Choose the Right Social Networks to Boost Your Business

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social clusterFind Kelly Jo on Twitter: @KellyJoHorton

I have some good news … and some bad news. Let’s start with the bad news. You have to embrace social media and integrate it into your marketing strategy. I know what you’re saying; it doesn’t work for my industry, we tried it once and nothing happened, I’m a team of one and I just don’t have the bandwidth to manage all of those platforms. I hear you. Now can you see this little tiny violin I’m playing?

The good news is you don’t have to have a brand presence on every single social networking platform out there. Choose the right social networks, and you can focus your efforts on the ones that will give your brand the most bang for the buck.

Find your audience

Step 1, find your audience. If you are a large well-known brand you may already have a good idea of which social media platforms your target audience prefers to engage on. You can easily search for your brand name on Twitter (“My Brand”), search mentions (@MyBrand), and hashtags (#MyBrand). If you have a Facebook page, look at the Insights dashboard to get an idea of statistics on engagement, geography, gender, and more. Many platforms support searchable hashtags, and of course you can always see how many followers, likes, and connections you have. Check industry forums as well.

If you’re a lesser-known brand or haven’t ventured into the world of social media yet, it may take some trial and error to find your audience and choose which social networks to focus on.

If I can give you one piece of advice, it’s this: start small and don’t be afraid to fail.

Choose the social networks that fit your audience

There are hundreds of social media networks out there, which can be completely overwhelming to the newbie. To make things even more complicated, some networks are popular worldwide and some are popular only in specific countries. I’m going to review a handful of the most popular social networks out there, but know this: you need to focus on only one or two to get started.

NOTE: If you’re in a regulated industry such as healthcare (HIPAA), financial (FINRA), or music (COPPA), be sure to check the specific regulations related to social media before diving into the social media deep end.

Professional networks: LinkedIn, Viadeo and Xing

LinkedIn iconDemographic: Business professionals.These are the social networks used most by recruiters, job seekers, and business professionals looking to network.

If you have time to focus on only one social network, focus your efforts on a professional social network first. LinkedIn is the most widely used professional social network, with 296 million users in over 200 countries. LinkedIn has increasingly become a great source for content as well, with its Pulse program that curates content written by LinkedIn influencers.

Viadeo has over 60 million users worldwide, and is the largest network for job seekers in France and China. If you have customers in Germany, consider Xing with 14 million members, mostly in Germany.

Beyond the basic brand page there are other ways to boost your brand presence on LinkedIn:

  • Encourage your employees to create or update their LinkedIn profiles. They are the face of your company.
  • Encourage your employees to share your content and job postings on LinkedIn.
  • Be active in groups related to your industry. This demonstrates thought leadership.

All of these things will eventually drive traffic back to your brand page.

Visual networks: Pinterest, Instagram, SnapChat

PinterestDemographic: Instagram and SnapChat, mostly young digital natives. Pinterest, mostly women 18-49.

Before you write these networks off hear me out. Think outside the box for a minute. Every product has a visual element, whether it’s a piece of hardware, a software UI, or the faces of the people behind the product. There is always a visual element you can use to connect to your customer.

Still not feeling it? Let me give you some examples of how some customers I’ve worked with put these social networks to work for them.

  • Create Pinterest boards for conventions you attend. It’s a great way for prospects and customers to reconnect with your brand after the event is over.
  • Releasing a new product or service targeted to the under-25 crowd? Use SnapChat to tease the product release. If it’s a physical product, take extreme close-ups of pieces of it and send to your followers or add the shots to your SnapChat Story.
  • Use Instagram to create a more human connection with your customers. Post photos of your new office or candids of your support team. Use a special hashtag and solicit photos from customers.

Long-form video hosting: YouTube, Vimeo

YouTube iconDemographic: Broad coverage; there’s something for every age, gender, or interest group, with both broad and narrow niches.

If you have a lot of video content you should consider creating a YouTube channel or a Vimeo account to make that content searchable and shareable. Vimeo is more focused on business professionals and doesn’t have the clutter of the in-video advertising that YouTube has. It also allows you to password-protect video content.

At last count YouTube had over 800 million unique users, which is hard to ignore. And it’s owned by Google, so you can’t discount that when you take SEO into consideration. I like to think of YouTube like a giant big box store, and Vimeo as a small boutique. If you’re a small brand you may not be able to cut through the clutter on YouTube, and may want to consider Vimeo.

You can use either platform to post recordings of your webinars, tease and release new products using video clips, and post video testimonials and customer interviews.

The idea here is to make it easy for your customers to find and share your video content. And of course you can always embed hosted video content into your website by using the embed code provided by YouTube and Vimeo.

Micro-video sharing: Vine, Instagram

Demographic: Instagram appeals to the 18-49 crowd, Vine skews younger.

Instagram social media iconWhile Instagram allows both still photographs and short videos, Vine is video only. The most unique feature about Vine videos is you can stop and start the filming multiple times, allowing you to create some interesting effects like stop-action and 2-person perspective. The finished video plays in a constant loop, which means your ending is also your beginning and vice versa.

I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking, this couldn’t possibly apply to my industry. Again, I encourage you to think outside the box. If you’re already using Instagram try spicing it up with an occasional video. If your customers are in the 18-29 age group, you might want to consider Vine. British bank NatWest has created a series of Vine videos to answer the most common questions they get at the bank. They cross-post the videos to Twitter for maximum reach. It’s a very clever use of the platform.

Rolling commentary and news: Twitter

Twitter iconDemographic: According to recent statistics the vast majority of users are 18-29, but I happen to know a lot of people in the 30-49 age category who are active Twitter users.

Twitter is a continuous feed of news and rolling commentary. I personally spend an hour on Twitter every morning looking through my feed for interesting articles, blogs, or news tidbits. It’s the social network I go to for updates on what people are talking about right now.

The one thing that sets Twitter apart from every other social media network is you have to express yourself in 140 characters or less. It forces you to be concise. It can be a great tool for cross-promotion of content and multi-channel marketing campaigns. Getting even one of your tweets retweeted by an industry influencer can really increase your brand impressions.

Hybrid networks: Facebook, Tumblr, Google+

Google icon hand drawnDemographic: Facebook, everyone and their mother, literally. Tumblr, mostly teens and millennials. G+, early adopter types, 18-39.

I put Facebook, Tumblr and G+ into a hybrid category, because I couldn’t see them fitting neatly into the any of the other categories.

Tumblr is mainly a visual platform, but it is also used for blogging. The majority of users don’t create original content, but “reblog” existing content. This is great for you as a brand if you have visually engaging content. The most popular form of content on Tumblr is the animated GIF. Become a master of this form of content and you’ll see great reach on Tumblr.

Facebook iconThe day my dad joined Facebook was the day my teenage daughter decided it wasn’t cool anymore. However, there are still over a billion users on Facebook, and most of them are not teenagers, which is a good thing unless you’re selling lip gloss. Facebook has become an online community for every generation. It has also become an increasingly pay-to-play platform for brands. Facebook has great target marketing capabilities, but you will have to spend some money to cut through the clutter and reach your audience.

Google Plus is a must if you want to do well in Google search. It has a minimalist look and feel, and is a great addition to any multi-channel marketing effort. One if its best features is the Google Hangout, which allows you to video chat with anyone on the platform. Use this feature to host a monthly chat with a featured customer, or a product manager. It’s a great way to engage with your prospects and customers.

Change is Constant

Heraclitus was right. The only thing constant in the world is change, which is exactly what makes social media such a challenge for businesses. Just when you think you have it all figured out, a social network changes the dimensions of their page layouts, changes the terms of service, or your audience decides THAT social network just isn’t cool anymore and moves on to one you’ve never heard of. That is the reality of social media marketing.

The best way to keep up with the changes that are rolled out to social media networks on a weekly basis is to subscribe to their blogs and Twitter feeds. This is where you’ll find out about new features, bugs and best practices. Many of the networks have user forums as well.

In the end, you can’t be everything to everybody – so don’t even try. Choose the social networks that you feel would benefit your brand the most, and focus your time and energy on those. Try something new once in a while as a test. And don’t be afraid to fail!

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Find Act-On’s 8-part course Using Social Media for Lead Generation in the Act-On Center of Excellence.

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What’s the most surprising result you’ve ever gotten on social media?

Twitterbirds by SpoonGraphics. Social icons “hand drawned” by The G-Force. Used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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  • Jay McBain

    Great article – we are now on 10 social networks and finding different types of customers on each

    • http://about.me/kellyjohorton Kelly Jo Horton

      So true. Each network has its own personality and draws its own unique crowd.