The Social Media Debate

Facebook to Facebook or Face to Face?
Love it or loathe it, social media is here to stay. The emergence of the online phenomenon has transformed western society nearly as much as mobile internet access. The natural symbiosis between these two cultural phenomena just added to the heady mix.
Five years ago it was often assumed that no business could survive without a social media presence, yet many firms have coped admirably. Others have focused their energies on one social network platform, while Tweets and status updates are increasingly being used to ensure a company’s website is regularly updated rather than to gain followers.
Here are two very different arguments on whether a corporate presence on social networks really is essential:
Social media has become inextricably enmeshed with our personal lives, and as the lines become so blurred between work and home it makes sense for this to merge into the corporate sphere. Rather than Googling a company’s name, it’s often quicker to search through Facebook. Entrepreneurs often conflate their personal and professional accounts providing variety to their followers and humanising their brand.
Social media can act as a universal, cost-conscious marketing tool. Everyone who follows a company can be targeted instantly – and often for free – with everything from news and offers to testimonials or links to product reviews. In many cases, the only investment is the time taken to generate new content. The increasingly interactive nature of TV and press advertising is symptomatic of how consumers like to be encouraged to participate in ad campaigns and visit company websites; ancillary apps like Shazam and QR scanners take this concept one step further, by allowing people to access unique advertising-linked content with a few taps of their smartphone screen.
Traditional customer service is increasingly being replaced with social media communications. A Tweeted complaint about bad service forms an instant written record of dissatisfaction, but the risk of a well-worded complaint attracting supportive Retweets frequently ensures a swift and satisfactory response from the consumer’s perspective. Perhaps surprisingly, this can be equally beneficial from the company’s point of view; a quickly-resolved complaint can attract far more attention than a mailed letter of apology could ever hope to, and it remains online as a permanent demonstration of proactive and responsive customer service.
There is no recorded instance of any business failing because – or even partly because – it lacked a social network presence. A well-populated Facebook page might seem a useful gimmick, but so could glossy brochures or publicised summer sales. Although more and more buying decisions are made through online research, it’s dubious to believe that they will supplant high street stores or e-commerce sites. Informative sales literature and user-friendly websites are far more valuable than an arsenal of status updates and ‘likes’, particularly since posts are time-stamped and consequently date quickly. Who really cares what Firm X Tweeted back in January in response to a minor event that’s already been forgotten?
It’s ironic that many people arrive at corporate Facebook pages from Bing or Google searches, underlining the value of search engines (and effective SEO) rather than the final landing destination. In terms of its own social media activities, Google+ has been a resounding flop for the company, while corporate YouTube accounts lurk in the long shadows of user-generated content and entertainment clips. Even the hugely successful LinkedIn remains a communication tool rather than a sales platform. As for company Facebook pages, the timeline layout and lack of checkout functionality means many posts are designed to direct people onto corporate websites – guiding them away from Facebook itself.
Social media is also proof of that once parents adopt it, kids abandon it. Teenagers are gravitating towards Ask and WhatsApp, leaving the established titans of social media looking a bit passé. It’s unlikely that Facebook will suffer the slow lingering death experienced by Yahoo Geocities or MySpace, but its popularity appears to have plateaued, particularly among its key younger demographic. Almost half of Twitter accounts have never sent a Tweet since many people use it to passively follow public figures rather than actively interact with anyone. Twitter’s champions are rarely corporate, and its appeal to businesses is largely limited to complaints and PR – hardly the bedrock of an indispensable service.
In conclusion…
Although it’s clearly not essential for modern businesses to have a social media presence to survive, the benefits are still significant. Some industries have more to gain from a high social profile than others – clearly a digital marketing firm needs a Facebook page more than a dental surgery. It’s also vital to persist with regular updates because the very nature of social media means each piece of content dates very quickly. With these caveats (and with the understanding that a company’s fortunes won’t be revolutionised by Tweets and Facebook status updates), a well-run social media presence can be recommended for most firms.