Social Network Marketing Definition

Advantages, Disadvantages & How Your Business Can Use Social Media Marketing

Computer keyboard with a button labeled Social Media

hocus-focus / Getty Images

Social network marketing is a way for businesses to interact with their target markets over the Internet via various social media platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram (to name just a few).

How is Social Media Marketing Used?

Social media marketing is used for all the traditional marketing goals - to reach customers and:

  • Increase referrals or sales leads
  • Build word-of-mouth
  • Increase sales of products or services
  • Provide a means of feedback
  • Develop a reputation as an expert or thought-leader
  • Drive traffic to a business website or blog
  • Develop new products or services
  • Keep people informed about special events and anything else newsworthy about the business
  • Provide customer service

What Are the Most Popular Social Media Platforms?

The most popular social networking sites for business are:

  1. Facebook (networking - over 2 billion users)
  2. YouTube (the largest video networking site - over a billion active users each month)
  3. Instagram (image sharing - over 800 million monthly users)
  4. Twitter (message broadcasting - over 330 million active users)
  5. Whatsapp (messaging, audio and video communications - over a billion users)
  6. LinkedIn (the largest network of business professionals - over 450 million members)
  7. Pinterest (image collection/sharing - over 150 million monthly active users)
  8. Tumblr (blogging/photo sharing)
  9. Quora (information and knowledge exchange) 

Not All Social Media Platforms May Be Suitable for Your Business

That doesn't mean that your small business should start trying to use all of them to promote your products and/or services. Even if your business had the money to hire a marketing firm or develop an in-house social media team to do that, it wouldn't be a good idea because different customer segments frequent different social media. Just as with any other type of marketing, small businesses need to focus their social network marketing efforts and their dollars on reaching their potential customers. There's no point in spending time and money on promoting your business on a social network that your customers don't use.

The Advantages of Social Network Marketing

  • Cost - Compared to other forms of marketing social media is very inexpensive. It is free to create accounts on all of the above platforms and free to make postings to followers, who will hopefully share the message with other members of the social media community and spread the word. There are also various paid advertising options to reach larger audiences within the social media community. Facebook offers comprehensive options for ad targeting, for example, such as the ability to target members that reside within a specific geographic radius.
  • Engaging the audience - Social networks allow the business to engage the target audience and develop interactive relationships with customers.

The Disadvantages of Social Network Marketing

  • Time - The main problem with social network marketing from a business perspective is that it can be incredibly time-consuming. Social media marketing campaigns are not one-shot affairs; they need to be nurtured over time. While big businesses such as Dell, Microsoft, and HP have been using this type of marketing effectively, they have the kinds of marketing budgets that allow them to assign x number of staff to conduct and manage social media marketing campaigns, resources that a lot of small businesses don't have.
  • Direct advertising on social media doesn't work - Businesses using social networks want to sell their products or services of course. But as blatant advertising on social media would, in most cases, alienate their intended audience or even get them kicked out of the particular social community they're trying to infiltrate, businesses need to use more subtle forms of promotion on social media. To use social network marketing effectively, businesses have to be perceived as members of the social media community, willing to interact with other members.
  • Risks - Given the community nature of social media, businesses must be aware of the risks. A negative posting by a customer, ex-employee, or competitor (whether true or false) can seriously damage the reputation of a business. If a hacker manages to take control of a social network account the results can be catastrophic. Even a harmless posting can turn into a public relations disaster. For example, in 2012 McDonalds tried to engage with the social media community by posting a tweet under the hashtag "#McDStories" - customers responded by posting horror stories such as finding fingernails in burgers or being hospitalized for food poisoning after eating at McDonald's.

Still, social media marketing is a type of marketing that many small businesses could benefit from if only to find out more about what their customers are thinking - and saying - about their brand and their products.

At the end of the day, the main goals of social media marketing are to build a business's customer base and to develop and manage a company's reputation.