Only a few years ago, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube were mere dreams of forward-looking visionaries. Now, computer users worldwide spend hours every day communicating via these social media platforms. And the conversation is not all about weekend fun and dinner menus. One study found that two-thirds of adult internet users were influenced by blogs and other social media outlets when making purchasing decisions. Whether your company’s target demographic includes retirees planning their next vacation or kids hanging out at the local coffee shop, the lure of online community and its potential as a marketing venue should not be overlooked. Here are pros and cons to consider.

On the plus side, social media marketing is relatively inexpensive. Compared to more traditional forms of advertising, such as billboards, television, radio, and magazines, placing your products in the public eye via social media can be done rather cheaply. You set up an account, upload a video, and voila! Your campaign is on its way. Social media sites let you reach a huge audience, both domestic and international. According to one survey, 89% of internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 participate in social media activities. That’s a big market. Professionals use social media sites, too, to network with colleagues.

On the other hand, maintaining a social media presence can be time-consuming. Keeping content fresh, updating product information, and responding to customer feedback require significant resources, and the benefits are hard to measure. As a result, months may pass before marketing efforts produce a demonstrable return on investment. In addition, when you post a video or share a new product line, negative comments may follow. Some customers aren’t reluctant to criticize products and services that annoy them, whether or not the criticisms are justified. Erroneous and deceptive information can be shared at the click of a button, and negative feedback, if left unchecked, has the potential to damage your brand and reputation for years.

Connecting with others is the time-tested way to create a successful business, and social media is one more channel available to you. Just be aware of the benefits and risks before you begin leveraging the potential of this latest form of marketing.