Which social media channels are right for your business?

Social media channels for business

How does social media fit in with your business?

When companies and other organisations start to use social media to promote themselves, they tend to make the same mistake: they sign up to all of the most popular networks and start putting out exactly the same self-serving content on all their channels.

After a week or two, dispirited by the lack of response to their online activities so far, the use of social media channels by that business rapidly dwindles until there is just a token Twitter feed or Facebook page with a couple of desultory posts on them, all of which are at least four months old.  This end result is actually more damaging for that organisation than not having any social network presence at all.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  All the major different social networks channels function in different ways and their users have different demographics, although there is a substantial overlap between the users of different networks.  It is therefore very important that you choose the right channel or channels for your business from the outset, and that you do not get distracted in trying to support those that are not relevant.

Before you use a social network you must appreciate the ethos behind social media.  It is not like old-fashioned advertising where you are just broadcasting to an intended audience; it’s primarily about engaging with what others have posted online and sharing relevant content (which in the main will not be your own) with those who would be interested in your products or services.

Therefore, whatever social network you choose to use, prepare to sufficiently resource the activity as it takes skill, time and prompt responses to build up the right social network following for your business.

So, what are the most popular social network options available to businesses, and what are the demographics behind them?

1. Facebook

Facebook is the best known of the social networks and is certainly the most popular, with over 1.1 billion members worldwide.  However, since Facebook’s flotation on the stock market in 2012 and its subsequent underperformance, the social network has become problematic for marketers of smaller brands due to changes to the site that are designed to maximise revenue.

Although nominally free at the point of use, marketing on Facebook is only truly effective if you are willing to pay out for advertising and sponsored posts.  If you are promoting a brand, product or service, you must set up a dedicated Facebook company page to do so, and the visibility of these posts to those who follow (or ‘like’) it are dependent on your marketing spend with Facebook and your online popularity.

Given the partnership between the network and Microsoft’s search engine Bing, it will become increasingly important to have some form of presence on Facebook for your business but it is also becoming increasingly unclear as to how much time or money should be spent in building your brand on the platform.  It is quite likely that Facebook will become more like Google by offering regional results and reviews in searches for services, but such services are unlikely to be completely free at the point of use.

Given the sheer size of its membership, Facebook is a social network all businesses avoid at their peril given the breadth of the demographics who use it, especially among older people.  However, it is a platform that some have argued has now peaked in its popularity, and is one that works better for B2C (Business-to-Consumer) than B2B (Business-to-Business) organisations.

One very effective way of promoting a business on Facebook is through paid-for adverts that appear in other users’ home feeds or profiles based on their demographics and the information they have voluntarily supplied to the network.  In other words, if you are a hairdresser, you can target people interested in fashion or style within a particular geographical area.  However, this is not what most people conceive as marketing through social media (by using the platforms themselves as opposed to paying for adverts to appear on them), and this subject will be covered in a later article.

2. Twitter

Twitter is a microblogging website that allows users to write posts of up to 140 characters.  With over 500 million registered users worldwide, Twitter is a very powerful tool to engage with an existing or potential customer base and to improve your website’s SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

Twitter is a public social network, so virtually all ‘tweets’ can appear in search engine results, which is another powerful reason to be on the network.  In other words, a search engine might not find your site against a set of search terms but it might find your company’s tweets on such matters.

All businesses or services that already have (or will have) online content elsewhere will benefit from being on Twitter, as the network is the perfect platform for sharing that content.  However, many businesses fail at Twitter because they simply broadcast messages that are completely self-serving, which puts people off following branded Twitter accounts.  To be truly successful, you must offer content and posts of genuine interest and use to your intended customer base, and make a concerted effort to engage with what they are saying instead of just submitting promotional posts all the time.

Although, unlike Facebook, the visibility of tweets is not dependent on what you spend on Twitter, it is important not to underestimate the time and human resource needed to manage a successful Twitter feed.

Twitter is also a useful marketing resource in terms of monitoring new markets and competitors through the use of Twitter lists, but it takes a lot of time and discipline to make the most of this feature.

3. LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the businessperson’s Facebook, in which you can connect with colleagues, business partners, clients and suppliers as an individual and as a company.  With over 200 million uses worldwide, LinkedIn is a great way to network with existing and potential clients, especially within the site’s discussion forums, LinkedIn groups.

Although LinkedIn allows for companies to have their own profile on the network, most users prefer connecting and following individuals on the site rather than organisations.  LinkedIn is great for B2B businesses and also for consolidating your companies’ address book online.

LinkedIn poses a series of challenges for its users (e.g. do you connect with competitors? And do you allow staff to communicate with your clients through the network?), but the benefits of being on it far outweigh the cons.  It is particularly useful in helping individuals burnish their online profile through recommendations and endorsements, and is popular among those in professional services such as law and marketing.

4. Pinterest

For businesses with products or services that lend themselves to visual representations, Pinterest is the perfect social network.  Pinterest is an online platform where users can share images or videos (pins) online through virtual noticeboards, which in turn can be followed by other users.  Very popular amongst affluent women in their 20s and 30s, Pinterest is perfect for those businesses that deal with fashion and lifestyle products and services.

Aside from broadcasting images connected with your business, Pinterest can also be proactively used to engage with other users, bringing new business in rather than waiting for potential customers to find you online.

5. Google Plus

Google Plus (or Google+ or G+ as it is sometimes referred to) is the search engine giant’s rival social network to Facebook.  After a hesitant start, Google Plus now has over 135 million active users and is now even outpacing Twitter in terms of growth.

The network recently had a significant redesign which has greatly improved its functionality, seamlessly integrating with Google’s other online products such as Google Hangouts.  In many ways, Google Plus seems to draw on the best features of the other networks and is arguably the best social network in terms of use, but it is undeniably hampered by the lack of uptake here in the UK and people’s ongoing suspicion of Google’s privacy policy.

With the introduction of Google’s Author Rank system, it is advisable that all business people and businesses start engaging with Google Plus as it is highly likely that, in the future, your activity on the network and the quality your Google Plus profile will determine the success of your company’s placing within search engine results.

Google Plus is free at the point of use, although it is dependent on you establishing a Google account for all that company’s services (also free at the point of use).  If you already have a Google account for personal use, I would recommend that you set up a new one for business purposes as otherwise personal online activity can easily be confused and intermingled with professional posts as far as Google Plus is concerned.

The above five networks are just some of the many, many options that are available to you, and, as time goes by, some of these networks will suddenly fall by the wayside while others rapidly grow in popularity.

However, it would be foolish to hedge your bets by trying to use all of them from the off; choose one to begin with, and learn to master that before progressing to the next one.  You will be surprised at how much time an effective social media presence takes up, so you would not want to overburden yourself initially as that is a guaranteed recipe for failure.

If you would like assistance in using social media to effectively market your business, or if you need help with your online marketing in general, contact Full Media today by e-mailing nick@full-media.co.uk.

Nick Jones is a proofreader, copywriter and videographer. After a varied career which saw him working in sales initially and then in more creative roles at Yell, he now runs Full Media Ltd, a specialist provider of online media solutions for small- and medium-sized UK businesses. He lives in Cheshire with his wife, son and three cats. Connect with Nick Jones on Google+ or select any of the other options below.

One Comment

  1. Small Business Marketing Consultant says:

    Thank you for that round-up, Nick. Any thoughts on Slideshare and it’s effectiveness in B2C content marketing?

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