ASK SCB: Can we read your senior thesis on social media?

YAASSS.

This has been asked by so many people which makes me laugh. Apparently they think it’s the key to my soul? which is kind of a funny joke since I don’t have one.

Get down with your nerd self to read and learn why I do what I do/why I’m so insane, or whatever you want. Basically, I’m posting this because people have asked, and it’s a 27 page masterpiece that I’m pretty sure I scored a 96% on so it deserves to see the light of day again. None of the actual text has been edited besides basic formatting, and I opted to refrain from posting references because I’m sure the citation style is outdated, and that dates me. Speaking of, keep in mind this was written in the spring of 2011. *enjoy*

RT @Nordstrom: #twitter #socialmediastudy

A Case Study Examining Nordstrom’s Use of Social Media

This study looks at the Nordstrom’s use of social media, specifically Twitter. Detailed is a two week case study following two Twitter accounts, Nordstrom and NordstromSEA. The question guiding the research and analysis looks to determine how social media platforms affect the way that corporations communicate with their public, and the way Nordstrom uses Twitter is analyzed. Results found that Nordstrom dedicates nearly 75% of their tweets responding to users who mentioned them, which aligns with the precedence they place on customer service. The data supports that while Nordstrom has to adjust their communication tactics in some ways to fit Twitter as the medium they’re communicating to their public with, they do so successfully and maintain the impression and reputation that was built about the brand and company before the onset of social media.

Lit Review: The Rise of Social Media.

“If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s fourth largest” (Qualman). The rise of social media has been fast and furious, and is no longer just for college students. An article titled What’s Your Social Media Strategy? accurately describes this progression: “social media has revolutionized not only our communication culture but how we conduct business… These social destinations have become to business professionals and entrepreneurs what golf is to C-suite powerbrokers- an opportunity to strategically network and close deals based on shared interests and personal engagement” (Campbell). Social media “describes a variety of new sources of online information that are created, initiated, circulated and used by consumers intent on educating each other about products, brands, services, personalities and issues” (Blackshaw & Nazzaro 2). Companies are now catching on to the various types of social media as well as the huge consumer base of it to capitalize on their potential profit. While traditional public relations and marketing methods have been a one way street in terms of communication, with companies having total control over the messages and perceptions they project to their consumers, social media is forcing companies to re-evaluate and reconstruct how they communicate these messages. Because of the online and interactive nature of nearly all social media platforms, consumers can react and publish commentary on any company instantaneously, without the consent of the company. So, in order to attempt to control their brand and public perception, companies must understand the dynamic nature of social media and be able to adapt and respond to this new method of communication.

The term “social media” is also broad, as many different platforms fall under the term: Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, Flickr, Blogger, and more. Specific platforms have various purposes and serve different functions within the broader category of social media. Three examples of different social media platforms are Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. Facebook is a social networking service that was launched in February 2004, originally created as a site for college students to create a profile with a picture, list their personal interests, contact and personal information; to communicate with friends, join interests groups and “like” pages. On one’s Facebook homepage, there is a “News Feed,” where friends’ profile changes or recent activities, upcoming events, and birthdays are displayed (Wikipedia). Though Facebook is primarily intended as a communication channel, Youtube is another platform serving a different communication function. Founded in February of 2005, “Youtube allows billions of people to discover, watch and shape originally-created videos. Youtube provides a forum for people to connect, inform and inspire others across the globe and acts as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers large and small” (Youtube). The database of videos that Youtube has allows anyone to search for and watch videos on virtually any subject, and registered users can comment on videos or subscribe to other users video channels, and many companies have tapped into the potential of Youtube for low cost, high exposure viral advertising. While Facebook allows people to easily connect and communicate, and Youtube is a hub of video clips, Twitter is a “real time information network that connects you to the latest information about what you find interesting… Simply find the public streams you find most compelling and follow the conversations” (Twitter). Twitter is a platform where people can contribute information or just listen and retrieve information on their interests, where a user can subscribe to other accounts and receive up to the minute information in their timeline, a compilation of messages by the subscribed accounts (Twitter). It is an interactive, communicative tool designed for the instantaneous transmission of information. These platforms are some of the main ones used by corporations to engage with their consumers and audience in the process of social media marketing.

Social media marketing is “an umbrella term that includes the use of social media for sales, marketing, customer service and public relations, indicating a convergence of these traditionally separate corporate departments” (Matthews 17). Social media is unique in that it has the capacity for all of these traditionally separate departments to collaborate and operate together. In utilizing social media, sales, marketing, customer service and public relations can essentially all be performed simultaneously, though performing all these actions simultaneously is a complex process. Social media marketing “offers new channels for the necessary communication between an organization and its publics, and new opportunities for this communication to be meaningful and mutually beneficial” (Matthews 21). Corporations have a wide variety of social media platforms to use to their advantage in engaging with their audience, and in appropriately picking their platform and strategy can reap the profit of this new marketing and communicating phenomenon. As social media marketing is still a relatively new concept for corporations to use, there are some successful and established corporations who have grasped the concept and effectively communicated with their consumers on a social media platform. Such examples are Victoria’s Secret PINK Page on Facebook, Blendtec’s promotions on Youtube, and Zappos Twitter presence. These companies all understood the niche functions of the platform they employed, and used them appropriately for their respective social media marketing goals.

Victoria’s Secret PINK and Facebook

The Victoria’s Secret PINK Facebook page is a great example of a company understanding the potential of social media, and tapping into the appropriate platform for reaching its consumers and public. In April 2011, Facebook launched a new portal for marketers and creative agencies to help them develop brand promotions on Facebook, opening up a vast audience to those marketing any sort of product to nearly any demographic (Wikipedia). The VS PINK collection is designed for university students, so the company appropriately chose Facebook, a site initially created for university students, to market themselves. The page itself has over nine million people “liking” it, with an average of over one thousand people “liking” individual posts they publish. In March 2011, Victoria’s Secret and it’s PINK brand page were the two most “liked” pages on Facebook, with 12.1 and 8.4 million followers (those who “liked” the pages), respectively (Stambar). The PINK page constantly publishes posts, meaning that it will show up on those who “liked” it News Feeds more frequently, and when those “like” the individual posts, it will show up on their friends’ News Feeds stating that they liked a post- instant credible advertising. They also offer sneak peeks, exclusive information and interactive activities like surveys on their page for keep their consumers’ interested in the brand as well as maintaining a presence on Facebook. They actively market their products in a successful way on Facebook by understanding that they are marketing to a demographic that has a huge presence on Facebook as well as understanding how to use Facebook effectively to maintain good customer relations, promote their positive brand attributes as well as attract new consumers and therefore customers to their Page to eventually produce a profit to the corporation itself.

Blendtec and Youtube

Blenders have likely been a standard household appliance since there was the invention of electricity. An item like a blender is hard to market because most typically have the same features for the price point they are being sold at. If someone wants to stand out from the crowd, being innovative and creative is the way to do it. Tom Dickson, the founder of Blendtec, a fairly small blender company, tapped into social media to separate his blender from all the others sitting on store shelves across the world. Youtube has a free video hosting site, and Dickson’s company produced many short videos that were streamed. The question they ask is, ‘will it blend?’ and to prove the effectiveness of the product as well as have a creative edge over the market competition, he blends various absurd, non-household items: a Wii remote, golf balls, an iPhone, copies of Guitar Hero III and Halo 3 and more (Blendtec). Dickson effectively used Youtube as a social media marketing tool because of the convenience of publishing the videos, while the quirky marketing tactics spoke for themselves as the videos immediately became wildly popular with Youtube’s massive user base. Blendtec intelligently used Youtube to separate its products from the rest of the market through the creative videos that can reach upwards of 100 million users, rather than a one dimensional advertisement in a magazine reaching only the target market of the magazine itself (Blendtec).

Zappos and Twitter

Zappos is an online-only retailer that sells a vast array of retail products and brands, though it’s main revenue base is in its shoe sales. The way that Zappos has used Twitter in an effective way in terms of social media marketing is that they use it to expose their culture rather than market their products. Zappos effectively uses Twitter because the CEO, Tony Hsieh, maintains a constant presence on the site and understands the relationship between social media and how companies maintain a positive reputation on the sites. He states, “brand building today is so different than what it was 50 years ago. 50 years ago you could get a few marketing people in a small room and decide, ‘this is what our brand will be’, and then spend a lot of money on TV advertising — and that was your brand. If you as a consumer only had your neighbors to talk to, you had to believe what the TV was telling you. Today anyone, whether it is an employee or a customer, if they have a good or bad experience with your company they can blog about it or Twitter about it and it can be seen by millions of people. It’s what they say now that is your brand” (Gordhamer).

In being able to recognize the two way street of communication that social media allows, Hsieh capitalizes on the projection of positive attributes of Zappos as a brand by exposing the great culture of the company. Zappos stresses extraordinary customer service and has maintained an extensive customer base through that, and can only benefit from using social media to promote their company, as literal word of mouth of their great company has been their greatest marketing tool. The “Social Media Revolution” video gives this statistic about Twitter usage: “80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices. People update anywhere, anytime. Imagine what that means for bad customer experience?” (Qualman). In using Twitter to remain in conversation with their customers, they keep themselves present in the mind of customers as well as maintaing a credible and positive association of the company, which in return means more customers using their site and a greater profit for the company itself. While they can use Twitter as a damage control tool, the foundation of their company being customer service means that they deal with very few negative customer experiences, and can therefore use the social media platform in a more unique way to promote their brand in a positive fashion and stay in constant engagement and maintain positive relationships with their current and potential customers.

Nordstrom and Twitter

While Zappos uses Twitter as a conversational tool to forge more personal relationships with their customers, Nordstrom uses Twitter in the more typical way of social media marketing- public relations, marketing and customer service. Twitter has “attracted lots of attention from corporations for the immense potential it provides for viral marketing” (Asur & Huberman) and various large corporations have created accounts and created social media marketing teams within their company to target this previously nonexistent marketing medium. Nordstrom is one of the larger corporations looking to maximize their social media marketing by using Twitter. Their target market (primarily Caucasian, upper-middle class educated women) coincides well with the demographics of Twitter: Users are reported to be 53% female, with 44% of users 18-34 and 28% 35-49 with 52% making $60,000 or more a year (Palatnik).The research question guiding this study examines Nordstrom’s use of Twitter to see how they are adapting to communicating with their public using this specific social media platform.

Research Question

As the use of social media platforms become mainstream marketing and communication tools, how are they affecting the way corporations interact with their public?

Victoria’s Secret, Blendtec and Zappos have all used social media platforms in different ways that best serve their respective goals, whether it be marketing, public relations or customer service. Nordstrom has a Twitter account for its social media marketing goals- whether being sales, marketing, customer service or public relations. What needs to be examined is why they chose Twitter, why they chose this platform, and how they are using it to their benefit.

Theoretical Frameworks: Impression Management & Uses and Gratifications

Impression Management

Social media allows a conversation between companies and their consumers as well as a conversation between consumers. The ease and speed at which these conversations can take place means that companies must be efficient at responding to unfavorable feedback or content expressed about them on these platforms in order to maintain a favorable impression and brand. While social media platforms allow companies to project and convey the impression they want to be perceived to a massive consumer base, this massive consumer base can also convey their impressions on an equally wide scope. In the Youtube video “Social Media Revolution,” they state that “78% of consumers trust peer recommendations, while 14% trust ads.” This statistic shows the strength and credibility of peer-reviewed messages and reactions about companies, and the fact that companies need to be able to effectively manage and deal with these conversations about them. Impression management will therefore play a large part of corporations using social media. Impression management theory, created by Erving Goffman in 1959, is “a goal-directed conscious or unconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event; they do so by regulating and controlling information in social interaction” (Piwinger).

Impression management theory is originally an interpersonal communication theory where an individual projects a “character” to his audience and the audience accepts the character on faith as well as on already possessed information from previous situations or interactions; impressions are maintained through social interactions consistent with the projected characteristics of the individual (Newman & O’Brien 121). An interaction is the reciprocal influence of the individual’s upon one another’s actions when in one another’s immediate physical presence, while the performance is the activity of serving to influence any of the participants of the interaction. The setting of the interaction is typically characterized by the furniture or decor- the props that assist in allowing the interaction to play out.There are two “ends” to impression management theory- the front end and the back end. The front end is concerned with the part of the performance which functions in a fixed fashion for those who experience the performance, and the back is the tools behind the scenes that shape the character (Newman 124,8). While the audience is part of the interaction and experiences the performance, they are only privy to the front end of impression management, and cannot see what went into the creation of the other character involved in the interaction.

“When an individual appears before others his actions will influence the definition of the situation which they come to have. Sometimes the individual will act in a thoroughly calculating manner, expressing himself in a given way solely in order to give the kind of impression to others that is likely to evoke from them a specific response he is concerned to obtain” (Newman 121). While impressions of individuals are maintained on good faith and backed by consistency in interaction, they are carefully calculated behind the scenes in order to give the individual projecting a character the most favorable response possible. It is when situations arise that contradict the accepted character where impression management becomes exceedingly complex. When an interaction that discredits or contradicts the widely accepted character, everyone involved feels uneasy; and corrective practices are employed in order to compensate for these occurrences, to safeguard impressions fostered by the individual previous to the discrediting situation (Newman 122). Goffman suggests that when an individual performs impression management in an contradictory interaction, three different levels of social reality are affected: personality, interaction and social structure (Newman 127). The personality is affected in a contradictory situation in the sense that an individual’s conception of himself may be altered due to the situation. Interaction between the performer and his audience is affected when a contradictory situation occurs because the self projected and the self experienced is incompatible, so the reputation of the performer is weakened, altering interactions. Social structure is affected in that the social system that was created by previous interactions is no longer stable and/or applicable because of the current situation. It’s apparent that crafting and maintaing impressions is a convoluted and complex process, and repairing impressions and credibility is a very steep uphill battle.

Though impression management is technically an interpersonal communication theory, it applies well and transfers easily over to social media regarding the formation and maintenance of impressions. Assume that companies take the place of the individual performing the actions of projecting an impression, with the audience being all those consumers of the messages of the company. The setting would be whichever social media platform was being examined in this framework, and the social interaction would be the online dialogue. In terms of Nordstrom and Twitter, Nordstrom is the individual performing impression management on its audience, being those who follow the Twitter account, with Twitter being the setting and the interaction being the conversation between the two. The purpose of transferring this interpersonal theory over to social media interaction is to see how Nordstrom utilizes social media (Twitter) for impression management.

Uses and Gratifications

            While the ability to effectively manage impressions plays a major role in companies use of social media, as PR is traditionally thought of as putting a “spin” on facts to create a favorable impression with the public, also important is that companies are aware of what social media platform is best suited for engaging with their intended audience. The media theory Uses and Gratifications explains this concept well, stating that “media users play an active role in choosing and using the media. Users take an active part in the communication process and are goal oriented in their media use. The theorist say that a media user seeks out a media source that best fulfills the needs of the user. Uses and gratifications assume that the user has alternate choices to satisfy their need” (Blumler & Katz). This theory examines mass communication from the point of view of the audience and ultimately seeks to answer the question, “why do people become involved in one particular type of mediated communication or another, and what gratifications do they receive from it?” (Ruggiero 29).

With the onset of new technologies, people have a plethora media choices, meaning that motivation and satisfaction become crucial components of audience analysis in understanding why people pick the media they do. Interactive media (like social media) blurs the line between the sender and receiver of media messages, and introduces three attributes of data that are not associated with more traditional media: interactivity, demassification and asynchroneity. Interactivity supports the notion of an “active user,” and looks at the degree to which participants in the communication process have control over and can exchange roles in their mutual discourse (Ruggerio 15). Demassification describes the control the individual has over the medium; the capability the user has to tailor messages to their needs, while asynchroneity is the concept that messages may be staggered in time. Senders and receivers of electronic messages can read mail at different times and still interact at their convenience- once messages are digitized, the possibility for manipulation of the media becomes infinite (Ruggerio 16). The concepts of “active” and “audience” that are embedded in original uses and gratifications theory need to be revised when looking at internet communication- while some individuals are goal oriented and may visit websites in order to complete a specific task, some individuals may be surfing the web for fun (Ruggerio 20). Ultimately, the theory focuses on the motivations behind the choices people make in choosing a media channel and the gratifications received from the media use.

It is apparent in today’s mobilized society that people have a multitude of options in choosing how to stay networked and how to satisfy their individual communication needs. This is a pertinent theory for companies to understand so they may accurately understand what the needs of their consumers are and how they would most prefer to satisfy that need in regards to media. In misunderstanding or disregarding audience’s self-perceived needs, companies are setting themselves up for failure by not being able to appropriately or effectively communicate with their intended consumer base, and as a result will not successfully capture the potential of the social media they so choose to use. Since there is a vast array of social media platforms that can successfully fulfill individual’s communication needs, companies must be deliberate in the method they pick in engaging with their target audience.

Methodology

In order to collect data to effectively answer the research question, a two week case study was conducted on two separate Twitter accounts- Nordstrom and NordstromSEA. NordstromSEA is the Twitter account for the Flagship location, while Nordstrom is the Twitter account for the general brand of the company (hereby reffered to as the National account). As previously stated, Twitter is a real-time information network connecting users with the latest info about their interests. All it takes to begin “tweeting” is creating an account and simply following users with similar interests; once someone follows an account, all of their tweets will show up in a real time news feed on their homepage. A “tweet” is a small burst of information published by accounts, and they must subscribe to the 140 character limit per tweet. Tweets are not limited to simply text, but can have photos, videos or other media attached (Twitter). In signing up for a Twitter account, one can contribute information via tweeting, or can simply use their account as a way to retrieve information about their personal interests. The prompt for a tweet simply asks, “what’s happening?” and allows users to tweet about whatever they like, as long as they stay within the character limit.

There are a few different actions that people can place within a tweet- people can “mention” other users, re-tweet a tweet of someone they follow, and add in hashtags. In order to mention another account, one just places the @ symbol in front of the username of the person or company they want to mention. In mentioning someone, they are notified that you mentioned them in a tweet and it hyperlinks the thread of the conversation together should the account you mention respond to your tweet. Re-tweeting is an option a user has when they want to forward a tweet from someone they follow to anyone who follows them- simply clicking the “re-tweet” option instantly forwards it onto their followers and states to them that who the original piece was re-tweeted by. The hashtag feature is a method of categorization- by adding a # before a word or phrase, it makes it clickable for others to see similarly themed tweets in a search (Twitter). Another feature of Twitter not a part of the tweets themselves but still relevant is the direct message channel. This allows accounts to privately tweet at each other and have a private conversation with a user; the only condition required for direct message is that they follow your account. This comprises the basic functions of Twitter as a platform for communication.

Both of the Nordstrom accounts tweets were tracked in their entirety over the course of two weeks. Besides tracking the number of tweets published per account per day, detailed in the initial data collection was: how many tweets mentioned other users, how many were re-tweets, how many were tweets generally regarding Nordstrom as a brand, and how many tweets included a hashtag. While the quantitative data is useful in objectively stating statistics regarding the types of tweets the accounts produced, it lacked insight into motivations driving content of the tweets. After the initial two week data collection was finished, the tweets mentioning other users were subsequently qualitatively subcategorized and divided. Tweets mentioning other accounts were categorized into the following: mentions @ other Nordstrom stores, employees or accounts; a non-unique re-tweet, being that the tweet from another account was quoted within the account’s character limit but not uniquely forwarded; mentions @ users as a response to general brand or product inquiry, mentions @ a user in response to negative feedback and mentions @ a user in response to positive feedback.

Collecting tweet information of two accounts over the course of two weeks yielded a massive volume of information, so reducing the overall volume of data was necessary in order to work with the data in detail. A sample set of two days per week for each account was used, chosen by the greatest amount of total tweets per day. The four days from each account gave eight days of tweets to examine in more detail for analysis and is considered a representative sample of the total data collected. All data in the results section will be detailed and will specify whether is is the complete set of data or data from the sample.

Results

The results of this case study catalog many different trends within Nordstrom’s tweets. The National account dedicated an average of 45% of their Tweets per day responding to positive feedback about their products or an experience with the brand or a store experience. 25% of the Flagship store’s tweets are dedicated to the same category. 23% and 41% of the tweets are dedicated to general brand or product inquiries, respectively. The National account had 16% of their tweets allocated to responding to negative feedback from users, while there was no record of the Flagship account responding to negative feedback within the sample used for the result tables. The National account re-tweeted other’s tweets for 15% of their total tweets, with the Flagship’s accounting for 25%. Only 1% of the National account tweeted at other Nordstrom employees or locations, while 9% of the Flagship tweeted at colleagues or other stores. The National account produced an average of 30 tweets with mentions per day, while the Flagship account had an average of 14 mentions per day, respective to the sample data. Detailed below are pie charts displaying specific sections and pieces of data from the study.

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This pie chart displays the breakdown of the types of tweets tracked over the course of the two weeks. Both the National account and the Flagship account’s tweets were quantitatively plugged in and averaged in this specific chart. The collective average statistics for types of tweets for both accounts over the two weeks are as follows: 73% of the tweets mentioned other users, 7% was a re-tweet, 10% was dedicated to general brand promotion, and 10% of the tweets included hashtags. Over the two weeks, the accounts collectively totaled 549 tweets to be examined. This broke down into 460 tweets mentioning other users, 45 being re-tweets, 61 being classified as brand promotions, and 64 including a hashtag. It’s important to note that some tweets were counted twice as multiple actions can be performed in one tweet such as mentioning another user and including a hashtag or being a brand promotion in conjunction with a brand-related hashtag.

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This chart breaks down the complete data set for the National Nordstrom account. The National account mentioned other users in 81% of its total tweets, 3% of the total was accounted for by re-tweets, while 9% of their tweets dedicated to general brand promotion, and 7% of the tweets including a hashtag. There were 374 tweets total; 330 were mentions, 12 were re-tweets, 36 were promoting the brand, and 27 including hashtags. It’s again important to note that tweets including hashtags may be counted twice in calculating the statistics because of the capacity of tweets to both mention users and employ a hashtag.

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This pie chart depicts the way that the Flagship account’s tweets broke down. This account dedicated 58% of their tweets to responding to other users, 14% to generating re-tweets from followed accounts, 11% to general brand promotions, with 17% including a hashtag. The Flagship account tweeted 175 times over the course of the two weeks, with 130 being mentions, 32 being re-tweets, 25 being brand promotion and 37 including a hashtag, which may have been counted twice within the sample set.

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This chart uses the eight days of sample data and shows the average distribution specifically for the tweets that mentioned another user, comprised of both Twitter accounts. 3% of the tweets mentioned other Nordstrom employees or locations, 18% was a non-unique re-tweet, 11% mentioned a user in response to negative feedback, 29% of the tweets mentioned an account in response to a general inquiry, and 39% of the tweet mentions were in response to positive feedback. The sample had a total of 174 tweets mentioning users, with 6 being at other Nordstrom employees or locations, 32 being non-unique re-tweets, 19 in response to negative feedback, 50 responding to general inquiries of other users, and 67 mentioning users in response to positive feedback.

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This pie chart details the distribution of the sample data taken from the National account. The account mentioned other Nordstrom employees or locations in 1% of their total tweets, with 15% being non-unique re-tweets, 16% mentioning users in response to negative feedback, 23% responding to general inquiry tweets, and 45% dedicated to mentioning people in response to positive feedback. The four days sampled from this account collectively produced 118 tweets with mentions. One mentioned another Nordstrom employee, with 18 being non-unique re-tweets, 19 mentions in response to negative feedback and 53 mentions in response to positive feedback.

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This chart depicts the Flagship account’s breakdown of tweets that mentioned another Twitter account. The Flagship account mentioned other Nordstrom employees or locations in 9% of their tweets, with 25% of them as non-unique re-tweets, 41% responding to general inquiry, and 25% mentioning users in response to positive feedback. The Flagship account totaled 56 tweets with mentions in the four days of data picked. Five of these were at other employees or locations, 14 were non-unique re-tweets, 23 responded to user’s general inquiries and 14 mentioned users in response to positive feedback. [Note: In this specific chart that there is no statistic for this account mentioning users in a response to negative feedback and is because of the sample data chosen for greater examination and is not stating that this account neglected that category of mentioning other users in its entirety, but is due to the representative sample of data.

Analysis

Marketing Capabilities with Twitter

Nordstrom is renowned for their outstanding customer service and have a vast and loyal consumer base, even without social media marketing tools. They differentiate themselves not on a cost basis, but with intangible details that combine to make the company as successful as it is today- a return policy that’s practically too good to be true, free shipping for online purchases, free shipping for in-store purchases to one’s home, and employees who follow up by phone after purchases to name a few. With such a positive and credible association, extensions of the brand must be consistent in their representation as well. In order to maintain the positive perception that people have about Nordstrom, their Twitter accounts must also exemplify excellent customer service, prompt responses and perhaps most importantly, answers- and quickly. The integration of customer service with the option of shopping online means that should a potential customer tweet @NordstromSEA asking about a specific shoe, NordstromSEA needs to respond in a timely manner with an answer and a positive attitude, just like an employee would in the Flagship store if someone wanted to try on a particular pair of shoes. The National Nordstrom account and the Flagship account have both successfully emulated the characteristics that make Nordstrom a successful brand and company on other levels, and will now be discussed in greater detail regarding their ability to manage and maintain their impression and how appropriately they used social media in terms of uses and gratifications.

Response Analysis

Though the tweets mentioning other users were divided into those mentioning other employees or locations, non-unique re-tweets, response to negative feedback and positive feedback and response to general inquiry, those responding to negative and positive feedback and general inquiry were the most indicative of how Nordstrom used social media for their benefit. The first to be discussed is the general response to negative feedback. The account’s have a clear template and method for handling and resolving tweets that are negative. For example, the National account tweeted, “Oh no- we’re sorry to hear that. You can bring your necklace back to the store and we’ll fix or replace it for you,” and the Flagship account tweeted, “can you please follow us so we can send you a DM? Thanks.” These are two examples whose variations were seen quite often over the course of the two weeks of data collection. In responding with messages like these, Nordstrom is effectively practicing impression management. They are maintaing credibility and transparency by responding to and acknowledging the tweets, therefore making it obvious that no company is perfect, while actively involving a call to action within the tweet to resolve whatever issue had arisen, whether it be returning to the store or directly messaging an account. While there are bound to be situations that “discredit” the perception that Nordstrom projects to the public, they maintain the impression that Nordstrom has excellent customer service and values customer loyalty by going to great lengths to keep customers satisfied with specific calls to action embedded in the tweets to help resolve the situation and turn a negative experience into a positive and satisfactory one. Working with people that have had a subpar experience is a sensitive process, and the two Twitter accounts exemplify how to acknowledge and repair that experience to keep consumers coming back to their company. Responding to tweets that are positive in their nature is much more exciting and is just as important in managing Nordstrom’s impression.

In responding to positive feedback, the accounts took more creative freedom in their responses. A standard or template was apparent in many of the tweets, but the content of the tweets varied widely, and so the responses must follow suit. For example, the NordstromSEA account tweeted, “Thanks for visiting us and glad you got new shoes!” The two Twitter accounts actively practiced impression management in two different ways- the first being the method in which they crafted their response and the second concerning the volume of positive tweets within their feed. The way that the majority of the responses were crafted were like the one above- typically involving a thank you of some sort, either for a purchase, or coming into a store, or another reason, and there was occasionally a smiley face was added for good measure. They are reinforcing and perpetuating the impression that Nordstrom is a friendly, positive and caring company by the content of these tweets. The second way that they practiced impression management is the sheer volume of responses and mentions they made that were positive in nature. 45% of the National account’s tweets were in response to positive feedback, while 25% of the Flagship’s account responded to the same. Though they acknowledged tweets that implied the company had made a mistake or something went wrong within a transaction, the National account had nearly three times as many tweets responding to positive feedback than negative. In judging just by the quantitative data, Nordstrom maintains their good impression simply by having a greater volume of positive feedback than of negative, reinforcing the perception that they give customers a great experience, either online or in-store. It’s important to note that some tweets that were classified as a response to positive feedback were not all regarding a sale or a product that was mentioned. While that was the majority of the tweets in that category, some were more generally positive in that they were responding to followers’ more general tweets and were more along the lines of relationship maintenance, which still ties back to and maintains the impression and reputation that Nordstrom has of superior customer service. The way that Nordstrom utilizes social media to manage their impressions is extremely effective and appropriate for the social media platform which they chose, and looking at their responses to general inquiry will allow for closer examination of how appropriately they picked Twitter in order to satisfy the communication needs of their target audience.

As stated previously, Twitter is a real-time information network that can connect a user with the latest information about anything they find interesting. This means that the typical speed at which someone using Twitter is able to find information and receive answers to questions they were searching for is literally instantaneous. People using Twitter are expecting the transmission of information to be extremely fast, and therefore so must be the responses. Tracking approximate times between a user mentioning one of the Nordstrom accounts in a tweet and the response from Nordstrom was near impossible, so in order to test out the speed and efficiency of the accounts, I tweeted from a personal account to the National account. They sent a tweet with a picture of two sweatshirts from their online retail site, and I mentioned them in a tweet, asking “is the top in the third pic on the left also hard tail?” Within the day, I had an answer (yes, it was Hard Tail,) and also a link to the specific top I asked about on their website should I be interested in purchasing it. I expected a response that was quick because that is the inherent nature of Twitter, and not only did I receive it in a timely manner, but I also got the link to my top of interest, which was an added benefit that I wasn’t expecting. Using that example and assuming with a high level of confidence that both Nordstrom accounts maintain the same amount of timeliness in responding to other questions about their company or products, they understand the instant gratification nature of Twitter and therefore satisfy their audiences’ needs. As uses and gratifications is primarily concerned with the choice, reception and manner of response of mass media audiences, and assume that audience members make a conscious and motivated choice among media channels and content, Nordstrom maximizes their social media use by understanding and acting appropriately within the parameters and standards of behavior and expectations set by Twitter. Twitter users expect to be able to find the information they’re seeking and quickly, which is the essential nature of Twitter being a constantly updating real time network, and those controlling the Nordstrom accounts embody the concept of being efficient and giving the answers people want while managing to still be friendly and approachable, even in a virtual medium. The Nordstrom accounts collectively satisfy those who use Twitter for receiving information at warp speed by responding to those with questions with details and information in a time frame that is consistent with the speedy nature of Twitter.

Expert Testimony

All of the analysis from the data collected examines the affect that social media has had on the way Nordstrom communicates with its public. The Twitter accounts actively and successfully practice impression management and the medium itself is used appropriately in terms of satisfying the needs of its audience. The Twitter face of the brand maintains consistency with the overall perception of Nordstrom, being that the company has superior customer service and many intangible assets that differentiate it from market competition. Sanda Belaire is the one who manages the NordstromSEA Twitter account, and she provided some valuable insight into the goals of Nordstrom’s Twitter accounts were. Belaire stated that, “the main goal of our Twitter account is customer service- listen & respond to our customers needs.” In knowing that those who decide the content of the tweets look to maintain the impression of the company having excellent customer service, the data supports that customer service is important on the Twitter account as well and is effectively practiced. In regard to the amount of tweets that are published by NordstromSEA on a daily basis, she stated that “RT are about 30%, projection tweets 30% and responses are 40% roughly.” The statistics from the sample data have re-tweets at 14%, general brand (projection tweets) are 17% and responses are 58%. While she gave an estimate and the sample is only two weeks of data, they are essentially broken down into the same range, and would theoretically balance out should the sample data been a longer period of time.

In Nordstrom understanding their target market and the social media platforms that they would use, they successfully engaged with them by using Twitter and communicating with their customer base on this medium. It’s extremely easy to see if a company is effectively using social media to engage in relationship maintenance with their current customers as well as connect with potential customers by picking the right platform to communicate. Satisfying customer’s communication needs and understanding the theory of uses and gratifications should mean that each respective Twitter account should have a follower base that’s consistently increasing. Belaire stated that “the account has grown from 588 (in February) to 1900 as of today!” This is specific to the NordstromSEA account, and shows the accurate choice Nordstrom made in using Twitter to reach out and engage with their customers- more people are coming to their Twitter in order to satisfy their individual social and psychological needs, as the content of the account is attractive to their audience and is what they want to be reading, so they continue to turn to Nordstrom’s Twitter and ultimately their brand, store and products.

Research Limitations

The data collected from the Nordstrom and NordstromSEA accounts displayed a variety of trends in regards to who, what and why they tweeted. However, there are a few notable limitations that presented themselves over the course of research and data collection. The first is that only the tweets that one of the accounts chose to respond to could be seen- it is virtually impossible to seek out all tweets mentioning either the Nordstrom or the NordstromSEA accounts to see which tweets they chose to respond to or not, or if they responded to all tweets that mentioned them. This is not to make a case to say that either account would have deliberately ignored certain types of tweets, but that there is not enough information and no way of knowing if all tweets mentioning the accounts were responded to, or which ones, if any, went unanswered. Aside from not being able to track all tweets mentioning either of the two accounts, it was also not possible to see which may have been responded to with a direct message rather than on a public tweet. While the sample data used for interpretation is considered a representative sample, it’s still important to note that there’s some uncontrollable variation because only the tweets responded to by one of the accounts become visible to the general public.

Another research limitation that came along with the sample data may be due to the inherent differences between the accounts. As the NordstromSEA account is associated with the Flagship store and the Nordstrom account is representative of the brand and company as a whole, it’s likely that a general Twitter user who mentions Nordstrom in a tweet regarding either a positive or negative experience may tweet at the National account rather than being store specific; that is to say that someone who potentially had an issue with a product bought from the Flagship store may have tweeted at the National account rather than the Flagship account simply because of the possible idea that the National account is like a service account, like a customer service hotline. This may account for the lack of negative feedback in the Flagship account’s sample data, and may be a trend if other Nordstrom store’s accounts are tracked for the same variables. Overall, this data is considered to be a representative sample of both accounts and should the study be replicated, the results yielded should be consistent with those in this study.

Future Research

As social media is still a relatively new tool in the marketing communications arsenal for many corporations, it would be good to see how other corporations are using different platforms to their advantage.It would be very interesting to see the role that LinkedIn plays with the general hiring process. Being a social media site in and of itself combined with the need for marketing and communication professionals to have social media skills as a part of their repertoire would be interesting to research on how social media skills manifest themselves onto a social media platform designed for professionals to connect with colleagues and also find people for positions within a company.

Another social media platform with little to no research on it is Flickr, a photography website where professionals can post their work. Looking at how they situate themselves in a competitive environment and how they can market themselves to potential clients would be interesting as there is no better way to market yourself than by previous work- but also looking at the role that communications besides visual information about professional photographers would be an interesting communication aspect to further research.

Conclusion

Over the course of two weeks, and using four days of data for a more detailed analysis, one can see that social media platforms are affecting the way that corporations communicate with their public in many different ways. For Nordstrom, it means adjusting the way that they communicate with their customers while integrating the same atmosphere and attitude that one would have in an interpersonal interaction with an employee; it means being capable of efficiently answering questions, resolving problematic situations and maintaing positive customer relations- everything that Nordstrom does in-store that has given the public their perception and reputation for having superior customer service. While they must adjust their methods, they successfully maintained brand consistency across all mediums which they communicate with their public, which now includes Twitter.

xx

7 thoughts on “ASK SCB: Can we read your senior thesis on social media?

  1. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering what all is needed to get set
    up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?

    I’m not very web savvy so I’m not 100% sure. Any
    tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Kudos

    1. Hi! I actually do all of the backend work and maintenance by myself, and have formatted a free theme. I did pay for my domain, and work on the paid version of WordPress, but no designs costs or anything else.

      If you go and look at the themes, you can see all of the associated tags when you’re reading the details, and pick up the keywords for what you’ll be wanting to do with functionality, which will help you narrow down your choices. Hope that helps :) xx

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