Nearly every business is now either using social media for marketing or is considering doing so. But like any communications medium, it has its plus points and its negatives.
Here are 10 social media pros and cons to recognise, or remind yourself of, when using social media.
You can use the positive list as a justification to use social media in your organisation, to remind yourself of why you are doing it and to make sure you are not missing out on any of the benefits. And you can use the list of shortcomings as a guide to what to look out for, what to manage and what to avoid when using social media.
The ten pros...1. Lowest cost form of marketing
Barriers to entry are low; you can use basic software for free – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and many more. Participating in social media is also made easier by the ability to post from almost any device from virtually anywhere. Very few channels are as easy to access and cultivate.2. Huge potential audience and the possibility of messages going viral
Social media can have impressive reach compared to other communications channels, with the whole connected world of the Internet a potential audience. Given the right content, at the right time, a post on social media can go viral, extending its day-to-day reach impressively and having a massive impact.3. It’s not just marketing
Social media is not just marketing – as I have covered in this blog post – it’s a channel used for customer service, business intelligence, news, messaging, help and so much more.4. Offers a closer connection with your clients
Conversations in networks such as Facebook and Twitter are more personal and intimate than other types of communication, offering a deeper level of engagement with your clients' lives. As a form of communication, it is about as close as you can get to holding a conversation with someone without being in the same room.
5. Source of instant feedback
Social media offers a 24/7 communications channel, and customers will give you instant feedback on your organisation, products, services or posts – that is, if you are listening…
6. A useful tool for market research, intelligence & insights
You can use social media listening tools to learn about the market you are in, gain intelligence on competitors, prospects and clients, and get insights on your organisation, products and services. All at very little, to no cost.7. Engenders loyalty and facilitates referrals
Engaging with existing clients and customers is a great way to engender loyalty and, if you are delivering on your product or service promises, to gain unsolicited praise or even referrals. While some of this activity will take place in the public eye – and therefore, you will see it – some will take place in peer-to-peer or closed networks.8. Provides lots of lovely data
Your activities in the social sphere will generate lots of data for your analytics applications – this allows you to track your progress and evaluate the impact your posts are having. You can see what times are best for your target audience and what types of posts they respond to; allowing you to post better content at the best times. Beyond this, you can learn a lot about your prospects by looking at what they are interested in, what they post and where they are active. Marrying information from social media to your customer relationship management system can give you valuable insight into your prospects and customers and what they value.9. Great for Google too
Social content helps with organic search and will boost your standing with search engines. The more attractive and helpful your posts – the more they will be shared and the better the effect. And social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn/SlideShare and YouTube are used by searchers too – you can’t be found if you are not there.10. Excellent medium to promote your content
Creating content is a great way to attract business to you, but you can’t just rely on a prospect’s organic search finding your blog posts and content offers, you also need to get the word out there. Here, social media provides an ideal platform to reach a much wider audience than just search alone.
…and the ten cons
1. Takes time – lots of time. All the time.
Although the monetary cost can be minimal, successful implementation of social media requires an on-going sustained effort, requiring a significant time commitment. And the more time you give it, the better the results will be.
2. You are in it for the long term
Many social media channels need continuous attention – any significant absence will result in a major loss of traction. (Although some, like Pinterest, are not so needy). Like blogging, you have to be prepared for social to become a fixture of your working week.
3. It’s not just marketing
See Point 3 in the pros list. You cannot just use social media channels for marketing and ignore all the other aspects. So you have to have procedures and channels of communication in place for customer service and insights before you start. This suggests a commitment from senior management and a co-operative culture. Many companies don’t want to hear complaints or issues being aired by customers, but that’s the digital equivalent of being an ostrich. You can’t bury your head in the sand – those complaints and issues will be out there for all your customers and potential customers to see. It’s better to deal with them and show how helpful and caring you can be – a real benefit. Without problems, there is no way to demonstrate to customers and prospects how good you are in this area.
4. Changing landscape
Social networks can change their terms and conditions, their functionality and even disappear overnight, leaving you struggling in the aftermath. New startups are launched every week, with some becoming a significant force in a very short space of time while others sink without trace. So your strategy and tactics have to be reviewed and changed often. Keeping up with all this is a headache and adds to the time spent managing social media.5. Lack of control
Old style marketing before the age of the Internet was a bit like propaganda – you could control the message; you could restrict the amount of information you allowed the public to access. Today that is no longer possible. Social networking with it’s viral nature and peer-to-peer messaging means that companies can no longer control or even see, everything said about them.
6. Crises and the fear of faux pas
Because of the lack of control, many businesses objections to the use of social media hinge around the possibility of making a catastrophic mistake, revealing inside information or otherwise embarrassing the company. The truth is that you can make mistakes in any communications channel – social media is little different; if anything it’s very nature is more informal and therefore more forgiving of mistakes or off-the-cuff remarks. We've published a handy checklist that might help avoid mistakes.
7. Hard to measure return on investment (ROI)
While there is a wealth of data available to the social media marketer, unless you are very careful it often only tells you how popular you are. And bear in mind that popularity might not even be amongst your target audience. On the other hand, if you set up your analytics and monitoring to comprehensively and intelligently cover the process from post to purchase, you can see how effective your strategy is, what works and what doesn’t work. This is not always easy, and many companies never achieve this.
8. Open, public, worldwide
Conversations on social media often take place in public, out in the open, or at least, in front of an audience. This makes some companies feel awkward and uncomfortable. They imagine that any errors will be magnified and jumped on by the crowd – and indeed, sometimes they are. But it also means that positive messages and outcomes benefit from the very same circumstances.
As most social media is worldwide in scope it means that companies have to be circumspect about their regional markets – pricing, legislation and culture will change from area to area; one message may not be right for all recipients. This can be difficult to manage, not least if you have local offices and staff using social media around the world – keeping them all on message can be a full-time job in itself.9. False, unreliable information
There are no filters on the Internet. There are no checks on what is being posted to social media either. Rumours and untruths abound, bad news spreads like wildfire, and companies are left flailing in their wake. On the upside it is getting increasingly hard for companies to be unethical, to lie about performance or make false claims about their products.
10. Can be addictive
It is all too easy to start using social media for business purposes with a clear plan and targets in mind, and then to be sucked into the social aspects of the medium. Within a few months, you might find yourself chatting with friends, following links to news articles, watching cat videos and finding out what happened next – all the while neglecting your real work. It is crucial at the start of any involvement in social media that you set time limits and clear goals and that you rigidly stick to them and stay professional in outlook and purpose. And for your employees, you will need a good social media policy, that should include usage guidelines to prevent them from unwittingly spending too much unproductive time on facebook or twitter. With the right support, even your employees can become effective avocates for your company.
So that's ten pros and ten cons of social media. On balance, I hope it’s clear that the pros outweigh the cons, and even if you’re undecided, the simple fact is that you can’t ignore it. Any modern business has to take it into account.
Now excuse me while I respond to comments on the hilarious meme image I posted to Facebook, tweet about some random celebrity and check out that video of the cat doing the thing.