This essay will explore the social media activities of the publishing house Mills & Boon (from here on M&B) in the form of a case study, and analyse whether the social media activities support or change the company’s public image and brand.
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List of Figures and Tables
All figures and tables were created by the author.
Social Media in Trade Publishing
Comparison and Analysis of the Social Media Activities of Mills & Boon
This essay will explore the social media activities of the publishing house Mills & Boon (from here on M&B) in the form of a case study, and analyse whether the social media activities support or change the company’s public image and brand.
The aim of this essay is to clearly define the social media activities of M&B and compare them with the public image and brand that the publishing house tries to maintain. To focus on this research aim, competitors as well as non-public data are not included in this study. Furthermore, the study focuses on company-generated social media content as stated in the assessment outline.
M&B is a subsidiary of Harlequin Enterprises that itself is owned by Harper Collins, a News Corp company. It publishes romance books in genres like Historical Fiction, Erotica or Paranormal, and achieves an average output of about 120 titles per month (Mills & Boon, 2015a).
M&B offers most of its publications as both paperback and eBook. The average prices of the M&B October bestsellers were about £3.88 for a paperback and £2.60 for an eBook. Few special editions range around £2 higher than the average. A special offer of M&B is the subscription service. It works as a book club where the customer can choose delivery of a certain amount of titles out of a particular series. The titles are then automatically delivered, with prices of £3.99 per eBook or around £8 for paperback subscriptions (Mills & Boon, 2015b).
The definition of a brand has shifted from a product centred view to a value centred. A simplified definition comprises two components: brand as an image or name, and brand as a value or bundle of attributes which customers connect to the name/image (Wood, 2000, p. 663; Kotler, 2006, pp.243-244).
|Figure 1: The M&B logo (Mills & Boon, 2015c)|
Over the course of its more than 100 years of publishing, M&B has established a strong brand. This can be seen in both components of the definition. Firstly, the publishing house’s design has a high recognition factor. The logo and its colours claim an important role in the design of the diversity of M&B’s online channels and on the products.
|Figure 2: Sample of M&B titles (Mills & Boon, 2015c)|
Secondly, the products appear to have very determined attributes which customers can clearly connect to them, e.g. romantic story, low budget, huge portfolio of novels with a vast amount of subgenres. All of these attributes create individual values. These cannot be determined without an independent survey. However, a profitable output of 120 new novels per month (Flood, 2009; Mills & Boon, 2015a) is a strong indicator that the created value is high.
M&B’s public image is very much connected to the content of the published novels. Whereas in other publishing houses the published books rather show a diversity of genres, the single genre M&B stands for is romance. The publishing house promotes this genre in various forms to manifest it as the core attribute of the brand, e.g. calling M&B’s headquarters Paradise Heights, enhancing most of the texts and advertisements with romantic pictures, or describing the importance of romantic novels for both M&B and customers (Mills & Boon, 2015a, 2015d). Even the Oxford dictionary consists of an entry describing “Mills and Boon” as a synonym for an “idealized romantic situation” (Oxford University Press, 2015).
Google in-site searches for samples deliver the following numbers of appearance on the websites of M&B’s domain millsandboon.co.uk:
- Positively connoted:
- Romance: 15,700
- Love: 11,300
- Desire: 15,600
- Negatively connoted:
- Hate: 411
- Anger: 359
- Sorrow: 115
|Figure 3: Search example for romance (Google, 2015)|
These appearances indicate how M&B immerses itself in delivering positive stories. Furthermore, the search for Google AdWords of M&B delivers the following results. The keywords behind those AdWords can be seen as an M&B description tagged by itself.
|Figure 4: The top keywords which lead to M&B sites on Google US, above, and UK, below (iSpionage, 2015)|
All of the above factors give the brand a clear distinction and render the public image. In addition, as Wood defines that “brand description (or identity or image) is tailored to the needs and wants of a target market using the marketing mix” (2000, p. 663), M&B is defined by the entirety of its marketing activities. Most of these foster fast and easy access to romantic entertainment (i.e. through low prices, easy access to the content, delivered promise of the core value promise (romance)). These underlying attributes of the public image appear consistent to the description of M&B about itself.
There are several definitions of social media in scientific literature. They comprise the following crucial parts: social media are web-based technologies, they are means of communication, content sharing, or collaboration, they are not means of purchase, and they are highly interactive so that both publishers and users can generate content (Kietzmann et al., 2011, pp. 241-242; Tuten et al., 2014, pp.7-10). The totality of functions of social media drives user experience (Kietzmann et al., 2011, p. 243), which is hence a plausible criterion to analyse social media activities.
M&B is involved in a variety of social media activities as shown in figure 5. Whereas some media are processed very eager, others lack any action. To depict this, the entirety of M&B’s social media is divided into three groups.
As Amazon’s core function is retailing, its reviewing function is in this study not recognised as a social media platform. However, the reviews can provide knowledge about how the customers feel. Amazon can hence be used as a researching tool for publishing houses. This would be a bearly feasible task in this study considered the abundance of M&B entries on Amazon: 46,547 (Amazon, 2015).
2.3.1 The different social media
|Figure 5: Core social media of M&B on 26th October 2015, own figure; see full list of M&B’s social media in the reference list|
Group a includes the most active of M&B’s social media which both rank among the social networks with the highest user engagement overall (Duggan, 2015). Due to this, an in-depth analysis of both Twitter and Facebook takes place in chapter 2.3.2.
Group b comprises four very different social media which are all independent networks except M&B Socialise. M&B Socialise is M&B’s own social network which is implemented in their website. It enables users to create a profile, comment on blog posts, or write reviews. It must be noted that M&B Socialise is problematic in terms of the definition. The website does not distinct between social media users and buyers. Everyone who purchases a subscription is immediately connected to the social media network, although she might not intend to.
The group b media seem to drive user experience as they are actively processed either by M&B or by users. Whereas Instagram and Pinterest only show little engagement, M&B Socialise and Goodreads offer a wider range of user experience. On Goodreads, users engage actively with the products of M&B. However, this engagement is not as big as it is in group a. It takes just a few clicks to put a book in a hypertext shelf. This may change recommendations on Goodreads or Amazon, but it is not followed by a news stream or further engagement except for a possible ranking/reviewing of the book. A more engaging approach seems to have M&B Socialise where M&B and users generate content interactively. However, at a closer look, the network shows rather outdated content. Firstly, the featured content slider led in two out of three cases to a 404 page (file or directory not found), whereas the third link delivered an outdated announcement. Secondly, the last comments were uploaded two month ago which seems low compared to the published output and number of accounts. Thereby, M&B Socialise ranks only in group b even though it has an impressive amount of accounts
|Figure 7: Example of the outdated announcement (Mills & Boon, 2015f)|
|Figure 6: Latest comments section (Mills & Boon, 2015e)|
|Figure 8: Example of the featured content slider; the left and the right article led to 404 pages (Mills & Boon, 2015a)|
Group c comprises all channels that are not or only barely processed. Hence, it is not of relevance to this discussion as group c does not contribute to user experience.
The most social media activity stems from group a, Twitter and Facebook. The number of followers of these accounts is steadily rising as shown in figure 9. However, a study of the Pew Research Center found out that 91% of people who use Twitter also use Facebook (Duggan, 2015). Thus, there is a high likeliness of overlapping between the two groups of Followers.
|Figure 9: The increase of followers of a. the Facebook site and b. the Twitter site (Socialbakers, 2015)|
To gain deeper insight into the activities of group a, all postings between September 1st and October 30th 2015 were counted and sorted into the following categories:
- Moty2016 (postings relating to the #Moty2016-campaign)
- Ad (postings with direct advertisements)
- About M&B (postings about M&B, i.e. staff meeting or M&B-party)
- External (postings with links to other than M&B-content, e.g. Dailymail-content)
- Others/general (postings without links or content other than mentioned above/below)
- Blog post (postings linking to an M&B-blog post)
- Question/draw (an open question or price draw)
Overall, 639 postings and more than 6400 user activities were counted. Activities include:
- Favourited (since November 5th 2015 called “Liked”)
Foreigns are tweets that are retweeted by M&B so that they appear within the M&B feed. Foreigns are counted as 1 to appear in the overall distribution statistic. However, as user activities in this category cannot be directly connected to M&B followers (the tweets appeared in another timeline before, with clicks accumulated), the analysed data set is adjusted. Thus, all clicks stem from actual M&B followers.
|Tables 1-5: Summary of the data analysis, with Twitter on the left and Facebook on the right in tables 2-5; complete data set attached|
The in-depth analysis delivers profound insights into the actions undertaken by M&B and its followers. They must be handled with caution as the data only stems from a small period of time and there are no comparable data sets for other profiles. However, the insights can be seen as indicators for what drives most user engagement and thereby may alter the public image/brand. Conclusions that can be drawn from the data are:
- Twitter accounts for more than 70% of all postings while Facebook accounts for nearly 70% of all clicks → a strong indicator that a post on Facebook has more impact whereas tweets disappear faster in a user’s timeline; i.e. it is much harder for M&B to raise attention of its followers with an individual posting on Twitter than on Facebook
- On Facebook appear no posts without a click while on Twitter appear some tweets without any engagement (marked as 0 in attached table)
- Moty2016 contributes about 20% of all postings but performs below average → an indicator that may explain this is that Moty2016 postings appear repeatedly. Followers may dislike duplicate content
- Ads constitute nearly 20% of all postings → as Bruhn et al. conclude (2012, pp. 781-784), social media works partly as an element of general marketing communication purposes. M&B tries to take advantage of this and directly announces new books and sales on social media. However, these postings perform only below average
- Postings about M&B are very engaging → an indicator that the followers have a strong interest in the happenings at/culture of M&B
- Stand-alone content tweets perform above average → general tweets without link or announcements try to engage with followers by starting a conversation, e.g. attracting with a statement about love and then engaging with the hashtag #lovetweets
- Open questions/draws achieve high engagement; this category also achieves the highest engagement through comments on Facebook
- Links to blog posts perform below average → this finding is accompanied by the fact that the 21 blog posts of October on M&B Socialise received no comments at all (Mills & Boon, 2015e)
The described social media outputs of M&B match the public image that M&B creates through other media. As can be seen, the attributes easy-to-access, low budget, and romantic entertainment are transferred by the entire marketing mix, thus, building a differentiated public image. The social media output supports this image with high user engagement in certain fields like “About M&B”, “General tweets” (e.g. #lovetweets), or postings with content that seems to be of high interest to the followers (“External”). In the following, this study tries to analyse how the social media activities of M&B affect its brand and public image.
3.2 Group a social media and brand
The in-depth analysis revealed drivers of user engagement in the social media activities of M&B. As Kietzmann et al. write, companies need to develop social media strategies which are congruent with the particular functionality of the application (2011, p. 249). The framework created by her clearly defines Facebook’s core function as relationships, whereas Twitter is rather a platform for conversations. M&B’s and its Follower’s social media activities show a pattern according to this framework. Twitter is used for establishing a conversation with followers. The general tweets and open questions/draws perform above average. In Facebook therefore, the highest number of postings carry links to external sites. Thus, M&B builds a relationship positioning itself as a reliable resource for content that is interesting for the followers, not only in terms of books, but as a provider of romance-related finds in general.
On the contrary, M&B posts direct advertisements which perform below average. Advertisements support short term effects as they only announce new products. Hoffman and Fodor though found out that social media activities are rather strong in long term effects (2010, pp.48-49). From this perspective, M&B uses social media as a traditional marketing channel. Advertisements naturally do not start conversations or invite followers to engage with the brand. These activities will therefore not alter the public image effectively.
Bruhn et al. define, that “user-generated social media communication exerts a major influence on hedonic brand image” (2012, p. 770). Furthermore, they describe social media rather as an appropriate tool to affect brand image, whereas traditional marketing channels affect brand awareness.
Hence, social media could be a good tool for retention marketing. Considering the products and services, M&B seems interested in extending customer lifetime. It publishes series’ and offers subscriptions that clearly aim at repeat buyers. Engaging customers in social media conversations can therefore be seen as enhancing a relationship to retain the customer. The amount of engaging company-generated content in M&B’s social media would support this. M&B seems to curate the relationship by giving interesting external finds, advertisements, and inside the company views. Thus, M&B acts accordingly to how Gensler et al. describe the new role of brand management in social media which is “more similar to public relations” (2013, p. 253). Even though this kind of effort might not be measurable by traditional ROI metrics (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010, pp.48-49), supporting the brand image through social media activities could help M&B’s aim in retention marketing.
It must here be noted, that repeat buyers have a very determined image of a brand. This lies in the nature of brand preference as Kohli et al. define it (2015, p. 37): brand inertia, assured product quality, and aspirations determine why repeat buyers prefer the brand. This results to the question, that when repeat buyers already have a strong image of a brand, does social media activities alter this image (with a subsequent impact on already strong purchases)? In other words, when a customer is very interested in products, would she buy more or less when the company conducts certain social media activities?
To raise the awareness of potential new customers, M&B conducts campaigns such as #Moty2016 or The Chatsfield. The latter was created to reach particularly younger people and took place in 2014 (Curtis, 2014; Mills and Boon, 2014a, 2014b; Clark, 2014; Flood, 2014; Conducttr, 2014). The focus was on Jessie Loe who works and lives in The Chatsfield. Followers of the weblog, the character’s Twitter accounts, and other sites could steer the story via votes and engage with different characters. The impact of this campaign can no longer be entirely traced. Yet, the cited articles suggest that it was a compelling new format for the target group.
The currently running campaign #Moty2016 (Man of the Year 2016) is about voting a man. The postings on social media perform below average while they account for about 20% of all postings. Though this campaign might foster the attributes of romance and love in the public image, it lacks a more engaging part in which customers get the chance to communicate rather than just vote.
All of these activities are important for the company to try new formats as “the social media environment is highly dynamic and rapidly evolving” (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010, p.48). Furthermore, as book publishing products are mostly credence or experience goods, it is very important for a publishing house to be trusted by potential customers (Lis, 2011, p. 199). Therefore, these new approaches appear as a good direction to position M&B as a trusted brand towards potential customers.
M&B is very active with a diversity of social media activities. Yet, there is no coherent strategy recognisable. It rather seems that M&B tries to figure out ways of engaging customers for retention marketing purposes. Whereas some platforms are left abandoned for months, others are partly used as traditional marketing communication channels. M&B lacks the ability to create a congruent social media ecosystem as Hanna et al. propose (2011, pp. 267-269).
M&B though has approaches that seem to please its followers. These approaches match the description of the publishing house in the company-created media. Thus, it can be assumed that the target group of traditional marketing activities and the target groups of social media activities are overlapping, so that many of the followers can be seen as (potential) customers. Furthermore, apart from fostering the public image, M&B obviously will be rewarded with enlightening customer data through its many social media activities as with social media, all activities are traceable.
Further studies should investigate the connection between repeat buyers, their brand perception, and social media activities. Furthermore, comparing different brands with an in-depth analysis (as conducted in this study) would be a good approach to recognise patterns and thus to see what really drives brand equity.
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