Last Thursday, I spent the evening presenting on social media in the finance sector to a room of delegates at Grant Thornton. When I present I prefer to use real life case studies of work that I have completed myself with my teams. However, when I came to the Q&A section I was asked a question which I found quite difficult to answer. They said: “I can see all of the benefits of running integrated campaigns in social media but what are the downsides to using social media?”

I really struggled with this (granted I was stood up in front of about 60 delegates so I was on the spot a bit) so I thought for a while. And all I could think of was the amount of time it takes to manage a number of well-populated social channels. I also cited an example of one of my clients that had asked me about an online thought leadership programme and as it had been so successful did it mean his consultants were now at more of a risk of being stolen by his competitors. I told him that if his team were now seen as experts that can only be a good thing. This is what you want to be aiming for a team that is respected within their industry.

So although I love social media, I thought it would be interesting to detail the downsides to it – to help provide some necessary balance to my blog. I would like to give a hat tip to Christian for helping me pull this list together.

1. Time consuming – The reason that many small organisations do not use social media is that it can be rather time consuming. To be used effectively requires it can require a minimum of 6-8 hours a week. If an organisation isn’t blogging or tweeting frequently, leaving large gaps between posts (coughs) then a consumer may look and wonder if they will be treated as well as your client’s social media is. After all, one of the reasons it is used is to help develop customer relations.

2. Risk of negative comments – Using social media means that people are able to direct messages towards an organisation that other consumers can see and often they cannot be ignored. The key here is how quickly an organisation will respond. All organisations will receive negative reviews but if they do not respond to them then it can be seen as poor service and it could be difficult for them to recover.

3. Fraud – It is often important to monitor social media even if you are not using it yourself. It is all too easy for someone to pretend to be anyone especially on twitter with cyber squatters all over the place (just ask Ryan Giggs). If you do not have a social media presence, someone could pretend to act as your business which could cause great damage to the reputation of your brand.

4. News travels quickly – Many moons ago if an important story broke often it would not get any detailed coverage until the day after, giving a company the time to develop a plan without any unnecessary public attention. Now, with (Sky News and BBC 24) 24 hour news coverage and the speed of social media any big story can be around the world in a matter of seconds and trending. This means that organisations have to react quickly with a spotlight focussed at them and people analysing everything. Like point two, it is important that an organisation reacts quickly before letting it get out of control.

5. Takes on persona of author – The organisation turns into whatever the writer/social media manager wants them to. This can mean that an organisation’s reputation is placed in the hands of one person (often far too junior in my opinion) and this can be damaged very quickly if not dealt with properly. It is important to get the right person or team to manage your social media.

6. A lack of short term ROI (don’t groan) – It can often take up to a year before a social media programme can start to show any improvement in sales or customer service. It is not an immediate quick fix and it should be used with more a long term view in place. I would recommend planning as much as possible. If your content is great and helps people you will find that the business comes too.

7. Slightly Impersonal – Social media will never be able to beat dealing with consumers face-to-face, yet many organisations still come make it seem like they don’t really care about their followers by using things such as auto DMs on Twitter. When an organisation auto DMs a new follower it makes it seem like they don’t not have time to have a quick look at the followers profile for a few seconds. It is far better to say nothing than to send an automated, uncaring message to a potential customer.

Another problem is that while customers are able to communicate with someone, they can’t put a name to a face, whereas in stores or over the phone you get a name and they then become a point of contact. It is very difficult to develop such a relationship with someone who is for the most part anonymous.

Now don’t get me wrong I love social media but it isn’t the magic gem that will change a bad company into a good company – it needs strategic thought behind it to work as effectively as you want it too.

Have I missed one? If you have one feel free to add a comment and let me know.


About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.