The pros and cons of social media

5 Dec

Ah social media. As the old saying goes, “can’t live with it, can’t live without it.” As social media platforms have changed over the years (RIP, Vine), so too have the pros and cons of social media.

Not so long ago, brands and executives were still wondering whether they should be on social media at all. But times have changed. Now, social media has gone from a “nice to have” to a “must-have” for businesses, as it has become a core place for audiences to connect, get updates on current events and capture moments.

While social media is, without question, necessary for your business, there are pros and cons that brands and social professionals must grapple with. Let’s talk through what some of those look like, and how to approach them to make the right decisions for your social strategy.

Why social media is good

It’s easy for the negativity around social media to overshadow its benefits. And there are plenty of “pros” to celebrate.

Let’s get into why social media is good, and the positive impact of social media on our lives.

Social media can bring joy

From stories of triumph to funny social media memes, social has the power to spark a smile.

The “It’s Corn” viral trend became a cultural touchstone for friends and strangers alike. Hundreds of brands created their own feel-good content using the song. And its popularity continues, with the “Corn Kid” landing a recent partnership with Green Giant.

Social media can also spark joy by connecting people with similar interests. #Booktok, for example, has become a flourishing online community. Book lovers go to this hashtag to find new book recommendations, relatable content for bookworms and connect with other readers.

Connect with people (and potential customers) all over the world

There’s a reason 91% of people believe in social media’s power of connection. With 4.2 billion social media users worldwide, social media enables you to reach your next fan or customer—no matter where they are.

Before Sprout, I managed a viral social media campaign at Shedd Aquarium that was so widespread, it reached all seven continents—yes, including Antarctica.

In fact, this is one of the top pros for Assistant Director of Social Media at Orangetheory, Anthony Yepez. “In my opinion, social media’s top pro is the ability to connect organically with your audience and customer base.”

And connecting with your audience goes further than making sales—it builds community, which can save you advertising bucks in the future. “Social gives you the opportunity to get insightful feedback on your product or service all while building a community that can further amplify your digital marketing without having to spend large advertising budgets.”

Enables instant communication

Social media is the number one channel for brands to connect with consumers. If you’re not using it to communicate with them, you’re missing a chance to build relationships.

Especially when you consider that more than three-quarters of consumers expect a response within 24 hours.

Answering questions, responding to comments and acknowledging complaints may seem simple. But it can be huge for your reputation—responsiveness leads to a more favorable view of your company.

Leveling up your social customer care goes a long way. And using a tool like Sprout’s Smart Inbox feature makes responding quickly to your audience easy by funneling comments and messages from all of your social media channels into a central, streamlined hub for your team.

A screenshot of Sprout Social's Smart Inbox tool displaying messages from multiple social platforms in one feed.

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Easier to define and reach your target audience

Between demographic data and post analytics, social media is a goldmine when it comes to better understanding your target audience.

As Anthony puts it, “Social media gives you the opportunity to better understand your target audience and their interests so that you can consider that when creating marketing assets for your brand or business.”

The better you know who you’re targeting, the more you can refine your strategy and expand your reach organically. And that can save you serious advertising costs—something your senior leaders will thank you for.

Boosts transparency

Brands that don’t shift to a new business model of transparency are not only at risk of losing consumer trust—they’re at risk of creating a crisis for themselves.

86% of Americans believe transparency from businesses is more important than ever before. And many of those consumers attribute this to social media, and the constant connectedness between consumers and brands.

Increasing transparency always comes with risks. But it also comes with high rewards—more than half of consumers are likely to consider buying from brands that are transparent. And when brands have a history of transparency, 85% of people are more likely to give them a second chance after a bad experience or crisis.

Shoe brand Nisolo does a great job of showcasing what a culture of transparency looks like by sharing their sustainability efforts.

This week is both #EarthWeek and #FashionRevolutionWeek, and without greater transparency and a more holistic approach…

Posted by Nisolo on Sunday, April 17, 2022

Ability to crowdsource

Social media is an always-on focus group. And social media crowdsourcing—or turning to social for audience opinions, ideas and sentiment—is a powerful way to improve your content, products and your business as a whole.

Social media makes this easy in a few ways. Thanks to social, you can simply ask your audience for their opinions and preferences. (This also happens to be a great engagement booster.)

Another method of crowdsourcing ideas is by looking at conversations about your brand and industry. Comments and posts you’re tagged in are a great starting point.

But you won’t be tagged in every conversation about your brand. Using a social listening tool is the best way to uncover conversations and gauge how your audience really feels about your brand, products and industry.

A screenshot of Sprout Social's listening tool showing messages from across Twitter

Promotes social change

Social media has proven that it can change the world. The Arab Spring is one of the earliest examples of social media facilitating real-world protests. Online networks facilitated organizing groups of activists, and played a key role in communicating what was going on to the world.

Social media has also made it easier for more people to get involved in social change. And it’s also enabled large-scale learning for those who were previously unaware of social issues—hashtags have become virtual meeting places and rallying cries for social change.

The positive impact of social media on business

For businesses, your social channels infinitely expand your brand awareness, audience engagement and loyalty and more.

Shoppable social ads have also, in the words of Meagen Johnson at Havas Media, “collapsed the marketing funnel”. In 2022, 98% of consumers said they planned to make at least one purchase through social shopping or influencer commerce.

And businesses are catching on to these benefits. In a recent Sprout survey of 280 marketers responsible for their brand’s social media strategy, nearly half of respondents agree that colleagues outside their social team understand how the social team’s roles add to the brand.

Data visualization that shows survey results for how many social professionals feel colleagues outside of their social team understand how their role in social adds value to the brand.

Real-time news and information

Today, social media and journalism go hand in hand. Half of US adults get their news from social media at least some of the time, according to Pew Research.

For journalists, social media is an excellent channel to watch stories as they develop, to share news and even to connect with interviewees.

And during a crisis, real-time news can be a lifeline.

For example, it’s been noted that during major hurricanes, emergency managers use social media to post recovery information before a storm hits to prepare people. Analyzing social media conversation can be pivotal in mitigating effects of a crisis early by better communicating with more vulnerable areas, and even help identify communities that need the most support after a disaster.

Helps connect leaders with constituents

Social media has removed a wall between leaders and their constituents. It’s created an “always-open forum” for constituents’ to voice their questions and concerns.

The bridge between social media and government also provides the same opportunity for government entities to reach constituents for real-time updates. Like the Chicago Transit Authority sharing transportation updates…

During a crisis, like the pandemic, social media provides a space for much-needed, real-time updates for the general public.

It’s also created an opportunity for entities and leaders alike to humanize themselves, foster community and share community updates—and triumphs. In some cases, official social media channels take on a personality of their own, like the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Why is social media bad

Naturally, we love social media. But we’re not going to ignore the virtual elephant in the room: Social media isn’t always positive.

In this section, let’s go beyond answering the question “why is social media bad?” and dive into a few ways you can curb its negative impact—for yourself, your brand and your audience.

Social media addiction and mental health impacts

As many as 5-10% of Americans today meet the criteria for social media addiction.

Even if you’re not addicted, social media can impact your mental health. As much as it can connect us, it can also make us feel isolated through false expectations and self-comparison.

People who use social media for more than two hours a day were twice as likely to feel socially isolated than those who used it for under half an hour—concerning when you consider that two and a half hours is the daily average

What you can do: When it comes to your audience, insert reminders for your audience to unplug.

You can even provide reality checks, like “Instagram vs Reality” content, to avoid fueling comparison on social.

And when it comes to mental health for social marketers, here are a few things you can do to protect your own well-being:

  • Gamify taking social media breaks: Use apps to facilitate focus. The Flora app grows a virtual tree if you don’t check your phone during a set amount of time. You can even set the app to charge you money if you break your focus—talk about incentive.
  • Set designated time to check social: This helps you set your own boundaries.
  • Set social media breaks: Instagram has a feature that allows you to temporarily suspend your account until you restart it. And TikTok has a “take a break” feature.
  • Use social media time trackers: Using screentime apps, which are built into many smartphones, to track how much time you spend on social media can be eye-opening.
  • Keep your phone in another room: Simple, yet effective.

Filter bubble and misinformation

You already know that social media algorithms fill feeds with posts based on relevance—not necessarily recency.

From a business perspective, this type of feed makes it harder to get your content in front of people without spending money.

From a societal perspective, when you’re only shown posts based on what you’re already interested in, a “filter bubble” is formed. This is where you only ever see topics and viewpoints you’ve already expressed interest in.

At its best, this limits you from learning new things. At its worst, filter bubbles make it too easy to discount opinions other than your own, and for misinformation to spread. Especially given that inflammatory posts rack up algorithm-appeasing engagement faster—even if they’re false.

What you can do: To avoid your own filter bubble, adjust your feeds. Facebook and Instagram allow you to adjust your newsfeed settings from algorithmic to chronological.

And when sharing or researching content for your brand’s channels, scrutinize your sources to limit consuming, or spreading, misinformation.

Lack of privacy

Public social accounts put our identities on display. And that can impact our sense of self and well being—being unsure what people really think of us online can lead to stress and anxiety.

But on the technical side, lack of privacy means your personal information is vulnerable, and can be used against you. And this can have real world implications (think: the Cambridge Analytica scandal), can lead to data breaches and more.

People are rightfully worried about this. In 2022, 81% of people are more concerned about their social privacy than they were the previous year. As a social media professional, you have your own privacy to worry about, as well as the privacy of your business accounts.

What you can do: There are many ways you can make your accounts more secure:

  • Use multi-factor identification: This has become a best practice.
  • Make your own social accounts private: This is a given to limit who can see your information.
  • Explore privacy features offered by each social platform: For example, you can prevent people from downloading your TikToks. And Instagram allows you to limit who can see your profile, or whether people can see that you’re active. Explore each platform and what they offer to bolster your security.
  • Use complex passwords: And use different passwords for different accounts.
  • Make a habit to change passwords: Do this regularly for a security boost.
  • Store passwords securely: If you need to save passwords, new and old, use an official password manager that will keep them secure and limit access, while allowing you to share passwords with those who need them.
  • Be careful about using accounts with third-party sites or apps: “Log in with Facebook” is convenient, but it also opens more doors to your data. Limit the third-party sources you give access to.

Scams are prevalent

In 2021, social media was the most profitable way for scammers to reach people—so much so that from 2017 to 2021, reports of fraud on social soared 1,800%.

Getting scammed is a too-easy way to lose money. But it can also lead to privacy breaches—for your personal accounts, and your brand’s. At worst, this could lead to a major brand crisis.

What you can do: At the risk of sounding like a corny security video, the key is to be social savvy. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Think twice when a friend or influencer reaches out: If a message seems off, play it safe.
  • Be wary of weird ads: Shopping scams were the second-most common social media scams in 2021.
  • Know the signs: Familiarize yourself with recent scams and phishing methods.
  • Filter comments: Protect your followers, too. When you monitor your social channels, look for and delete obvious scam comments. And teach your team to do the same.
  • Opt out of targeted advertising: Many social channels allow options for targeted advertising, like Instagram. Explore your options on each platform.

What you share stays with you forever

People, opinions and brands change over time. But the old, cringe-worthy posts in the depths of your timeline are forever.

In some places, there are measures you can take to protect yourself. The EU’s “right to be forgotten” gives people the right to request that search engines de-list some results from search queries related to their name. The US, however, doesn’t have a policy like this.

What you can do: If you’re worried about what your younger self was Tweeting about, setting your accounts to private is a safe step to take. And moving forward, think twice before you post to your brand’s channels.

Social media burnout

When you work in social media, it’s easy to be “always on.” Even Burger King addressed this:

The battle against burnout can feel like treading water. You’re bombarded by algorithm changes, negative comments, the constant news cycle, not to mention changing content formats—something 53% of recent survey respondents said was a major challenge when scheduling and planning content.

Data visualization showing survey results for the top challenges marketers responsible for their company's social media face when planning and scheduling content

And not every social team has the support they need. As Anthony put it, “the perspective that ‘anyone can do social media’ is holding a lot of us back from career growth, along with leadership teams not fully investing in their social media departments.” And less resources means more churn and burn.

What you can do:

  • Limit your social media usage: Taking social media breaks at home or doing a social detox after hours can help you reset.
  • Set boundaries: You have a content calendar and social media priorities—stand by them, set boundaries and protect your time when it comes to what you post.
  • Divide up the work: Even a large social team can get burnt out. In fact, social media teams mark bandwidth as one of their number one struggles. Evaluate how your work is divided up, and where you can source more support.
  • Create a response protocol: Pre-written response templates and guides make monitoring faster.

Use the pros and cons of social media to inform your strategy

Social media is far from perfect. But it is part of our world. While there will always be risks, there are so many ways to emphasize the positive impact of social media—for your brand, your audience and for yourself.

Make social media your ally. Learn how to get the most out of the digital space we all occupy by leveling up your social media marketing strategy.

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