Social Media MarketingArticle

Felix, R., Philipp A. Rauschnabel,Chris Hinsch. 2017. Elements of strategic social media marketing: A holistic framework. Journal of Business Research. 70, 118-126.


Dr. William Secor


In this article, authors Felix, Raushnabel, and Hinsch develop a strategic framework for how a business employs social media marketing (SMM) in their organization. The framework has four inter-related dimensions: structure, governance, scope, and culture. SMM structure and governance are closely related. SMM structure describes the hierarchy (or lack thereof) of managing social media communications, and SMM governance involves the rules regarding social media use in the company. SMM scope entails how an organization uses social media. SMM culture is the comfort-level and risk tolerance that a company has with its social media communications. In each of these dimensions, the authors specify ends of a spectrum along which a company can position their SMM strategy. A company’s choice of where to position their SMM along these four dimensions is impacted by its mission, goals, culture, resources, stakeholders, and other elements.

What this means for food and agribusinesses

Food and agricultural businesses seem to have a classic love-hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, it can be an incredibly powerful tool to engage with customers on a personal basis. On the other hand, it can spread bad news, misperceptions, and negative sentiments that trend within minutes. Social media seems to be this Wild West in marketing, too. What really works? What sticks with customers? How do you walk the fine line between crashing into discussions and really engaging with customers and prospects in a substantive way?

The research by Felix, Raushnabel, and Hinsch provides a framework to help businesses find a way to understand and manage their social media marketing (SMM) strategies. This framework helps lay out some of the tensions within any organization with respect to SMM culture, scope, structure, and governance. With this framework, food and agricultural businesses can develop an intentional and successful SMM strategy.

SMM culture and scope together address a company’s use of and attitudes around social media communications. On one end of the spectrum, companies can use SMM as traditional mass media for one-way communications and have a risk-averse, closed attitude. On the other end, companies can use SMM as a tool to open conversations with customers, employees, and other stakeholders with an open, sometimes risk-taking attitude. I think these two dimensions are the two most important ones for food and agricultural businesses to think about in their SMM strategy.

SMM culture and scope speak to the unique nature of social media – two-way communication. Social media is just another marketing channel. But, it is fundamentally different than other channels because of its interactive and digital nature. One helpful way to see social media is by comparing it to something other than traditional media communications. I prefer comparing it to personal selling and relationship management, and food and agribusiness companies know these well. Relationships really matter in this industry. Food and agribusiness companies are dying to get their story out and engage with stakeholders about important issues around GMOs, local production, animal welfare, and others. Relationships build trust through shared values that are hard to communicate well through advertisements, packaging, spec sheets, or a website. Through the power of social media, digital relationships can exist with:

  • Employees looking to engage with the company’s mission and values.
  • Foodies trying to find that next trend.
  • Farmers seeking advice on a new seed variety.
  • Parents zooming through a grocery store right before dinner.
  • Reporters searching for their next story.
  • Other stakeholders who want to learn more about your company and the industry.

These digital relationships are very different from personal relationships, and the analogy between social media and relationship management is imperfect. However, taking this perspective helps illustrate the power SMM can have in connecting a company to a person.

Your company’s mission, goals, culture, and resources will play an important role in determining where you position yourself on each of the four dimensions of your SMM strategy. Being explicit about this positioning will help your company understand its willingness to take risk, be open, and share the load of SMM across the company to cultivate digital relationships. This explicit positioning exercise in turn will help make your SMM strategy more impactful as you have a clear understanding of your SMM strategy goals and implementation framework.