Is Social Media Suitable for My Business?

Having a business presence on the Internet has become essential. However, the very nature of the online world means that it is constantly evolving, offering new avenues of communication and interaction. Pressure is placed on us to be part of these new platforms both socially and at a business level, but how do you know whether they are really beneficial to your business and how do you get the most out of them?

Firstly, it is worth noting that there is not a definitive answer to this question and businesses should not blindly sign up to Twitter or Facebook just because it is the ‘in’ thing. There are three key questions that should be asked to establish whether to consider the social media route:

1. Do you understand the social media platform that you are considering using?

2. Is it appropriate for your particular business?

3. Do you have the time and manpower to administer it or keep it up to date?

Only when you can answer ‘yes’ to all three of these questions can you confidently set your business up on the platform in question.

Do you understand the social media platform that you are considering using?

This question is definitely the most important, yet many businesses embark on their social media journey without really tackling it. Each individual business should do their own research as well as looking at how their competitors are using social media, in order to ensure a good understanding of the social media platform they are considering. There are multiple platforms on the market, but here is an overview of two key players in the social media world:

What is Facebook?

Facebook is the most successful social network on the planet with over 500 million active users across the world. They have a large, dedicated development team that is constantly finding ways to push it forward in order to make it a more powerful tool for businesses.

The primary aim of Facebook is to allow friends to update each other with their daily lives, like a message board with snippets of news, photos and links. It also encourages communities within itself; like-minded people, clubs and friendship groups can join private areas where they can communicate with each other to share their passions and interests. This is where the business aspect comes in. A business can start a fan page where they then encourage people to join by clicking the ‘like’ button. This then allows the business to post messages that the user (and their friends) can see in their personal news feeds. The fan page itself should be used to encourage interaction and discussion between its members.

Should my business use Facebook?

Is your business the type that people will get passionate about? Do your customers have common ground that would allow a community to form? A good example of this might be Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream; their brand has a fun personality which customers like to associate themselves with. They use Facebook to announce competitions, launch new flavours and encourage customer feedback. Another good example is outdoor clothing company North Face; their customers share a love of the outdoors and their fan page is a mixture of posts from North Face about the latest outdoor challenges as well as from users enthusing about their outdoor lifestyles. If you can see your customers connecting with you and each other in this way then this could be a good platform for you.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is similar to Facebook in that it is designed for social interaction, but in a much simpler, quicker and more transient fashion. The best way to think of it is like a radio station; you get your own station to broadcast short messages (tweets) to people who choose to tune in to you. These messages should be fun, interesting or informative. If someone really likes your message, they may choose to broadcast it to their own followers (re-tweet) therefore giving you more exposure. People can also message you directly and their message and your response will be viewable by everyone.

It is important to note that unlike Facebook, Twitter is absolutely public, so even non-Twitter users can view any tweets you make or that others make about you.

Should my business use Twitter?

There are two advantages of using Twitter for your business: the first is that you can build up a brand personality – especially if are you fun, an expert in your field or a source of interesting or useful information? All of your tweets build up a picture of who you are. Secondly, the more tweets you make, the more you are reminding potential customers that you are there, which essentially is free advertising for you.

Do you have the time and manpower to administer it or keep it up to date?

For both of these platforms this question is very important. To get something out of a social media website you need to be prepared to put a lot of effort in. There must be someone in your organisation that is willing to update, add to and administer your page to keep people interested and engaged. Otherwise you generate no positive interaction by using it, and it is possible that you may look unpopular or appear to have nothing of interest to say. It is also of the upmost importance to keep it current (either newsworthy or topical) and up to date. If you can’t keep up with it, don’t do it!

Be prepared to take the positive and the negative

Using social networks in business relies on tapping in to the likes and dislikes of your audience; it functions in the same manner as ‘word of mouth’ and if you get your messages right you can successfully use this to your advantage. However, don’t forget that word of mouth can be both positive and negative. If you are a cake shop and nine people post a message or tweet that they love your cakes but one says they hate them – are you prepared to take the rough with the smooth? Many companies believe this shows an openness and willingness to listen and respond to customers that can be very beneficial, where others prefer not to open themselves up to criticism and public debate.

All these issues mean choosing whether to use a social network for business does not have a simple answer. What is clear, however, is that you need to understand them, they need to be right for your particular business and you need someone to nurture them into life as they won’t look after themselves. Are you willing to invest business time and energy into getting sociable? The choice is entirely yours to make.