The evolution of technology over the years and demand to reach an ever-growing customer base has necessitated the growth of social media as a business marketing tool. Nowadays, both big and small businesses cannot afford to ignore the impact of social media on their operations, more so in advertising and marketing. So why should businesses not ignore social media on this?

More often than not, if you mention something or a person to someone, the first thing they will do is look it or them up online. The skeptical person will say “if you can’t find it on the Internet, then it doesn’t exist”. Trust is the word. So even if an entity cannot afford to put up a website, then it can maintain a digital presence on the Internet through social media which is accessible, simple and free. The option of multiple credible contacts, other than the conventional ones, also builds up customer confidence. A number of surveys have found that people trust brands more when the company has conversations with people on social media. A digital presence, therefore, firms up the ‘bricks and mortar’ aspect of the existence and reliability of a business.

Social media offers easy two-way communication between the business and the customer. Feedback on any communication is received instantly at no cost. This communication fosters direct engagement between the two, allowing the customer to feel valued and also trust the brand. Engagement also opens an avenue for handling customer complaints and queries effectively especially in times of emergencies or when one cannot afford to access your office. A business is able to gain more insights into what the customer or audience is attracted to by reviewing their feedback. Many businesses, however, tend to under-appreciate this aspect and ‘let’ their social media accounts to just be for creating and posting content. People want to know they are not communicating with automated machines but people. As such a business’ social media page must reflect some ‘life’ in it. Effective direct engagement, in terms of knowledgeable and timely responses, also gives the business higher probabilities of positive customer reviews and brand image.

Social media enables a business to lower the cost of transaction for a customer through the elimination of opportunistic middlemen and other ‘hidden’ costs such as transport costs. A business can also counter instances of potential fraud through alerts sent to customers at a minimal cost. Government agencies, such as the Immigration department, have successfully employed use of social media for people to follow up on their applications and make enquiries. Kenya Power and Lighting Company, KCB Bank and Safaricom Limited are examples of large corporate entities that have also put social media to the same use. The use of direct messaging (DM) across social media networks enables customers to lodge their queries and complaints privately away from the glare of the rest of the world.

In a world where the cost of doing business keeps rising, social media makes advertising and marketing cheaper. Your business can reach several hundred people for a fraction of the cost through social media as opposed to conventional methods like television, newspapers or billboards. Moreover, the results from digital marketing are measurable, and the management is able to respond effectively and efficiently to emerging trends among other issues posts using various analytical software and interactions.

The creation of hype around a business’ product on social media is also likely to lead to higher-than-expected sales following the products release. However, a comprehensive social media marketing model must be aligned to the company’s social media marketing strategy to enable the goals of the business. Social media networks can help a business increase their revenue stream. Vibrant social media accounts with significant online following are likely to attract other entities that will take the opportunity to advertise on their accounts. In a world where the margin between profit and loss is small, this aspect is crucial and may prove to be a significant asset to companies. It is worth noting both entities will need to assess the nature and content of the other before such decisions are made.

Despite the numerous advantages of social media marketing, it still drives us away from an aspect many complain has been lost since the advent of the digital age: the element of physical contact. This can possibly create detachment of customers from the product and business. Moreover, in a world where customers demand nothing but the best, small mistakes can be punished severely online. Tens, if not hundreds, of people may gang up and punish the company for a mistake made, big or small. To that effect, businesses must be extra careful in their online communication because, as the saying goes “the Internet never forgets”.

Regardless of the cons of social media marketing, the digital space is one businesses should not ignore. It is the next frontier yet to be fully exploited as customers seek the most efficient and interactive means of getting information about various products on offer. Any business that will resist moving with the times will likely be phased out like household names like Nokia, MySpace, BlackBerry and Yahoo.