The Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media

Illustration by Maria Fonseca for Intelligenthq

Social media is a concept that most organisations are realising they have to embrace. Social media is here to stay and with it come many different challenges and opportunities. In 2010, Andreas M. Kaplan and Michael Haenlein published an academic article in the journal Business Horizons reviewing these opportunities and challenges. As outlined by Kaplan and Haenlein social media appears to have caused confusion among some about what is included under the social media umbrella. They claim that social media is:

 “A group of internet-based applications that builds on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content”.

In their eyes this included Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook and Second Life, but since the article was written of course many others have developed or taken off. Twitter and Google+ are primary examples, and Pinterest and Instagram are other key websites that fit into this category of websites. According to Kaplan and Haenlein different kinds of uses of social media are collaborative projects such as Wikipedia, blogs that allow people to be able to cover a multitude of different subject matters, content communities that cover websites such as YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and then virtual game worlds and virtual social worlds. Kaplan and Haenlein specify that all of these offer important opportunities and challenges for social media. But what can we learn from all of this? Well, Kaplan and Haenlein offer advice that can point businesses in the right direction.

The Opportunities of Social Media

The first critical point that is made is that there are a seemingly endless array of social media websites and since it is hard for organisations to be present on all of them, they need to choose their active sites very carefully. This depends on understanding the target market and on which websites and platforms this market is present. In some cases it may be best to create your own social network, and the example is provided of Japan’s Fujifilm which did so in order to grow a community of photography lovers, clearly highly appropriate to its own business. Once websites of operation are chosen, the authors explain that activity must be aligned carefully across these different sites. Giving out different messages on different sites is confusing and will alienate the end customer. This is argued to require media plan integration for maximum possible uplift of sales.

Another important point that Kaplan and Haenlein make is that companies need to provide access to social media applications. It is explained that many organisations block such applications out of the fear that people will spend time on them rather than doing their work. Rather than doing this it is advocated that there should be a set social media team within organisations that handle the social media approach, with other staff members being able to take part as “occasional participants”. This allows everyone to take part but ensures that people still get on with their core responsibilities in the organisation too.

Image by The steel method

Being active, humble, interesting and honest are also advocated by Kaplan and Haenlein. Being active is a point that will ring true for most business owners that know that posting insufficiently will not gain customers, while posting too much is a big turnoff. Being interesting of course is critical. This is common sense. If you are not interesting then no one will click on your posts, and those posts will be a waste of time. Being humble is better than being arrogant. No one likes a know it all and the business online brand needs to not project arrogance. Being honest also makes sense. If you lie about something on social media it is out there and will be noticed. This will lose the business credibility.

Perhaps most interesting of all Kaplan and Haenlein argue that you have to “be unprofessional” in social media interactions. This means being down to earth and writing for social media users, who in the end are real people that appreciate a straightforward approach. Ultimately, the point is made that businesses that do not engage in social media are no longer considered part of cyber space. This means that social media is relevant to your business regardless of its size or stature. Learning well and embracing it wisely can reap significant rewards, but this does mean engaging and taking part. Those that do not do so at their peril.