Don't forget, social media isn't as free as you think

Setting up a social media account is quick, easy and, best of all, it’s free – right? Well unfortunately it’s not as free as you think. Yes, you don’t have to pay for the service, but don’t forget how companies such as Facebook or Twitter make their money. The answer is simple: Information and adverts.

When you set up your profile on a social media such as Facebook, for example, they will usually ask you the general questions such as “Where do you work?” and “Where do you live?”. You don’t have to answer these questions, but lots of users tend to fill it out so that their profile seems more “complete”. Facebook then collects your answers, as well as pages you’ve liked and certain words you use in your statuses, and sells that information to advertisers. It sounds a lot worse than it is, but using this information Facebook can then tailor the adverts you see on your newsfeed to something you’d find interesting, meaning that you’re more likely to click on the ad, buy the product or use the service. They even go as far as to show more ads to the people that are more likely to click on them or buy more things.

If you’re really against their data sharing don’t forget you can ‘turn off’ sharing and what info Facebook can use by going through your privacy and advert settings. Please note that this means you will still see ads, but they won’t be relevant to you, as they now have no information to use to tailor these ads.

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Google is another site that uses the same strategy. Google collects data every time you use the search engine, browse on Google Maps, watch a YouTube video, send a Gmail and more. Not only that, but Google’s tracking software is on over 10 million websites, meaning that there’s no getting away from your data being collected by the site. Like Facebook, this information is then tailored to the ads you see. You can turn this off by turning off cookies on your browser.

Sometimes when using a site you may see an advert for a product you were looking at at the beginning of the week. This is due to the implemented tracking software on the website that you were looking at that product on. This is called Remarketing, which allows brands and websites to advertise their products to you more than once, especially if you’ve shown a certain interest in said product or service.

Why is social media free to use?

When social media channels first started off, the idea was that each user would pay around $12 to open and use an account. But people would rather have a free service than pay, and so the idea was that although it’s free to use, the channels would collect information to then advertise to each user based on certain demographics, interests and more. The idea worked, though, as statistically 1 in 6 people on Earth has a Facebook account, and 20% of all time online is spent on the site.

What does this mean for business?

When using social media for business, you can make a great first impression and build upon your audience through the internet, which can bring in more business. Unlike with a personal social media account, the data tracking on the sites can actually help a business. You can give these sites the information regarding your company, and they can be really helpful in finding customers that want your product or companies that do similar things to yours. Perhaps the ads that appear can be for a product or service that can help your company grow.

Unfortunately, maintaining your online presence can mean spending some money on different services. Management software such as HootSuite can be great to use to manage your social media, but the best features come at a cost. If you want to promote your products through ads on social media, campaigns usually cost per day or week depending on the site. Your time is also a factor, with thinking of the content, scheduling your posts and making the assets. When using social media for business you have a lot to take into consideration. But remember, you’re given the first step into the digital world for “free”.