Is Social Media Risky Business?

while social media can potentially boost reach and sales exponentially, it can also easily damage your company’s reputation. With this in mind, here are five simple ways to...

With greater exposure comes enormous responsibility.

Without a doubt, social media is the great equalizer. Until the arrival of WordPress, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Flickr, “big business” had an inequitable advantage.  Of course, any small business could create a website, but few had the resources and knowledge to capture global exposure and sales.

Smaller businesses had to settle for direct mail, local newspapers, networking, etc. because they simply couldn’t compete with the largest ad budgets doled out by the big brands. In most cases, mediums with the highest reach — TV, Radio, Magazine, Outdoor and Digital were not viable for the average entrepreneur with limited resources.

Social media changed all of that.


The proliferation of social media

Since the advent of social media, anyone can create an online presence and broadcast their uncensored point of view on the Internet at virtually low or no-cost. Public figures like Justin Bieber and Lily Allen quickly rose from middle class obscurity to international celebrity due to the influence of social media.

The world now spends over 110 billion minutes on social networks and blogs (AC Nielsen). This means that you, and your company’s target audience spend 25% of the time (12-15 hours a month) visiting social media sites. And unlike other types of media, social media is doubling year over year, it’s inexpensive and it’s available 24/7 on mobile devices. But therein lies the problem.


How to manage social media risk

Good and bad news, the truth or fallacy, can spread online like a pandemic. In contrast to paid-advertising, a large percentage of what is said on social networks is contributed by people outside of your organization. How can you keep track of every single thing that is said or written about you? It’s almost impossible to monitor and control where and how your brand is mentioned online.

And while social media can potentially boost reach and sales exponentially, it can also easily damage your company’s reputation. With this in mind, here are five simple ways to mitigate the risks associated with social media?


1. Use social media to interact

The focus of traditional marketing is on lead generation and sales. However, in social media, it’s all about engagement, education and relationships. To excel in social networks, you will need to offer value upfront to gain followers and then get to know them and understand their needs.

If you fail to engage, you may risk more harm than good.  How many people and businesses have asked you to “like” their brand, re-tweet or join their mailing list in the past 24 hours? Probably more than you’d like to admit. Since we are inundated with brands talking “at us,” it becomes significantly harder to make an impression and persuade action.


2. Look for opportunities to turn around customer experiences

You will discover more in one week about your brand in social media circles than you will find in a year of traditional research. Most people don’t censor their opinions when they share information with friends. Therefore, you’ll hear a lot of stories of how companies have fallen short of expectations.

This is a good thing, because you now have an opportunity to course correct – and do it right. Start to listen and develop a strategy to deal with consumer complaints early in social media settings. If you don’t, a PR fail could spiral out of control and become much worse.

Most entrepreneurs mistakenly view social media as a great place to sell more stuff.  In actuality, it’s a far better place to listen to what customers are saying and to turn unhappy customers into raving fans.


3. Decipher the true cost of your social media efforts

Social media appears to be free. However, when you account for the time it takes to produce content, cross-promote it, and engage with your followers it could easily turn into a full-time job.  Your time is valuable and should be measured against a tangible and intangible return generated by the type of online activity (i.e. Likes, shares, engagement, etc.).

Don’t get caught up in the hype of social media without a clear understanding of its true cost or return.  Why spend hours a day posting and interacting online if you can generate a better response by speaking directly to your customers at an event or asking for a referral?

Social media only provides the platform to talk to more people for less money, it doesn’t guarantee that anyone will listen or that you’ll earn the same return that you could receive elsewhere.


4. Develop a clear branding strategy

It pays to have a very clear strategy before you embark on social media.  Outline key messages and how they should be communicated consistently to your audience.

One of the biggest social media mistakes that small businesses make is to overload followers with too many messages.  You can’t be all things to all people. Repetition is the key to retention. In order to be memorable and effective, your message should be consistent. Let people experience your brand and message in the exact same way.


5. Realize that social media may not be for you

Who manages your social media? If it is not you personally, does that employee or consultant understand your goal and overall strategy? Everything that is said by them, on your behalf, will have far reaching implications for your brand.

If they are hired to respond to disgruntled customers or worse, an insane person looking to create trouble, do they know how to diffuse the situation? If the interaction gets out of hand, at what point do you become involved? Do you have the means to take action and protect your company if it becomes the target of defamation?


These are all important questions to consider when developing best practices for social media management. The reach and potential of social media are great and so are the risks. Although it may seem harmless and fun on the surface, the capacity to do irreparable harm to your brand is very real. Start using social media for business with a very clear plan.

First, monitor what is said about you and your brand online using free services such as Google Alerts. Next, investigate what competitors and other well known brands are doing in this space. Then, once you understand and identify the key platforms for your unique business needs, create a community of followers with confidence, control and safeguards.


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