Updated October 2016.
Many businesses are fed up with being told they need to pay more attention to their social media pages.
Other businesses struggle to justify the time investment.
Even more companies are overwhelmed by social media and don't know where to begin.
Let's go back to basics.
When starting out with social media (or evaluating your strategy), you need to choose your platforms.
In an ideal world, you'd maintain a brand presence on every social media channel in existence.
But in reality, you've got a limited budget and even more limited hours to play with.
You have two options.
- Create accounts on numerous channels and spread your efforts thinly.
- Focus on one or two platforms and ignore the others.
If you opt for option one, you'll struggle to share content regularly and maintain high quality feeds. Viewers won't be impressed by lacklustre, abandoned social media feeds - and might even assume your company has folded if you haven't posted in months.
Instead, we recommend the alternative. Be realistic about your resources and concentrate them on a small number of platforms. You'll stand more chance of crafting successful social media campaigns if you're dealing with a manageable number of channels.
Here are some more benefits of this focused approach:
- Content can be tailored to your chosen platform. You don't need to tailor content to half a dozen different platforms.
- Your social media managers only need to learn the ins and outs of a couple of platforms.
- Customers looking for social media customer service know which platforms you're active on, and won't accidentally send a message through a site you barely monitor.
- Reporting on social media campaigns (and their success) to management becomes far easier.
If we've convinced you of the merits of choosing only a couple of business social media platforms, you'll want to start exploring your various options.
In today's article, we talk you through the benefits and drawbacks of each of the most popular social networks to help you decide which is right for your business.
Facebook remains the king of social media, having maintained its position as the most popular global social network for over half a decade - that's an age in internet years!
Pretty much everyone seems to have a Facebook account - including teenagers, grandparents, and even a few pets!
As the go-to social network for most of us, it's often an obvious choice for businesses, too.
Facebook lets you share almost every kind of content on your company page - from links and photo albums to gifs and native video content.
It's also easy to populate your business Facebook page with plenty of information about your company - plus you can create custom tabs if you'd like to display content that doesn't fit into any of the default tabs.
Despite all these great features, Facebook isn't particularly business-friendly if you're looking only to post content for free. The site continues to adjust its algorithm in favour of personal posts rather than posts from businesses, meaning it's becoming less likely that your followers will see your content on their news feeds.
Additionally, Facebook is a crowded space already. You'll have to work hard to gain traction and build up the following that your competitors have.
30 million people in the UK are active Facebook users - that's over half of the teenage and adult population. The site boasts 1.7 billion monthly active users worldwide.
Facebook doesn't release any specific demographic statistics, but third parties estimate that 66% of men and 77% of women have a Facebook account. Usage falls from 87% in the 18-29 bracket down to 56% for the over 65s. Usage varies little depending on education level and urban/rural locations.
Naturally, Facebook makes it very easy to pay for advertising space. You create an ad and target it to specific demographics and users at certain locations or with certain interests and connections.
You also have complete control over budgets, so you can easily boost your ads or posts to promote seasonal events or new product lines, and hold back when you've maxed out on reservations or are struggling with stock levels.
Works best for:
Although Facebook is one of the most versatile social media platforms out there, it works for some brands better than others.
- B2C. Some B2B brands may flourish here, but B2C content will always fare better.
- Informal, personal brands. The news feed algorithm likes fun, positive, shareable content - not distant, dry content.
- Visual and video content. Now that smartphones are ubiquitous, anyone can be a photographer. If you can figure out how to create high quality visual content for your brand, it'll do well on Facebook.
- You have a specialist B2B brand.
- You are unable to produce visual content.
- You won't be able to respond to public negative feedback quickly and professionally.
Twitter is a popular social media platform with a twist: every tweet is limited to 140 characters of text.
That means it's perfect for sharing quick updates from events, quick details on breaking news stories and brief interactions with customers and companies.
Twitter's also known for pioneering the hashtag, a now ubiquitous system that groups tweets of the same topic together.
Companies can set up their own Twitter profile and post tweets containing text content, links, photos, video and/or gifs in the same way an individual user can.
There's limited space on your Twitter bio for company info, but you can add a link and a brief description.
There are downsides. Twitter isn't seen as being particularly user friendly, and its user base is rather stagnant.
Twitter is one of those networks where your success will be demographic-dependent: some demographics simply don't use Twitter.
Twitter has 313 million monthly active users, with 82% of them active on mobile.
A higher percentage of men use Twitter than women (25-21%), and users skew towards higher incomes and education levels.
In terms of age, 30% of internet users aged under 50 use Twitter - compared with 11% of over 50s.
Twitter can be equally effective in both B2B and B2C.
Want to spend a little extra on Twitter marketing? You have plenty of paid options. Twitter offers a number of ad campaign options based on goals - whether it's increasing your followers or improving website traffic.
Twitter also has plenty of targeting options and monitoring tools so that you can fine-tune your campaigns.
You can also promote your brand in the 'Trends' section.
Works best for:
- Companies looking to build networks with clients and customers
- Companies with at least one social media savvy employee who keeps up with trends and memes
- Brands that take part in (or host) industry events
- Companies looking to provide customers with quick customer service responses
- Your audience isn't particularly tech-savvy or doesn't match the demographics we mentioned above.
- You'd rather keep your social media efforts structured instead of reactive.
LinkedIn is the social network for professionals. It's a networking hub for employees and employers across the globe, and gives B2B companies a great platform to reach out to potential clients.
Use your LinkedIn company page to share content including links, photos and text content.
Individual LinkedIn users (eg. company employees) can join groups ranging from general to sector-specific, where you can share content with thousands of like-minded users.
However, LinkedIn isn't seen as a particularly user-friendly site - and it'll take time to build the trust of its most active and discerning users.
It's also the only popular social network where user numbers are higher in the 30-49 age bracket than 18-29 year olds. The user base is even more heavily skewed towards college-educated individuals than Twitter (46% of college educated US adults use LinkedIn compared with only 9% of those with a high school diploma or less).
Usage figures increase along with income.
LinkedIn offers robust advertising options. Companies can target ads based on job title, industry, company size and seniority.
Companies can choose to publish sponsored content (with links, likes, and comments) or text ads.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator is another paid feature that helps companies find prospects and gain sales insights through LinkedIn. It's perfect if you want to use LinkedIn to secure new business.
Works best for:
- Companies with plenty of employees who are active LinkedIn users (and have large LinkedIn networks).
- Companies with niche or specific target markets
- You're in B2C.
- Your target market doesn't fit with the demographics mentioned above.
- You're reluctant to spend time on online networking.
Instagram's firmly replaced Google+ in the top four social networks, and it's becoming increasingly important for businesses to pay attention to Instagram if they're trying to market their brand to young people.
Instagram is a visual social network where users post photos and videos to their followers, who can like or comment on each post. Hashtags are common - the character limit is far, far more generous than Twitter's.
It's less easy to share content on Instagram than it is on other social networks - you'll need to use a third party app or other workarounds.
Additionally, businesses can't include links in standard Instagram photo captions. Instead, you can add a single link to your profile.
The most popular Instagram content is visually rich - think food, travel, fashion and art.
Instagram has over 500 million monthly active users, heavily skewed towards young adults - 53% of 18-29 year olds use Instagram, compared with just 25% of 30-49 year olds.
Usage is roughly even across education and income groups.
You can create sponsored Instagram photo, video and carousel content. Instagram ads have similar targeting options to Facebook's.
Works best for:
- Highly visual brands
- Brands targeting a youthful audience
- Product-based companies
- You want to be able to post content from desktop PCs.
- Your brand is service-based or your product isn't particularly visually appealing.
- Your goal is to generate website traffic.
Next up is another visual social network: Pinterest.
Pinterest lets users 'pin' photos to virtual 'boards', creating collections of related images that can be 'repinned' (shared), liked and commented on.
Businesses should opt for business accounts instead of personal accounts. From their business page, businesses can carry out all the same tasks as personal users, with a few minor tweaks.
Pinterest is a social network that aims to inspire - popular boards cover topics such as wedding ideas, DIY, fashion, recipes and life hacks.
Pinterest is perhaps the most female dominated social network out there, with women nearly three times as likely as men to use the site.
Although Pinterest aren't as open about user numbers as other networks, it's estimated that it has around 110 million monthly active users - that's comparable with LinkedIn's numbers. Interestingly, a higher percentage of people living in suburban or rural areas use Pinterest than urbanites.
In terms of age brackets, Pinterest is equally popular in the 18-29 bracket as the 30-49 bracket (36-37% of internet users).
Pinterest ads are in the form of 'promoted pins'. Choose a pin, promote it, set up targeting and pay for the results.
Works best for:
- Highly visual brands
- Businesses with products or services that have the potential to inspire or amaze.
- Brands with new products to showcase each season.
- You're in B2B.
- You want to reach a male audience.
- Your product doesn't look good!
For all Google's many successes, they still haven't managed to create a successful social media platform.
Google+ was their most recent attempt. If you look at the official figure of 2.5 billion users, it'd be the biggest social network in the world. However, it's estimated that 90% of these users have never used the social network - instead, they had an account automatically created for them when they created their Gmail account.
Google+ is most easily compared with Facebook. You create a page, share content, and message other users. Instead of liking content, you '+1' any content you approve of.
Given how inactive the network tends to be, it's mostly only used for SEO purposes. However, even those credentials are now in doubt after the company ditched Google Authorship and renamed Google+ business pages to Google My Business. While +1s used to be a strong SEO ranking factor, it's unclear if they're quite as important today.
The focus of Google+ has now shifted to communities (groups).
You can promote Google+ ads directly from each post, via AdWords.
Works best for:
- Technology brands
- Brands looking to eke out SEO benefits
- Local businesses - via My Business
- You're deciding between Google+ and any other network!
While we're on the subject of Google, let's look at YouTube - the Google-owned video platform. While not strictly a social network, it's still a corner of the internet where you might be considering investing some time and effort.
Businesses and brands can create YouTube channels where they can publish and manage video content. Depending on privacy settings for each video, viewers can like, share, and comment on them. Popular YouTube channels may opt to monetise their content by showing ads in their videos.
YouTube demographics vary significantly depending on the channel, but the audience is generally skewed towards young people.
Any video uploaded to YouTube can be used as an advert. Setting budgets and targeting is done in much the same as it is on every other platform.
Works best for:
- Brands that can produce relevant 'how-to' content such as makeup tutorials or DIY guides.
- Companies with video production knowledge or the budget to hire a video production company.
- You don't have the budget to create high quality video content.
- You'd rather not compromise on core areas of your social media strategy.
Tumblr's a blogging site and social network that lets users share a variety of content. Content is tagged with relevant terms, and can be liked or reblogged by other users.
Blog content is extremely varied, so many B2C brands may find a place on Tumblr.
It's difficult to find active user numbers for Tumblr, but estimates place monthly active users at 550 million.
Perhaps surprisingly, research shows there's a roughly even gender split - but the site's users are mostly young people. 20% of 18-29 year olds use Tumblr, compared with only 11% of 30-49 year olds and less than 5% of over 50s.
There's also a significantly high proportion of urban users compared with suburban and rural users.
When Yahoo bought Tumblr in 2013, they immediately starting working on monetising the platform.
Now brands can publish sponsored posts - and if you've got a huge budget, you could even opt for a 'sponsored day' where your brand takes over Tumblr and gets its own tab on the main navigation bar on the Explore page.
It seems like Tumblr are very flexible about the types of branded content they'll do, so you should get in touch with Tumblr if this interests you.
Works best for:
- Visual, youth oriented brands.
- Brands with strong followings or indirect/direct links to pop culture and fandoms.
- Brands with powerful, inspiring messages.
- You're not familiar with making gifs and other multimedia content.
- Your brand is known for being old-fashioned or conservative.
Snapchat's now the third most popular social network for young people and overall, approximately joint with Twitter in terms of monthly active users.
Over 100 million people share photos and videos ("snaps") every day through the platform, with the twist being that they are only temporarily viewable. Snapchat's many filters, stickers and lenses allow users to customise each snap in a unique and often amusing way. The app's "stories" feature consists of chronological collections of snaps that remain available for 24 hours.
Brands can create their own Snapchat account, publish stories, and team up with Snapchat influencers to promote their brand.
Snapchat famously turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook in 2013 - now the app is undoubtedly worth many times more than that!
Snapchat is the app to go for if you want to reach millennials - an estimated 60% of Snapchat users are under 25 - however, 50% of new users are 25 or over.
Despite being amongst the youngest networks on this list, Snapchat has some of the most robust and effective monetisation options.
Brands can use video ads of up to 10 seconds that show up between stories. Users can swipe up to see more information. This option is still being rolled out and isn't available to all brands yet.
Sponsored geofilters are useful options for events - these filters show up when users take a snap at location (and date) of your choice.
Sponsored lenses are a more expensive option. These lenses augment or animate the user's phone screen when taking snaps and/or after a certain action such as the user raising their eyebrows. For example, a Taco Bell sponsored lens transformed the user's face into an animated taco.
Users not only find these lenses and filters fun to use, but they'll want to show their friends, too - and the novelty hasn't worn off yet.
Works best for:
- Fun, quirky brands
- Businesses with well-loved products
- Companies with access to designers and video producers
- You're in B2B.
- Your brand values are serious and professional.
Update (October 2016): Twitter has announced that Vine is shutting down. We'll leave the original text here for reference. RIP Vine.
Vine is a video sharing social network where users can publish and share six-second long looping clips.
The time restrictions on videos (and Vine's other features) make the clips well suited to comedy, stop-motion animation and memes.
Vine's lost its lustre in recent months as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook video increasingly offer more appealing alternatives - but it's still a hotbed of amusing viral content and has an estimated monthly active user-base of 200 million.
Businesses can create their own Vine accounts and publish branded Vines in the same way as every other 'Viner'.
Vine's another youthful network, with nearly 30% of its adult users in the 18-24 category. 27% of US female teens use Vine, whilst only 20% of teen boys use the app.
Vine doesn't have an advertising model, but its integration with Twitter means that brands often pay Twitter to promote tweets containing Vines.
Additionally, brands can pay top Viners to promote their brand - although these deals clearly need to be arranged outside the app.
Works best for:
- Fun, quirky brands.
- Brands looking for video content that feels authentic and homemade rather than polished and professional.
- Brands with strong connections to comedy, music or animation.
- You're in B2B.
- Your target market doesn't include millennials.
Reddit differs from the other social networks on this list in that's it's more of a collection of forums rather than an individual network. Reddit consists of thousands of 'subreddits' - communities dedicated to specific topics.
Users post relevant content to the subreddit from elsewhere on the internet, or they can create self-posts to start discussions. Other 'Redditors' upvote posts they think are relevant and interesting, and comment on individual submissions. Other users can then upvote or downvote comments.
Each subreddit has its own team of moderators and admins who set subreddit rules - including those that govern business users and self-promotion.
Be sure to check subreddit rules before posting, and apply for a company 'flair' if necessary, so that users can see the brand you represent.
As a general rule, self-promotion is frowned upon on Reddit. Unless a user specifically asks for your business name, it's best not to give it!
Businesses can try and fly under the radar and act like normal users and only occasionally sprinkle a promotion in - but this is extremely risky. If you are found out, your account will be banned and links to your site could be blacklisted across individual subreddits or the whole platform.
Reddit doesn't collect much information on its users and demographics vary significantly between subreddits, but third party estimates suggest that 70% of Reddit users are male, 60% are aged between 18 and 29, and 43% of users would describe themselves as liberal.
Brands can submit ads to Reddit and target them based on subreddit and/or user location. Ads function in a similar way to other Reddit posts, although they appear above all other subreddit submissions. Users can comment on the advert to discuss the ad itself, or the brand behind it. Sometimes this can be a source of valuable feedback and provide a chance for you to reply to interested users.
Works best for:
- Brands looking for an authentic connection with their customers.
- Community-focused brands.
- Tech companies.
- You aren't willing to respond to criticism.
- Your brand is controversial or unpopular with the general public.
- You don't have time to review and follow subreddit rules and brand guidelines.
Which networks are right for you?
We hope we've clarified the different social media options available to you.
With the variety of networks available to your brand, you're spoilt for choice. Despite the dominance of Facebook, we'd argue that it's not essential to have a Facebook page if other social networks better meet your needs and your market.
To make things even more complicated, the demographics and features of social media platforms are always in flux. Some teenagers fled Facebook when their parents started adding them as friends, and now that there's a similar movement towards Instagram and Snapchat, it seems likely that the cool kids will jump ship to another network.
Still, us social media marketers must make the best decisions we can based on current information - with one eye on the future.
How did you decide which social networks to focus your efforts on?