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Choosing the Right Social Media for Your Business

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Just a few short years ago, businesses were advised to dive head-first into all forms of social media to market their products and brands. You know that your business needs to get into social media marketing — you know that because everybody's told you so. The problem is, you don't know which social media to market to. Facebook's important, of course, but then again, so is Twitter. And Pinterest. And Instagram. And maybe Google+. And a dozen or so other social media you barely know the names of. But with so many different social media today, the better advice is to focus your company’s social marketing efforts on just a few targeted vehicles. In this article, Michael Miller examines the state of social media marketing today, and explores which specific social media are best for marketing your business.
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You know that your business needs to get into social media marketing. You know that because everybody's told you so. The problem is, you don't know which social media to market to. Facebook's important, of course, but then again, so is Twitter. And Pinterest. And Instagram. And maybe Google+. And a dozen or so other social media you barely know the names of.

Here's the reality. With so many social media in use today, you simply don't have the time or resources to spend on each and every one of them. In fact, you may not even want to market to every social medium; just as with traditional print media, some of these online services are better matches to your business than others.

Which social media, then, should your business target? It's not an easy decision.

Examining Today's Social Media

Social media are those websites or services (and, increasingly, mobile apps) that let groups of users socially connect and share with each other. While some early social networks, such as Friendster and MySpace, have faded into obscurity, there have been plenty of newer social media arising to fill the void.

Far and away the biggest social network today is Facebook. With more than 1 billion users, chances are that most of your customers are members of the Facebook network. Facebook is like the big box store of social media, offering a wide variety of services (including status updates, photo sharing, and business pages) to a wider variety of users. Facebook is accessible from its well-known website, of course, but also from its increasingly popular mobile app. That said, Facebook is bleeding younger users who are turned off with its growth among the older demographic. Still, if you only know and use one social medium, this is the one to get friendly with.

Get beyond Facebook and the social media market begins to fragment. A quick survey of the top ten social media today yields the following list, in no particular order:

  • Facebook, the big dog in social media, with more than 1.2 billion users worldwide. Facebook is starting to skew older, which is starting to drive away younger users.
  • Twitter, which is more of a personal microblogging service than a community of users. Twitter lets users post short (140-character) text messages, called tweets, which then show up in the feeds of their followers. With more than 230 million monthly users, Twitter is particularly popular among younger and more mobile users, and among constantly-tweeting members of the entertainment industry. Twitter is very popular with younger, more mobile users; 76% of the user base accesses the service via mobile devices. It's also the social medium of choice for many African Americans, and skews surprisingly female (62% of Twitter's users are women).
  • Google+, Google's full-service social network that attempts to leverage other Google properties and compete head-to-head with Facebook in terms of functionality. Google+ claims more than 300 million active monthly users (or 540 million total users), but all indications are that those users aren't particularly active. Visit the site and it looks like a ghost town, save for some core groups of younger techie users. (Google also tends to count just about anybody with a Google Account as a Google+ user, and that simply isn't true.)
  • LinkedIn, a social network for business professionals. Great for job seekers and those wanting to network with others in a given profession or industry, LinkedIn claims more than 250 million users.
  • Pinterest, a visual social network where users "pin" pictures from the web to share with other users. Pinterest's demographic skews heavily towards women (80% of the user base) aged 30-55. It's a social medium for middle America, with 70 million highly active users. (Pinterest users spend more time on the site than do users of any other social media except Facebook.)
  • Instagram, a combination photo app for smartphones and mobile social network. Users shoot digital photographs and short (fifteen-second) videos, then share those items with their friends on the Instagram network. Instagram claims more than 150 million users, skewing younger.
  • Vine, another mobile social network that lets users shoot short (six-seconds max) videos and share them with other mobile friends. Relatively new to the social media game, Vine currently sports 40 million users, most of them under 30.
  • Snapchat, a unique mobile social network that's similar to Instagram but with a twist. Users shoot and share digital photos, but these photos are visible only to selected friends (there's no "public" setting) and then disappear a few seconds after being viewed, so there's no embarrassing history to deal with. Not surprisingly, Snapchat is very popular among teenagers and college kids; the service claims 30 million users.
  • Reddit, an odd bird of a site where users post links to web pages and news stories. These links are then voted up or down by other Reddit users, resulting in a unique form of social sharing. Reddit claims to have more than 100 million unique monthly visitors; its demographics skew youngish (below 30), male, and white.
  • Tumblr, a microblogging site where users post and share their (short) thoughts and pictures in a blog-like format. Tumblr hosts more than 165 million of these microblogs and claims more than 300 million active monthly users. Its audience skews younger and hipper than most social media. (There's also a lot of porn there.)

By the way, if you market outside the U.S. you can take a few names off this list and add several region-specific social networks. For example, VK is the most popular social network in Russia, while QZone is a big deal in China. Make sure you research your local market before proceeding.

Choosing Social Media by Market Size

As you can see, the term "social media" encompasses several different types of websites and mobile services. Some, obviously, are bigger than others.

If you want to choose which media to market to based solely on size – that is, how many people might see your messages – then you should start picking from the top of the following list:

Social Medium

Number of Users

Facebook

1,200,000,000

Google+

300,000,000

Tumblr

300,000,000

LinkedIn

250,000,000

Twitter

230,000,000

Instagram

150,000,000

Reddit

100,000,000

Pinterest

70,000,000

Vine

40,000,000

Snapchat

30,000,000

The thing is, judging viability based solely on number of registered users leaves out some important criteria. For example, how often do these users visit the site, and for how long? You might look at the numbers and say Google+ is a very important player, but in reality it isn't, because its users aren't very active. Pinterest, on the other hand, looks relatively unimportant, but its users spend more hours onsite than with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ – combined – which makes Pinterest look a lot more interesting.

In other words, your strategy has to be based on more than numbers.

Matching Social Media to Your Customer Base

A better approach is to match the demographics of the available social media to the demographics of your customer base. In other words, you should target those social networks that your customers (or would-be customers) are most likely to use.

In this evaluation, Facebook still comes in at the top of most lists, simply because, with 1.2 billion users, it covers just about every available demographic. Old people are on Facebook (in fact, that's the site's fastest-growing demographic) and young people are on Facebook. Women use it, as do men. People with high incomes use Facebook, as do those with lower incomes. In fact, it's tough to find any demographic that isn't well represented in the Facebook user base.

That said, use the following table to match certain demographic and customer profiles with the most appropriate social medium:

Customer Demographic

Appropriate Social Media

Teens

Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, Instagram

Gen Y (under 30)

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr

Gen X (30-50)

Facebook, Pinterest

Boomers (50-65)

Facebook, LinkedIn

Seniors (65+)

Facebook

Men

Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit

Women

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest

Blacks

Twitter, Instagram

Latinos

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr

Mobile users

Twitter, Instagram, Vine

High-tech users

Twitter, Reddit, Google+

Business professionals

LinkedIn

Job seekers

LinkedIn

Urban dwellers

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Suburbanites

Facebook, Pinterest

Country folk

Facebook, Pinterest

This type of strategy isn't foolproof, but it does get you in the ballpark. Say, for example, you want to market to suburban women aged 30 to 45 or so. Facebook and Pinterest come up at the top of your lists. If you want to market to urban blacks, think about using Twitter and Instagram. If you have a younger (under 30) male customer base, Facebook, Twitter, and maybe Reddit or Instagram make sense. You see how it works.

Matching Social Media to the Products and Services You Offer

Of course, not every product or service is best suited to every social medium. If you sell women's clothing, Twitter isn't that great (no pictures) but Pinterest is. If you're a restaurant looking to promote your daily specials, Twitter makes perfect sense for you, while Pinterest has nothing going for it at all.

In general, follow these rules:

  • If you send out a lot of news updates and bulletins (such as the aforementioned daily or weekly specials), Twitter is very good. So is Facebook, for that matter.
  • If your product is visually appealing (lots of pictures), you can't beat Pinterest and Instagram. (Facebook isn't bad for photos, either.)
  • If you have videos of your product or service, you have to consider Instagram and Vine – although Facebook is also good for sharing videos.
  • If you sell high-tech gadgets or services, go with the high-tech social media – Google+, Tumblr, Reddit, and the like.
  • If you offer B2B goods or services, LinkedIn is the site for you.

It's common sense, really. If you have a visual product or service, use a visual medium. If you have a less-visual product, go with a more text-based medium.

Whatever you sell, go where your customers go. B2B buyers tend to be older and more conservative, so you're probably not going to find them on Twitter or Reddit. Customers for home furnishings tend to be in their 30s and 40s (they have to be, to own their own homes), so target the social media that this age group frequents – Facebook and Pinterest.

And remember to shape your message for the medium. Instagram likes appealing or funny photos. Vine rewards creativity. Twitter requires brevity. And so forth.

Bottom line, you need to know your customer, and where your customer socializes. Let that drive your social media strategy.

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