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Home » To Tweet or not to Tweet? A Comparative Case Study on the use of Social Media within Small to Medium Enterprises in the Equine Industry

To Tweet or not to Tweet? A Comparative Case Study on the use of Social Media within Small to Medium Enterprises in the Equine Industry

Author Names: Ellie Callaghan (BSc (Hons) Equine Business Management) and Gill Reindl

 

Abstract

Social media has become the latest phenomena in the world of marketing. It enables small to medium enterprises (SMEs) to manage customer relationships, overcome performance gaps and change the way customers interact with their favourite brands. As an industry full of lifestyle type SMEs, there is a large gap in the literature as to how well the equine industry has adopted this 21st century trend. This study has taken an interpretive approach to achieve two main objectives: 1) understand how equestrian consumers use social media and 2) establish the different uses of social media within SMEs in the equine industry. Firstly, this inductive study surveyed 100 equestrian consumers from all demographics of age and experience. This comparative case study then looked into the difference in social media use within a saddlery store and an online equestrian gift shop. Themes were drawn from in-depth interviews with the SMEs as a representation of these types of businesses in the equine industry. The findings from this study revealed that 82% of the 100 equestrian consumers surveyed agreed that social media has changed the way they shop. This was for reasons such as it being easier to compare prices, discuss products and to keep up to date with offers and promotions. However, the evidence from this study suggests that there is a mismatch between what customers want and how equestrian businesses have adapted to this. Even with a cross-section of respondents, the evidence strongly suggests that equestrian consumers heavily rely on social media, however SMEs within the equine industry are still ‘playing catch up’. Interviews with the two SMEs revealed that the online gift shop heavily used social media within its marketing strategy whereas the saddlery shop only implemented it lightly, thus giving a good representation of these types of businesses. Despite general case studies’ widely recognized limitations for generalizability, this comparative study can offer a strong indication of wider trends within the industry. Themes that emerged from this study revealed that there was a strong link between resistance to change in the saddlery store with age of the work-force and the management’s knowledge on social media. Social media marketing is more likely to be adopted by a younger individual who has a better understanding of social media. To overcome this, procedures needs to be implemented which provides training or assistance to support the British Horse Industry Confederation’s strategy to increase business skills within the equine industry.

 

1.0 Introduction

An important aspect for any type or size of business is their communication with the customer which is an essential part of the marketing mix. The tools used to communicate with customers have changed in recent years because of the phenomenon known as social media (Mangold and Faulds, 2009). To start with, social media was first introduced as a tool for friends to connect and communicate, whilst now it has also been utilized by businesses (Bughin and Manyika, 2007). Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have enabled customers to form online communities around their interests, and favoured brands and products. These online environments are known as VCE’s (Virtual Customer Environments) and today are an important way for businesses to help build customer relationships in order to generate sales (Nambisa and Baron, 2007).

Social Media today can be used by businesses for a range of functions including, but not limited to, marketing and customer relationship management (Derham, Cragg, and Morrish, 2011). Social media has also enabled consumers to act and react on what companies are doing and shifted their information seeking behaviour (Dijkmans, Kerkhof and Beukeboom, 2015). Because of this, the majority of businesses use social media as part of their marketing strategy to gain a competitive advantage to reach their target market. A 2014 Ofcom report showed that Facebook have over 30 million users in the UK, where over 50% of its active users login daily, giving businesses a powerful opportunity to expose their brand whilst communicating with potential customers. A report published by State of Inbound Marketing in 2012 revealed that 42% of marketers say that Facebook is critical to the success of their business for brand exposure, engaging with and targeting their target audience.

However, despite the overwhelming advantages that social media can bring, many SMEs are not using it. The same report, as mentioned previously, also revealed that 47% of SMEs don’t actively use social media and 25% of them don’t have plans to use it in the future (Donovan, 2015). There are a few theories that suggest why SMEs may be reluctant to use social media, including resistance to change (Tornateky and Klein, 1982) and lack of knowledge of technological innovation (Al-Hakim and Latif, 2013). Resistance to change is the term that affects the change process in an organisation by delaying, slowing down, obstructing or hindering an implementation (Del Val and Fuentes, 2003).

This comparative case study focuses on the use of social media specifically in SMEs within the equine industry. The objectives of this study are to:

1) Understand how consumers in the equine industry use social media

2) Establish the difference in social media use within a saddlery store and an online equestrian gift store

The equine industry contains a variety of types of businesses from a combination of the entertainment, leisure and service sector. Because of the diverse nature of businesses within the industry, it would be near impossible to examine in detail the social media use within the many different types of enterprises. However, two very different types of businesses have been analysed in the hope that this case study will give an indication on the use of social media within SME’s in the wider industry.

 

1.1 Review of the Literature

In order to answer this question, the researcher must first look into what social media marketing involves; the benefits, the drawbacks and how it is implemented into a business. The reasons why businesses might not implement social media is also considered, specifically looking at resistance to change and Kubler-Ross’s (1969) 5 stages of the change curve.

 

1.1.1. Social Media in Marketing

Social media marketing (SMM) is unique. Most marketing channels are one-way in nature, where a business sends out a message and a customer receives it. SMM allows the business to have a conversation with that customer (Mangolda, 2009).

Qualman’s (2010) study on Socialnomics suggests that the success of social media is partly down to its ability to help people avoid ‘information indigestion’. The term ‘Information indigestion’, which first came about in 1970 by Alvin Toffler, is used to describe the difficulty one can have when making decisions caused by the presence of too much information. Although this term is over 40 years old, we can still apply it to today’s society. This is even more so than in the 70’s, where today’s consumers see up to 4000 more adverts a day (Johnson, 2006). Consumers have now taken to social media activities to share amongst themselves their own experiences. Social media eliminates the risk of overloading information as it has made it possible for consumers to review purchasing experiences and allows real-time sharing of purchase actions from friends before final-purchase decisions. Fisher’s (2011) study on SMM stated that because of the elimination of information indigestion, social commerce tools such as Facebook and Twitter can “radically transform consumer shopping experiences”. Consumers are no longer content with traditional advertising as a sole source for learning about new products, brands or services (Evans, 2010). Instead they gather this information through friends of friends’ status updates, tweets, social bookmarks, uploaded pictures, video sharing and commenting (Qualman, 2010). According to Evans (2010) this gives consumers a more accurate and real representation of businesses.

The social web can help or hinder a business as it exposes the truth about organisations, simultaneously highlighting what is good and putting down what is not without regard of interests of any specific party. To help the business, social media can be used to overcome the existing performance gaps, deficiencies or exploit new opportunities (Kirwan, 2009). With social media connecting people from across the world and being a mass source of information sharing, this reduces the opportunities for marketplace exploitation. Therefore, if an organisation is charging more for a product than competitors, the company will be damaged via social media (Evans, 2010).

Evan’s (2010) study on SMM uses the social feedback cycle to represent the way in which social technology has connected people around businesses. This new social connectivity occurs between business-to-business (B2B’s) and business-to-customer (B2C’s). The social feedback cycle consists of the awareness, consideration, purchase, use, form opinion and talk stage (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1 Callaghan

Figure 1: The Social Feedback Cycle (Evans, 2010).

The ‘talk’ stage now sees information widespread across the World Wide Web. Information that was previously only available to a selected or privileged class of individuals is now available to the majority of people. Around a decade ago, information on businesses could only be acquired through more traditional forms such as directories and word-of-mouth. Now, it’s easy to gain knowledge on a place, product or business using social media alone (Evans, 2010).

The “Talk” stage of the Social Feedback Cycle can be a help to businesses. Evan’s (2010) study concluded that the outputs that customers expose during transactions on social media about businesses included:

  • Ideas for products
  • Early warning of problems or opportunities
  • Testimonials
  • Customer service tips that flow from user to user
  • Competitive threats or exposed weaknesses

The information exposed by consumers can be extremely beneficial to businesses in order to help them meet the needs of the customer, establish potential new threats and foresee future problems that could arise. In addition it can help save the business a lot of money on market research (Evans, 2010). However, the “Talk” stage within social media also opens the door for comment and rating abuse due to the severe anonymity of the technology, in addition to marketplace knowledge (Evans, 2010).

 

1.1.2 Implementation of social media in businesses

Early work by Kimberley (1981), on adopting technological innovations, found that the innovation is more likely to be adopted if the adopter is younger, better educated and more outward looking (Kimberley, 1981). A different study, almost a decade on, suggested that the adoption of new technologies was less likely to occur if it is perceived as complex or difficult to use (Rogers, 1983). A more recent study supported these previous studies and also added that the main motivation for the adoption of new technology is based on whether the innovation is seen as “better than its precursor” (Currie, 2004).

The first perceptions of adoption decisions when it comes to technological innovations suggested that there are three different styles of adoption (Rogers, 1983). These were: optional, collective and authoritative. “Optional” was where the choice to adopt or reject the innovation was made by one individual, “collective” by a few consensuses among members and “authoritative” was made by persons with some sort of authority, power or status (Rogers, 1983). These adoption techniques can be applied to businesses to establish what decision styles they use to adopt SMM.

Roger’s (2004) study revealed 5 stages of adopting technology innovations within businesses. These included: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation (Figure 2). Knowledge is acquiring information about the innovation, persuasion is where the business is being persuaded to adopt the innovation and decision is the stage at which they have decided to adopt the innovation. After the decision stage, businesses move through to the implementation stage which sees the innovation being put to use within the organisation. After the innovation has been used long enough that the business can evaluate the actual outcomes with expectations, this is then the confirmation stage. Recent research has revealed that 47% of SME’s have not yet reached the implementation stage when it comes to social media (Donovan, 2015).

 

Figure 2 Callaghan

Figure 2: Five stages of the decision Innovation Process (Rogers, 1983).

 

1.1.3 SMEs reasons for not adopting Social Media

Social media offers exciting new opportunities for SMEs to extend their customer base into the global marketplace (Tetteh and Burn, 2001). According to Wamba (2014) a key driver for using social media is brand exposure. SMEs marketing strategies are likely to revolve around brand exposure to aid growth. To reach this goal, SMEs seek to build customer relationships and can do this more easily with social media as opposed to more traditional methods of marketing (Wamba, 2014).

This begs the question as to why 47% of SMEs are not taking advantage of social media within their businesses. It could be because SMEs have more limited human, material and financial resources than larger organisations (Weisner, Banham and Poole, 2004). Alternatively the reasons could be more complex than this. Studies that delve into more detail look at the adoption of technological innovations and how they heavily depend on the personal characteristics of the adopter, for example their education and experience (Rogers, 1983). Hoffman and Fodor’s (2010) study suggests that managers who lack knowledge on SMM do not fully appreciate that they could enter a new world of “relationships” with customers, thus do not think of implementing it in their business. The study also suggested that the reason SMM may not be implemented could be because the social media environment is largely consumer controlled (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010). Managers who see social media as ‘just another traditional marketing communications vehicle’ are wrong. According to Mangolda (2009) the content, timing and frequency of the social media-based conversations that occur between consumers is completely out of the manager’s control. This leaves SMM with an element of risk, compared to more traditional integrated marketing communications paradigms where there is a high degree of control present. SMEs may be unable or may not want to take the risk with SMM, especially if no members of the business have IT expertise. Larger organisations can afford to get a third party business to adopt the strategy successfully for them or can afford to take the risk. Managers in the adoption stage are aware that developing and retaining meaningful relationships with customers over social media takes time and a lot of interaction from the business (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010), even though their efforts may be wasted.

Another reason for SMEs to not adopt a technological innovation is because of the costs attached to it (Cordeiro and Viera, 2012). A case study by Chesbrough in 2010 revealed that cost is the most associated barrier to innovation within small organisations (Chesbrough, 2010). That said, this should no longer be a bottle neck for small businesses as social media can be free today.

Despite the lack of capital needed for SMM, SMEs are only likely to adopt it if they can see a return of investment (ROI). It will still cost the business to generate content for the social media thus they want proof that it will drive sales. Most marketers tend to calculate the return on sales after they’ve launched the social media campaign, however this can still be challenging to evaluate (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010).

Finally, Guijarro’s (2009) study revealed that small firms whose owners have limited external contact tend to not be aware of environmental changes- this limits the firm’s innovative climate. So organisations who don’t have a network of friends or do not take part in B2B interactions are unlikely to keep up with the marketing trends. This could be a popular reason for SMEs not implementing SMM, especially if they are family-run or lifestyle businesses.

 

1.1.4 Resistance to change

Resistance to change is the term that affects the change process in an organisation by delaying, slowing down, obstructing or hindering an implementation (Del Val and Fuentes, 2003). Resistance to change is often evident within SMEs for a variety of reasons.

Studies by Gray (2002) and Brunninge, Nordqvist and Wiklund (2007) found that there was a relationship between resistance to change and the setting of financial objectives in a business. Additionally, studies have revealed that many of the decision makers in SMEs are not motivated by typical business objectives such as profit, growth and competitive advantage but more by social and family motives, such as maintaining personal identity or maintaining family connections.

This resistance to change could explain why there are still a large amount of SMEs not implementing technological innovations, such as SMM. Technological innovation, according to Dibner and Lemer (1992), is simply the introduction of something new—a new idea, method, or device—and it is not necessarily good or of practical value to society. Studies that go as far back as 1983 suggest that ‘traditionalists’ are likely to argue that the costs of setting up and maintaining a technological innovation are not outweighed by the benefits (Rogers, 1983). The same studies also reveal that younger people tend to be more aggressive, ambitious and presented with greater opportunities to learn about the technological innovations than older people, creating a link between age and social media adoption (Rogers, 1983).

 

1.1.5 The change curve

The change curve is a model that represents the different emotions that one feels when adapting to change (Figure 3). It was created in 1969 by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross as an illustration as to how people deal with the news that they have terminal illness. However, the model can be applied to businesses today to represent the stages a business may go through when implementing an innovation such as SMM.

 

Figure 3 Callaghan

Figure 3: The Change Curve Model (Kubler-Ross, 1969).

 

Denial stage is the first stage; this is when information has been received as to the idea of change. The natural reaction is to deny that there is any need for change. The Anger stage is the point at which one can’t see a way out of the situation, often resorting to anger or bitterness. This stage is likely to become apparent with traditionalists, who may not want to adopt a technological innovation within their organisation but are forced to keep up with competitors. The third stage is exploring; this is when it has become clear that the change is there to stay. It often encourages managers and employees to comment such as “What if we do this?” or “How about we change this?”. For businesses at the exploring stage of implementing social technology, they may be considering the importance it has for the business. Acceptance would be when the business has successfully come through the change curve and they have learnt to live with and got involved with the change.

 

1.1.6 SMM in the equine industry

According to the British Horse Industry Confederation’s (BHIC) report there are over 18,000 active equestrian businesses in Great Britain, the majority of which are SMEs, many with less than five employees. The majority of these SMEs are not driven by profit-making entrepreneurs but are what are known as Lifestyle businesses. According to Lashley and Rowson (2010) lifestyle entrepreneurs’ key motives are to increase their quality of life, and are often run by family members.

However, like all industries, it is important that SMEs are able to keep up with trends in order to survive. SMEs in the equine industry often have little awareness of how they are performing relative to others, often missing out on new trends that could be improving their business performance (BHIC). Because of this the DEFRA Rural Funding Streams Review is looking at how to improve business skills within the equine industry, specifically looking at SMEs.

There are very few studies that exist on the use of marketing within the equine industry, there are even fewer to none on the use of SMM marketing within the equine Industry. The equine industry is a large and complex industry that has sufficiently grown in the past decade. Eastwood, Jensen and Jordon (2006) state:

“As the horse industry becomes more demanding and the outside influences facing the industry becomes more pressing, there will inevitably be changes in the way in which equine enterprises do business” (Eastwood, Jensen and Jordon, 2006).

This has become apparent in the past decade, where the use of social media has spread throughout all industries. However, there is still a gap in the research as to how quickly SMM has spread through the equine industry.

 

2.0 Methodology

The choice of methods depends on the problem under study and its circumstances, according to Flyvbjerg (2006). The aims of this study are to 1) understand how equestrian consumers use social media and 2) establish the different ways that social media is used within a saddlery store and an online equestrian gift store. The researcher has chosen a comparative case study to look in depth at the two most common fields in the equine industry, those being a saddlery store and online store. From this the researcher hopes that the outcome will reveal facts and data that will give an indication of the differences or similarities in social media use within the equine industry. Flyvbjerg (2006) reveals that case studies are the best form of research within the social sciences and that one can often generalize on the basis of a single case study. Although this study is small, it is still an accurate representation of the wider industry.

The following chapter will reveal the various methods and strategies used to attempt to identify any patterns that may occur. The following sections will cover the philosophy of the research, the research approach and the methods used.

The philosophy and the methods used were selected carefully. According to Knox (2004) the relationship between the research philosophy and the research methods is an important one. This is because it allows one to:

  • Make a more accurate and informed decision on the research approach (Smith, 1983)
  • Choose appropriate methods that are going to be most useful for the research (Smith, 1983).

 

2.1 Philosophy

Saunders Research Onion is the philosophy chosen to help structure the research of this study. According to Saunders (2003) a philosophy is the belief about the way the research should be conducted, analyzed and used within a study. The Research Onion demonstrates the stages that need to be covered within a research project, from approaches to strategies (Figure 4).

 

Figure 4 Callaghan

Figure 4: The research onion (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2003).

 

The first layer of the research onion refers to the philosophical stance, which is identified by the researcher before a research approach is decided on (Bryman and Bell, 2007). The different philosophical stances will determine in which way the project should be approached and what steps will be necessary to discover the knowledge needed.

 

2.1.1 Interpretive Philosophy

The aim of this research is to understand a phenomena and an explanation, therefore this research will take an interpretive approach. The interpretive approach is suitable for this study where there is a possibility of finding many truths, and the researcher is not looking for one definitive answer. Interpretive studies attempt to understand phenomena through accessing the meanings that participants assign with them (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991). Taking an interpretive approach to this study will help establish consumers’ and managers’ thoughts, feelings and opinions on the subject of social media. Saunders, Thorn and Lewis (2003) stated that: “Crucial to the interpretive philosophy is that the researcher has to adopt an empathetic stance.”

Interpretive studies establish a relativistic understanding of the phenomena, in comparison to a positivist approach which develops a unique description of a truth in the world that is true regardless of what the research discovers (Laudan, 1996). Table 1 compares the differences between an interpretive versus the positivist approach to research:

 

Table 1 Callaghan

Table 1: Table showing comparison of positivist versus relativist approach (Laudan, 1996).

 

2.2 Inductive vs. Deductive

The second layer of the research onion refers to the approach that the researcher will take towards the study. According to Saunders (2003) there are two types of approaches including “Inductive” and “Deductive”. Choosing the right approach for a particular sort of research will ensure that there is some validity in the conclusions drawn and that any new knowledge discovered is soundly based (Walliman, 2011).

The researcher chose an inductive approach in which data is collected and a theory is developed as a result of that data. The inductive approach allows the researcher to start with an open mind, make observations, find patterns and thus make a hypothesis based on their discovery, whereas the deductive approach constructs a rigid methodology that does not allow alternative explanations of what is going on (Knox, 2004).

 

2.3 Choice of Strategies

The research strategies are the tools used to gather information about the enquiry (Walliman, 2011). According to Walliman (2011) the way in which the research is carried out will be reflected in the quality of the results. Flyvbjerg (2006) also supported this by stating:

“In social science, the strategic choices may greatly add to the generalizability of a case study.” – (Flyvbjerg, 2006)

The research for this method will be mixed-method. The strategies chosen to gather information are interviews and surveys, therefore inductive, as observations will be made which will then help to structure the survey. The aim of these research strategies is to gain an understanding of the use of social media within SMEs and also from a consumer point of view. The interviews and the surveys will reveal any new patterns which can then be interpreted in this study. The qualitative data from the interview is descriptive, subjective, holistic and realistic (Halfpeny, 1979).

 

2.3.1 Interviews

The use of interviews can aid towards gathering valid and reliable data that are relevant to the research topic (Saunders, Thorn and Lewis, 2003). There are several types of interviews, all of which stay consistent with the research question. There are unstructured interviews, semi-structured interviews and structured interviews. The type of interview being used for this particular research project will be semi-structured, also known as qualitative interviews. According to Saunders, Thorn and Lewis (2003) semi-structured interviews may be used in order to understand the relationships between variables, such as those revealed from a descriptive study.

Semi-structured interviews require a list of themes and questions to be covered but will be adapted to suit individual respondents (Saunders, Thorn, Lewis, 2003) as this way you can tailor your questions to gather the most efficient answers. Semi-structured interviews also allow the interviewer to vary the order of questions and add any additional questions which may be required to explore the research question and to enhance the flow of the conversation (Saunders, Thorn and Lewis, 2003).

An unstructured interview allows the interviewer to talk freely, however the topic of social media is too broad to allow the interviewer to talk freely about so this type of interview would not be suitable.

Seale et, al. (2013) notes the ways in which you can make the interview most effective and successful, these are;

  • Closely follow the respondents’ talk and provide timely responses and follow-up questions.
  • Work to show each other that you understand what the other is talking about.
  • Reflect and disclose on their personal experiences.
  • For less verbal respondents or for those who are struggling to answer a particular question, interviewees should probe their opinions, experiences and beliefs on the respondent to ‘get the ball rolling’.

The interviews will take place with a shop manager at the equestrian saddlery shop and the managing director of the online retail business. As stated previously, the variety of businesses within the equestrian industry is vast and it would be impossible to apply the theories found to each sector, therefore, the interviewees chosen are of different sectors to discover the differences in the use of social media between a saddlery shop and an online retail website.

 

2.3.2 Surveys

In contrast to qualitative research such as interviews, surveys allow the researcher to gather large amounts of data to describe a population. There are two types of surveys, longitudinal and cross-sectional. The survey being used within this research is cross-sectional as it only has to be carried out once, unlike longitudinal studies which are much more complex and are often carried out over a set time period. The survey will be aimed at consumers of the equine industry.

The outcome of the survey should reveal the different uses of social media by consumers who have an interest in horses and reveal patterns associated with age, gender and experience. The survey will quiz respondents on their use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, specifically looking at the ways in which they interact with equine businesses. The questions will be straight-forward and not contain too many theoretical concepts or jargon since the researcher’s understanding of these terms may vary from the respondents (Saunders, Thorn and Lewis, 2003). After 100 or more respondents have completed the survey, the results can be analysed. However, Watson (2015) suggests that survey results should be interpreted before conclusions are drawn. The survey will be aimed at equestrians from all demographics of a variety of ages and levels. This way a realistic interpretation can be drawn from the research.

 

2.4 Time Horizons

The fifth layer of the Research Onion refers to the time horizons of the research. The time horizons of this research project are cross-sectional, also known as ‘Snapshot’ research. The reason for choosing a cross-sectional approach to this study is because the research consists of the study of a phenomenon at a particular time. According to Saunders, Thorn and Lewis (2003) cross-sectional studies often involve interviews and surveys conducted over a short-period of time.

 

3.0 Results and Discussion

This chapter discusses the key themes discovered within the inductive research that was the survey. Because of the nature of this project thematic analysis was the tool used to analyse the data as it helps to establish any patterns within the research (Braun and Clark, 2006) that will influence or inform this topic area. This study had two main aims: (1) to establish how different types of SMEs within the equine industry implement and use SMM and (2) determine how equestrian consumers interact with social media.

For the first part, the researcher will show the results collected from the online survey. The online survey was completed by 100 equestrian consumers from a range of ages and backgrounds. It was published on social media sites and it was also completed by customers of the saddlery shop.

 

Question One

The study firstly investigated which social media sites were used the most by equestrian consumers. The findings show  that Facebook is the most used with 98% of the respondents on Facebook, 70% on Twitter, 54% on Instagram, 40% on Pinterest, 38% on Snapchat, 21% on LinkedIn and 16% using Tumblr. The results confirmed that Facebook and Twitter are the most popular social media sites used by consumers within the equine industry (Figure 5).

 

Figure 5 Callaghan

Figure 5: Shows which sites were most used by equestrian consumers (Researcher’s Own, 2016).

 

Question Two

Question two analysed how much equestrian consumers use social media by asking them how likely they were to use it in a ‘typical day’. Figure 6 demonstrates that the majority (87%) of equestrian consumers are either very likely or extremely likely to use social media in a day. As little as 1% are not at all likely to use social media in a ‘typical day’. The findings from this question show how large a part social media plays in the lives of equestrian consumers.

 

Figure 6 Callaghan

Figure 6: Shows how likely Equestrian Consumers are to use Social Media in a Typical Day (Researcher’s Own, 2016).

 

Question Three

Question three asked the respondents how many equestrian businesses they were linked with on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat. As can be seen from figure 7, it is evident that equestrian consumers tend to connect with equestrian businesses more on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter over Snapchat and Instagram.

 

Figure 7 Callaghan

Figure 7: Shows how many equestrian businesses’ consumers were connected to (Researcher’s Own, 2016).

 

The limitation to this question is, however, directly linked with age. When analysing the individual responses, it was evident that the younger participants were less likely to connect with businesses on social media and they were the ones who were most likely to use social media sites such as Instagram and Snapchat, whereas the respondents in the older age brackets were more likely to be connected with equestrian businesses. However, they were less likely to be on social media sites such as Instagram and Snapchat. The ages of the respondents are clearly demonstrated in the chart below (Figure 8).

 

Figure 8 Callaghan

Figure 8: Shows age of Consumers (Researcher’s Own, 2016).

 

Question Four and Five

Question four asked respondents whether they agreed that social media has made it easier to contact businesses. The findings show that 87% of equestrian consumers agreed they find it easier to contact businesses because of social media. Question 5 also revealed that 79% of equestrian consumers use social media to keep up to date with their favourite brands, businesses or products’ offers and promotions (Figure 9).

 

Figure 9 Callaghan

Figure 9: Shows whether social media has made it easier to contact businesses and whether they use it to keep up with offers. (Researcher’s Own, 2016).

 

Question Six

Question six investigated into how consumers contact a business if they have a complaint or a query. Participants were asked which method of contact they would use out of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email or telephone call. As can be seen from figure 10, Facebook was the most popular answer with 33% of participants choosing this as their first method of contact, email was the second most popular with 30% of the participants and 28% of the participants would call the business if they had a complaint or a query. It is interesting to see that social media is now a more popular method of contacting a business over more traditional methods such as emailing the business or phoning them.

 

Figure 10 Callaghan

Figure 10: Shows what Method of Contact Consumers use to Contact a Business (Researcher’s Own, 2016)

 

Question Seven

Question seven asked respondents whether they use social media to review products before purchasing them. 67% agreed they did this most of the time or always whereas only 2% of the participants had never done this, suggesting social media is a powerful tool for businesses to promote their products or services (Figure 11).

 

Figure 11 Callaghan

Figure 11: Shows Whether Consumers use Social Media to Review Products (Researcher’s Own, 2016)

 

Question Eight

The next question investigated the ideas of Evan’s (2010) theory on the ‘Talk Stage’-part of the Social Media Feedback Cycle. Respondents were asked whether they have used social media to discuss equestrian products or services between their friends. The findings revealed that 59% of the respondents discussed products or services most or all of the time on social media (Figure 12). Evans (2010) study suggested that the outputs that customers expose during transactions on social media about businesses can be extremely beneficial to SMEs. The findings from this study suggest that equestrian consumers are actively involved in the ‘Talk Stage’ and therefore could be beneficial to SMEs in the Equine Industry.

 

Figure 12 Callaghan

Figure 12: Shows whether Consumers are ever part of the “Talk-Stage” (Researcher’s Own, 2016)

 

Question Nine

Question nine asked respondents whether they agree or disagree that social media has changed the way in which we shop online. The findings confirmed that 82% of the respondents agreed that social media had changed the way in which they shopped online (Figure 13). There was also a comment box where respondents were able to justify their answer. Some of the answers from the respondents who agreed are bullet pointed below:

  • “It is easier to compare prices”
  • “Easier to keep up with offers”
  • “I can keep track on what’s new”
  • “Influenced to buy what top riders may be wearing or using this season after they promote it on social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram”

 

Figure 13 Callaghan

Figure 13: Shows whether Consumers agree or disagree that Social Media has Changed the way they shop (Researcher’s Own, 2016)

 

 

4.0 Discussion

This chapter will discuss the findings from this survey and the interviews conducted with the SMEs. Table 2 summarises the key findings from the survey  which was sent out to 100 equestrian consumers.

88% agree social Media has made it easier to contact businesses
52% use social Media to contact a business (over traditional methods such as Phone call or email)
48% discuss equestrian products, services and brands on social media
57% review equestrian products or services on social media before purchase
79% use social media to keep up to date with offers and promotions from equestrian businesses
82% agree social media has the changed the way we shop

Table 2: Themes found in the Survey (Researcher’s Own, 2016).

 

The survey response findings were then able to help the researcher shape the questions for the interview. Below is a table summarising the key themes found within the interviews between the saddlery store and the online gift shop.

 

Social Media is most likely to be adopted if the adopter is younger, better educated and more outward looking (5.1)
Finance barriers often encourage Resistance to Change as well as lack of knowledge (5.2)
Social Media has been used to overcome performance gaps, deficiencies or exploit new opportunities (5.3)
Evans (2010) Talk stage is accurate and allows ideas for customer service (5.4)
Social Media allows the business to have a conversation with customers (5.4)
Social media can damage the business if they are charging more than competitors (5.4)

Table 3: Themes found in the Interview (Researcher’s Own, 2016)

 

The following chapter discusses the key themes discovered within the interviews. For this section the saddlery store will be referred to as business A and the online gift store will be referred to as business B.

 

4.1 Implementation of Social Media within the SMEs

The interview confirmed that business A and business B were at the ’Confirmation’ stage of adopting Facebook as part of their SMM strategy (Table 4). According to Rogers (1983) this means that they have used social media (Facebook) long enough (3 and 4 years) that they could now evaluate the actual outcomes with expectations. However, unlike business A, business B was also at the ‘confirmation’ stage with Twitter, the ‘implementation’ stage with Instagram and Pinterest and ‘decision to accept’ stage with Snapchat. Unlike business B, business A have not implemented any other social media into their marketing strategy.

 

Business A (Saddlery) Business B (Online shop)
Facebook Confirmation Confirmation
Twitter Persuasion Confirmation
Instagram Awareness Implementation
Pinterest Awareness Implementation
Snapchat Awareness Decision- Accept

Table 4: SMEs Implementation stages of Social Media (Researcher’s Own, 2016).

 

The study next investigated into why the SMEs have chosen to adopt social media. Evans (2010) claims that consumers are no longer content with traditional marketing techniques, which was also recognised by business A and business B who saw that social media was becoming ‘more and more popular’. The interview highlighted that the main reason business A adopted social media into their marketing strategy was to:

“keep up with the growing trend of social media…”- Business A

Business B’s main motivation for implementing social media was because:

“email marketing was getting less effective and print advertising was very expensive”- Business B

Therefore, the present study supports the ideas explored by Currie (2004) who confirmed that the main reason social media is implemented is because it is seen as better than its precursor.

Despite the differences between the organisations’ motives for implementing social media, a theme occurred within the research. The individuals, in business A and business B, involved with the implementation process were of a younger age and were better educated than their colleagues. The one-to-one interview confirmed that business A’s decision to implement social media was a collective decision from a few people within the management team, however the running of the social media was down to one individual, who stated:

‘I’m of a younger generation… I felt I had the strongest knowledge on social media’- Business A

This supports previous research by Kimberley (1981) who revealed that the implementation of technical innovations was more likely to happen if the adoptee was younger and better educated. Business B’s decision to implement social media was optional, meaning it was made by one individual (Rogers, 1983). However, similarly the individual chosen was the youngest and better educated (to degree level) than their colleagues. The findings therefore suggest that SMEs in the equine industry who lack employees of a younger age and are less technically advanced are more likely to fall in the category of SMEs who are not implementing social media.

 

4.2 Resistance to change in Business B

Resistance to change affects the change process in an organisation; delaying, slowing down, obstructing or hindering an implementation (Del Val and Fuentes, 2003). Findings from this research reveal elements of resistance to change within business A. As can be seen from table 4, business A still sit in the persuasion stage of implementing Twitter and have not considered other social media sites such as Instagram or Pinterest.

Previous studies by Gray (2002) and Brunninge, Nordqvist and Wiklund (2007) found that there was a strong connection between SMEs resistance to change and their financial objectives, and present research can contribute to this. Business A’s barrier to implementing social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest were down to financial objectives set by the managing director. Findings in the interview revealed that the director was not willing to spend money on social media campaigns because:

“We are a small business and our management team would prefer to stick to more traditional marketing strategies such as print advertising and magazines where there is less risk”- Business A

However, recent studies have proved that cost is not a barrier to implementing social media (Chesbrough, 2010). Therefore, this study looked further into the reasons why business A was unwilling to implement social media into their marketing strategy. The respondent said:

“the director is of an older generation and he lacks knowledge on social media, he’s not overly familiar with the format of social media and how it could be good for the business” – Business A.

The present study can therefore contribute to the ideas of Hoffman and Fodor (2011) who claimed that managers who lack knowledge on SMM do not fully appreciate that they could enter a new world of relationships. This thus suggests that if the leadership of SMEs lack knowledge on social media they are less likely to adopt it into their marketing strategy.

Consequently, the director’s attitude to SMM gives a perfect example of Kubler-Ross’s ‘Denial’ stage in the change-curve theory. Denial stage sees that the individual is unwilling to see any need for change. When one is in the ‘Denial’ stage they are more likely to look to the past rather than the future. With the exception of Facebook being implemented by the younger employees of the organisation, it is clear to see the reason business A have not implemented SMM is because they would rather persist with more traditional marketing strategies. This thus contributes to the common problem within the equine industry that most SMEs are stuck in the ‘Denial’ stage.

 

4.3 The outcomes of Social Media within the SMEs

What the researcher tended to explore was how the SMEs used social media within their marketing strategies. The interview highlighted that business A use Facebook as an opportunity for CRM (customer relationship management), boosting brand exposure and keeping their target audience up to date with promotions, offers and new products. Business A found promoting offers or new products on Facebook to be a successful strategy for attracting customers to the shop. This can be compared to the online survey study which revealed that 79% of the equestrian consumers agreed that they use social media to keep up to date with promotions and offers from their favourite brands and products, thus making social media a great tool for boosting sales.

Business B’s reasons for implementing SMM heavily revolved around boosting sales and achieving a ROI (return on investment). They did this by using tools such as Google Analytics to track which social media sites customers were coming from, although they agreed it was difficult to track ROI on Instagram and Pinterest. Business B found Facebook to be the most successful social media site, closely followed by Twitter. This was because:

“These are the sites where the most amount of time is spent on by the horse community. Especially with eventing, the Facebook and Twitter horse community is very active…”- Business B

This links directly with the data collected from the survey, which revealed that 49% of the equestrian consumers surveyed were connected to many equestrian businesses on Facebook and 37% were connected to many equestrian businesses on Twitter.

As well as tracking ROI, business B also used Facebook and Twitter to track COBRA (consumers online brand related activities). The management commented:

“Facebook gives us the most demographic information, we use this to our advantage by establishing who our target market is, we can track their age, gender, horse riding experience, relationship status and generate content based on these facts…”- Business B

These findings link to existing research about how SMEs can use SMM as free market research, to overcome performance gaps and to exploit new opportunities (Kirwan, 2009).

As well as market research, business A and business B use social media as a way of managing their customer service. The respondent from business B confirmed that their consumers used social media to ask questions about products, check stock availability and put forward complaints and suggestions, the problem with this being:

“it’s difficult because you end up trying to respond to all these people in multiple locations, it’s quite hard from a customer service point of view. Facebook messages are a blessing and a curse.”- Business B

The survey statistics revealed that 52% of the consumers use social media to contact equestrian businesses, with 48% using more traditional methods of contact such as an email or a phone call. When combined with the statistics from the 2012 State of Inbound Marketing report, which revealed that 42% of businesses agree that social media is critical to the success of customer service, it is clear to see that social media is becoming essential for all businesses.

 

4.4 The Talk Stage

Theories discussed earlier about the Talk Stage (Evans, 2010) are apparent within the Equine industry. The survey confirmed that the Talk stage is often used by consumers to discuss products, brands or services before any purchase decision is made. The survey revealed that 48% of the 100 equestrian consumers are a part of this talk stage most of the time. Previous research (Evans, 2010) recognised that some of the outputs that customers expose during transactions on social media included ideas for products, early warning of problems or opportunities, testimonials, customer service tips that flow from user to user and competitive threats or exposed weaknesses. Business A saw that Talk stage occur often when they were mentioned in posts or conversations between customer to customer. Business A commented on the Talk Stage having a positive effect on their business:

“we sometimes get mentioned in comments or on customers’ statuses, then you get the ripple effect where word is spread about us and we may get some new likes or from new customers. That’s the main catchment.” –Business A

Therefore, the present study can contribute to the ideas of Wamba (2014) who suggest that social media is a motive and an excellent source for brand exposure.

However, a problem with the Talk stage is that it is consumer-generated and therefore is out of the businesses’ control. Although this allows the consumer to get a true representation of the business and avoid information indigestion (Qualman, 2010) it can be challenging for businesses due to the severe anonymity of the technology (Evans, 2010). The present study revealed that the SM’s interviewed did not have a problem when it came to comment or rating abuse, however they were easily damaged if a competitor was clearly charging less for a product than they were.

VCEs (virtual customer environments) is the concept where consumers spark conversations around a topic of interest. VC’s occurred within the social media sites managed by business A and business B. Business B confirmed that:

“Customers get heavily involved in discussions when posts on hot topics within the equine industry are posted”- Business B.

Similarly, business A saw that when informative or slightly controversial posts were shared on Facebook it sparked a lot of consumer conversations around the topic. Not a huge amount of research has been published on the benefits of VCEs, however this study confirmed that they are beneficial for brand exposure and building relationships with customers. Business A commented:

“It allows us to get involved with the customers in conversations about new products that might be coming out in the shop or new offers. We send the same information out over email but we don’t get the same response…” – Business A.

As discussed previously by Mangolda (2009), social media allows the business to have a conversation with that customer which is unique from all the other forms of social media, which are mostly one-way in nature. SMEs who are not involved on social media are missing out on the opportunity to build relationships with their customers through VCEs.

 

4.5 Limitations and Further Research

This comparative case study allowed the researcher to gain a thorough understanding of the way that equestrian consumers use social media and the way that a saddlery store and an online gift shop have implemented social media with an aim to understand the wider industry as a whole. However, there are a few limitations to this study.

Firstly, as a case study in the equine industry it is very challenging to generalise due to the vast nature of the industry. Secondly, there was not enough time or resources to further study some other fields within the equine industry.

Despite this being a small study, the findings are a good representation of these types of businesses and give a good indication of what is going on in the wider industry. Even with a cross-section of respondents, this study’s findings give strong evidence that there is a mismatch between consumers demand and what businesses are supplying when it comes to social media.

The SMEs studied had very different characteristics and a huge amount of variation in their skill bases, therefore theories could be applied to SMEs who show similar characteristics or skill bases. However, more could be learnt if research was done into the different fields within the equine industry. Further research can be done to advance the understanding on the different ways social media is used within various types of businesses and how it is implemented. Some examples of SMEs that could be studied include: self-employed farriers, dentists, grooms, vet practices, riding schools, competition venues, pony clubs and riding clubs and livery yards. Further research will give a stronger understanding to the wider industry as to what SMEs can do to enhance business performance. Further research will also help support BHIC’s strategy to increase business skills within the equine industry.

 

5.0 Conclusion and Applications

The main aim for this comparative case study was to 1) understand how equestrian consumers use social media and 2) establish the different social media uses within a saddlery store and an online equestrian gift shop. This inductive study allowed the researcher to learn how social media is implemented into SMEs in this field, giving an indication as to how this trend has been adopted in the wider industry.

The findings strongly suggest that equestrian consumers heavily rely on social media, with 82% of them agreeing that it has changed the way they shop, for reasons such as it being easier to compare prices, discuss products and to keep up to date with offers and promotions. However, the data from the interviews revealed that the SMEs haven’t caught up with consumer demands yet. The findings from this study suggest that there is a mismatch between what consumers want and how equestrian businesses have adapted to this. Social media was heavily implemented into the online gift shop whereas it was only lightly implemented into the saddlery store, thus giving a good representation of these types of businesses. Despite case studies’ widely recognized limitations for generalizability, this comparative case study can offer a strong indication of trends that are likely to occur in the wider equine industry.

Objective number one was to establish what was preventing equine SMEs from implementing social media into their marketing strategies. Resistance to change was a significant aspect of this study. Resistance to change in the saddlery store was partly down to the management’s lack of knowledge, thus supporting Hoffman and Fodor’s (2010) ideas. A recommendation from this study would be to initiate social media training in SMEs, which will allow management to fully understand the benefits of SMM and support the BHIC’s strategy to increase business skills within the equine industry. An educated workforce within SMEs will aid them in fully appreciating that they could enter a “new world of relationships,” expose their business and improve customer service .

However, as the majority of SMEs are cost conscious, it would make sense to volunteer just one individual to be trained on SMM. The findings from this study suggest that the younger individual in the organisation would be the better candidate. Supporting Kimberley’s (1978) study, social media is better off being adopted by a younger individual because they tend to have better knowledge on the subject. It is recommended that SMEs employ a mixed age workforce as this can provide insights into their peers’ social media habits. The different aged employees will help SMEs to expose their business to potentially untapped markets.

The findings from this case study have supported the ideas of Lashley and Rowson (2010) on lifestyle business, and further to this, proved that the use and implementation of social media is dependent on the type of business. The difference in motives, characteristics and skill base behind the SMEs affected their use of social media. For example, the saddlery store was a lifestyle business whose motives were to improve the family’s quality of life, whereas the online gift shop had more entrepreneurial based motives. Because of this, social media was heavily utilised by the online retail store. However, the saddlery store only lightly used Facebook, mainly to keep customers up to date with offers and promotions. Lifestyle businesses are likely to need access to information on social media and information on how to implement it into their business, which could be supplied to SMEs to strengthen the BHIC’s strategy to increase business skills in the equine industry.

These findings give a good representation of the types of businesses that can be found in the wider equine industry. This small case study gives a good indication as to why SMEs may not be implementing this 21st century trend. However, from the many benefits outlined within this report, it is clear how important the BHIC’s strategy is to increase business skills within equine businesses. Doing so will benefit many lifestyle businesses and strengthen the equine industry as a whole.

 

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