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The inaugural lecture of Willemijn van Dolen, UvA professor of Marketing, dealt with the increasing influence of social media on her own specialism as well as many other fields.

Prof. Willemijn (WM) van Dolen, professor Marketing

The title of her inaugural lecture ‘Zing, post, huil, tweet, lach, like en verwonder’ may seem to suggest otherwise, but the newly appointed UvA Professor of Marketing, Willemijn van Dolen, doesn’t refer to herself as a social media expert. “They do not exist. For me, social media is simply a tool. I’m interested in the social interaction between people and nowadays that happens to take place online.” Social media refers to online platforms where people can share and exchange information and experiences and then respond to them, like on Facebook and Twitter. As marketing instruments they combine properties of all existing media and combinations: from word-of-mouth to television. 

Van Dolen, who is also director of Corporate Relations of the UvA’s Faculty of Economics and Business, works closely with the business community as a researcher too. “We have to work together. Businesses collect huge amounts of data and we know where to start searching. Starting randomly with millions of quotes simply won’t work.” Marketing experts can only undertake this quest together with other experts such as econometrists, language and computer researchers and information analysts. Van Dolen: “There is a new profession: data scientist. According to the Harvard Business Review it’s the ‘the sexiest job of the 21st century’.”

Back to marketing: The sum total of all online comments about a company or brand is called the ‘online buzz’. It is becoming increasingly apparent that this buzz influences business results. “But we don’t know how that works and how you can influence the online buzz. That’s why there aren’t any social media experts yet. The exact impact on business performance in still very unclear”, says Van Dolen. 

Social media forces companies, just like universities, to collaborate across their different departments. “Social media impacts businesses at multiple points of contact. Quite often you deal with crisis management, customer service and product development in addition to marketing. The online buzz could be about anything, even the CEO’s behaviour. And all of this may influence reputation or customer satisfaction", according to Van Dolen. She regrets it that many companies view this phenomenon with fear. “Marketers lose control and that scares them. But I believe that the public at large also has a sense of fairness. Unjustified posts are corrected. If your company is transparent and does a good job with its core business, I believe that you have little to fear." 

Based on current research Van Dolen can’t draw any scientific conclusions yet but she can give some concrete recommendations. “Companies should always be aware, monitoring and listening to what is being said about them on the internet. Together with my PhD student Joris Demmers I have also carried out research on the best way for a business to respond to Twitter messages while taking privacy issues into account. Research shows that companies should always respond to negative tweets. For positive tweets it's best to respond if the tweet is directed specifically to the company. This is indicated on Twitter with an @. It appears that unsolicited responses are perceived as an invasion of privacy. “People then realise that they are being watched and that annoys them.” Van Dolen expects that in any case privacy will play a more significant role in the future. “I think that as we become conscious of what can be done with all the data we leave behind everywhere, this could bring about some major changes."