Academic Accolade

Social media apps on a display of a digital device

German Research Foundation to fund study on social media

The digital social networks encourage the power of consumers to grow in an undreamt of manner. Information about new products can be spread very quickly via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Companies are using these networks to practice brand communication that influences purchasing behavior at least as actively as classical advertising does.

How exactly consumer goods marketing has changed as a result of social networks and which mechanisms apply – a research group in which KLU plays a decisive role wants to examine issues like these in the next few years. To do this, the research network that includes the Universities of Hamburg, Cologne, and Munster, has achieved something remarkable: their project is the first group of business administration researchers in more than 10 years to receive German Research Foundation (DFG) funding.

“This extraordinary funding opportunity can be likened to an academic accolade for our Depart- ment of Management and Economics,” said KLU president Dr. Thomas Strothotte. “Of course we are proud of this,” said Prof. Sönke Albers, the KLU professor who shares the responsibility for two of the six sub-projects with his colleague Prof. Christian Barrot.

The research will focus on the “hedonic” media products – books, movies, music and games. “We are interested in the influence that social media exerts on the marketing of hedonic media products with short life cycles,” explained Albers. “In another sub-project, we plan to examine how the social networks can be used for systematic marketing communication,” added Barrot, assistant professor of marketing and innovation at the private logistics and management university in Hamburg.

From the researcher’s viewpoint, the media products they plan to examine are highly relevant for the social media as a field of research: online marketing is most highly advanced for these consumer goods. “Media products have a pioneering function. On the one hand, they can be completely digitalized, which makes them different from machines,” said Albers. “At the same time, they are experiential products and therefore subject to special marketing rules.” For example, online reviews and the discussion in the social networks are important factors in the success of a movie or a game.

Another advantage as far as the researchers are concerned: books, CDs, and games are considered “time lapse products.” For these products, they can observe a marketing cycle that lasts a few weeks instead of the several years it takes to market a car. Conversely, the wide-open online world of media products has also changed marketing dramatically. “Products are discussed on a global basis. This is why consumers no longer wait patiently,” said Barrot. Nowadays, most movies, DVDs and games are released around the world at the same point in time.

But the study is not limited to media products alone. The researchers hope to make far-reaching inferences about other areas of the economy. “We see our work as a pioneering analysis, because the digital component of other products is increasing," Barrot said. He thinks cars are the best example: "The steel body is no longer the key aspect. A car has apps, software, and maps, and these features are also the focus of marketing today.”

The study is based on a large sample of anonymized data from social networks. And the scientists also have access to the weekly sales statistics for exemplary media for the time period under study.

“With this information, we have the opportunity to observe the marketing effort and the influence of the social networks sequentially,” said Albers. Looking at a movie release, the researchers will examine how the cinema launch, DVD sales, and the premiere on free TV impact the buzz in Facebook, etc. – and ultimately, which conclusions can be drawn with regard to its sales.

“No one has ever conducted an academic study of this magnitude,” emphasized Albers. Until now, universities have not had the chance to use such a reliable, established database. “If you want to study social networks, you need large amounts of data because the networks must be mapped in their entirety. Here, a representative sample is not good enough,” he added.

In his sub-project, Barrot would like to analyze exactly how the interaction in social networks functions in order to make a contribution to basic research in this field. “We will be studying how networks establish themselves and who initiates the opinions,” he explained. Identifying the main players is a key factor for successful marketing in the social media. “The decisive questions for us are the extent to which Internet hype for a product can be planned and how well its success can be forecast in advance.” The answers would be relevant for calculating a product’s initial production run, for example.

The researchers are not interested in examining short-term trends in the networks. “We are not targeting the things that are irrelevant after six months, and our aim is not to find out which is the best network,” said Barrot. “With our research project, we plan to study processes that will be relevant for the entire economy within a five- to ten-year time frame,” added Albers.

Initially planned for three years, the project will begin in January. The project’s total funding vo- lume is approx. €1.5 million. The group cooperates with eight international research partners, including major international institutions such as Columbia Business School, Penn State University, and Cornell University in the United States, IDC Herzliya (Israel), and London Business School.


By Kai Gerullis