Social media marketing has numerous benefits. One of the most important is that most social media services are free.
Of course, there are disadvantages as well: Most services require a significant time investment to launch and run a social media marketing campaign, and many restrict you from distributing unpaid posts, charging for advertising, and delivering messages to your target audiences.
As you read this, consider whether each benefit applies to your needs. How important is it to your business? How much time do you need to spend on it? What kind of payback do you expect?
In this article, we will go through the pros and cons of using social media for business.
Table of Contents
1. Casting a wide net to catch your target market
Social media has a huge audience. In the second quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.79 billion monthly active users worldwide, of which 1.66 billion were mobile users. Outside the United States and Canada, Facebook receives slightly less than 85 percent of its traffic.
The social media giant faces stiff competition from Google in the United States. As of October 2016, Facebook had more than 207 million unique U.S. visitors/viewers, while Google Sites had more than 246 million. It should be noted, of course, that visitors to the two sites engage in different activities.
As of October 2016, Twitter had more than 109 million unique U.S. visitors/viewers and about 500 million tweets (short messages) per day worldwide. The majority of daily tweets are posted by a relatively small number of power users. In fact, over 44% of Twitter users register accounts without ever tweeting.
However, since tweets can be read on other sites, they are read by more people than counted. Even niche networking sites have hundreds of thousands of visitors. Surely some of the people who visit these sites are your customers or prospects. A popular use of social media is to cast a wide net to attract more potential visitors to your site.
The conversion funnel works like this: As more people arrive at the top of the funnel, more people are likely to move through the prospect and qualified leads stages to become customers. Regardless of the action represented by the funnel conversion, only 2% to 4% of people make it through.
The need for branding, recognition, visibility, presence, or top-of-mind awareness is the goal of basic marketing. Whatever you want to call it, you want people to remember your company name when they need your product or service. Almost all social media services are wonderful tools for developing your business.
Social media can help with branding if you get your name out to the right people. Plan to segment your audience on the major social media platforms. You can look for more targeted groups there, or you can look for niche services that reach fewer people overall, but more of the right people for your business.
3. Building relationships
If you’re focused on only short-term benefits, you’d better shake that thought loose and get your head into the long-term game that’s played in the social media world. To build effective relationships in social media, you’re expected to
- Establish your expertise.
- Participate regularly as a good citizen of whichever social media world you inhabit; follow site rules and abide by whatever conventions have been established.
- Avoid overt self-promotion.
- Resist hard-sell techniques except in paid advertising.
- Provide value with links, resources, and unbiased information.
Watch for steady growth in the number of your followers on a particular service or the number of people who recommend your site to others; increased downloads of articles or other tools that provide detailed information on a topic; or repeat visits to your site.
All these signs indicate you’re building relationships that may later lead to if not a direct sale then a word-of-web recommendation to someone who does buy. In the world of social media, the term engagement refers to the length of time and quality of interaction between your company and your followers.
Social media is a long-term commitment. Other than little experiments or pilot projects, don’t bother starting a social media commitment if you don’t plan to keep it going. Any short-term benefits you see aren’t worth the effort you have to make.
4. Improving business processes
Already, many clever businesses have found ways to use social media to improve business processes. Though individual applications depend on the nature of your business, consider leveraging social media to
- Promptly detect and correct customer problems or complaints.
- Obtain customer feedback and input on new product designs or changes.
- Provide tech support to many people at one time; if one person has a question, chances are good that others do, too.
- Improve service delivery, such as cafes that accept to-go orders on Twitter or Facebook, or food carts that notify customers where and when their carts will arrive.
- Locate qualified new vendors, service providers, and employees by using professional networks such as LinkedIn.
- Collect critical market intelligence on your industry and competitors by watching content on appropriate social media.
- Use geolocation, tweets, and mobile search services to drive neighborhood traffic to brick-and-mortar stores during slow times and to acquire new customers.
Marketing is only part of your company, but all of your company is marketing. Social media is a ripe environment for this hypothesis, where every part of a company, from human resources to tech support, and from engineering to sales, can be involved.
5. Improving search engine rankings
Just as you optimize your website, you should optimize your social media outlets for search engine ranking. Now that search engines are cataloging Twitter and Facebook and other appearances on social media, you can gain additional front-page real estate for your company on Google and Yahoo!/Bing (which now share the same search algorithms and usually produce similar results).
Search engines recognize most appearances on social media as inbound links, which also improve where your site will appear in natural search results.
Optimization pays off in other ways: in results on real-time searches, which are now available on primary search engines; on external search engines that focus on blogs or other social media services; and on internal, site-specific search engines.
6. Selling in the social media marketplace
Conventional thinking several years ago suggested that social media was designed for long-term engagement, for marketing and branding rather than for sales. However, more and more social media channels now offer the opportunity for direct sales from their sites.
In addition to selling on major social media channels such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter (using the Buy Now feature), and Instagram (using third-party add-ons such as Olapic), you will also find selling opportunities on smaller, niche social media:
- Sell music and event tickets. SoundCloud and ReverbNation, which cater to music and entertainment, are appropriate social media sites for these products.
- Include a link to your online store on social-shopping services.
- Recommend products — particularly apparel, jewelry, beauty, and decor — as Stylehive does.
- Offer promotional codes or special deals to followers. Offering codes or deals on particular networks encourage your followers to visit your site to make a purchase. You can also announce sales or events.
- Place links to online or third-party stores such as Etsy on your profile pages on various services. Some social media channels offer widgets that visually showcase your products and link to your online store, PayPal, or the equivalent to conclude a transaction.
- Include a sign-up option for your e-newsletter. It offers a bridge to sales.
7. Finding alternative advertising opportunities
Although time is money, the magic word is free. If you decide to approach social media as an alternative to paid advertising, construct your master social media campaign just as carefully as you would a paid one:
- Create a plan that outlines target markets, ad offers, publishing venues, and schedules for different ad campaigns.
- If necessary, conduct comparative testing of messages, graphics, and offers.
- Monitor results and focus on the outlets that work best at driving qualified visits that lead to conversions.
- Supplement your free advertising with search engine optimization, press releases, and other forms of free promotion.
As you see traffic and conversions building from your social media marketing campaigns, you may want to reduce existing paid advertising campaigns. Just don’t stop your paid advertising until you’re confident that you have an equally profitable stream of customers from social media. Of course, if your ad campaign isn’t working, there’s no point in continuing it.
For all its upsides, social media has its downsides. As social media has gained in popularity, it has also become increasingly difficult to gain visibility among its hundreds of millions of users. In fact, sometimes you have to craft a campaign just to build an audience on a particular social media site. The process is similar to conducting optimization and inbound link campaigns so that your site is found in natural search results.
By far, the biggest downside in social media is the amount of time you need to invest to see results. You need to make an ongoing commitment to review and respond to comments and to provide an ongoing stream of new material. An initial commitment to set up a profile is just the tip of the iceberg.
Keep in mind that you need to watch out for the addictiveness of social media. Individually and collectively, social media is the biggest-ever time sink. Don’t believe us? Ask yourself whether you became addicted to news alerts during the 2016 presidential campaign or couldn’t take your eyes off live coverage of the terror attacks in Paris.
Or maybe you play Candy Crush, Words with Friends, or other video games with a passion, continuously text on your smartphone, or compulsively check email every ten seconds… you get the idea. Without self-discipline and a strong time schedule, you can easily become so socially overbooked that other tasks go undone.
As you consider each of the social media options, also consider the level of human resources that is needed. Do you have the time and talents yourself? If not, do other people in your organization have the time and talent? Which other efforts will you need to give up while making room for social media? Will you have to hire new employees or contract services, leading to hard costs for this supposedly “free” media?
Social media is only part of your online marketing. Online marketing is only part of your overall marketing. Don’t mistake the part for the whole. Consider each foray into social marketing as a strategic choice to supplement your other online-marketing activities, which may include
- Creating and managing a marketing-effective website: Use content updates, search engine optimization (SEO), inbound link campaigns, and event calendar postings to your advantage.
- Displaying your product’s or service’s value: Create online press releases and email newsletters. Share testimonials and reviews with your users and offer affiliate or loyalty programs, online events, or promotions.
- Advertising: Take advantage of pay-per-click ads, banners, and sponsorships.
Social media is neither necessary nor sufficient to meet all your online marketing needs. Use social media strategically to
- Meet an otherwise unmet marketing need.
- Increase access to your target market.
- Open the door to a new niche market.
- Move prospects through the conversion funnel.
- Improve the experience for existing customers.
For example, the website for Fluid IT Services (www.fluiditservices.com ) links to its Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn sites, as well as its blog (www.fluiditservices.com/blog), to attract its audience.
To get the maximum benefit from social media, you must have a hub site, the site to which web traffic will be directed.
With more than 1 billion websites online, you need social media as a source of traffic. Your hub site can be a full website or a blog, as long as the site has its own domain name. It doesn’t matter where the site is hosted — only that you own its name, which appears as www.yourcompany.com or http://blog.yourcompany.com.
Though you can link to http://yourcompany.wordpress.com, you can’t effectively optimize or advertise a WordPress address like this. Besides, it doesn’t look professional to use a domain name from a third party.
Consider doing some sketching for your own campaign: Create a block diagram that shows the relationship between components, the flow of content between outlets, and perhaps even the criteria for success and how you’ll measure those criteria.