Alternative Food Networks and Social Media in Marketing : A multiple case study exploring how Alternative Food Networks use social media in order to help small local food producers reach the market
- Publisher: Umeå universitet, Företagsekonomi
Social media | marketing | Alternative Food Networks | segmentation | sales promotion
The food provision system of today has been argued to be unsustainable with large scale production, price-pressure and outbreaks of diseases. Many consumers in the EU and Sweden are reacting to these issues and are becoming increasingly interested in finding local food alternatives that they consider to be safer and of higher quality. However, the small local food producers due to scarce budgets and marketing skills have problems in reaching this target market. Partly due to this, there has been an emergence of Alternative Food Networks (AFN) within which producers come together to get assistance in marketing and sales. Social media has emerged as a phenomenon that is argued by marketing scholars to be a highly useful tool to spread information in a cost-efficient way. Therefore, this study seek to answer the explorative question: “How do Alternative Food Networks use social media in order to help small local food producers reach the market?” The main purpose of the thesis is to explore and develop an understanding of how the emerging AFNs use social media to promote small local agricultural producers and help them in reaching the market. This will be done by investigating AFNs as Small-Medium Enterprise (SME) marketing networks, and how these operate in terms of the theoretical areas external marketing communication, coordination of the SME marketing network, segmentation practices and sales promotion. The theoretical contribution is to see how AFNs work in terms of these areas, and the practical implications will be to give advice on how AFNs should use social media to improve these areas. The study is done in an exploratory manner, and the data collection has been performed in accordance with qualitative research. This has been done through seven semi-structured interviews with respondents from six different AFNs in Sweden that are active on social media. The conclusions of this study shows that AFNs value the use of social media, however they utilize this tool to a varied degree. The AFNs use it to inform and to interact with their customers. Social media does not seem to be very actively incorporated into network communication or monitoring. The AFNs have many ideas about who their customer groups are, and in some cases these have been identified specifically on social media, which has been used to some extent for targeted advertising. The AFNs position themselves as a “good” food alternative. In sales promotion the AFNs mainly promote their events on social media, and have also promoted discounts to some extent. The study provides new theoretical knowledge in the area of marketing through social media by SMEs like AFNs. Practical implications for the AFNs are discussed, which mainly involve increasing the time spent on social media as a mainly free and powerful marketing tool.