Social media is a behemoth of the modern age. There are almost 3.4 billion active social media users worldwide, and those numbers are growing. With the increasing presence of Facebook and Twitter, many businesses have made those social media outlets a key part of their marketing strategy, with great success. Almost 90% of marketers say their social marketing efforts have increased exposure for their business, and 75% say they’ve increased traffic. That may work for McDonald’s, but is it worth it for businesses in the healthcare and medical technology field to invest time and money in social media? We’ve compiled a list of pros and cons to help you decide, along with a few helpful “Pro-Tips” to help you avoid the pitfalls.
Pro 1: Everyone Uses Social Media
If you’re looking to reach a wide audience, there are few places with a bigger audience than social media. Ever-expanding bandwidths and increased use and capability of mobile devices have caused social media to permeate almost every aspect of modern life. With Baby-Boomers retiring, millennials are taking over the workforce, and many of them have been using social media most of their lives. Many businesses have capitalized on this trend and use social media to get their services and products out there. 91% of retail brands use 2 or more social media channels.
When your audience is literally everyone, you have the chance to make some unexpectedly valuable connections. You will connect with potential customers of course, but you can also make meaningful connections with other business, future employees or partners, and business professionals that can help make your company even stronger.
Con 1: Everyone Uses Social Media
According to the latest social media statistics, 81% of the U.S. Population has a social media account. That amounts to about 264 million people. In a crowd that size, it becomes harder to reach your target audience. Some people really just want to watch cat videos and make-up tutorials. Marketing yourself to your desired audience will take time and dedication. Using memes and videos will get you a lot of likes, but may not drive traffic to your site and will probably not lead to increased sales. But paying close attention to your keywords and SEO can help drive the right people to your page. Nobody goes viral as soon as they create their page, but the audience is there if you can get their attention.
Reaching your targets is not the only problem when posting online. One law of the internet is wherever there is a comments section, there are internet trolls. This can be particularly problematic if you post blogs, opinion pieces, scientific articles, or anything that gives the audience a chance to disagree with you, which trolls will love to do, aggressively.
Pro-Tip: Choose Your Social Media Outlets Wisely
There are a lot of social media outlets. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Google +, Youtube, Pinterest, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Flickr, and Reddit are just some of the most popular. But you don’t have to have a presence on all of them. You certainly can, but your target audience probably doesn’t. The average U.S. citizen has about 8 social media accounts, but they may only stay active on 2 or 3. Do some research to find out what your customers and colleagues use most often and pick between 2 and 5 outlets to post regularly to. Otherwise, you’re going to end up spending all your time making posts that nobody will ever see.
You should also remember to be flexible with your choice. As times change, some sites will become more or less popular. You may also find that you get more interaction with one of your pages than others. Respond to that. For example, when I began marketing on social media, I chose to focus on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. I found that I got the most interaction on Facebook, and the highest quality interactions on Linkedin. I eventually found little value in the company Twitter page, so I abandoned it and started looking for a better option. I found one when I discovered the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network, which was highly targeted to my desired audience. Stay adaptable in the digital world, otherwise, you’ll end up making regular posts to MySpace.
Pro 2: Drive Traffic to Your Website
The reason to market on social media in the first place should be to bring people to your business. In many cases that means bringing them to your website so they can view and order products and services, or at least learn more about them. If that is your goal, display your website prominently and often on your social media pages. Simply having those links to your page will improve your website’s ranking on search engines and could lead to increased sales. The more people click those links, the more successful that strategy is. The best way to get people clicking is to use social media to promote content directly from your website, whether that means blogs, scientific articles or even just company updates and upcoming project announcements.
Con 2: It Can Be Time Consuming
If you don’t use social media regularly, it will take some time to set up these pages and learn how to use them effectively. Even if you use Facebook every day, you may find it difficult to transition to Instagram or even Twitter. This may result in your page looking a bit bare or even unprofessional in the beginning. But keep it up and you’ll eventually get the hang of it.
Once you have your pages set up, you will need to constantly provide updates and posts to keep user interaction high. Finding content to make regular updates can also be difficult and time-consuming. You should be posting to each of these pages AT LEAST once per week, but many companies choose to post several times per day. For larger companies, this is a full-time job in itself, sometimes even requiring multiple employees.
Pro-Tip: Use Helpful Time-Management Tools
The time-cost of keeping your pages and posts fresh is well known and there are a number of ways to mitigate the cost. My biggest recommendation is to use an online tool like Hootsuite. Hootsuite allows you to manage all your social media pages in one place and provides helpful tools for scheduling posts, tracking and improving return on investment (ROI), and allows you to search your social media for meaningful keywords and hashtags.
One lesson I learned from personal experience is: Always Be Posting. You may choose to schedule posts at regular intervals, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share more spontaneously as well. Did you just read an interesting article, or see a funny meme that pertains to your business? Post it now. It takes seconds to do on your phone or computer and the results are far more posts than you expect. You can also encourage your employees to send you enticing content that they find. This method leads to our next Pro.
Pro 3: It Builds an Authentic Relationship
Making regular meaningful posts will help showcase your brand and company personality. Because of its more personal approach, a business can interact with its audience like a normal person would, which is extremely important when moving people along the sales funnel. There are several tactics that improve this relationship. Reply to your customer’s questions with their names. It is not only a personal touch, but it will give the user a notification that his name or handle has been used. Use real (not stock) photos for your avatar and background. Users react more positively to an online presence that feels like a person than to one that feels like a faceless company. This all results in creating brand loyalty, company identity, and voice. People love it when Wendy’s or Campbell’s reply to customers or razz their competitors as many did to IHOP when they changed their name briefly to IHOB. These types of interactions are more likely to be shared and re-tweeted so it reaches a larger audience.
Con 3: Exposure to Attract Risks
While a personal touch is great for these pages, remember not to get too casual or controversial either. Know your target audience and always keep them in mind. 51% of people said that they would unfollow brands on social media if they posted irritating posts and 27% said they would mark/report the brand and page as spam and block them. You also may run into negative feedback in comments sections that give your company a poorer image.
Image issues aside, there are also standard risks to posting anything important online. Careless employee interactions could lead to privileged information leaks or even leave you open to hacking. Hackers can break into your accounts and access valuable information such as customer’s purchase information or at worst, use your account to gain access to your office computer or even your entire system.
Pro Tip: Establish Social Media Guidelines
To avoid some of the risks of human error, hacking, and generating the fury of internet backlash, it’s a good idea to set up some ground rules. This is especially helpful if you have more than one person contributing to your social networking sites. Formalize your policy objectives and share them with your entire company to ensure that employee interactions on these sites don’t pose a risk to the company.
Pro 4: It’s Cheap!
One of the best reasons to at least set up pages on social networks is that it is usually completely free! All the major sites have monetized and allow you to pay for promoting content or posting ads, but it’s not required. With a limited budget, you can promote your most meaningful content and leave the rest for your subscribers and followers to see. You can hire a professional digital marketing expert or team to manage your online presence, but if you own, or are part of a small company, it’s possible to manage your own social media in just a few hours per week.
Con 4: Competition
According to a survey in AdWeek, more than 88% of companies in the U.S. use social media for marketing. This means that all of your competition will also be out there with their own pages and content. If your competition has a bigger budget than yours, the social media site may even be showing competitor ads to your followers.
Sharing your company’s latest updates and activities is a great way to gain followers, but your competition can also see this information and may be able to glean valuable insight into your company’s strategies or even discover some of your accounts and customers. So resist the temptation to over-share or risk your brilliant ideas being stolen.
Pro-Tip: Have a Professional Manage Your Accounts
Although it may be costly to hire someone to set up and manage all your social media accounts, it may be worth it. This is especially true if you have limited knowledge and experience with social media. The risks of being present online are real and should not be taken lightly. At the very least, have a trustworthy, social media savvy employee set up and manage your account for you. The mistakes made by rookies have the potential to be far more costly than simply getting some help from a professional.
Pro 5: It Provides Marketplace Insights
Who is your audience? How do they interact with you? What are most people looking for when they find you? What are people saying about your business? These questions used to take entire marketing departments and teams of researchers to answer, but with the use of social media and a few online analytical tools you can get the answers to these questions with the press of a button. 66% of the marketers today use social media to gain insight into what the online community is saying about their business, their competitors and what topics are of the most interest to their audience. You can use all this information to either broaden your reach or focus down to your most desired prospective customers.
Con 5: ROI is hard to Measure
As scientists, we all want to see the data. How much does social media marketing really help the company? Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to determine how much interaction on social networks actually affects sales. The industry average for a full social media campaign done by a professional agency ranges from $4000-$7000 a month. But calculating your exact return on investment is almost impossible. Not all types of companies will benefit the same way from a social media presence, and in some cases, it may be better to keep these investments to a minimum.
While there are many pros and cons to marketing on social media, most companies would agree that the pros outweigh the cons. The simple task of setting up accounts on social media sites can have an immediate effect, and it opens up the chance to drive huge numbers of people to your business. Social media is one of the most widely used forms of media today, and that’s not going to change any time soon.