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.
While social media in the B2C arena tends to get all the attention, it is equally powerful in the B2B world – particularly for contract manufacturing, where conventional marketing is challenging because of their work's 'hidden' nature for other businesses.
Today, it is massively popular worldwide:
- there are 4.55 billion active social media users…… that's a staggering 57.6% of the world's population as of October 2021
- Users spend an average of almost two and a half hours a day on social media
- 6.7 is the average number of social media platforms used in a month
In the UK:
- 53 million active social media users
- 78% of the UK population
- Users spend an average of almost two hours a day on social media
- There are around seven social media accounts per user
- Nearly 30% of Internet users use social media for work purposes.
(All data above from Digital 2021 We Are Social / Hootsuite)
This overwhelming saturation level still doesn't mean you should rush in and use social media without thought – like any means of communication; it has its benefits and drawbacks.
And like any marketing platform, there are things it's great for, things it's not suitable for, and, let's face it, things it should never be used for.
In addition, implementing successful social media marketing requires a significant level of resources and a serious commitment. This means that you shouldn't incorporate social media into your marketing strategy without knowing the pros and cons.
So here are ten 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 to justify using social media marketing in your organisation, remind yourself why you are doing it, or 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 issues you need to manage and what pitfalls to avoid when using social media for marketing.
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.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and most other social media platforms are free to join and use, so getting up and running with social media costs significantly less than almost any other marketing channel.
This means that even if you want to 'test the water', you can do so without it costing you anything – other than a little time.
And it is perfectly possible to run effective and successful, long-term social media campaigns with little or no budget.
The bottom line is that social media can be one of the most economical ways to market your business.
As we detailed in the introduction, social media platforms are ubiquitous, with the world and his dog checking in regularly.
The potential audiences for a social media post are huge:
- Facebook – 2.9 billion users
- YouTube – 2.3 billion users
- Instagram – 1.3 billion users
- TikTok – 1 billion users
- LinkedIn – 800 million users*
- Pinterest – 454 million users
- Twitter – 436 million users
With this potential reach, you could get your message in front of the largest possible audience, whether you are involved in B2C or B2B.
Suppose you post something that captures your audience's imagination. In that case, it can be shared amongst that vast audience, 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 for customer service, business intelligence, news, messaging, help, and so much more.
As an example, using it for customer service can speed up your response and ease the pressure on customer support departments.
And according to Brandwatch, handling customer service requests via social media channels is up to 12 times cheaper than taking the same requests by phone.
In another area, 96% of businesses say that their competitors' social media posts are a valuable source of competitor intelligence. (Crayon 2021 State of Competitive Intelligence)
Social media can bring a whole range of benefits to the organisation – it's a multi-functional tool quite unlike any other.
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 relationship with your prospects and customers on social media than 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.
It is an ideal channel to initiate a relationship with a prospect who might become a buyer.
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.
If you are running agile teams in any of these areas, you can use this instant feedback as the basis of a rapid response and outpace your competitors.
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.
According to Sprout Social, social data can inform a marketers' understanding of their customers in the following ways (ranked):
- It shows them how customers use their products or services
- It shows what customers dislike about their brand
- It tells them what customers like about their brand
- Provides insight into what customers expect from brands in the future
- Shows what trends customers are interested in
- Enables them to get to know their customers on a personal level
- Tells them what kind of social content resonates with customers
Gathering valuable market research is often expensive and lengthy, involving commissioning outside agencies. Social media monitoring, on the other hand, can be relatively cheap. You can run monitoring programmes yourself and rapidly gather insights from many social media users.
7. It creates loyalty and makes referrals easy
By engaging with your customer base, you can create a group of loyal followers. As long as your product or service quality meets their needs, you can gain unsolicited testimonials and referrals.
Social media is all about sharing, so this can work powerfully in your favour with customers, becoming highly influential online advocates for your business.
We know that both B2C and B2B customers will talk to their peers and colleagues and value their advice, so a happy customer singing your praises is worth far more than a promotional piece by your business.
8. Do 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 showing that being active on social media helps ranking in search engines such as Google and Bing. Whilst there is no direct link with Google, being active and well-regarded on social media will help your SEO indirectly, as this article in the Search Engine Journal explains.
And don't forget that many social media users search within those channels – so if you are not on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc., 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 vast amounts of content produced every single minute on the Internet, you can't afford to leave it just to organic search to unearth your fantastic content.
Social media is an excellent way of getting the word out – publicising your great content to a mass audience.
The top 10 cons of social media…
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 high.
To successfully employ social media in a marketing campaign, you need to invest substantial amounts of time over a long period to see valuable 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.
*Of course, you can spend considerable amounts of money on tools to help you plan, schedule, monitor and manage your social media efforts – but is it a justified return on investment? Just make sure you budget your social media marketing.
2. You need commitment
You need to stick at it and constantly feed it. Most social media channels need consistent attention to maintain momentum.
Like other forms of content creation, you need to make it part of your daily routine. It's not something you plan and implement once and then walk away; it will need constant managing. For many businesses, it becomes a 24/7 commitment.
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 organisation.
This implies a collaborative culture between departments and a certain level of commitment from senior management.
However, dealing with customer issues in a timely and genuinely helpful manner will serve as an excellent advert for your company.
4. Things change fast
With social media, the rules are constantly changing. From Facebook algorithms to pick which posts to display, to the length of tweets, to the user interface in LinkedIn.
It can quickly become a full-time job to keep up with the latest trends and current best practices.
New social media platforms are launched, and others die. This dramatically affects planning and strategy, so you have to keep reviewing and revising the social media landscape and your social marketing strategy on an ongoing basis to stay relevant and practical.
For instance, WhatsApp has become a useful customer service tool. TikTok, which was only launched in September 2016, has had a meteoric rise and is currently on track to be the world's most popular social media platform with the most traffic (Cloudflare).
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 than most media channels. 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 open to misinterpretation.
Even the most prominent companies can end up with an epic social media fail on their hands, leading to a PR nightmare.
Some companies choose not to utilise social media for just this reason – they are too scared of making a mistake. And for some that are involved in industries such as security or finance, it may be essential to avoid posting publicly on social media.
However, social media's very nature – its informality and openness – also means that it can be more forgiving than other media. Even a severe social media crisis can be turned around if handled well and with the right attitude.
Exercise a little care and some self-control, and 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 difficult to measure your social media efforts' Return On Investment (ROI).
This is because most of the data only shows you how popular you are, not how effective your posts are at getting the message across or whether that message is retained and acted upon by your target audience.
Given the right tools and analytics, you should be able to measure the true ROI of social media, tell what is working and what is not, and might even be able to attribute sales back to social media.
Just don't confuse popularity with effectiveness.
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 other 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 outrageous in another.
The larger your organisation, the greater the challenge is to keep everyone on message in each department worldwide.
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 can't afford to have a lousy product or service. Gone are the days when you could spend money on marketing to promote a poor product, and you could still have a successful company.
Likewise, your company ethics and morality are also fair game for social media comment.
You have to be sure that your product or service meets your customer's needs and your company is ethical and green 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 real danger that you can become entirely consumed by it. This isn't so surprising, considering that social media platforms are 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 to not act inappropriately or spend too much time online. Given the proper 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.