations. Recently, social media has made significant progress in the United Kingdom in terms of penetration rate. At the end of 2018, nearly 45 million people actively used social media, representing 67% per cent of the country’s population (Battisby, 2019). Of this, around 96 per cent were observed to use social media at least once every month. On the other hand, 77 per cent use social media every day from time to time and will spend at least 1 hr 50 mins on social networking sites.
Such behaviours have an effect on consumer behaviours in the UK, as businesses are changing their integrated marketing communication approaches, with greater emphasis on the use of social media (Bilgihan et al., 2014). Already, research has shown an increased acknowledgement of the idea that social media has both negative and positive effects on the restaurant industry, whether it concerns small-scale food businesses or major are franchises (Bredican & Vigar-Ellis, 2014). This has, in the past decade, implies that UK restaurants have to consider enhancing their online presence or visibility using social media platforms (Bredican & Vigar-Ellis, 2014; Battisby, 2019). A 2017 study by Adobe indicated that UK social media users consume just about 6.9 hours of online content daily. Additionally, there was approximately 325 per cent rise in internet searches for “influencer marketing” (Nisbets, 2018). The trend towards online consumption is substantially affecting British food businesses, as restaurants across the country are selecting to either employ or take no notice of the instrumental role of social media marketing. In 2018, a research by Pulse Survey established that Facebook is the most popularly uses social networking site for catering businesses, with 81 per cent of respondents from food businesses using it, followed by Twitter, which is used by 20% of the respondents. Instagram has also gained traction in use owing to its capacity to allow brands to display photographs of their food. Indeed, 18% of the respondents indicated they had integrated Instagram into their integrated marketing communication (Nisbets, 2018).
Yet, there have been concerns that while more small-scale food businesses are investing in social media content management, including by hiring staff to run their social media accounts, the return of investments (ROI) is not clearly visible (Fennis and Stroebe 2010).. This apparent phenomenon needs to be conclusively researched in the context of UK small-scale food business sector.
1.2 Research problem and rationale
The relatively low cost of participation in social marketing fits automatically into the structure of the restaurant industry. An effectively managed restaurant social media account has a potential to generate virtual relationship with both current and prospective customers at low cost (Nisbets, 2018). In spite of such anecdotal evidence in support of social media marketing, a recent of the UK small-food business sector by Needles and Thompson (2013) pointed to a trend whereby some restaurant owners and investors questioned social media’s ROI. Indeed, the researchers were concerned that a persuasive presentation of the case for social media is not easy when the ROI and its overall benefits cannot be fully demonstrated. Consistent with such finding, a later review by Battisby (2019) suggested that more marketers are seeking for solid metrics to support their rationale for social networking activity, in spite of such data being elusive to establish.
Hence, some managers have selected to invest in social media merely based on an accepted belief that they provide critical tools (that all other businesses are adopting), rather than on the grounds of a calculated ROI. It is believed that this may partially be due to the paucity of scholarly research in social media marketing strategies used by small food businesses and what motivates such businesses to adopt such strategies. This research deviates from financial returns and instead frames a scholarly discussion on the qualitative data on the return on investing in social media by looking at areas where small food businesses in the UK perceive the value of social media marketing and the marketing strategies that they use.
In view of these underlying research problem and rationale, the current study pursued an exploratory study of the factors that influence small food businesses to use social media marketing strategies, and the strategies that small food businesses use to build personal networks. Taking such an expansive perspective is indeed critical as social media platforms are current, causing a paradigm shift in how small businesses are run in the tourism and hospitality industry (Battisby, 2019).
Since many restaurateurs are investing in social media marketing merely because of an accepted belief that they provide critical tools, rather than on the grounds of a calculated ROI, the aim of this research is to investigate social media marketing strategies used by small food businesses to build personal networks, and what really inspires these businesses such strategies. To achieve these aims, several objectives had to be addressed:
- To examine what really motivates small-scale restaurants to use social media marketing
- To examine how social media marketing can be used by small firms to build personal networks
- Determine the value that personal contact networks bring to small-scale food businesses.
- To investigate the challenges that small food business face with social media marketing.
To attain these objectives, a research question was proposed as follows:
- Which social media marketing strategies do small food businesses use to build personal networks, and what inspires them to adopt such strategies?
The results of this research attempt to clarify and bring forth an enhanced understanding of how social media marketing contribute to the performance and growth of small businesses. This is significant as it provides restaurant managers with a better insight into why they should invest in strategic social media marketing to build personal networks, other than just open social media accounts because other restaurants are doing so. The results also provide knowledge of the opportunities and pitfalls that restaurants that engage in social marketing go through and how they can turn the pitfalls into markers of success.
A review of the literature on small business shows that there is no universally agreed-on description of small business. Numerous efforts have been made to describe the term based on several indicators like sales volume, the number of employees, and asset value (Bressler, 2005; Pourkhani et al., 2019; Reijonen, 2010). It is also evident that many scholars have adopted the European Commission definition of small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) (Cox, 2012). Marketing from the perspective of small businesses provides a means to inform customers regarding the firm, and the firm’s products, and services; and in the same way creating a means for maintaining customer relationships (Reijonen, 2010). Because of the increased opportunities for marketing brought about by the internet, it is increasingly becoming clearer across marketing literature that small businesses are today exposed to cheaper marketing alternatives – such as social media marketing.
In Bressler’s (2005) research, it was discussed that the identification and development of sustainable competitive advantage are likely to be viewed to be among the most critical tasks for small business ventures. It is against this backdrop that Bressler (2005) reasons that a lack of sufficient funding potential would lead small businesses to struggle with bigger competitors. While it is likely that small businesses will strive to develop competitive advantage, a major barrier to meeting this objective is to have sufficient finances to engage in rigorous marketing.
Traditionally, marketing practices have tended to concentrate on the marketing mix Model (price, product, place, and promotion) known as the 4Ps of marketing. Integrated marketing communication (IMC) was conceived as a response to the shifts in marketing domains and marketing communications, which are in essence changes that were mainly caused by the overall impact of information technology (Fennin & Stroebe, 2010). For instance, Eltayib et al. (2018) defined IMC as an idea that integrates general advertising disciplines, sales promotion, public relations, and direct response to ensure maximal communication impact by guaranteeing consistency and clarity of marketing messages. In recent decades, the advent of social media has brought about new dimensions to the marketing promotion mix (Fennin & Stroebe, 2010). Indeed, Mangold and Faulds (2009) acknowledge that since its advent and use as art of IMC, social media has been instrumental in enabling businesses to interact and engage with their customers.
Some scholars have indicated that, in spite of resource constraint, social media has recently exposed small businesses to more flexible, entrepreneurial, and innovative marketing opportunities to match the level of large-scale enterprises (Mangold & Faulds, 2009; Stokes, & Lomax, 2002). This has been beneficial on many accounts, including by enabling small businesses to be highly responsive to the needs of customers, as well as to access more opportunities to get closer to customers and acquire feedback. This kind of marketing opportunity has the potential to be leverage using social media. At the same time, it is significant to identify how small enterprises make use of social media for purposes of customer engagement (Cox, 2012). Traditional variants of marketing include social media, print media, and broadcast media. However, their major drawback has included using comparable advertisement strategies or repeated advertisements over multiple years.
Businesses that make use social media for purposes of marketing their products facilitate creativity and innovation. In Stokes and Lomax (2002) research, it was established that social media allows firms to attain a robust online presence owing to their capability to reach out to target customers as well as to provide effective customer service.
Accordingly, small businesses can adopt fresh approaches to their products by increasing awareness of their products among target customers. In their research, Yazdanifard and Yee (2014) also established that social media, as marketing tools, are capable of helping to reinforce brand awareness through communicating core values to a larger audience. This, according to Yazdanifard and Yee (2014), may later open up opportunities to initiate online conversations, encourage the growth of business partnerships, and inflate a business’ online community to the extent that it enables small businesses to attract new followers and likely customers.
For this to be attained, research shows that several conditions have to be met. For instance, Popesku (2014) outlined that social media requires creativity and innovation in all press releases made by a company. At the same time, companies should sustain their competitiveness and constantly cater to the demands and needs of the customers. Manap and Adzharud (2013) also acknowledged that to gain a competitive edge, small businesses have to listen to their customers and learn from them in order to plot their needs and understand issues happening in the social media sphere.
Accordingly, attempts have to be made to surpass issues that are already in existence as well as to transform their corporate objectives in line with findings on customer feedback in social media. According to Weinberg (2009), dynamic use of social media potentially provides a simple means to build networks with other businesses and a larger customer base, which would ensure that current and potential customers talk about a brand or company’s name. An established network would be significant for a business in terms of creating new contacts, and deepening connections already created. While this trend is not unique to traditional marketing approaches, social media is currently giving it a new twist (Weinberg, 2009). Small businesses that are unable to adapt to a new interconnected and interactive market would inevitably fall behind their competitors.
The internet has enabled small business ventures to adopt social media marketing strategies in order to replicate large enterprises’ competitive practices (Eltayib et al. 2018). Small businesses are exposed to several marketing opportunities, such as word of mouth marketing and networking. When it comes to networking, owner-managers of these enterprises depend on their personal-contact networks as well as their customer’s networks. This forms the essence of social media marketing. At the same time, owner-managers of these enterprises also depend on word of mouth marketing to access opportunities to provide their customers with reasons to speak to others regarding their products, which in turn would make it convenient for word of mouth marketing to happen (Eltayib et al. 2018).
Networking is a commonly practised marketing activity for small businesses and is significant in their growth and development (Walsh & Lipinski, 2009). According to Walsh and Lipinski (2009), small businesses depend significantly on their personal-contact network because of limited finances for marketing. Walsh and Lipinski (2009) also identified word of mouth marketing techniques as dependent substantially on transparency, two-way conversations, and customer satisfaction. The basic dimensions of word of mouth marketing include informing individuals regarding a company’s products and services, identification of individuals who are most disposed to share their opinions, provision of tools that facilitate information sharing, and interacting with customers (Bilgihan et al., 2014; Prenaj, 2016). Small enterprises are specifically at an advantage owing to their small size, as they are closer to customers and can obtain valuable feedback directly from their customers. This also allows small businesses to leverage networking and word of mouth marketing opportunities.
The tremendous growth of social media has had a significant effect on the growth of small businesses. Social media assist in the development of marketing tactics. Several social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Pinterest demonstrate an opportunity for small businesses to appeal to customers and at the same time, build brand image (Yazdanifard and Yee, 2014). According to Weinberg (2009), social networking sites allow small businesses to use and demonstrate tactics as well as build a brand profile, such as fan pages.
At the same time, social media also indicates to businesses, the likes and preferences of the customer, as they provide direct feedback from the customers. In effect, recent research has shown how social media platforms have revolutionised the facility to share image and video content, and ultimately normalised a tendency to share video and image content in the restaurant industry by small businesses (Manap & Adzharudin, 2013). As Manap and Adzharudin (2013) outlined, in the same way as individual social media users may use social networking platforms to connect with their friends and family, businesses may also take this advantage to connect with customers and other business. At the same time, customers are exposed to information on what happens to other customers who use certain products. Building on these reasons, Manap and Adzharudin (2013) suggested that the restaurant industry can take advantage of social networking sites to fascinate customer using videos and images of certain outstanding restaurant sceneries that may appeal to customers. In a more recent study, Yazdanifard and Yee (2014) provided some statistics indicating that up to 20% Internet users in the United States would follow a particular brand on social media account owing to outstanding descriptions or images of the product on the internet. Ultimately, such followers are also likely to re-examine the feedback from other loyal consumers, particularly consumers who have recently posted photos of a restaurant.
Also, product reviews on the internet, which in this case describes word of mouth marketing (WOM), play a critical role in facilitating customer attraction. A study by Fotis et al. (2012) also provided evidence showing that social media users are likely to express how confident they are with WOM than in advertising content disseminated by traditional marketing tools like newspapers, radio, or television. It is on the same grounds that Yazdanifard and Yee (2014) pointed to scenarios where some 82% of customers would tend to seek reviews on consumers’ experience on the internet for product reviews.
In a related study, Manap and Adzharudin (2013) looked at the extent to which consumers consider Facebook and YouTube as trustworthy product information sources. Their findings suggested that customers tend to trust information accessed in social media than advertising content disseminated by traditional marketing tools like newspapers, radio, or television. In related research on the effects of social media marketing using Instagram, Veirman et al. (2017) compared different numbers of followers on an Instagram and found that brands with more followers were likely to be liked more, because of a higher perception of popularity. A clear reason for this is that social media presents product reviews provided by other customers who have previously used a product, and are therefore well informed of the product attributes, and may easily attest to the real-life experiences associated with consuming a product (Bilgihan et al. 2016; Mangold & Faulds, 2009).
Above and beyond, social media platforms can appeal to or detract potential customers, whereby online reviews offer information to individuals, which enable them to envision a restaurant experience (Manap & Adzharudin, 2013). As expected, restaurant consumers may usually anchor their expectations on other consumers’ remarks to acquire valuable information in order to pass up risks of a poor experience. This may either urge other consumer’s confidence in a restaurant or erode their experience (Fotis et al., 2012).
Business growth describes a set of processes intended to improve certain aspects of a business’ success (Ngenga, 2015). More SMEs are increasingly turning to social media platforms as essential tools for communication and, to substantially improve their online presence. Consistent with this new trend, past research on the effects of internet on business growth showed that by improving a business’ online presence, a business increases its customer base and market base, which ultimately contribute to improved profitability and growth (Fruhling & Digman, 2000). Accordingly, it appears from past research that the internet can provide businesses with significant business growth strategy. At the same time, the internet can enable small businesses to increase their scope and extend core business through market penetration, opportunities to come up with new products and services (Fotis et al., 2012).
Taking a similar perspective, Mangold and Faulds (2009) explained that social media enables small enterprises to connect their current and potential customers, hence strengthening their customer base and profit potential. Similarly, an information-rich blog can enable a small business to strengthen its relationship with customers through the provision of a highly effective marketing strategy by enabling it to engage with customers. Social media platforms can also “replace customer annoyance with engagement” (Harris& Rae, 2009, p.87). Logically, the idea of engaging with customers implies that a business would as well strengthen its customer base, and in the process, strengthen profit potential (Ngenga, 2015). Taylor et al. (2012) also elaborated how social media can be used as a marketing tool to enable small businesses to interact with professionals in the business field. Social media can also be used for market research, lobbying for business opportunities, and securing a connection with the community. All these functions are intended to improve a business’ bottom line.
Research on businesses that engage in social media marketing has also indicated how businesses that use social networking sites can conveniently acquire access to market information on consumer trends, behaviours and preferences (Kotler& Armstrong, 2011; Zontanos& Anderson, 2004). This is besides other advantages like helping in the development of a business’ value, strengthening supplier and customer contacts, and provide evidence of the origin of financial resources, promoting innovation, and assisting in the cultivation of strategic partnerships (Kotler& Armstrong, 2011; Pourkhani et al., 2019; Zontanos& Anderson, 2004).
Recently, Walker Sands (2019) also showed that social media could provide a powerful tool for generating new sales leads, driving website traffic, and raising awareness. These new findings indicate that while earlier studies have concentrated on indicating how social media is viewed across many industries as channel that consumer brands utilise for purposes of product promotion, social media may as well help business to business (B2B). Indeed, Walker Sands (2019) found that social media generates nearly twice the marketing leads compared to those that telemarketing, trade shows, and direct mail can generate. According to Walker Sands (2019), social media can contribute to sales conversion rates that are 13% higher than those of telemarketing, trade shows, and direct mail. However, for social media to effectively lead to business growth, Walker Sands (2019) observed that several factors have to be fulfilled. These include selecting the right social media channels that can be used to reach out to the market and to bring about the most meaningful outcomes and return on investment (ROI) for social media. The second factor includes integrating social media into public relations and marketing programs to augment the effectiveness of content marketing and public relations initiatives. Walker Sands (2019) explained that this would happen when social media publicises a business’ content to a broader audience. The last, and third factor, that Walker Sands (2019) identified includes maintaining a highly consistent brand voice. By establishing a consistent brand persona, a small business would create a brand voice that serves as the basis for social media conversions across multiple channels. In the process of developing a brand voice, Walker Sands (2019) suggested that a business should tailor it to fit its audiences’ needs and interests.
Several research gaps can be identified from the review of the literature. While it appears that small businesses depend significantly on their personal-contact network because of limited finances for marketing, research evidence on the overall effects of personal contact networks, especially those from social networking sites, is not clear. Additionally, it can be established that small enterprises are specifically at an advantage when it comes to using personal contact networks because of their small size. However, a clear comparison of the value that personal contact networks bring to small enterprises and large enterprises is not clear. It is also not clear whether the difference in value depends on social media strategies that small enterprises and large enterprises use. An established social network would be significant for a business in terms of creating new contacts, and deepening connections already created. There is also a need for more research on the challenges that small businesses go through in their attempt to adapt to today’s increasingly interconnected and interactive market through social media platforms. There is a need for a conclusive study on such factors.
In order to determine the pertinent research philosophy for this research, there was a need to first look into the fundamental techniques that would be suitable for this research in line with the above research objectives. According to Saunders et al. (2009), a research methodology should be based on certain philosophical theories that outline the research techniques and strategy. Accordingly, an interpretivist research philosophy was selected for this study, as it was expected to facilitate the construction of subjective ontological assumptions, given that the realities surrounding social media marketing strategies used by small food businesses to build personal networks, and what inspires these businesses such strategies. There were several justifications for using interpretivist research philosophy. For instance, interpretivism was expected to assist in collecting qualitative data from Tribal Burger, the case research company.
For this research, inductive reasoning was viewed not to be appropriate, as it could not help to assist in the development of sets of assumptions regarding participants’ views about the social media marketing strategies used by small food businesses and what inspires these businesses such strategies. Saunders et al. (2009) also defined inductive reasoning as an approach for developing a wider set of assumptions, whereby specific observations have to be firmly made before conceptualising general rules. Given that choosing the most suitable approach should be based on the selected research philosophy, in this case, an interpretivism philosophy, inductive reasoning was considered to be the most appropriate research capable of guiding the research to collect data based on the perspectives of social content marketers at the Tribal Burger. Inductive reasoning, therefore, seemed to be consistent with the purpose of this research, given that already established premises or conceptualisations on social media marketing had to be applied to develop untested conclusions regarding the research objectives.
For purposes of this research, a decision was made to apply qualitative case study research as the research strategy to explore descriptive data from content marketers at the Tribal Burger restaurant, as the case company. The research strategy was, in this case, considered to be a research methodology intended to offer a research direction or guide how research should be undertaken. Fundamentally, it lays out a broad plan for answering research questions (Creswell, 1998). A qualitative case study research was viewed to have kept with the demands of an inductive approach because it consisted of a systematic approach that facilitated the process of reviewing several observable facts regarding the use of social media marketing at Tribal Burger restaurant (Mariotto et al., 2012). A case study research is deeply a research inquiry into a contemporary research phenomenon within its natural context (McLeod, 2017; Yin, 1984). Social media marketing is a contemporary research phenomenon. Accordingly, a research inquiry into social media marketing in the context of Tribal Burger restaurant forms the basis of this research.
For this research, a decision had to be made regarding choosing between quantitative and qualitative research methods. Other alternatives included complex or a simple mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods. An obvious disqualification for a quantitative research method is that it is concerned with statistical data, which were viewed not to be relevant to this research. On the other hand, a decision was made to use qualitative methods owing to their capacity to offer a framework for collecting huge amounts of descriptive or textual data (Williams, 2007). A qualitative research methodology was selected for this study because of the qualitative nature of the objectives of this research, which were supposed to offer a means to interpret meanings connected to social media application to strategic marketing processes at the Tribal Burger restaurant (McLeod, 2017; Wilson &Chaddha, 2010).
Consistent with the demands of a case study research, it was determined that semi-structured interviews be used in this research to assist in the discovery and interpretation of content marketers’ perceptions and the construction of meanings based on their perspectives. Indeed, semi-structured interviews facilitated an exploration into the perspectives of the participants. Use of semi-structured interviews also proved to be appropriate for this research, particularly as it is designed to complement document analysis (Onwuegbuzieet al., 2012). During the interview, the respondents had to answer predetermined open-ended questions based on the interview guide, which was designed based on the research objectives. The process of conducting the five interviews took four days. Two interviews were conducted on the first day, one on day 2, 1 on day 3, and 1 on day 4. In general, the interviews took between 25 and 35 minutes. To ensure that the participants’ responses were captured more effectively, the interviews were audio-recorded, which made it easy to come up with “verbatim transcripts” of the interviews. In the end, five transcripts were generated. In addition to the use of semi-structured interviews to collect data, document analysis method was also used. Use of document analysis consisted of systematically reviewing and interpreting organisational documentation on social media marketing and previous research literature on the same.
Before collecting data, a sample of the population was selected. Participant selection method for this research was done based on convenience sampling. This sampling method facilitated selection of participants guided by their degree of accessibility and readiness for participation. Overall, 5 participants took part in the research. The research participants were selected from Tribal Burger, a restaurant in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They were selected based on social media marketing along with their readiness to take part in the research. Overall, 5 participants were selected to take part in the study: 3 content marketers, the sales and marketing manager, and the manager-owner.
For purposes of data analysis of the data collected, a decision was made to use thematic analysis, particularly based on Miles and Huberman’s (1994) framework for data analysis. The selected thematic analysis method involved the use of four steps designed to extract meanings from qualitative data. These include “data reduction, data display, drawing conclusion and verification of findings” (Flick, 2014; Mason, 2002). In effect, the four steps included the researcher making an effort to familiarise with the qualitative data from the “research transcripts, generating initial codes, extracting themes, reviewing emerging themes, and ultimately compiling a research report” (Guest et al., 2011).
Throughout the research cycle for this research, applicable ethical considerations were taken into perspective. Before attempting to collect data from the content marketers and other relevant staff at Tribal Burger, their consents were requested for to make sure that they could only take part in their study out of their own free will. Hence, measures were taken to send each prospective participant a consent form with relevant research details, particularly research objectives, the scope of the study and what could be required from each other the participant during the interview process. Before each interview, measures were also taken to explain to each participant the objectives of the research along with their significance in the research. This was important, as it made sure that all participants were sufficiently aware of their roles in the study. Measures were also taken to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the participants. Each participant’s name was anonymised to ensure optimal anonymity. Additionally, data was analysed verbatim to ensure that results directly revealed each participant’s input. To further ensure confidentiality, measures were taken to ensure that no third party accesses or physically handles the interview recording or the transcripts.
This chapter presents the research results. To ensure that four research objectives are made, four key themes or data categories are constructed to directly, reflect the objectives. They include examining what motivates small-scale restaurants to use social media marketing; examining how social media marketing can be used by small firms to build personal networks; determining the value that personal contact networks bring to small-scale food businesses, and identifying the challenges that small food business face with social media marketing. This chapter also presents findings from interpretations of the results. The results are described in detail proportionate to their associated research findings. Comparative analysis of the findings with perspectives developing from several literature streams is also presented. These findings are discussed in detail below. Five participants from the Tribal Burger restaurant were interviewed. To ensure anonymity, the participants are not referred to directly using their names and job titles. Rather, they are referred as P1 for participant 1, and subsequently P2, P3, P4, and P5.
In an attempt to discover factors that motivate the restaurant to use social media marketing, they were first asked the types of social media platform that the organisation tends to use in social media marketing. P1, P2, P3, P4, and P 5 mentioned that Tribal Burger mostly prefers using Facebook, mainly because it is the most popular in the United Kingdom. However, the company also uses other platforms like Twitter and Instagram. P1 said:
There is no question that we have tended to rely on Facebook because many students or young people that the restaurant targets mostly use Facebook. Of course, that means that whenever we are running an event, Facebook would be the first point of contact with the young people that we target. P1
Sharing a similar perspective, P4 said:
Personally, I like using Facebook because many of my friends use it. The same should go for Tribal Burger. Facebook is easily the most popular across the UK. That is why it is easily preferred for our marketing over Twitter of Instagram. P2
These results can be interpreted to mean that small businesses will most likely adopt social media platforms that are popular among their target customers. Hence, the popularity of a social media platform, or perception of efficacy in meeting the market goals, can motivate small businesses to engage certain social media marketing strategies. Indeed, as Farook and Abeysekara (2016) had earlier observed, Facebook has tended to appeal to many businesses because it is the most popular social networking site. This idea was pointed to in a statement made by P5 when he said:
We mostly use Facebook as a marketing tool owing to its potential to reach and communicate to a large number of people and to ultimately grab their attention. P5
Hence, it is possible from P5’s statement that small firms are likely to create Facebook brand pages, as it provides them with great potential to reach customers. Additional reasons for this, as Farook and Abeysekara (2016) elaborates, is because most popular social media platforms enable firms to engage with as many consumers as possible.
Consistent with this understanding, P3 and P5 also mentioned that the company prefers using Facebook. However, their reasons for what motivates Tribal Burger were different from those provided by P1 and P4. For instance, P3 said that their company mainly uses Facebook as it is the most flexible. When asked why she said so, she replied that Facebook is flexible as it allows the restaurant to post pictures and updates on food items or new products and services on offer.
P2 also revealed the company’s preference for Facebook as driven by the perception that it offers a greater potential for the restaurant to exchange information, including by undertaking live question and answer sessions with online users, and often by sharing information on the latest development.
When asked about the factors that the respondents thought had motivated the restaurant to start using social media marketing, some of the participants appeared to be convinced that it is because the organisation did not want to lose an opportunity communicate with external stakeholders, particularly the customers. P2 said:
I was not a member of staff when Tribal Burger decided to venture into social media. But, I think that it was necessary that the restaurant had to keep a personal Facebook page as it is today part of a best practice for any businesses that seek to constantly, engage with its customers who are active on Facebook. P2
From P2’s statement, it emerges that a necessity to constantly and effectively engage stakeholders is a major motivation for small businesses to engage in social media marketing. In their previous research, Lutz and Hoffman (2013) noted that social media is increasingly providing new opportunities for businesses to engage with stakeholder groups and to constantly inform them of their products and interests, particularly when stakeholders have indicated a need for constant engagement. A review of P5’s statement reveals that the same principle seems to have applied in the case with Tribal Bugger. P5 said:
There are many factors that compelled us to open up social media accounts on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I think I was the first person to suggest to our management team that we needed a platform that would enable us to engage in word-of-mouth marketing as well as to keep improving our presence online. We had many students who inquired about our account because they wanted to provide feedback on our services. P5.
Hence, it is possible that pressure from stakeholders, such as customers, who sought to constantly, provide their feedback may serve as a driver for small businesses to engage in social media marketing. A similar idea was shared by P4 when he said:
At first, we were uncertain as we did not have someone to manage the accounts. There were fears that Facebook has many haters who could fill our wall with hateful messages. But, when we realised that we were first expanding and we needed to keep reaching out to our customers and to direct them to tell others about our, we suddenly realised it was time to make a change. And so we started with Facebook, then Twitter, before Instagram became much later… We have never regretted the decision, as social media has instead increased our online visibility and credibility. P4
Majority of the participants (P1, P2, P3, and P5) were of the opinion that maintaining personal contact networks is critical for the success of the business. However, the significance of maintaining strong personal networks was mostly pointed to by P4 and P5. P5 explained:
Opening and running a fairly small business like ours can be a challenge when you lack very reliable personal networks who can tell you where you can obtain the cheaper yet high-quality supplies, recruit the most reliable employees, or even know where to find guarantors to secure a bank loan. P5
P5’s statement may be construed to mean that small businesses should leverage the concept of networking to transform entrepreneurship as a collective, instead of individualistic responsibility. Apparently, social media marketing can be used by small firms to establish a pattern of interactions with other firms, engage in information exchanges, and expand relationships with other external actors such as financers. For instance, Jones (2012) asserts that personal contact networks provide a means to integrating entrepreneurial activities that ultimately contribute to the creation, development, and growth of small businesses. Jones (2012) showed that social networking sites provide small businesses with a means to establish social that can assist them in acquiring information and advice.
P1 and P4 were also aware of how social media marketing can be leveraged to build personal networks. In line with P’5s idea, they appeared to mainly agree that social media offer critical tools for building and strengthening a relationship with individuals in the restaurant’s network. P1 said that the restaurant has mainly tended to build strong personal network through textual and video content that is directly relevant to individuals in the network. P4 said, on the other hand, observed the need to use social media to strengthen customer service:
The best thing to do to build strong personal contact is to maintain a robust customer service on social media. I have often noticed that whenever I respond to inquiries courteously and pleasantly, it becomes easier to establish a strong relationship with users in our network. Since deciding to use social media marketing, we have substantially increased people in our social media. I even think that 60 per cent of so of our company’s personal-networks starting relating with the company after they found it easy interacting with us.P4
Findings in earlier research by Mangold and Faulds (2009) also indicated that social media could enable small enterprises to expand their personal-contact networks by connecting with their current and potential customers. In effect, the idea of engaging with customers means that a business gets to fortify its customer base, and ultimately profit potential (Ngenga, 2015; Taylor et al., 2012).
Among the participants, there appears to be an understanding that personal contact networks bring in intangible benefits. Of the benefits mentions, the capacity of personal networks to help build a good reputation among the external stakeholders was prominently mentioned.
… Creating value is, in my view, tricky to define. But, when I look at it as a benefit, then I would suggest that social media have been very helpful in strengthening our reputation and enhancing customer relationships. P1
One thing I have always appreciated about personal contact networks is that they will always praise our restaurant and send the word out there about our reputation, whether through social media or not. In fact, I think that one main reason why we have never run out of supply is because of our reputation to make timely payments. This is because many of our suppliers are often talking positively about us. The more our strategic partners like suppliers speak well about us, the more we are likely to have a long term and trusting relationship with them. P5
P3 also said that social media has substantially influenced Tribal Bagger’s customer perception because of customers who provide good product reviews on the restaurant’s products and services and wish to maintain close contact with the restaurant. Earlier research on businesses that engaged social media marketing to develop their social networks have shown that’s such business is likely to be greatly exposed to market information and are likely to experience faster access to certain markets. Such businesses are likely to act with a greater sense of urgency as they are well informed of consumer trends, behaviours and preferences (Kotler& Armstrong, 2011; Zontanos& Anderson, 2004).
P 4 also said:
As the restaurant’s marketing guru, I know that personal networks do bring some values to us. I have met other restaurant owners of the restaurant online. We often engage in some discussions and even share customer experience. So, you see. We learn from each other. While we may tell them about our customers changing experiences, they tell us about their customer experiences. So, we all learn about consumer behaviours, tend and preferences. P4
These show that personal networks have enabled them to strengthen supplier and customer contacts, provided them with insights on innovation, and enabled the restaurant to cultivate strategic partnerships (Kotler& Armstrong, 2011; Pourkhani et al., 2019; Zontanos& Anderson, 2004).
When asked about the challenges that Tribal Burger has with social media marketing, P5 revealed that they are sometimes hesitant to engage social media platforms to connect with customers whenever they notice incidents of cyberbullying. According to P5, cyberbullying is a major threat to a trusting connection with customers online. A review of previous research indicates that the effects of cyberbullying on marketing have not been conclusively explored. P1 also said that he had experienced problems maintaining control of content that he shares on the media because of the sharing capability of platforms like Facebook. He observed that in some cases, the content might be altered by users before being shared to bring disrepute to the restaurant. Indeed, some of the most accessible data only indicate that cyberbullying, hate messages, fake news, and misinformation are some of the challenges that social media users are exposed to (DePaula et al., 2018.
P4 pointed to poor management understanding as a critical barrier to effective use of social media as a marketing tool. P4 said:
When we first adopted social media marketing, we lacked knowledge on how to go about using social media as part of our marketing strategy. Our company had invested good money on developing an online presence, including by developing a website with a section for the blog, but we lacked skilled bloggers with marketing knowledge. This proved to be a challenge as we could not sufficiently engage the students who we targeted online. P4
P4’s statement is an indicator of the emergence of social media management as a critical management discipline, whereby poor management of social media can lead to greater uncertainty about the return of investment (Torning et al., 2015).
P5 shared a similar perspective but emphasised that the problem comes about when the management is uncertain about which platform is the most effective. P5 said:
I think the biggest challenge that we have had is figuring out how and when to properly and efficiently use certain social media platforms. As a small business, we have often been uncertain that we can reach our target market through social media marketing techniques, and maintain a lasting interaction because we are unable to invest in a large team of content marketers. Besides, many that we higher often leave before the ends of their first year. P5
However, P5’s argument can be tied to participants understanding that the company uses Facebook as it is the most popular among the students (target population). In which case, the choice of a platform should be guided by target audience’s preference for the platform. Indeed, Walker Sands (2019) had earlier observed that for social media to effectively lead to business growth, several factors have to be fulfilled. These include selecting the right social media channels that can be used to reach out to the market and to bring about the most meaningful outcomes and return on investment (ROI) for social media. On the other hand, P2 said:
My biggest challenge has been how to integrate the use of social media into the competitive environment where our restaurant operates because most of the content that circulates on social media platforms is personal stories or experiences. It is rare to find cooperation like ours uploading loads of personal stories. So, we always have to compete against personal contents for the attention of online users by striving to make our content as engaging as possible. P5
Therefore, it also appears that personal user content serves as a critical challenge to social media marketing in capturing user’s attention. While research on the impacts this challenge is scarce, Walker Sands (2019) observed that social media could provide a powerful tool for generating new sales leads, driving website traffic, and raising awareness once businesses integrate it into public relations and marketing programs to augment the effectiveness of content marketing and public relations initiatives. Additionally, businesses should maintain a strong brand voice (Walker Sands, 2019).
This research aimed to investigate social media marketing strategies used by Tribal Burger to build personal networks, and what has motivated the restaurant to use such strategies. To attain this aim, four themes based upon respondents’ views, the researcher’s reflexive journal, and already documented research data are established. These include factor motivating small-scale restaurants to use social media marketing; strategic use of social media marketing to build personal contact networks; the value that personal contact networks bring to small-scale food businesses; and the challenges that small food business face with social media marketing. Implications of these four themes show that all the four research objectives proposed for this study were met.
Regarding the theme of factors motivating small-scale restaurants to use social media marketing, a clear implication is that small business are likely to be motivated by the popularity of a social media platform and its potential to reach a certain market segment that a business targets. Similarly, small businesses are likely to adopt a certain social media marketing strategy when there is a common perception both internally and externally that the strategy will help meet marketing goals effectively, yet cheaply. This explains why small businesses would prefer Facebook, which is understood in this research to appeal to such businesses because of its popularity, flexibility in terms of the marketing content that it can be used to disseminate, and a potential to engage a diverse audience (Farook and Abeysekaram 2016).
The prevalence of social media marketing among virtually all businesses that seek to standout may in itself be a motivating factor. Indeed, a majority of the respondents acknowledged that the restaurant only started using social media marketing because other businesses were doing so and the organisation did not want to lose an opportunity communicate and engage with its current and future customers. It is possible to conclude at this point that besides peer pressure in the industry, pressure from customers, who wish to constantly, provide their feedback on product or service experience, may serve as a driver for small businesses to engage in social media marketing. Further inferences reveal that a need for a small business to continually and efficiently engage external stakeholders as customers and suppliers serve as one of the main motivations for small businesses to adopt social media marketing. As conceived from the findings, a commonly cited social media strategy that small businesses may be driven to use is word-of-mouth marketing. Majority of the participants indicated that the management decided to use social media marketing to strengthen word-of-mouth marketing among its current customers. Yet, it also demonstrates small businesses’ preoccupation with relational marketing. Indeed, research has showed that for small businesses, the level of efficiency of marketing strategies tend to be based on relational marketing perspective, whereby firms focus on strengthening how they can expand their networks (Abuhashesh, 2014; Nakara et al., 2012).
As regards the theme of the strategies that social media marketing that small firms use, one clear implication is that social media are instrumental in build strong personal contact networks to facilitate word-of-mouth marketing. This seems to be a necessity for small businesses, given that they often need reliable personal networks that can inform them of where to obtain the cheaper yet high-quality supplies, recruit the most reliable employees, or find guarantors to secure a bank loan. Hence, small businesses should leverage the concept of networking to transform entrepreneurship as a collective, instead of individualistic responsibility. Apparently, social media marketing can be used by small firms to facilitate online interactions with other firms, engage in information exchanges, and expand relationships with financers. In which case, social networking sites provide small businesses with a means to establish social that can assist them to acquire information and advice. Social media is also conceived as a tool for enabling small enterprises to expand their personal contact networks by connecting with their current and potential customers. In effect, the idea of engaging with customers means that a business gets to fortify its customer base, and ultimately profit potential (Ngenga, 2015; Taylor et al., 2012).
When it comes to the theme of the value that personal contact networks bring to small-scale food businesses, several implications can also be made. For instance, personal contact networks established using social media generate several intangible benefits to small businesses, like building a good reputation among customers, business partners, investors, or suppliers. A clear finding from this is that the more our strategic partners like suppliers use word-of-mouth marketing to talk positively about small business, the more the business is likely to have a long term and trusting relationship with them. These are clear indicators that personal contact networks on social media can enable small businesses to strengthen supplier and customer contacts, access insights on innovation, and cultivate long-term strategic partnerships (Kotler& Armstrong, 2011; Pourkhani et al., 2019; Zontanos & Anderson, 2004). Social media can improve the innovative level of small business by exposing them to an extensive network of contacts that can in turn contribute to growth (Jagongo& Kinyua, 2013).
When it comes to the theme of challenges that small food business encounter while using social media marketing, new findings are made regarding the potential of cyberbullying to undermine the success of social media marketing. In effect, it is established that some customer may be unwilling to be engaged through social media marketing when they perceive an incident of cyberbullying or have encountered previous experiences of cyberbullying.
Poor knowledge of social media marketing and social media management also serve as critical barriers. It is established, however, that businesses should select a social media platform depending on the target audience’s preference for the platform. Competition for social media attention by personal user content is also found to be a critical challenge to social media marketing in capturing user’s attention. For social media to serve as a powerful tool for generating new sales leads, small businesses should strive to maintain a strong brand voice.
In this case study, findings reveal that the case company mainly uses word-of-mouth marketing, as part of its social media strategy. In turn, word-of-mouth marketing demonstrates an intersection between small businesses and social media marketing strategies. In effect, because of their fairly small size, small businesses can effectively rely on word-of-mouth marketing to reach a target market that is in close proximity to a business premise. This is ascertained in the case with Tribal Bugger, which has been using word-of-mouth marketing to reach out to and engage students in neighbbouring learning institutions. Yet, the decision to use social media marketing had a number of implications on the study. Findings in this study imply that small businesses may tend to be motivated to use a social media platform depending on common perceptions of the popularity of a social media platform and its potential to reach a market segment of interest. Additionally, pressures from current customers, who wish to constantly provide their feedback on product or service experience, may motivate small businesses to engage in social media marketing.
A commonly cited social media strategy that small businesses tend to use is word-of-mouth marketing. Social media marketing seems to be favoured among small business because of its potential to strengthen word-of-mouth marketing through current customers, suppliers, community, investors, and business partners. There are also possibilities that small business, in spite of their size and limited financial wherewithal, may leverage social media marketing to build strong personal contact networks. These personal contact networks are crucial for small businesses as they can facilitate word-of-mouth marketing. Results indicate that personal contact networks will continue to be inevitable for small businesses that constantly need to be informed on market or industry trends, market opportunities, where to obtain the cheaper yet high-quality supplies, where to recruit the most reliable employees, or how to find financers. Consistent with this, findings in this research further demonstrate that personal contact networks established using social media generate several intangible benefits to small businesses, including building a good reputation among customers, business partners, investors, or suppliers.
Yet, the research also managed to discover a number of concerns currently undermining the effectiveness of social media marketing. New findings from this research highlight a tendency of cyberbullying and hate messages to undermine the success of social media marketing for small businesses. An additional barrier that is mainly concerned with internal organization structures includes poor knowledge of social media marketing and social media management. Competition for social media attention by personal user content is also found to be a critical challenge to social media marketing in capturing user’s attention.
While the study presents significant theoretical and practice implications for small business that use or look to adopt social media marketing, it is vital to first identify its limitation. This research concentrated on social media marketing practice of a single small business. Therefore, because of the limited sample size, the findings may not necessarily be generalized to all small business. For this reason, future research could focus on similar case studies with numerous small foods businesses, as this will provide a wider scope of data for comparing different social media marketing strategies.
Future research could provide a more comprehensive understanding of social media marketing among small businesses in several ways. This research established that small business mainly uses social media to encourage word-of-mouth marketing. Future research should try and establish the effectiveness of word-of-mouth marketing as a social media marketing strategy. Findings in this research also show that small businesses should leverage the concept of networking to transform entrepreneurship as a collective, instead of individualistic responsibility. Future research should look into how social media marketing is used by small firms to facilitate online interactions with other businesses or suppliers. Current research has also focused on customer engagement through social media.
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