Abstract. In the past few years, online social networks have rapidly acquired a notable importance both for companies and for consumers all over the world. The purpose of this paper is to shed light upon the Romanian consumers' view regarding online social networks by bringing a new perspective upon the use of online social networks so that companies can fully maximize this opportunity.
An exploratory research has been conducted, aiming to reflect consumers' awareness of this online marketing tool in the new era of social customers where companies moved from managing customers to having conversations with them. The findings of the conducted exploratory research reveals Romanian consumers' views and attitudes regarding online social networks, the characteristics that influence their usage and the consumer typology based on the usage of online social networks. This entails a sum of conclusions on the potential that online social networks have in reaching out the social customers and recommendations for companies in order to study the phenomenon, adapt this instrument to their needs and take advantage of this opportunity to keep in touch and interact with their customer.
Keywords: online social network, social customer, social media, viral marketing, word-of-mouth.
There has been a long journey from the caves to the ancient village reunions, then to the fancy balls and gatherings, until communities have finally arrived to the internet era. Today, some people live in online communities, choosing to communicate and interact through social networks within the world-wide web. One could easily explain the concept of social networking to a child by drawing some dots and connecting them. When describing it to a grown-up, it suffices to say Facebook or LinkedIn.
Social networks are dynamic systems which nurture relationships between people through the content they create and share. Recent research has shown that Romania is among the most active Eastern European countries when it comes to online social networking, coming second after Hungary (International Advertising Bureaux, 2010). The rate of usage of these online marketing tools has increased not only in Romania, but world widely. Moreover, social networking has become a fundamental part of the world and "will continue to alter not just the global online landscape, but the consumer experience at large" (Burbank, 2012). The increasing expansion of these communities and the potential they bring in reaching out to consumers has become the main concern of this paper.
Nowadays, social networks have become so popular that people no longer look in the mirror when they wake-up, they check their profile picture instead. Their "status" phrase is their personal statement, their "wall" or "timeline" is their public journal. They join causes, attend events, become fans and share what they like with their friends. All of this has turned these communities into more than social networks - they are now a social phenomenon. Moreover, recent statistics show that Facebook even became more popular than Google, the giant icon of the internet world (Biszok, 2010). Consequently, the boom of social networking has led to the birth of a new type of customer - the social customer. This offers managers a huge opportunity. They have to firstly understand the phenomenon and adapt to this transformation. Brands can talk and so do social customers. A study conducted at the level of 640 heavy internet users from the Czech Republic (Karliceket et al., 2012) suggests that brands should have their profiles on social network sites and they should maintain an active dialog with the consumers.
Nowadays, relationships are vital in business to relate costumers to products, to leverage social networking contacts, to advertise specific audience, for word of mouth advertising, to improve public relationships, to find new employees, offer technical support, access market research and the list can go on. …