The problem with Twitter and Facebook for business

By | January 11, 2012

If your business doesn’t already have active Facebook and Twitter accounts, you’re hopelessly behind the times. A few years ago the internet brimmed with articles suggesting that businesses big and small use these social platforms to create a more personal relationship with their customers. Most have heeded, and they’re currently running promotions and other interactive events through these social media accounts. Many businesses have even realized great upside from this tactic. But despite the success stories, there are still issues with businesses relying on these social media platforms.

It’s not your property

Companies might enjoy the level of interaction they get on their Facebook accounts. They might run promotions that get people interested, and they might help solve problems that would be more difficult to address through other media. That’s seen as a plus, and rightly so. If companies can use these media to get people to spend more money with them, it’s a win. Or, at least, a temporary win.

The problem is that these customers are interacting on someone else’s property. They might be your customers, but they’re also Facebook’s customers — and you’re doing business on Facebook’s property. That is, businesses aren’t dealing customers who are primarily theirs. They’re dealing with customers who are primarily Facebook’s.

The same goes for Twitter, and it extends even further there. Interaction on Twitter can happen on Twitter’s website, but it can also happen through a third-party client. That is, customers are not just your customers, but they’re customers of both Twitter and of the client before you. So while businesses stand to gain from these platforms, they’re still doing business on someone else’s property.

A necessary evil?

What complicates the problem with doing business on Facebook and Twitter is that there’s no real alternative. Nowhere else can businesses bring together such large audiences. Even if they maintain their own regularly updated blogs, and even if they answer comments on that post, they have no chance of assembling the kind of audience that Facebook and Twitter can deliver.

In that way, Twitter and Facebook become necessary evils when conducting businesses. Any business owner would far rather conduct business on her own property. The advantages are pretty self-evident. Your property, your terms. On Facebook and Twitter you’re playing by someone else’s rules. And worse, you don’t have one iota of influence over those rules. It’s not as though Twitter and Facebook create policies in conjunctions with the businesses that use them. They create policies that maximize the value of their own services.

Age of the middle man

Today it seems as though everything goes through a middle man. The internet enables this. There is a certain level of value in connecting buyers and sellers. But in most cases, the middleman does the connecting and then is done with it. (The big exception being web hosting, because, well, not everyone can afford their own data centers.) With Facebook and Twitter, the middle man is not only there, but the business is conducted on the middle man’s property.

Businesses would obviously prefer to move the transactions. Indeed, many times they’ll try to get people off Facebook and Twitter websites and onto their own. But that’s not easy. People are familiar with Facebook and Twitter, and people always prefer familiar grounds. They might not want to click away. While businesses can still benefit from interactions on Facebook and Twitter, they’re certainly not getting the full effect.

As of now, there’s little, or nothing, anyone can do to change this. Facebook and Twitter have the mass of users, so they hold the cards. Businesses see an opportunity there, and they’re cashing in to the extent that they can. But there’s always risk in that game, playing by someone else’s rules on someone else’s turf. But until we find a way to move those masses from other services to our own, they’re a necessary evil that we’ll have to deal with.

About the Guest Post Author: Joe Pawlikowski is the editor of Prepaid Reviews, a site that provides news, commentary, and reviews of prepaid wireless services.