Social media has changed the way companies do business online because it allows small businesses to establish personal relationships with customers, leverage social pressure to affect purchasing decisions and target advertising with the wealth of information users provide about themselves. While these changes can have positive effects on business brand recognition and sales, social media -- especially if improperly used -- can also have a series of negative consequences for small businesses online.

A Strategic Shift

Although social media provides businesses with a new range of options for communicating with customers, the platforms also change the nature of business communication, favoring personal engagement and visual content over traditional marketing copy. For businesses that are used to more traditional marketing methods, this can require a complete revisiting of their marketing strategy -- a costly and time-consuming process. Traditional one-sided sales habits like depending on product descriptions and sale announcements -- as opposed to conversational appeals based on product culture -- can also limit the success of social media campaigns.

Reduced Control Over Content

One of the defining characteristic of social media platforms is the ability of multiple users to interact with a single piece of content. These interactions, such as reposts, "Likes" and comments, are what shape social media success, but they can also turn against a campaign if the comments are negative or off-topic. Because these additions to your content are not only broadcast to your followers but to the poster's contacts, they can also have an even greater reach than your own material.

Unpredictable Schedules

With user additions to and interactions with content shaping your marketing material, social media campaigns require constant vigilance to stay on message. As opposed to traditional advertising where workflows were determined by predictable publishing or broadcast dates, social media forces your marketing department to respond to often unforeseen changes at any time of day or night. This also means that network users, rather than your own marketing goals, determine the amount and scheduling of marketing work to be done.

Bad Publicity Spreads Too

The same social networks that serve to spread good consumer reviews and your marketing copy can also serve to make information that you don't want to reach your customers to go viral. Including everything from negative reviews and comments about your company to unauthorized or inappropriate posts on your account, these pieces of content can do serious damage to your small business' reputation. The informal, conversational tone of social media makes it more likely that even well-intentioned comments on your account can be misinterpreted, and once they're out with a negative spin, there's no taking them back.