Volume 9 Issue 4 (2020)

A Qualitative Study of Social Media Marketing in Ireland: The Facilitating Role of Higher Education

pp. 221-234  |  Published Online: December 2020  |  DOI: 10.22521/edupij.2020.94.3

Simon Stephens and Christopher McLaughlin


In this paper we present a qualitative study of social media marketing by small business owners in Ireland. We present data from interviews with six owner/managers, six employees, and six experts. Exploring the three perspectives simultaneously facilitates a three-way narrative. We apply narrative structuring as proposed by Kvale (2006) in order to provide insight into the understanding, practices, motivations, behavior, and activities of small businesses as they relate to marketing; specifically, social media-based marketing. The delivery of skills to small businesses create challenges for higher education in terms of the design of curriculum, pedagogy and accreditation. A significant finding of this study is the influence that the attitudes, knowledge and capacity of the owners have on their propensity to engage with social media marketing. There is a role for higher education in bridging this gap. However, this is not just in the delivering of traditional skills, but working as facilitators and developing student, graduate and employee advocates through a comprehensive provision of experiential and work-based learning initiatives. This paper presents novel insights and improves our understanding of the role of higher education in supporting the training needs of small businesses. In our conclusion we present a series of recommendations on the design of customized training programs for small businesses.

Keywords: Social media, higher education, marketing, experiential learning.


Adegbuyi, O. A., Akinyele, F. A., & Akinyele, S. T. (2015). Effect of social media marketing on small scale business performance in OTA-Metropolis. International Journal of Social Sciences and Management, 2(3), 275-283. https://doi.org/10.3126/ijssm.v2i3.12721

Ahmad, S., Abu Bakar, A., & Ahmad, N. (2019). Social media adoption and its impact on firm performance: the case of the UAE. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 25(1), 84-111. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEBR-08-2017-0299

Ainin, S., Parveen, F., Moghavvemi, S., Jaafar, N. I., & Mohd Shuib, N. L. (2015). Factors influencing the use of social media by SMEs and its performance outcomes. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 115(3), 570-588. https://doi.org/10.1108/IMDS-07-2014-0205

Al Sharji, A., Ahmad, S., & Abu Bakar, A. (2018). Understanding social media adoption in SMEs. Journal of Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies, 10(2), 302-328. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEEE-08-2017-0058

Amabile, T. M., Hadley, C. N., & Kramer, S. J. (2002). Creativity under the gun. Harvard Business Review on The Innovative Enterprise, August 2002, Article R0208C.

Atwong, C. T. (2015). A Social Media Practicum: An Action-Learning Approach to Social Media Marketing and Analytics. Marketing Education Review, 25(1), 27-31. https://doi.org/10.1080/10528008.2015.999578

Bensimon, E. M., Polinghorne, D. E., Bauman, G. L., & Vallejo, E. (2004). Doing research that makes a difference. Journal of Higher Education, 75(1), 104-126. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2004.11778898

Berkovich, I., & Benoliel, P. (2020). Marketing teacher quality: critical discourse analysis of OECD documents on effective teaching and TALIS. Critical Studies in Education, 61(4), 496-511. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2018.1521338

Biberhofer, P., Lintner, C., Bernhardt, J., & Rieckmann, M. (2019). Facilitating work performance of sustainability-driven entrepreneurs through higher education: The relevance of competencies, values, worldviews and opportunities. The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 20(1), 21-38. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1465750318755881

Billett, S., & Choy, S. (2013). Learning through work: emerging perspectives and new challenges. Journal of Workplace Learning, 25(4), 264-276. https://doi.org/10.1108/13665621311316447

Byrom, T., & Aiken, V. (2014). Doing it differently: Re-designing the curriculum to face the challenges of student work-based learning opportunities. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, 4(3), 271-283. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-05-2014-0017

Cameron, C., Ashwell, J., Connor, M., Duncan, M., Mackay, W., & Naqvi, J. (2019). Managing risks in work-integrated learning programmes: a cross-institutional collaboration. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, 10(2), 325-338. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-05-2019-0072

Cesaroni, F. M., & Consoli, D. (2015). Are Small Businesses Really Able to Take Advantage of Social Media? Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management, 13(4), 257-268. https://academic-publishing.org/index.php/ejkm/article/view/1062

Chatterjee, S., & Kar, A. K. (2020). Why do small and medium enterprises use social media marketing and what is the impact: Empirical insights from India. International Journal of Information Management, 53(4), Article 102103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2020.102103

Cheung, M. L., Pires, G. D., Rosenberger, P. J., III, & De Oliveira, M. J. (2020). Driving COBRAs: the power of social media marketing. Marketing Intelligence & Planning (Advance online publication). https://doi.org/10.1108/MIP-11-2019-0583

Clifton, N., Huggins R., Morgan B., & Thompson P. (2015). An appropriate tool for entrepreneurial learning in SMEs? The case of the Twenty Leadership Programme. Local Economy, 30(5), 534–556. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0269094215589310

Colombo, M. G., Laursen, K., Magnusson, M., & Rossi‐Lamastra, C. (2012). Small Business and Networked Innovation: Organizational and Managerial Challenges. Journal of Small Business Management, 50(2), 181-190. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-627X.2012.00349.x

de Vries, H. P., Veer, E., & de Vries, K. V. (2018). An examination of SME social media use in the food industry. Journal Small Enterprise Research, 25(3), 227-238. https://doi.org/10.1080/13215906.2018.1521741

Dobbs, M., & Hamilton, R. T. (2007). Small business growth: recent evidence and new directions. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 13(5), 296-322. https://doi.org/10.1108/13552550710780885

Doherty, O., & Stephens, S. (2019). The cultural web, higher education and work-based learning. Industry and Higher Education, 34(2), 330-341. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0950422219879614

Durkin, M., McGowan, P., & McKeown, N. (2013). Exploring social media adoption in small to medium-sized enterprises in Ireland. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 20(4), 716-734. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSBED-08-2012-0094

Eggers, F., Hatak, I., Kraus, S., & Niemand, T. (2017). Technologies That Support Marketing and Market Development in SMEs—Evidence from Social Networks. Journal of Small Business Management, 55(1), 270-302. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsbm.12313

Faherty, U., & Stephens, S. (2016). Innovation in micro-enterprises: reality or fiction. Small Business and Enterprise Development, 23(2), 349-362. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSBED-11-2013-0176

Ferrández-Berrueco, R., Kekale, T., & Devins, D. (2016). A framework for work-based learning: basic pillars and the interactions between them. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, 6(1), 35-54. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-06-2014-0026

Fillis, I., Johannson, U., & Wagner, B. (2004). Factors impacting on e-business adoption and development in the smaller firm. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research, 10(3), 178-191. https://doi.org/10.1108/13552550410536762

Gordon, I., Hamilton, E., & Jack, S. (2012). A study of a university-led entrepreneurship education programme for small business owner/managers. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 24(9-10), 767-805. https://doi.org/10.1080/08985626.2011.566377

Granitz, N., & Pitt, L. (2011). Teaching About Marketing and Teaching Marketing with Innovative Technology. Journal of Marketing Education, 33(2),127-130. https://doi.org/10.1177/0273475311410844

Hynes, B., & Richardson, I. (2007). Entrepreneurship education: A mechanism for engaging and exchanging with the small business sector. Education + Training, 49(8/9), 732-744. https://doi.org/10.1108/00400910710834120

Iankova, S., Davies, I., Archer-Brown, C., Marder, B., & Yau, A. (2019). A comparison of social media marketing between B2B, B2C and mixed business models. Industrial Marketing Management, 81(1), 169-179. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indmarman.2018.01.001

Jones, N., Borgman, R., & Ulusoy, E. (2015). Impact of social media on small businesses. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 22(4), 611-632. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSBED-09-2013-0133

Jordan A. (2020, February 27). A Guide to Social Media Strategy for Small Business. Small Business. https://smallbusiness.co.uk/a-guide-to-social-media-strategy-for-small-business-owners-2549667/

Kvale, S. (2006). Interviews: An Introduction to Qualitative Research Interviewing, Sage.

Lockett, N., Kerr, R., & Robinson, S. (2008). Multiple Perspectives on the Challenges for Knowledge Transfer between Higher Education Institutions and Industry. International Small Business Journal, 26(6), 661-681. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0266242608096088

Major, D. (2016). Models of work-based learning, examples and reflections. Journal of Work-Applied Management, 8(1), 17-28. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWAM-03-2016-0003

Manning, L., & Parrott, P. (2018). The impact of workplace placement on students’ entrepreneurial attitude. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, 8(1), 56-69. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-05-2017-0030

Mason, G., Williams, G., & Cramner, S. (2009). Employability skills initiatives in higher education: what effects do they have on graduate labour market outcomes? Education Economics, 17(1), 1-30. https://doi.org/10.1080/09645290802028315

Matlay, H., & Addis, M. (2003). Adoption of ICT and e‐commerce in small businesses: an HEI‐based consultancy perspective. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 10(3), 321-335. https://doi.org/10.1108/14626000310489790

McCann, M., & Barlow, A. (2015). Use and measurement of social media for SME. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 22(2), 273-287. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSBED-08-2012-0096

McGunagle, D., & Zizka, L. (2020). Employability skills for 21st-century STEM students: the employers’ perspective. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, 10(3), 591-606. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-10-2019-0148

Merrill, B., Finnegan, F., O’Neill, J., & Revers, S. (2020). When it comes to what employers are looking for, I don’t think I’m it for a lot of them’: class and capitals in, and after, higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 45(1), 163-175. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1570492

Nambisan, S. (2017). Digital entrepreneurship: Toward a digital technology perspective of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 41(6), 1029-1055. https://doi.org/10.1111%2Fetap.12254

Neier, S., & Zayer, L. T. (2015). Students’ Perceptions and Experiences of Social Media in Higher Education. Journal of Marketing Education, 37(3), 133-143. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0273475315583748

Nicolescu, L., & Cristian, P. (2009). Relating Higher Education with the Labour Market: Graduates’ expectations and employers’ requirements. Tertiary Education and Management, 15(1), 17-33. https://doi.org/10.1080/13583880802700024

OECD. (2019) OECD Studies on SMEs and Entrepreneurship SME and Entrepreneurship Policy in Ireland. OECD. https://doi.org/10.1787/e726f46d-en

Öztamur, D., & Karakadılar, İ. S. (2014). Exploring the role of social media for SMEs: as a new marketing strategy tool for the firm performance perspective. Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences, 150(1), 511-520. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.09.067

Panagiotakopoulos, A. (2020). Exploring the link between management training and organizational performance in the small business context. Journal of Workplace Learning, 32(4), 245-257. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWL-10-2019-0121

Paul, P. (2019). A gap analysis of teaching marketing ethics: Desired versus current state. Journal of Education for Business, 94(7), 460-470. https://doi.org/10.1080/08832323.2019.1568221

Plewa, C., Galán-Muros, V., & Davey, T. (2015). Engaging business in curriculum design and delivery: a higher education institution perspective. Higher Education, 70(1), 35-53. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-014-9822-1

Reeve, F., & Gallacher, J. (2007). Employer–university partnerships: a key problem for work-based learning programmes? Journal of Education and Work, 18(2), 219-233. https://doi.org/10.1080/13639080500085992

Roberts, J. (2018). The Possibilities and Limitations of Experiential Learning Research in Higher Education. Journal of Experiential Education, 41(1), 3-7. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1053825917751457

Rosenberg, S., Heimler, R., & Morote, E. (2012). Basic employability skills: a triangular design approach. Education + Training, 54(1), 7-20. https://doi.org/10.1108/00400911211198869

Roth, M.-W., Mavin, T., & Dekker, S., (2014). The theory-practice gap: epistemology, identity, and education. Education + Training, 56(6), 521-536. https://doi.org/10.1108/ET-11-2012-0117

Rouvrais, S., Remaud, B., & Saveuse, M. (2020). Work-based learning models in engineering curricula: insight from the French experience. European Journal of Engineering Education, 45(1), 89-102. https://doi.org/10.1080/03043797.2018.1450846

Scarmozzino, E., Corvello, V., & Grimaldi, M. (2017). Entrepreneurial learning through online social networking in high-tech startups. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 23(3), 406-425. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEBR-12-2015-0302

Sobiechowska, P., & Maisch, M. (2006). Work‐based learning: in search of an effective model. Educational Action Research, 14(2), 267-286. https://doi.org/10.1080/09650790600718217

Stephens, S., Doherty, O., Bennett, B., & Margey, M. (2014). The challenge of work-based learning: a role for academic mentors? International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 3(2), 158-170. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMCE-03-2013-0020

Suleman, F. (2018). The employability skills of higher education graduates: insights into conceptual frameworks and methodological options. Higher Education, 76(1), 263-278. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0207-0

Tomlinson, M. (2017). Forms of graduate capital and their relationship to graduate employability. Education + Training, 59(4), 338-352. https://doi.org/10.1108/ET-05-2016-0090

Troise, C., & Tani, M. (2020) Exploring entrepreneurial characteristics, motivations and behaviours in equity crowdfunding: some evidence from Italy. Management Decision (Advanced online publication). https://doi.org/10.1108/MD-10-2019-1431

Wall, T. (2017). A manifesto for higher education, skills and work-based learning: Through the lens of the Manifesto for Work. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, 7(3), 304-314. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-06-2017-0036


Call for Papers: COVID-19 Pandemic & Education

Educational Process: International Journal (EDUPIJ) is calling for submissions to the Volume 10, 2021

We are delighted to announce that Educational Process: International Journal has been included in ERIC-Education Resources Information Center (Coverage: Volume 8, 2019 & forward).


Educational Process: International Journal (EDUPIJ) has been accepted for inclusion in Scopus | Elsevier.

EDUPIJ has been accepted for inclusion in Education Research Abstracts Online (ERA).

EDUPIJ is included in The Philosopher’s Index (Coverage: Volume 5, 2016 & forward).

The Philosopher’s Index is the premiere bibliographic database covering worldwide research in all subject areas of philosophy.

Thank you so much to the editorial board members, authors and reviewers for their contribution to Educational Process: International Journal.