Social Media has taken the business world by storm and changed the way that companies of all sizes interact with their customers. But is it all a good thing? While there are certainly major benefits to using social media for business, there are also some pretty major pitfalls too. In this article, we outline the advantages, and disadvantages, of Social Media.

It’s free!

One of the best things about using Social Media for business is that it is free! You can sign up to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and countless other popular sites for nothing, build endless lists of followers and post as much or as little information as you like, all for nothing.

It’s not Free…

Signing up might cost you nothing, but that on it’s own won’t get you anywhere. You need to factor in how much time it takes to work on those new relationships, come up with great ideas to catch peoples’ imagination and make your sites look great. And it’s not a one off job either.

The more sites you sign up to, the more work it takes. If you’re not careful you could easily spend hours every day moving from social network to social network updating statuses, replying to comments, accepting new requests, or just reading comments.

Think carefully about how much your time is worth and what return you get back from Social Media. It’s only “Free” if you’re getting back far more than you put in.

Everyone uses it

According to recent comScore data, 98% of the online population of the USA use Social Media sites and worldwide 6 out of every 10 people use social networks and forums. So yes, pretty much everybody uses Social Media and if you want to reach out to new audiences and marketplaces there is no other platform that compares. With so many Social Networking sites to choose from, including smaller, lesser known and niche sites there really is a platform for everyone.

advantages and disadvantages of social media
Image by Naughty Architect via Flickr

You’re just a needle in the Haystack…

With over a billion Social Media users worldwide, it’s very hard to stand out in the crowd. Anyone approaching social media for business without a carefully thought out strategy will soon become frustrated with the lack of response and engagement. Unfortunately, you can’t expect to set up a Facebook Page and have fans come rushing to “like” everything you do; the internet is afar too crowded for that to happen now! Take the time to plan, build your relationships and grow your following. It won’t happen overnight so don’t expect it to.

It’s easy!

Anyone can open an account, learn the basics and be up and running within half an hour. There are plenty of online tutorials in case you get stuck or want to learn something a little more complicated. Likewise, there are plenty of success stories to emulate, people who have learned how to generate social media engagement the hard way so you don’t have to.

It’s really tough…

Social Media is a very competitive medium. People who use it a lot and are successful with it are few and far between in comparison to the general population. Having a clearly defined set of goals as to what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it really helps.

More Social Media Networks = Bigger and Better Audience!

Why limit yourself to one site? You will notice that the users and personalities that come through are different on each social network, even if you have the same friends on several sites. You might want a LinkedIn site to be more professional, or a Facebook page to be more friendly and informal, and then use Twitter for quick updates and Google+ for defining your circles. Then there’s the added advantage that not everyone uses every site so by using more sites yourself you automatically get more followers and friends, which will ultimately lead to more for your business. It’s Win –Win!

Don’t spread yourself too thinly.

advantages and disadvantages of social media
Image by Stuart Lozowick via Flickr

Every social media channel is different, and so not every social media network will suit you. If the informal style of Facebook works for you then great, but likewise, if you struggle to make relationships work on LinkedIn then maybe you should close that account. Everything you do online needs to be a true reflection of you and your brand, so if something isn’t working then either figure out how to get better results, or try something new.

Pinterest is hugely popular at the moment, but don’t feel the need to jump on the bandwagon if what you do isn’t visual and wouldn’t look great on a pinboard! Don’t feel you need to have an account on every network you hear of just because it is there: you don’t, and it could do your reputation more harm than good if you’re seen to be inactive or putting out low quality content. Always play to your strengths!

It’s here to stay

The number of people, and the amount of money invested in social media is really staggering. Use of smart phones, WiFi being so widely available and ease of use of social sites have all contributed to engraining social media into our society and culture. “Tweet” is no longer just a noise made by a bird, you don’t have to be a Twitter user to know that! Even when watching the news the reporters all have their Twitter names given on screen alongside their name.

Social Media really is going to be here long term, and if you’re still not on board with it then you need to be.

Which sites are here to stay?

It’s fair to say that a year ago the majority of people had not heard of Pinterest, yet as of January 2012 it had grown to almost 12million users making it the fastest site ever to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark. The very nature of social media means that it will always be changing and reinventing itself. Just as fashions change and technology improves, so will social media marketing. Facebook and Twitter may have been popular for some time now, and quite possibly will be around for some time to come, but look at MySpace and Bebo, and who remembers Friends Reunited?

If you find a site that works for you then great, but be aware that your audience may soon find another and move on.

As with anything, there are many advantages and disadvantages of social media. Make sure that you reap the benefits by being aware of the problems.

What are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of social media for your business? Let’s start the conversation in the comment box below!

Main Image by Ms Phoenix. Via Flickr

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