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Jay I. SinhaDomino’s Pizza has cultivated 10 million Facebook followers. Target’s page has collected 20 million. And Nabisco’s Oreo cookie page exceeds 40 million Facebook likes.

Such large numbers demonstrate a shift toward social media marketing and the expanding role of commercial branding in today’s online world, according to Dr. Jay I. Sinha, an Associate Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

Sinha’s latest research publication, “The Risks and Rewards of Brand Personification Using Social Media,” which appeared in the Boston Globe and MIT Sloan Management Review, digs into social media’s role in rewriting the consumer-producer relationship for today’s top brands. More than 92 percent of marketers responded in 2014 that social media marketing is important for their businesses, and 80 percent indicated these efforts increase traffic to their websites, Sinha noted.

“Social media marketing is the new big thing,” Sinha said. “It allows a company to stay close to its customers, being responsive, engaging them, and evolving with them through time.”

Tweeting its core values or responding to Facebook comments about a new product gives a company a human-like presence, Sinha said. This personification, he added, deepens consumer loyalty and buyer-conversion rates, or the number of consumers making online purchases. So whether it’s an international company like Domino’s Pizza, or a hyper-local grocery store chain, photographs, hashtags, and followers are a part of the new normative advertising pattern.

“In the past, a satisfied customer typically told three other people, while a dissatisfied customer griped to 11 people,” Sinha said. “Nowadays, each has the potential to tell the entire world – by virtue of being on social media.

The globalization of online marketing, to Sinha, emphasizes the need for well-written, interesting and visually appealing content. He indicates Whole Foods’ strategy on Instagram that focuses on striking food photography with the use of no captions, while Target uses #tbt, or ThrowbackThursday, to promote its 1980s-inspired fashion line.

Sinha notes the line between trendy and offensive, however, can be a tipping point.

“Firms should not regard social media as the space where they can emulate private individuals and espouse extreme viewpoints, launch attacks against business rivals, or castigate those who post negative reviews,” he said. “This is off-putting and unprofessional.”

To diminish the chance for error, using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest as primary social media platforms is enough, Sinha indicated, as many users are engaged with just two or three of those sites. He also urged firms to cultivate the smartphone app market with which millennials, or those between the ages of 18 and 35, are engaged. YouTube, he continued, is a way to corner members of the baby-boomer generation who aren’t as engaged on Facebook or Twitter.

Expanding on social media brand personification, Sinha said he is currently researching the “culture-jacking” phenomenon, which refers to a company’s attachment of itself to a trending topic in order to increase followers. Companies’ successes with this tactic, Sinha noted, is not foolproof, as there are several documented missteps.

“All of this shows that companies need to use social media with proper judgment and planning, and steer clear of topics that may be remotely controversial,” Sinha said.

Photo of Fox School of Business and TD Ameritrade representatives on Wall Street.
Director of Development Don Kirkwood (fourth from left) and Financial Planning program director Cindy Axelrod (fifth from left) represent the Fox School of Business July 22 on Wall Street, with a group from TD Ameritrade Institutional, which award Fox’s new Financial Planning major a $25,000 grant. (Courtesy TD Ameritrade Institutional)

TD Ameritrade Institutional has awarded a $25,000 grant to Temple University’s Fox School of Business to foster development of a new financial planning degree program, as part its third-annual Next Gen Financial Planning Grants.

Through its Next Gen Financial Planning Grants, TD Ameritrade Institutional hopes to help the registered investment advisor industry remain vibrant for years to come by encouraging more colleges and universities to expand and enhance their financial planning degree programs, increasing the number of graduates produced each year. According to U.S. Department of Education data, roughly 700 students completed bachelor’s degree programs in financial planning in 2013, while only 90 U.S. colleges and universities offered degrees dedicated to financial planning.

“Independent financial planning is one the fastest-growing areas of the financial services business and may offer some of the brightest career prospects in the marketplace, but advisors need more than financial expertise. They need a strong desire to help people and a talent for building strong ties with clients,” Tom Nally, President of TD Ameritrade Institutional, said in a statement. “Schools like … Temple are helping educate and train a new generation of advisors so they can enter the workplace well-prepared for solving real world challenges.”

As part of a broader effort to encourage more undergraduates to pursue financial planning careers, and avert a talent shortage when thousands of baby boomer-era advisors leave the business, TD Ameritrade Institutional also awarded a grant to the University of North Texas, in Denton, Texas, to expand its existing financial planning degree program.

Temple University’s Fox School of Business will launch its Financial Planning undergraduate program this fall. Grant funds will help fund scholarships to attract top-tier students, underwrite a weekly “seminar series” that brings the workplace to campus, engaging financial planning practitioners in the Philadelphia area to speak with students providing insights into the profession’s challenges, trends and potential opportunities.

The Financial Planning major will prepare students for careers in the growing field bearing the same name, which takes a holistic approach to working with clients in order to enable them to identify and attain lifestyle and retirement goals. Students who complete the Financial Planning curriculum are eligible to sit for the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) examination upon graduation – a unique feature of the program.

“We are incredibly proud to have been selected by TD Ameritrade Institutional as the recipient of this grant,” said Cynthia Axelrod, Program Director of Fox’s Financial Planning major and Assistant Professor of Finance. “Professionals in this field are in high demand, and this grant will bolster Fox’s efforts to provide highly qualified students that will excel as Financial Planners. “

Though consumers’ choice of online vendor is influenced by trust, the millennial generation bases its trust upon very different aspects of vendors’ websites than do baby boomers, a Temple University Fox School of Business study finds.

The research, authored by marketing doctoral student Michael Obal, suggests that online vendors targeting millennials build trust through robust customer feedback mechanisms, clear navigation cues and quality vendor advice, while vendors targeting baby boomers build trust by highlighting customers’ privacy. Baby boomers are identified as those born between 1946 and 1964 and millennials as those born between 1979 and 1994.

“These ideas provide guidelines to marketing and web development practitioners on how to reach baby boomers and millennials through their websites,” Obal said. For example, Obal suggests that women’s clothing store Talbots, which caters to baby boomers, highlight a concise and easy-to-find privacy policy and disclose memberships with reputable organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.

On the other hand, the study states that American Eagle Outfitters, which targets millennials, should foster clear navigation using easily identifiable drop-down menus, search bars and purchase pages; provide easy access to vendor advice such as product recommendations and warranties; and facilitate robust customer feedback by encouraging customer reviews, rating systems and blogs.

The study connects the differing sources of millennials’ and baby boomers’ trust with their status as “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” respectively. As digital immigrants, baby boomers did not grow up in millennials’ highly socially connected society, hence why baby boomers place a higher value on privacy.

“Having grown up with e-commerce, millennials seem to be unconcerned with privacy issues and focus more on functionality and information gathering,” Obal said. “Baby boomers do not appear to be so nonchalant about their personal information.”

Millennials’ early acclimation to the web and mobile devices deepened their reliance on the advice of peers, hence why millennials value customer feedback mechanisms. Finally, the fast pace of millennials’ digital world increased their expectations for prompt vendor responses as well as speedily accessible information, which is why millennials value vendor advice and navigation cues more highly.

The study, titled “Trust Development in e-Services: A Cohort Analysis of Millennials and Baby Boomers,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Service Management.