If you’re like a lot of small-business owners, you feel pressure to participate in every available social network. You might spend a lot of time composing posts and updating your social media feeds, or you might use a tool like HootSuite, which allows you to post on all social networks from one central dashboard. However, most marketers agree that it’s better to do one or two networks well than to spray-paint random posts on every social media outlet.
Maybe it’s time to cuddle up to just a few relevant networks while kissing other networks goodbye. In truth, not every social network offers equal visibility or value for your company, and some networks just aren’t worth your time and effort. So it’s probably time to ask yourself: “Which social networks should I use?”
Facebook Relationship Status: Divorced
It’s not so much that you left Facebook, but Facebook definitely left you. Since Facebook strangled organic reach for its pages in early 2014, most businesses struggle to connect with 1 to 2 percent of their Facebook followers. Also, younger customers are leaving Facebook in droves and heading to other platforms. For now, if you’re interested in reaching followers organically, Facebook isn’t a good option.
However, Facebook does have some advantages as a paid marketing platform. If you can set aside a small budget for promoted posts, then Facebook has outstanding targeted marketing tools that allow you to reach out to new customers based on demographic characteristics. In fact, think of your Facebook advertising budget as an alimony payment. Even after you move on, you should still write your monthly check to Facebook.
Twitter Relationship Status: Married
Twitter can’t figure out how to become profitable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make your company profitable. Twitter has over 215 million active monthly users, and 34 percent of marketers report that Twitter has helped them to generate leads. Twitter is also the fastest-growing social network, expanding at a rate of 44 percent year over year.
No social network is better for customer engagement than Twitter. Many companies have successfully set up customer-service Twitter handles, allowing their customers to tweet about problems and then responding to those problems in real time. Although Twitter has added no-cost tools for growing your business, its Twitter Card and Promoted Tweet offerings give you options for targeted advertising. Overall, you can feel confident about being married to Twitter. It’s not going to disappoint you.
Google+: It’s Complicated
Does it seem like Google created a social network and basically badgered you into joining it? Without a Google+ account, you can’t leave comments on YouTube, and without a Google+ business page, you’re at a disadvantage in the search results. It’s complicated because Google+ does have over a billion registered users and 359 million active monthly users. Also, Google+ is growing at a rate of 33 percent each year, particularly in the 45- to 54-year-old age bracket.
Even though it seems boring and almost not worth it, Google+ works if you use it for the right goals:
- Building authorship. If you write or publish a lot of online content using your name, then a thriving Google+ page helps you to build your author rank. You should share content regularly, ask for +1s and shares, and accumulate more followers.
- Hangouts. In addition to offering a free and high-quality tool for Web video conferencing, Google Hangouts on Air allow you to broadcast your own video shows to your fans.
- Blogging. Google+ is a great platform for micro-blogging. Later, you can expand your small posts and write longer, more thoughtful posts on your company blog.
- Communities. Google+, unlike Facebook, allows businesses to join communities. Communities center around common interests, and they become a great place to build relationships.
The verdict: It’s hard to know what to think of Google+, but it’s worth trying to make it work, even if it’s complicated.
Instagram: In a Civil Union
Instagram is the little social network that could, but it’s still fighting for equality with Facebook (which owns Instagram), Twitter, and Google+. For people who sell visually appealing products, participating on Instagram is a no-brainer. Specialty retailer J. Crew, for example, has done entire seasonal catalogs on Instagram, providing its followers with exclusive access to new fashions. You can use hashtags within Instagram to coordinate content across multiple social networks.
Other businesses have had success creating Instagram communities around user-generated content. You could share photos of users interacting with your product; for instance, eating the company’s food, riding the company’s bikes, or wearing the company’s fashions. When users share photos that reflect positively on your brand, you can re-share them to generate even more interest. Instagram might not be as widely accepted as the big networks, but it’s standing up for its rights.
If your business is B2B, then there’s no better social network than LinkedIn for building your reputation and engaging with your clients. LinkedIn’s stock price has soared this year, and it has made high-profile acquisitions, including Bright and Newsle. With LinkedIn really hitting its stride, it’s only natural to fall in love and start thinking about the future.
LinkedIn is more than just a B2B magnet; many LinkedIn users that could run into your brand are affluent, influential, and well-educated consumers. Try some of these ideas for taking advantage of LinkedIn:
- Form groups. Start groups related to your company to provide value to your customers. HP, for example, started a “Business Answers” group to provide content and assistance to its small-business customers.
- Invest in sponsored posts. Incorporate LinkedIn into your paid strategy by using sponsored posts to get into your customers’ news feeds.
- Join Q&A forums. Make a regular appearance in Q&A forum groups like Marketing and Sales, Personal Finance, Professional Development, and Technology, depending on what you know. You’ll make new connections and establish yourself as an industry authority.
- Build your network. Get to know influencers and other potential business contacts.
Pinterest: In a Relationship
Pinterest has an incredibly loyal audience that skews heavily female, so if you’re a business with many female customers, then it’s time to get to know Pinterest. In addition to sharing visual content (both images and video) on your pinboards and pinning content from your customers, you can use tools like Place Pins for special promotions, such as events or even local scavenger hunts. Web analytics tools provide insight into click-through from your pins, and the Pin Count tool lets you know how many times a pin or a website has been re-pinned from your account.
The best pins connect to great content, offering inspiration, providing information about a hobby or activity, solving problems, or generating interest in something desirable. Try hanging out with Pinterest to see if it’s a good match for your business. You don’t have to fall in love yet, but you can enjoy one another’s company.
Tumblr: Shacking Up
Many of the younger users retreating from Facebook are finding new homes on Tumblr. In fact, Tumblr is the most popular social network for users under 25 and receives more visits from that demographic than Facebook. Facebook just got too crowded with nosy moms and other annoying adults. On Tumblr, teens can share their true interests without drawing prying eyes.
Tumblr isn’t really the same micro-blogging site that brought you famous blogs like “Food on My Dog.” It’s primarily a good place to share GIFs and other items that are a cinch to reblog. GIFs in particular are popular because they’re more mobile-friendly than long videos, and they’re fast and easy to share. If your customers are under 25, then you need to move in with Tumblr. You don’t have to get married just yet, but give it a go and see if you can make it work out.
Up-and-Comers to Watch From Afar
As these social networks enter maturity, other young upstarts are poking their heads above the horizon. Some interesting examples include:
- Medium. This blogging platform is free, easy-to-use, and visually stunning. It comes with a network for sharing, allowing you to share content with people who have similar interests. You can also nominate your content for different Medium collections.
- Thumb. Thumb is a social network for crowdsourcing. You can share photos to Thumb and ask for customer opinions, receiving a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” that lets you know what your followers are thinking.
- Learnist. Learnist labels itself as the “Bookstore of the Future.” You can create boards of content curated from around the Web to promote yourself as a knowledge leader.
Choose the network that most closely aligns with what your business does, who you want to reach, and what you’d like to share. Get really good at being a member of that network both by posting relevant items and by interacting with the community. Then, expand to another network, but only after you’ve mastered the first one. You’ll have a better chance of building meaningful customer relationships than you will if you automate posts to every existing social network.
Social networks are ultimately about relationships. They require time, effort, communication, and investment to make connecting worthwhile. It’s not just about being present on every social network; it’s about building authentic and lasting connections with your customers, wherever they hang out.