The Pros and Cons of Using Social Media for Business

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Social media. It has quickly gone from being a relatively niche interest to explode into the mainstream, and it is massively popular with individuals and businesses alike.
There are undoubtedly pros to social media for businesses, but we can’t forget about the flipside either…
Pro: recruit ‘brand champions’
One benefit of social media is that it gives businesses the chance to recruit ‘brand champions’. A good example of this is a campaign Ford ran a couple of years ago called the Fiesta Movement. It was a six month experiment that involved 100 brand champions around the US promoting the new Fiesta without the company spending any money on traditional media.
Millions of YouTube views later, a great impact on the likes of Flickr and Twitter, and the campaign is widely deemed to be an example of good social media. Probably the best statistic (for Ford) from that campaign was that at the end of the six months, they had 50,000 people interested in buying a car, 97% of whom didn’t currently own a Ford. Not a bad result for a social media campaign.

Con: unintended side effects
However, this sort of success can also have a flipside; engaging people through social media is often great, but it doesn’t always work. Asking people what they think of your business, for instance, could lead to some answers you don’t like.
This is similar to what happened to McDonalds. They ran a campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #McDStories, with the intent of getting nice stories about people’s Happy Meals. What actually happened was that a lot of people Tweeted about negative experiences they’d had, which just goes to show that even the best of intentions on social media carry an element of risk.
You can’t always control what happens with a campaign, so businesses need to be careful before wading in and should make sure they learn how to use social media for business.
Pro: engage ‘opinion formers’
Another pro of social media is the chance for businesses to engage opinion formers. For example, is there someone in your industry who you’d love an endorsement from?
A good related example is that of the documentary film Bully. It was given an R-rating in the US, which would have stopped it properly reaching its target teen audience. After important actions from others, including a 17-year old who started a petition to get the film’s rating reduced, a barrage of high-profile people on Twitter started to support the film, including Ricky Martin, Ellen DeGeneres, Ryan Seacrest and others. As a result of the campaign, the documentary’s rating was lowered to PG-13, enabling a wider audience to see it – a great example of how influential people and ordinary people on Twitter could make a difference to a campaign.
Con: presence doesn’t mean influence
However, we have to remember that having a presence on social media doesn’t necessarily mean a huge amount of influence. To take an example, you might have 3000 followers on Twitter mainly because you’re following 3000 people yourself; in the quest to get your numbers up, you could be stopping yourself from creating high quality content – and getting it seen in the right places.
Overall, social media is an unpredictable beast. It can be great or not depending on how you utilise it and how people respond to what you do; you can’t always control their actions, but you can control what you do. Learning the lessons of the campaigns of others is definitely a good place to start.
Author Bio:
James is a business and marketing blogger who enjoys sharing tips on how to use social media for business. He is also a contributing writer for Sage a leading business software company.

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