Over the past ten years or so, we’ve seen social media move from being an early adopter’s marketing experiment to a tried and trusted channel for both B2C and B2B marketing.
But that doesn’t mean you should rush in and use it without thought – like any communications medium it has its benefits and its drawbacks.
And like any marketing medium, there are things it’s great for, things it’s not good for, and things it should never be used for.
In addition, it requires resources and commitment.
Which means that you shouldn’t incorporate social media into your marketing strategy without being aware of the pros and cons.
So here are 10 social media pros and cons to consider, or to remind yourself of, when using social media as a marketing channel.
You can use the positive list as a justification to use social media marketing 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 top 10 pros of social media...
1) It's low cost and effective
If you are running a basic social media campaign, then the software is free and there are no subscription costs.
It is perfectly possible to run effective and successful social media campaigns with little or no budget.
The bottom line is that social media is simply one of the best and most economic ways to market your business.
2) There's a huge potential audience (reach) and a chance to go viral
Social media platforms are now ubiquitous, with the world and his dog checking in on a regular basis.
Facebook has over 2.2 billion users worldwide for example. With such a huge reach you have the possibility of getting your message in front of the largest possible audience.
If you post something that captures your audience’s imagination, then it can be shared, giving you a chance that it will go viral and increase its audience exponentially.
3) It’s not just marketing
Social media is not just marketing – it’s a channel used for customer service, business intelligence, news, messaging, help and so much more.
4) It starts a conversation
Social media is, by its very nature, social. It's a chance to get intimate with your prospects and customers.
You have a completely different kind of relationship with your prospects and customers on social media than in any other marketing channel. It’s a two-way conversation that allows for a much deeper level of engagement. 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) You get real-time feedback
Because social media is a 24/7 communications channel you can get instant feedback on your marketing campaigns – enabling you to update and fine-tune your marketing posts.
It can also provide you with an immediate and honest assessment of your organisation, products, services or posts – for better or for worse.
6) It's a great market research tool
There are many simple, free or low-cost monitoring tools for social media that will allow you to learn basic information about the market you are in. You can gain intelligence on competitors, prospects and clients, and get insights on your organisation, products and services.
7) It creates loyalty and makes referrals easy
By engaging with your customer base you can create a group of loyal followers, and as long as your product or service quality is meeting their needs, you will are likely to gain unsolicited testimonials and referrals.
Social media is all about the sharing, so this can work powerfully in your favour with customers becoming online advocates for your business.
8) You want data? You got it!
Because of the nature of social media, there is always plenty of data that can be collected and analysed. This should enable you to track your progress and see how effective your posts are. It will also tell you when your target audience is online and what kind of content they respond to. Using this information allows you to target the timing of your posts and maximise the potential for engagement.
You can also look at what your customers and prospects post to learn more about them and the topics that interest them. If you have a customer relationship management system, you can add this information, providing you with valuable insights.
9) It helps you get found (SEO)
There is a lot of evidence to show that being active on social media helps you to be ranked in search engines such as Google.
The key though is is to do it through the creation of valuable, useful and quality content.
And don’t forget that many users of social media actually search within those channels – so if you are not on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc, then you won’t be found in those searches.
10) It's an ideal way to promote content
It’s no good producing loads of great blog posts, eBooks, web content and the like if you don’t tell anyone about it.
Given the huge amounts of content produced every single minute on the Internet, you can’t afford to leave it to organic search to unearth your fabulous content.
Social media is an excellent way of getting the word out – publicising your great content to a mass audience.
And the cons?
1) How much time do you have?
Whilst the software tools and cost of entry may be negligible, the cost in terms of time is significant.
In order to successfully employ social media in a marketing campaign, you need to invest substantial amounts of time over a long period to see useful results.
It takes a high level of commitment, which ultimately costs significant amounts of money. But the more time you give to social media, the greater the results.
2) You need to be committed
Not only do you need to stick at it, you need to constantly feed it too. Most social media channels need constant attention to maintain momentum.
Like other forms of content creation, you need to make it part of your daily routine.
3) It’s not just marketing
Yes, this one is both a pro and a con as it’s not quite as neat and tidy as other channels which are generally just marketing.
You're going to get feedback on your products and services and you're going to have to deal with customer service issues and queries from prospects.
You'll need to ensure that you have the means to deal with all those non-marketing issues before you start, establishing appropriate channels and protocols within your own organisation.
This implies a co-operative culture between departments and a certain level of commitment from senior management.
Dealing with customer issues in a timely and genuinely helpful manner will serve as a great advert for your company.
4) Things change fast
With social media the rules are constantly changing – from the algorithm used by Facebook to pick which of your posts to display, to the length of tweets, to the user interface in LinkedIn.
It can easily become a full-time job just to keep up with the latest trends and current best practice.
New social media platforms are launched and others die. This dramatically affects planning and strategy; so you have to keep reviewing and revising on an on-going basis in order to stay relevant and effective.
5) It’s out of your hands
Other forms of marketing allow you to tightly control the message and its distribution, making sure that only that message is communicated and nothing else.
Social media, on the other hand, is like a wild jungle. Once you release your message you also relinquish control as it is shared, commented upon and added to.
What’s more - with peer to peer social networking - customers, prospects and the general public could be talking to each other about your product, service, brand or company and you wouldn't even know.
6) You can mess up big time
Social media is more casual and more open. But with the sheer volume of posts and constant conversation, it can be easy to take your eye off the ball and make public something you shouldn’t have or post something that is open to misinterpretation.
Some companies choose not to utilise social media for just this reason – they are too scared of making a mistake.
However, it’s very nature – its informality and openness – also means that it much more forgiving than other media. With a little care and self-control, many mistakes can be avoided.
7) Masses of data does not equal ROI
Even though there may be a wealth of data available, it can be surprisingly difficult to measure the Return On Investment (ROI) of your social media efforts.
This is because most of the data only really shows you how popular you are, not how effective your posts are at getting the message across or whether that message is being retained and acted upon by your target audience.
Given the right tools and analytics, you should be able to measure the ROI of social media, tell what is working and what is not, and you might even be able to attribute sales back to social media.
8) You're on show to the world
Social media usage spans many countries of the world, and so will your content - something to bear in mind if you have different strategies and pricing in different countries.
You'll also need to be aware of variations in legislation and differing cultural backgrounds – what might be perfectly acceptable in one country might be totally outrageous in another.
And of course the larger your organisation, the greater the challenge will be to keep everyone, in each of your departments around the world, on message.
9) You have to have a good product or service
In a world where every customer can share their experience – good or bad - where everyone expresses an opinion, and where it all gets shared on social media platforms and review sites, there's nowhere to hide if your product or service isn't up to scratch.
I’d go so far as to say that today, you simply can't afford to have a bad product or service. Gone are the days where you could simply spend money on marketing to promote a poor product and it would work.
Likewise, your company ethics and morality are also fair game for social media users.
You have to be sure that your product or service is good and your company is ethical before you even start creating content and marketing to social media users.
10) You can get hooked
Using social media professionally to promote a product or service takes time and commitment. But there is also a very real danger that you can becoming completely consumed by it. This isn't really so surprising when you consider that social media platforms are deliberately designed to be addictive.
It's easy to stray across the line between engaging customers and prospects in friendly conversation and wasting time watching funny cat videos and chatting with friends about the latest reality show. So always ensure your company time on social media stays focused and professional.
Time spent on social media should have clear goals and time limits appropriate to the task.
Employees should also conform to a social media policy so that they do not act inappropriately or spend too much time online. Given the right support, employees can become valuable advocates for the business.
So that’s the ten pros and ten cons. There is no doubt that the pros outweigh the cons. But equally too, when it comes to the negatives, you can’t stick your head in the sand and ignore them.
Social media, when used correctly, is a powerful channel for marketing. It should be an essential part of your marketing strategy and a key element in your marketing plan.
This post was originally published on 15th January, 2016, and updated 21st September 2018.