Not All Social Media Platforms are Equal – How to Pick the Ones That Work for You


Launching a new business? Or promoting an existing one? Either way, my guess is that social media figures pretty high on your priority list when it comes to marketing your brand.

Over 70% of all online adults in the United States have a Facebook account. For the first time ever, 56% of senior citizens are on social media. That figure stands at 89% for young ’uns, or users from 18 to 29 years of age. The millennial generation, consisting of young adults born between 1980 to 2000 and accounting for nearly 30% of the US population, see social media as their primary means of connecting with brands. Over half of them claim that “social opinions” directly influence their purchase decisions.

So we all agree that being on social media is unavoidable if you want to be relevant to today’s consumer.

With the explosion of social media platforms, the question now arises, “which social media platforms will give me actual results?” And this, my friends, is the most sensible place to begin your social media journey.

Research Your Options

The first step to social media success lies in being active on the right platforms and engaging with your target audience in the form that they prefer best. But before you make a choice of which platform would work for your business, you need to first figure out what each platform has to offer you and then proceed by eliminating the least attractive ones.

Before we analyze each platform’s pros and cons, let’s see where they all stand with respect to each other.

The data above clearly shows Facebook as the leader in terms of number of users, followed by LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter – in that order. This data also shows us how in a matter of a couple of years, Twitter has gone from being the third largest network to a lowly number five. At the same time, we see Facebook stagnating in its usage figures in the last year with a barely-there upward blip in 2013.

Let’s arm ourselves with some more facts about the top five social networks before we decide which ones work best for our business.

Facebook offers brands the widest possible reach – with 1.34 billion active users per month, Facebook is light-years ahead of competition. As a platform it is marginally more popular with women than men, it’s also more popular among Hispanics and Whites as compared to African Americans. A trend that has been accelerating in recent years is the exodus of teens from the site with 3 million teens dropping off in the last three years.

The days of sailing along on Facebook only on organic content are history. The team over at Ogilvy Social discovered in early 2014 that organic reach via Facebook had dropped to just 6% for the average brand. For brands with larger followings (over 500,000 followers) this figure dropped by two-thirds to become just 2%.

To make matters worse, Facebook has ensured that advertising on it is not cheap. Price per ad on Facebook increased by 247% in 2014 as compared to previous years.

So in short, Facebook is a must-have for all social media marketers –B2B or B2C. However, to get tangible results Facebook demands some skilled handling to strike the right balance between paid and organic content.

LinkedIn is the professional social network that is great for building the top of your funnel and following up on leads. Being a professional networking platform, the followers you attract on LinkedIn typically have vested interests in your business and tend to be easier to influence. From a demographic perspective, LinkedIn is home to more college graduates and high income individuals than any other. It’s also the only network where 30-64 year olds outnumber 18-29 year olds. LinkedIn offers active groups and communities devoted to specific business topics, thus offering businesses a very targeted audience to converse with. It has also vastly improved its publishing platform Pulse making content marketing a bigger focus than simply job hunts and P2P networking. The downside? LinkedIn offers the lowest daily engagement among its users with only 13% of its members logging in on a daily basis.

LinkedIn works beautifully for B2B businesses and professional service providers. Content that works well on this platform includes industry news, facts and figures, long form articles, expert advice and so on. This is the platform to build your reputation as a respected brand, not one that specializes in cat memes.

Pinterest’s astounding growth in the last few years continued in 2014 and it stands neck to neck with LinkedIn as the second favorite social network among Americans. Pinterest is credited with reimagining site design and for revolutionizing social media with overwhelmingly image driven content. It’s still disproportionately skewed towards a female audience; however, its male membership did see an 8% growth over 2013. Pinterest is often compared to an online shopping wish list, making it one of the forerunners in the area of social commerce. A whopping 70% of Pinterest users use it to get inspiration on what to buy. In comparison, just 40% of Facebook users feel tempted to spend by viewing posts on Facebook. With the introduction of Rich Pins, Pinterest has morphed from being a pretty catalogue of images to an actionable marketing platform that can lead to direct purchases.

Pinterest is a must-do for online retailers, fashion and luxury brands, travel and hospitality companies, and nearly every business that focuses primarily on women buyers and has the ability to put a visual spin to their marketing.

Instagram has been long known as a niche image sharing site that was populated by teeny boppers and (extremely) young adults. However, all of that changed in 2014, when Instagram overtook Twitter in terms of active users and now stands proud at the 300 million users mark. Instagram has a more international profile than Twitter, with 70% of its users outside the United States. Instagram doesn’t just offer brands a wider reach than Twitter, they also see engagement rates up to 50 times higher on their Instagram profiles than those on Twitter!

Instagram is not just the world’s largest photo sharing site, it’s also a great place to build a “look” for your brand and create your own visual fingerprint.

Twitter has a strong core following of tech savvy, news hungry opinion leaders, but in its attempt to become more and more like Facebook, it’s been losing some of its original sheen. The 140 character limit on Twitter enforces discipline on brands that like to ramble endlessly, while its new image heavy timelines offers some visual succor to readers and brands alike. Like LinkedIn, Twitter attracts a larger proportion of college educated users, but unlike LinkedIn, Twitterati tend to be young movers and shakers.

Twitter is often seen as a social customer care hub, a platform where users tend to directly converse with brands instead of simply ‘sharing’ or ‘liking’ branded content like they do on the other social platforms. Twitter timelines tend to be extremely crowded and to make your presence felt among your followers’ timelines, Twitter demands a lot more bite-sized content than all the other social networks put together.

Considerable Overlap in Social Network Membership

As you may be aware already, social media platforms are not mutually exclusive in terms of their membership. According to the latest data from Pew Research, 52% of all social media users are active on two or more social networks. In the case of users who use just one social network, the network of choice remains Facebook for at least 79% of users.

When you decide on your social media strategy, try and pick at least two sites instead of focusing on just one. Keep in mind the quirks of each site and then proceed to select your weapons of choice.

The Deciding Factors

The question remains, ‘What will work for me?’ Well, now that we know what the top five social networks have to offer a business, you need to take three simple steps to zero in on the final answer.

1. Know Thy Audience

Dig deep and figure out who your business targets. Do you speak to soccer moms or construction supervisors? Is it school teachers or CEOs that your brand addresses? Once you know your target demographic, match it to that of the most popular social networks to begin with and move ahead from there. Check for specific quirks like the soaring popularity of SnapChat among teenagers and young adults to help you along the way.

2. Look at the Data

Your audience may tell you what they think they like, but your data will tell you what they really do like. Once you choose a social media management platform, you’ll be able to analyze which networks your traffic originates from, and how valuable (in terms of ROI) it is for your business. For instance, Oktopost is a social media management tool aimed specifically at B2B marketers, whereas Hootsuite is mostly oriented towards B2C. And then there’s always the old workhorse Google Analytics.

Digging deep into the numbers provided by these tools enables you to better manage your social media presence, learn about what type of content works well, and get real-time opportunities for conversions.

Also check out which platforms your users share your content on. All of these signals will come together and offer you a complete social profile of your target audience – a much more accurate picture than what you can glean from asking your users directly or following third-party research data.

3. What’s the Competition Up To?

Finally, before you commit your time and energy to any one or more social network, take a quick peek at what the leaders in your industry are up to? Which platforms are they most active on? Where do they get most engagement out of? Tools like SocialMention or SimplyMeasured offer detailed intelligence on competitor tactics that will help you decide what works for your audience and what you ought to run a mile from.

Happy socializing!