As we have witnessed in Zimbabwe, social media (SM) has the power to make government shudder in fear and panic, leading to the internet shutdown. Over the years SM has gained a fairly bad reputation, accused with fostering a generation of the vain. The endless selfies, highlights of people’s lives displayed in an endless reel, the need to be validated by likes, comments, retweets…you name it.

We have gone as far as blaming SM (especially Facebook and Instagram) for depression and general dissatisfaction with life. Parents frown when they see their children with eyes glued to their smartphones, a sigh of bad behaviour in their eyes. We see teenagers, young adults, and sometimes older adults constantly taking snapshots of their lives when the moment is worth showing off. A few moments later we upload these pictures for the whole world to share in our beautiful moments. It almost feels like a frivolous thing, social media.

Businesses of course know there’s nothing frivolous about SM. They know there is money to be made on SM or rather, it’s tool that could help double your revenue. Brands pay for a chance to catch our attention on SM, and the social media giants make billions from our usage of the sites. Businesses and personalities have seen and perhaps understood the power of social media, on the “for profit” level. But SM goes beyond bringing the green backs into savvy individuals and organisations pockets, SM can help you listen.

Why you should listen using SM

Social media is where we post their aspirations, their desires and wants. It’s often displayed through our pictures, our captions, our shares and retweets, our likes and our comments. It’s possible to learn what people want from social media, and anticipate oncoming trends. SM can help you pin point a problem that you could solve, a gap in the market. It’s possible to inspire a need for a product in people all from listening to the messages they continuously broadcast.

It’s often said that no ideas are original, and looking through social media sites will aptly reflect this. Having access to people’s ideas can help you look at yours with fresh eyes, and add a fresh perspective. It will show you what your competition is doing right, or doing wrong. Paying attention to social media will help you improve your business and align your services/products with customers’ needs.

Social Media provides the crucial middle ground

Remember the Chicken Inn couple? It started as someone’s joke on Twitter. They probably saw the image via WhatsApp, and in a bid to ridicule the couple, displayed it for all to see. Suddenly this couple was trending across all platforms. Smart marketers saw an opportunity for their brands, and eventually Chicken Inn caught on. It was a gold mine, and mine it they did. This is a perfect example of when brands listen, and act.

Organisations can rely on SM to provide information. Not all customers will directly communicate with businesses, whether to give negative or positive feedback. Potential customers can be found through paying attention to what consumers say on SM, that may be related to your products or services. The true art of using SM to listen lies in collecting data about your target market that they freely provide on these platforms.

The Dark Side of SM

Like all powerful tools, social media has its pitfalls, most prominently fake news. Believing everything you find touted as factual on social media is dangerous. Check the source of information, and triple check. Prophesies of doom and disaster are abounding on SM and can affect the decisions you make as a business owner or entrepreneur. Bitcoin, for example, has been a called a bubble that’s about to burst. Rushing to follow the advice of every “expert” who churns out content warning you off bitcoin could prove to be disastrous. There are no gatekeepers for content on social media, which means anyone can pass herself/himself as an expert. It’s always wise to research information found on SM sites.

Most importantly information found on social media should never replace market research, unless SM was the data collection tool. SM can be used to conduct market research, but has to be done meticulously. SM platforms can give you the illusion of potential lucrative market, and if you’re not careful, you may suffer heavy losses from launching a product or service that has no real market.

End note

Social media has changed the face of communication and advertising. It has impacted businesses, nations and individual lives. It is a powerful tool that can be fully exploited and maximized for your business and personal brand, but has a dark side that we always need to be careful of.