With so many options, it can be hard to determine the right social networks to promote your brand and engage your followers.
It all started with a simple, but incredibly powerful goal: to connect people and create a platform for conversations.
Social media has evolved quickly over the years, though. Remember MySpace? In 2007, it was valued at $12 billion. While the site technically still exists, it has changed hands several times and is no longer a major player online. In its place, a large number of new social networks have emerged and staked out specialized niches.
According to Search Engine Journal, the top social media platforms today from most to least active monthly worldwide users as of 2020, are:
- Facebook: 2.45b
- Instagram: 1b
- TikTok: 700m (100m U.S.)
- Reddit: 430m
- Snapchat: 360m
- Twitter: 330m
- Pinterest: 322m
- LinkedIn: 310m
YouTube also deserves attention with over 2b active monthly users globally. It is primarily a media platform, but the very active comment sections on its video pages function like a social network.
Social media was a novelty for businesses once. Today, it’s a necessity. Lack of even a basic social presence shows a brand that is either strangely secretive or hopelessly dated. Plus, businesses that do buy in and build a comprehensive social media strategy reap significant benefits:
- Building Brand Awareness
- Cultivating Thought Leadership Status
- Driving Traffic to Websites
- Reputation Management
- Data Collection and Analytics
- Competition Research
- Targeted Advertising
- Lead Generation
- Customer Service and Public Relations
- Social Listening
“Lack of even a basic social presence shows a brand that is either strangely secretive or hopelessly dated.”
Despite a user base that is constantly being poached away by newer, hipper apps and sites, slowing their rate of growth, Facebook has maintained its perch at the top of the social media food chain (in terms of both user base and revenue) reliably for well over a decade now — and by a wide margin. Their next closest competitor, Instagram, is a subsidiary, and no other platform has even half as many active monthly users.
In the third quarter of 2020 alone, Facebook took in $21.3 billion in revenue, the vast majority of which came from ad sales, and with good reason. Facebook offers both massive reach and fine targeting, making it a smart fit for mega brands selling nationally or even worldwide as well as smaller entities marketing themselves just in their own backyard.
Facebook is also useful for new brands looking to find their target audience, engage in promotional outreach, and court first time buyers. Established brands use the platform to connect with their customers, share helpful content, and even deliver both automated and live customer service conversations and solutions.
Though it got its start as a novelty app that made digital photos look like they were taken with a polaroid camera, Instagram has grown into a full-fledged social media giant in its own right.
Photo sharing is still at the heart of their platform, but in 2016, when it launched Instagram Stories — ephemeral, mobile, slideshow-style still and video content, which was built to mimic Snapchat’s vertically oriented, disappearing Snaps — it became an option for brands to showcase their products, services, and brand story in a format that younger, digitally-native audiences crave.
Hence, Instagram skews slightly younger than Facebook and brand activity is focused primarily on lead generation (that goal is common across social networks, however). According to Facebook, 60-percent of Instagram users say they use the platform to find new products. However, third party monetization platforms like Shopify as well as Instagram Checkout, its own ecommerce solution, are increasingly turning this once simple photo-sharing app into an active and valuable source of direct sales.
The newest kid on the social media block has gone viral with the youngest demographics. Half of its users are between 18 and 24 years old. Though this Chinese-owned app’s audience is mostly based in Asia, it’s 100 million U.S. active monthly users make it still worthy of consideration.
And, it’s growing incredibly fast. TikTok was the most downloaded app of 2020. But, while it has started offering some options for businesses to promote themselves on the app, it’s still chiefly seen as a vehicle for organic marketing via influencers — and it’s still recommended mainly to brands courting a very young (or young at heart) audience.
Despite its size (over 100 million more active monthly users than Twitter), Reddit is still not seen as an entirely viable platform for business. The site is popular because it houses a diverse array of communities and is a source for finding niche information on just about any person, place, brand, or topic.
The limitation is that Reddit’s forums, called Subreddits, each have their own strict rules restricting content and most ban commercial posts entirely. That isn’t to say there is no place for brand engagement on Reddit, but any campaign should be carefully tailored to avoid appearing inauthentic or lacking sensitivity.
Skewing even younger than Instagram, Snapchat is the social media platform of choice for Generation Z (though TikTok has a claim to that title right now also). It is mobile-only, vertically-oriented for smartphones, and most of the content disappears after 24 hours, which encourages less polished and pre-planned campaigns and more fun, light-hearted, and humorous videos and stories to express a brand’s personality and values.
Though the audience is smaller than most social media platforms, Twitter is still considered a powerful tool for building brand awareness, engaging followers, and recruiting brand advocates. It’s become the first place people look for content and updates that are happening right now.
Its famous character limit (formerly 140, now 280) keeps conversations light and active, wards off long and boring content, and promotes higher engagement rates. The theory being that users are more likely to stop and interact with a message that is approachable.
It’s also seen as an effective tool for public relations and customer service. When customers have a problem with a brand they often take to Twitter to voice their displeasure. Brands that aren’t on Twitter might not see those complaints. Brands that are, can quickly respond and defuse a potentially reputation harming incident early.
Over the past few years, more and more small businesses have been drawn to this image sharing social media service where users ‘pin’ photos they like. That’s because large brands don’t dominate the platform: “…more than 97% of the top searches on Pinterest are unbranded, leaving plenty of space for all business sizes and types.”
The brands that do operate on Pinterest are looking to connect with its particular user base demographics, which is predominantly millennials and women between the ages of 25 and 54. However, 40-percent of their new users are men and that number continues to rise year after year. Even better, Pinterest is rapidly evolving into a robust ecommerce platform, and its advertising rates are extremely competitive and proven to drive traffic.
Even before it was acquired in 2016 by Microsoft (developer of ubiquitous and iconic business software products like the Office suite), LinkedIn was seen as the business-centric social platform. The site today has evolved into a modern recruiting tool where companies communicate their corporate values and nurture a highly-regarded employer brand. It’s also a source for networking and finding new partners, and new B2B customers and clients.
B2B vs B2C
Though some platforms like LinkedIn are much more focused on commercial engagement than others, all social media networks offer options for both B2B and B2C marketing. They often have different goals though. B2C is generally most interested in brand awareness and affinity, whereas B2B is more focused on lead generation.
The content format will be different too. B2B social media content uses more sophisticated language and insider jargon and typically offers longer-form content like white papers and webinars. B2C content is more visual and multimedia, featuring videos, images, infographics, and it tends to put a spotlight on human stories.
Start a Conversation With Your Audience
For years, brands were stuck in a one-way dialogue (which isn’t really a dialogue at all) with their customers. They could speak but their audience had little opportunity to answer back, except of course by voting with their wallets. Social media has radically altered that paradigm.
Today, the conversation is truly reciprocal, and brands are benefiting greatly from the speed with which they can respond to pressing concerns, the enhanced level of engagement that comes from interaction (as opposed to mere consumption), and the rich feedback and user data that is generated from their social media activities.
But, to answer the question of which platform is right for you, companies need to first consider where their target customers are. If you’re a buttoned-up B2B brand, they likely aren’t looking for you on Facebook. If you skew younger, hipper, and more consumer-facing, your audience will expect a bigger presence on Instagram than LinkedIn. But, don’t take an all or nothing approach. Even B2B firms have fans that enjoy seeing some of the behind-the-scenes action and their brand culture in action, and Instagram is great for that.
“Brands are benefiting greatly from the speed with which they can respond to pressing concerns.”
The goal of social media is to stay in front of potential customers to win increased brand awareness and website traffic, new followers, and ultimately consideration and preference when it comes time to make buying decisions, but an optimized social media strategy works in concert with your brand blueprint. Use only the platforms that are consistent with your brand’s persona, popular with its audience, and on which you can maintain consistent and high level engagement.
One final thought to remember when developing a brand’s social media strategy is that out of sight is out of mind. Social media feeds move fast and even the hottest viral content goes stale quickly. Make sure you have a framework in place to deliver smart, relevant content suited to your audience on your chosen platforms at regular intervals. The goal isn’t to dominate their feed, it’s to become a welcome and expected part of it.
Looking to upgrade your current social media strategy — or just start one? Talk to a Hanlon social media specialist today.