Which Social Media Platforms Should Your Business Use?

When you run a business you often have to make tough choices about how to make best use of your time. If you've got plenty of paid work on the books, your own marketing can slip to the bottom of the list. After all, you can't bill Facebook for all time you spend on it. Oh the billions I'd be owed.

But marketing your business is essential if you want to keep the work rolling in, so it's important to have a marketing plan — including social media — and integrate it into your day.

With plenty of scheduling tools available and a bit of planning it's possible to fit social media in around your other tasks. The key is to set a reasonable goal, and choose a small number of platforms to focus on, so you can properly monitor and respond to comments, and hone your approach to each one through the first few months.

Here's a quick description of each social media platform, along with information about their demographics, to help you choose the right ones for you and make the most of them.

Facebook

With more than 1.55 billion active users globally, Facebook is far and away the largest social media platform. If it were a country, it would have the third largest population in the world behind China and India.

Facebook works well for your business for the same reason it works well for you; it's easy to post links to your website or blog, tell everyone what you're up to in the office, chat with customers, advertise products, services and upcoming events, and pay for ads to get your posts in front of people who might not otherwise have seen them. If you use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, you already know how to manage a business page.

Once only used by students and young adults, Facebook's users have aged with the platform. 46% of Facebook users are 45 or older and 65% are 35 or older, making it a particularly powerful tool for B2C businesses. 

Customers frequently like the brands they have positive experiences with, allowing you to build a loyal following, particularly if you post interesting, relevant content or special promotions for your fans. This helps to build trust and a good reputation. Having your customers share your content is a great way to reach new audiences.

If you only ever work with businesses behind the scenes, Facebook probably isn't crucial, but it is still worth having a Facebook account. Whenever you start to do business with another organisation, chances are they’ll check out your social media channels, Facebook first. 

If you're a buttoned-up, serious B2B business, posting your own content once or twice a week will keep your page fresh. Posting content from others that highlights your values, is professionally relevant and advertises your company culture will also help to build a coherent story about you, and help increase your general likeability, which never hurt the deal closing process. If there's a more light-hearted, fun vibe to your company, don't be afraid to post funny pictures of office shenanigans or questions to prompt debate. 

Increasingly, people searching for a type of business are using Facebook instead of Google or traditional business directories. So, unless you've got a good reason not to have one, a Facebook page is pretty much essential.

Twitter

Twitter, while not as large as Facebook at 320 million active users, is growing rapidly, taking on around 300,000 new users a day (Kissmetrics). Despite its 140 character limit on posts (or tweets as they’re known), it’s an ideal place to talk about what matters to you the most, form customer and business relationships, run ads and promotions, broadcast your content and monitor social trends. In fact, the character limit is a helpful reminder to be clear and concise.

Hashtags (#) are a defining feature of the Twitter platform. Putting a hashtag at the beginning of a word or phrase in your post allows other people to find your tweets by searching for that hashtag. So, with a bit of research, you can capitalise on popular topics by working them into your tweets.

Twitter's short post format is great for quick announcements and gung-ho calls to action, but the fast-paced informality also allows it (and you) to flip easily between serious and fun. So, individuals tweeting about industry updates shouldn't be afraid to show their humanity with the odd funny cat picture or comment on a social issue.

Twitter is a common tool to start conversations between brands, customers and potential business partners — but you have to have at least half an eye on what's going on all the time. While it may seem a hassle to take time out of your working day to respond to individual tweets, connecting with other Twitter users on a personal level is a great way to leverage new opportunities and advertise the responsiveness of your business.

When you consider that 50% of Twitter users have visited or shopped at the websites of the small businesses they follow, 60% have purchased from a small business because of something they saw on Twitter and 43% plan to purchase regularly from the small businesses they follow, it’s not hard to see the value in the platform (Twitter).

As a great way to share informative articles, videos and graphics, Twitter suits news organisations, people seeking to build their professional reputation or show political allegiances, technology businesses and medium to large organisations with a clear agenda.

If you sell things you make or provide a local service (bit not one that needs to broadcast announcements), Twitter may not be the platform for you.

Instagram

Instagram looks quite similar to (and is now owned by) Facebook. The difference is that every post is an image or a video. With over 400 million active accounts, 80 million photos shared and 3.5 billion likes bestowed every day (Instagram), Instagram is a massive opportunity to connect with and engage a wide audience of users, particularly if there's a visual nature to your product or service.

Instagram users are primarily younger people who live in urban and suburban areas. It’s the ideal platform to capture the interest of millennials and motivate them to action with inspiring, aspirational, emotive images of everything your business stands for and creates.

Businesses do well by posting high-quality, eye-catching images and using strong, consistent branding, with ads that speak to the artistic as well as the marketing-minded. Like Twitter, hashtags also play a role, helping to expose new audiences to your content and making it easy to find.

Saying where your photo was taken and adding a caption both add narrative to your posts, making them easier to engage with. Commenting and liking other people’s images can increase the potential audience you can communicate with.

It’s important to note that posting to Instagram is only possible via smartphone or tablet; while the browser version still allows you to browse content and comment on images, all uploads are through the Instagram app.

Some businesses — particularly those who don’t post a lot of visual content — may not be entirely suited to Instagram, but it can be a valuable tool to craft a brand story that can speak to both business and private customers.

Pinterest

Pinterest, with around 100 million active users, is a social media platform relatively similar to Instagram in that it focuses on the visual. However, it is more about categorising content (think recipes, ideas for children's parties, clothes etc) than simply sharing it.

It works by letting users 'pin' pages and images from other websites to themed 'boards', allowing you to build collections of exciting, vibrant and engaging images, infographics and videos on just about any subject at all. Your boards will gather followers if they are interesting, informative and helpful.

Interestingly, Pinterest is rather unique in terms of social media platform demographics, and in 2014, had a user base that was 71% female (Wall Street Journal).

Pinterest is used by creative, crafty sorts who appreciate great design, so if your business has a more bespoke feel, Pinterest can be the ideal platform to showcase your work, or show off your style by pinning other people's work.

When people save your pins and add them to their own boards, other people that follow them will be able to see and interact with them too, helping to spread your content across the platform. While it has some limited applications for B2B, Pinterest is best used by B2C businesses who want to show off their creative flair to a like-minded audience.

LinkedIn

If your business sells products and services to other businesses, especially if you are a freelancer or consultant selling your skills and experience, LinkedIn can be an incredibly productive way to get your name out to the right people.

Since it began in 2002, LinkedIn has grown to 225 million members in over 200 countries. Its strength lies in helping companies and jobseekers find and connect with each other, primarily through posting an online CV, having others tag your skills and post testimonials about you, and linking with recruiters and people who work at the companies where you'd like to work.

While it's a great place to build your professional reputation, by posting and commenting on articles and multimedia content, groups are where LinkedIn really comes in to its own. Search for those related to your profession and you'll find plenty of opportunities to talk to people looking for information about what you do — the very information you can provide and build a reputation on. The golden rule with groups is to be helpful. Answer questions with a well-considered, useful answer and leave the pitch on your profile. If someone wants to find out more about you, they'll check your profile to learn about any services you provide.

Although LinkedIn is primarily a place for individuals to meet and connect on a professional level, you can list your business there too. You can list who works for you, post professional updates and vacancies, and even ask people to apply for jobs via LinkedIn, so it can help cut the costs of recruitment too.

Every professional person (with the possible exception of spies, the Queen, and the secret police) should be on LinkedIn. If you have a growing company, it's a great place to find new employees and prospects. Just leave the funny cat pictures to the other platforms.

And (some of) the rest

Other platforms that offer business opportunities but are less likely to be useful include:

Tumblr

Tumblr is a social media platform devoted to blogging, allowing users to post their thoughts and feelings online and share them with various communities as well as the general public. Users post short articles and, more commonly, photos, captions, cartoons and other visual representations of their thoughts and opinions.

Unlike Twitter, there are no limits on word-length, and unlike Instagram, it’s easy to post large numbers of images at once in the form of photo-sets.

Perhaps the most important thing to say about Tumblr is its sense of community, particularly among its large cohort of young, socially-conscious users. To make an impact on Tumblr, it’s essential to know who you’re trying to connect with and what you’re trying to achieve.

Medium

Medium is a long-form blogging platform that features a mix of non-professional contributions and paid professional content. Described by best-selling author and digital marketer, Jay Baer, as ‘LinkedIn’s cool younger brother,' Medium offers a wide range of articles but is more focused on contributions from individuals than businesses.

Medium pages are designed to look like the pages of a book, for maximum readability. It's a look and feel that automatically encourages a more literary style of writing. A useful feature of Medium is that you can type in a URL (say from your own blog) and Medium will create an article, ready for you to add the finishing touches and publish.

Medium is a good option if your business has industry experts — thought leaders — who can positively represent your brand, sharing their insights and interacting with professional audiences to build a network of contacts. It's also an excellent place for sole traders to write around their subject, introducing themes that might not work so well on the company blog.

Stumbleupon

Stumbleupon is what’s known as a ‘discovery engine', a form of search engine that finds and recommends various sorts of web content to users based on their preferences and interests, using peer-rating and social networking systems in its algorithms.

This makes it useful for word-of-mouth referrals from past customers and fans of your business, as well as paid-for advertising by inserting sites into users’ feeds. The cornerstone of Stumbleupon success is great content, so if you’re posting useful information, you’re already on your way to making an impact on the platform.

Reddit

Reddit is a social networking, news and entertainment platform that classifies posts by topic into a wide array of different bulletins, known as subreddits. Because reddit caters to a huge array of interests — everything from images of imaginary beasts to academic theory — your best bet is to find a subreddit that fits with your business and start becoming part of the community.

Because reddit is so community-focused, it may be hard to make an impact quickly unless you’re offering something truly special.

Industry-specific social networks

There are hundreds of dedicated social networks for professionals in specific industries; from astronauts to xylophone players. A Google around will help you find the right one for you. These networks ostensibly provide a place for people to share opinions and ideas, but this naturally often stretches to sharing opportunities and leads.

Or create your own

Facebook and LinkedIn are both ideal places to create groups for your profession. Although it's very likely they already exist, there might not be a group for a particular specialism within your profession. Creating a group will generate untold networking opportunities and ways to make friends with like-minded people.

Making your choice

In short:

  • Facebook is a must-have, but how often and what you post will be different, depending on your business. It's the perfect way for smaller businesses to build trust by showing exactly who they are, but more serious businesses might prefer to stick to posting their own content, plus relevant, interesting industry articles and videos.
  • Twitter is great for sharing information you and your followers care about, and for broadcasting announcements about your business (events or theme nights at your restaurant, for example), but should be viewed more as a bulletin board than an advertising platform.
  • Instagram is about the closest to straightforward advertising as you'll get from a social media platform, as long as your product is highly visual. It's also a great opportunity to visually represent the dream or lifestyle your brand embodies.
  • Pinterest is also pretty indispensable to any visually-oriented business or service. Make sure your website has a Pinterest plugin so you and others can pin your content too.
  • LinkedIn is the place to connect with prospects and potential employees, showcase your skills and build up your professional reputation.

Your business doesn't need to be on every social media platform, so choose two or three that best suit what you do and who you do it for, and start posting.