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Social Media: Opportunity or Risk?

Social Media: Opportunity or Risk?

Needless to say every company has its own website these days. But an up-to-date web presence is no longer sufficient: social media have long since had a firm grip on online marketing. And this applies to almost every sector now.

Those wanting to really make an impression on the market will no longer be able to do so in future by just operating a website with current information on the company or the industry. Professional e-marketing is the new buzzword. Here social media like Facebook, Xing, Twitter and the like play an ever more serious role. And what still sounds like a "closed book" to many is becoming more and more important for every sector of industry - including B2B - worldwide. Never before in history has communication and the exchange of content taken place between so many people in such a short space of time. Today people chat about products, services and companies on the Internet. Consumers, shoppers and business partners express their opinions and assessments online sharing them with millions of people within seconds. Consumer product tests are a thing of the past - ranking portals and blogs are today’s channels. This holds true for major industrial companies whose employees are becoming ever younger developing into tomorrow’s decision-makers at breakneck speed. Competent, young employees, digital natives and other "high potentials" move in these social networks. Generation Y has arrived - the name for those born in 1980 and following on from the Generation X. They are the first generation to have grown up with computers, WWW and the digital media world and cannot remember the days without the Internet.

Avoid wasted media spending

Like every other challenge the path towards e-marketing starts with a target definition. This usually reads: customers should buy from me – rather than from my competitors. Other targets might be to "lure" more visitors to one’s company website, to develop the regular customer base or to add new target groups. As a second step a clear concept as well as matching offers for the relevant target groups are worked out so that - regardless of the channel – precisely the news of real interest to the targeted individuals can be communicated. Nothing irritates users today more than superfluous information overkill. With the right concept this is not even that difficult. After all, little wasted media spending saves money.

While companies used to be able to determine their web image themselves almost exclusively by means of targeted online measures it is the social media users who decide on the quality of services and products today. By doing so they exert increasing influence on the image of companies. Social-media marketing campaigns capitalise on this fact: companies are to become part of this discussion thereby taking control of opinion forming themselves again. Targeted online-marketing measures focus not only on opinion forming but also on search-engine optimisation. Those actively feeding the new channels such as communities, blogs, microblogs, Twitter and YouTube boost their exposure.

The fact is the media and marketing landscape is undergoing a major change. While until a few years ago printed materials such as adverts, brochures and flyers as well as direct marketing measures dominated the international advertising world, today many marketing activities are realised via the Internet - and increasingly through social media and social networking portals.

There are many means to this end

How important are social media for my company? How can I cash in on them? How can I exert influence? How do I respond to potential risks? Answers are provided by the numerous agencies specialising in sustainable social-media strategies which are currently mushrooming the world over.

There are many different online measures serving the aim: ranging from search-engine optimisation and search-engine marketing to mobile and e-mail marketing and social-media marketing. Especially the latter is currently gaining in importance fast and holds incredible potential - but also risks, which is why working your way into the initially often confusing structures pays off for almost every company in our day and age. For branded product producers this form of marketing has become indispensable in the B2C segment but even their upstream suppliers will not be able to circumvent this route for much longer. Especially those wanting to address younger target groups in whatever way can no longer avoid social media. This has to become an integral part of the marketing mix and can also serve as an innovation tool. Direct communication with buyers produces valuable knowledge and insights for optimisation and innovative drive.

All of this started with Ebay and Amazon: here shoppers started evaluating their sales partners for the first time. And people trusted other people - just because of their purchasing decision - more than any advert and PR copy. A phenomenon forming the basis for modern online communication.

Big companies - big examples

But we have seen many examples of good and also poor e-marketing. Dell Computer and Starbucks are considered role models with their measures: they are making customers their creative directors allowing them to make improvement suggestions - from products to logistics and packaging. Their employees either work towards the implementation of improvements or explain why some things do not work. Starbucks feeds a number of different social-media channels including Facebook, YouTube, Flicker, Twitter and its own corporate blog. This is how companies directly interact with their customers and can find out about and account for direct concerns, comments and questions.

In contrast to this, WalMart is regarded as a negative example. This company denied its customers open dialogue by restricting the comments function in its blog for fear of negative comments. This resulted in innumerable negative comments and posts.

However, social media allow users to not only communicate but also interact with others. This means professional social-media marketing can help to directly address early adopters and key opinion-formers. This type of marketing can target a product, a service or also a person. Many celebrities or politicians have long discovered social media for developing their image.

Over time social media have become a huge platform for representatives of all industries and a door opener for companies of all sizes in order to boost customer-related communication. Here honesty and authenticity are demanded – and continuous alertness - this is because innumerable companies are featured on Facebook and the like without having ever been active there themselves simply because the Generation Y is "talking" about them in their own way.

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