Is Social Media always good?

Written by Kajsa Påhlman

A paper on the current communication state and possible difficulties for an organization that wants to use Social Media.


In today’s society everything moves fast, both people and communication, and communication between people is going faster than ever. Just a few years back we phoned places and now individuals. We do not need to sit at home anymore in front of our computers in order to stay connected because we carry them around in our pockets. It is easy to stay updated on all the latest news as an individual that use social media. But if you are not in social media, you are in risk of missing out on the latest, even if it might have some good effect on your wellbeing according to Henderson (2012). But how does this work for organizations? Is an organization all lost if it does not engage in social media? Is social media necessary for every organization?

Purpose & research question

The purpose of this paper is to highlight the current communication state and possible difficulties that an organization may come across in the social media-jungle. Many positive things can be said about social media and the author wants organizations to think before they act. The research question is; Is social media always good?

Blogs can be a blessing and a curse
- Peter M Smudde


Old media meets the new kid that changes the rules.

From a historical perspective, all media has at some point been new. Since the 1990s and the rise of Internet, we today have social media as the latest addition. Hanna, Rohm and Crittenden (2011) mentions that there are three types of media: owned, paid and earned. Owned media is controlled by the organization, like their website, paid media is bought space like advertising and earned media is word of mouth and cannot be controlled by the organization. The part of earned media has over the years grown due to social media. (Hanna et al, 2011)

Using “old” media like advertising, TV or radio assumed that the marketer had control over the message and the communication worked one-way.  While the “new” media is, according to Winer (2009), characterized by interactivity and digital, it is almost impossible for an organization to fully control what customers are saying about your organization when they are sharing their experiences with others. The brand manager can no longer be the guardian of a brand due to the shift in power. Grunig (2011) takes it one step further and says that the idea of an organization controlling a message today is just an illusion, even if we use the traditional channels. People have always shared their experience with others and due to Web 2.0 they can now reach many more and as consumers, they trust other consumer’s reviews more than your organizations advertisement. (Christodoulides, 2008)

A shift in power within communication

There has been a decentralization of the communication structure and a participant culture. The emergence of user-generated content has made it much more difficult to distingue whom is sender and whom is receiver of communication. People nowadays go through social media and get the information they are interested in instead of getting everything served, and they have the freedom to making sense of the content and create a story of their own. In other words, social media offers many more opportunities than the “old” media since it is considered to be more democratic and transparent. Consumers today are no longer passive receivers. They are active co-creators that want to be a part of an organizations external communication process. (Falkheimer & Heide, 2011) This description is similar to what Kietzmann et al (2011) call the new communication landscape and points extra at the fact that communication now happens whether the organization wants it or not.

But how good is social media for your organization? Armelini & Villanueva (2011) compared word of mouth with advertising in categories of reach, interactivity, control, cost, brand etc, and found that word of mouth through social media is good but obey to different rules from advertising. They highlight that it is tempting to think that social media is a low-cost alternative to traditional advertising, but can you measure the Return of Investment, ROI, on social media marketing? Hoffman & Fodor (2010) describe a world, similar to what Winer (2010), Grunig (2011), Falkheimer & Heide (2011) and Kietzmann et al (2011) is describing, where consumers are in control of their online experience and create and consume content where much of it is user-generated. Hoffman & Fodor (2010) argues that managers often are not convinced about the value that social media can generate, they want to see that their investments pays of and want to see numbers to support it. A problem that marketers often meet is that it is to short termed, managers wants to see numbers quick and it takes time to build an online relationship with customers. (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010)

A little warning to keep in mind.

Smudde (2005) talks about ethics and blogging in relation to PR. He states that a blog can be a blessing and a curse depending on what is mentioned about your organization. The real challenge is trying to manage these outcomes and have a good dialogue once you have started it. The credibility of the blog depends on trust, openness, consistency etc, and such ethical behavior should ease any negative attitudes towards a blog. I believe that these criteria work for more social media channels than blogs. Kent (2008) also discusses blogs as a communication tool that promotes dialogue, but with a more critical view. He argues that today when organizations and individuals are able to participate in the production of content, the traditional media desirable functions (reach and credibility) get lost due to social media that access the public easier and faster. This, even if social media often lack credibility and the people handle social media at organizations lack training in effective communication.


There is no doubt that the rise of social media has provided both consumers and organizations with a lot of new ways to communicate. The decentralization of power that now is with everyone that is active on different social media is definitely something organizations have to be aware of. But do this goes for every organization? During my bachelor in strategic communication I was involved in a project through my university where companies could get free help from students in different projects. I was often involved when their communication was in focus, and the biggest lesson that I gain from these project is that social media is not for everybody.

On project was for a small company that was designing different types of glass. They came to us asking for help because they wanted to reach more potential clients. Our team started with upgrading their website and newsletters and linked it all to a newly started Facebook page. To us it was perfect, all they had to do was keep it alive. But it completely failed when they realized that they had to spend time in order to keep it alive and so it faded out. That was partly our fault since we did not see the whole picture and relied too much on that the organization would do their part.

Another type of project that I was involved in was with a very big organization. They provide different types of services and have a big telephone support department where customers can get help almost any time of the day. They were very quick to enter different social media platforms, but they were not ready for the wave of customer related questions that reached them through these channels. The people that were responsible for social media could not handle all those technical questions that hit them and they had no chance against the negative comments that followed. Even if I am not involved anymore I still check in on them sometimes and they are doing better and some people in the customer support have now left the telephones and entered social media.


Over the years organizations have tried to find alternative ways to communicate and advertise their goods to consumers. Today it feels like advertising just is not enough. Social media has provided a cheap, often more transparent and fast-moving way to reach many people in a way that advertising is not near to compete with. But returning to our question: is social media for every organization?

I argue that social media can be a good compliment to traditional media, and that it can work as a replacement in some cases, but that you first have to evaluate: what does our organization want to gain out of using social media? It feels like many organizations today just start a Facebook page or a blog without any strategy, and what is the point of having all these social media channels open, if you do not know how to use them? This I believe would be like having an open wound. If you open up for a dialogue, you have to be prepared to handle it. Organizations today cannot ignore the decentralization of communication and the lack of control when sending a message. It is important to remember that everything communicates something and is interpreted, even if your organization does not have the intention to communicate.

Returning to the two empirical examples, where there is an important thing to note. These two organizations have very different position in their different markets. The first one is a very small organization that basically does not have the time to spend on social media that it needs. Looking back, I should have seen that it was doomed to fail. The other organizations, one of the biggest in Sweden, consider themselves being in front when it comes to services and innovation. To them not being on social media was not an option. After having some problem, they found a way that today works very well for them.


I definitely believe that social media can be for every organization, but not as a replacement for the traditional media, more as a tool in an overall strategy. There has been a decentralization of communication and due to social media the users have more power to speak their mind. With this paper I want to make people and organizations aware that it is important to not enter the world of social media without a clear strategy. In a near future organizations will have to find new and more efficient ways to use social media that generates stronger legitimacy for social media, both as a tool and for the people working within the field. But if the real power lies with the consumers, is it not them that should lead the development? If so be it, future social media-users, continue to be critical on the things you meet online. Read different sources and always try to see things from different perspectives. 





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Kietzmann, J.H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I.P & Silvestreet, B.S (2011), “ Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media”, Business Horizons, 54, 241—251.  
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Kent, M.L. (2008) ”Critical analysis of blogging in public relations” Public Relations Review. Volume 34, Issue 1, March 2008, Pages 32–40
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Winer, R.S. (2009), “New communications approaches in marketing: issues and research directions”, Journal of Interactive Marketing 23, 108-117.