How to choose the right social media platform

Are you being left behind by the shift to social media? With so many platforms to choose from we ask how to choose the right social media platform? Read on for some guidance!

What we will cover

Often considered that you need a presence on all social media platforms, which is arguable, it’s equally unlikely that they will all be as valuable as one another, so we discuss how to choose the right social media platform for your business? As ever we have conjured a peculiar real-life metaphor for you!

What does an elephant look like?

Understanding social media is like grabbing the proverbial elephant. Whether it’s the ear, tusk or trunk you’re holding on to, there’s no doubt you’ve got something real. But if that’s all you see, your idea of the whole animal will be a bit off. 

Likewise, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram all come under the social media umbrella but everything from their popularity, audience demographics, engagement levels, content format and value to the business are very different.

We will focus on the ‘Big 9’ platforms later in the article but first, it’s useful to break down social media platforms into a few distinct types:

  • Social networks. These enable you to connect with your audience, join groups and share content. Facebook and LinkedIn are prime examples.
  • Media sharing sites. These platforms are all about sharing and commenting on images and videos. They include YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.
  • Social bookmarking sites. These are for organising and saving content in one digital place. Pinterest and Mix (formerly StumbleUpon) are examples of this type of site.
  • Blogging sites. These platforms enable you to create date-ordered posts with text and images, share them and invite comments. Tumblr and Olanola are two examples while Twitter is referred to as a microblogging site.
  • News aggregator sites. These bring together discussions on various topics and use a voting system to prioritise the best content. Reddit and Digg are well-known examples.
  • Messaging platforms. WhatsApp has snuck into these lists because of its simplicity and easy of use to connect large groups and conduct polls/surveys.

Many social media platforms straddle these different categories.

Identifying your audience

Each social media platform has its own demographic profile – in other words, it appeals to a specific audience. According to Omnicore, the profiles for the Big 9 are, as follows:

  • Facebook 88% of internet uses aged 18-29 use the platform as do 84% of 30-49 year olds. 57% are male
  • YouTube 37% of 18-34 year olds are very active on the platform. 62% are male
  • Instagram Around a third of internet users in the 18 to 34 age range use Instagram. 52% are female
  • WhatsApp 31% of users are 18-34. With 53.9% male
  • X/Twitter 37% of users are 18-29 years old while 25% are 30-49 years old. 66% are male
  • Snapchat 90% of users are 13-34 years old. 61% are female
  • Pinterest 34% of 18-34 year olds use Pinterest. 70% are female
  • Tiktok Around 17% are men between 18 and 24 years old. 54% of TikTok users are female
  • LinkedIn A quarter of 18-29 year olds use LinkedIn. 57% are male

The first step is working out where your audience intersects with the platform profile. For example, if your audience is mainly comprised of 18-29 year old males, you can probably focus your efforts most effectively on Twitter and Facebook (with YouTube highly recommended if you produce video content).

However, if you are targeting females of the same age, Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram will be worth considering instead of Twitter.

Platforms also differ in terms of their typical users’ income and educational background and, crucially, the type of content they prefer to consume. For example, if you are targeting jobseekers, you will probably want to look at LinkedIn even if your target market is older females. 

If there are any blind spots in your audience profile, your first task should be to do some market research to address them. Only when you have a clear picture of your target buyer will you be able to make a smart decision about the social media platforms you need in your mix. Reading our previous article on using marketing personas to target the best social media platform might also help.

Platform strengths and weaknesses

Matching your audience demographics to one or more social media platforms is only one part of the puzzle. Each platform has evolved to fill a different niche in the social media marketplace and while they will work amazingly well for some business purposes, they will be completely unsuitable for others.

For example, Facebook’s massive user base is legendary but reaching those billions of people isn’t easy. Facebook’s algorithms are geared around deepening connections with people you know not providing free marketing for businesses. So, if you have a large local following and want to enrich those relationships (and generate referrals), Facebook is perfect. If you have aspirations to expand across the globe (or even just the country), you are not going to get much joy without paying for advertising.

Twitter, on the other hand, is well suited for connecting across time and space. Twitter is organised around trending topics and if you can hook into a powerful global conversation, you can boost your brand awareness hugely.

YouTube is well suited for service industries, especially if they can create ‘How To’ videos but creating and maintaining a channel is time-intensive. LinkedIn allows you to connect with other businesses but interaction is limited. Instagram and Pinterest are ideal for showcasing visual products and creations (fashion, food, art, etc.) but if you need to sell through words, forget it. Snapchat offers an active market of young people but you will need to push creative boundaries to break through the noise.

How big are the Big 9?

While size isn’t everything, it is useful to understand just how many people are potentially within reach through social media.

Latest figures (Jan 2024 from Statista) for the number of users per month for each of the major platforms are as follows:

  • Facebook 3 billion.
  • YouTube 2.4 billion. And that’s only users; anyone can view YouTube content.
  • WhatsApp 2 billion. 
  • Instagram 2 billion. 
  • Tiktok 1.2 billion.
  • Snapchat 750 million.
  • X/Twitter 660 million.
  • Pinterest 465 million.
  • LinkedIn 134.5 million.

Setting goals

What do you want to use social media for? ‘Because everyone else is doing it,’ isn’t really a clear enough goal for you to derive maximum benefit.

Are you predominantly looking to drive sales? Do you want to boost your brand awareness and reputation? Perhaps you are more interested in building deeper connections with existing customers? Or providing better customer support.

Match your social media goals with the platforms best designed to deliver them.

Putting it all together

So, hopefully that’s helped with how to choose the right social media platform, once you’ve narrowed down your platforms to one or more that broadly match your target buyer profile and that marry up with your marketing goals. What next?

You need to bring everything together to create a social media strategy. This will connect your social media marketing with your wider marketing plans, particularly your content marketing.

For more info, have a look at how to connect social media with your content calendar and use the Hootsuite dashboard and make use of automation tools to streamline your workflow.

We also recommend you read our related post on getting your social media message right.

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