If you aren't using social media as a small business owner, you are missing out on valuable customers and inexpensive marketing. With about 70 percent of Americans using social media, your social media marketing campaigns have the potential to reach a lot of people.
"Social media provides targeting capability, as well as reach and scale, at a lower cost than almost all other marketing channels," said Abdul Muhammad, chief digital officer, partner at rbb Communications. "People are on social media all day, every day – brands must go where the people are."
But while you should be marketing on social media, you shouldn't necessarily be on every channel. It's important for you to invest in the platforms where you're more likely to reach and engage with your audience.
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To choose the best social media channels for you to interact with your customers, take some time to familiarize yourself with each network, how it runs and what demographics use that platform. Here are the basics you need to know about today's most popular social media platforms.
Facebook is the biggest social network on the web, both in name recognition and total number of users. With nearly 2 billion active users, Facebook is a great medium for connecting people from all over the world with your business.
In the years since it launched, Facebook has grown from a simple website where college students could keep in touch into a multifaceted web and mobile social platform where anyone can connect with not just their friends and family, but also celebrities, organizations, businesses and more, thanks to the Pages feature.
Considering that Facebook has a wealth of options for any type of organization, it's a great starting point for your business, regardless of your industry. You can use Facebook to share photos, videos, important company updates and more. Additionally, the site can be lower-maintenance than other social networks. Whether you post several updates a day or only a few a week won't make much of a difference in what your fans think of you. [Learn more about using Facebook for business.]
With Twitter, you can share short text updates (240 characters or fewer), videos, images, links, polls and more. You can also easily interact with other users by mentioning their usernames in your posts, so Twitter is a great way to quickly connect with people all around the world.
Twitter averages about 328 million active users worldwide and is one of the top 10 websites in the United States. Because of its wide reach, this platform is not only a great way to market your business, but also an effective channel for handling customer service. For example, if you maintain an active Twitter presence, customers who are also active on the platform will seek you out to express concerns or share their praise.
If you have interesting content, Twitter is also a great tool for quickly spreading the word. Retweeting and sharing other users' content is incredibly simple. Hashtags help boost posts, and if a user with a lot of followers retweets you, your content has the potential to go viral. But with Twitter, it's important to find balance. Don't simply share your own links or media; make sure you are also sharing a lot of interesting, relevant content from other Twitter users and from around the web so your audience doesn't think you care only about what your business is doing. [Learn more about using Twitter for business.]
This visually oriented platform allows users to save and display content by "pinning" digital bulletin boards, which can be organized by category. For example, a personal user might have a food board dedicated to pinning recipes, another board dedicated to photography, and so on. The platform also has a series of special types of pins called Rich Pins, which brands can use to add special information to their pins, like product details and even location maps. Every pin includes an image or video.
Like Facebook, Pinterest is fairly low-maintenance in terms of post frequency. However, keeping your boards organized and search-friendly can be time-consuming. It's also more of a niche network than Facebook or Twitter, so it may not work for everyone. Popular categories on the site are DIY projects, fashion, exercise, beauty, photography and food. That's not to say that businesses outside of these categories can't succeed on the platform, but it does make Pinterest an especially good marketing tool for businesses in those areas. [Learn more about using Pinterest for business.]
Like Pinterest, Instagram is a visual social media platform based entirely on photo and video posts. The Facebook-owned network has more than 700 million active users, many of whom post about food, art, travel, fashion and similar subjects. Instagram is distinguished by its unique filters and photo- and video-editing options. It's important to note that this platform is almost entirely mobile: You can't take photos or create new posts on the desktop version.
More artistic niches tend to excel on Instagram, and it may not be the best fit for your business, depending on your industry. Regardless, it's important that the person running your account have a good eye for detail and at least basic photography skills so the photos and videos posted to your account are high-quality.
Don't be discouraged if your industry is underrepresented on Instagram; if you can find the right hashtags to latch onto and post intriguing photos, you will most likely make it work. [Learn more about using Instagram for business.]
Snapchat is another mobile-only visual social media network that's known for its disappearing content. The more than 300 million monthly app users can send videos and photos, available for up to 10 seconds at a time, to one another, or post content to their public Stories, which disappears after 24 hours. During the past five years, the app has expanded to include chat, messaging, image storage, events and media content. Now, content can easily be saved and uploaded elsewhere.
Because posts are so temporary, there is less pressure to create super-polished content. You can also see how many and which specific users viewed your story. A small business will mostly likely utilize the platform's Stories feature, but keep in mind that only users who have added you can view your Stories content. However, once you have an audience, Stories allows you to easily create story-driven and interactive content. [Learn more about using Snapchat for business.]
YouTube is a video-sharing platform with more than 1 billion users where people can view, upload, rate, share and comment on content. Now owned by Google, the site is a huge hub for news and entertainment.
Created over a decade ago, YouTube has gone through numerous changes. For instance, users can now make money from Google AdSense, with the revenue dependent on the number of views on a video.
Many businesses on YouTube have a creative, visual or educational component. The platform is heavily driven by creativity in nature, so it's important to have a tailored video editor producing content. However, your business doesn't need a channel to market on the platform. There's a subculture of vloggers called YouTubers who publish frequent videos and often maintain large audiences. Often, businesses partner with YouTubers for product placement, because these users already have engaged audiences. [Learn more about using YouTube for business.]
While LinkedIn might not be the most popular social media platform, it still has 250 million monthly users and is the best platform for professional networking. LinkedIn is a great platform for finding top talent, painting yourself as an industry leader and promoting your business.
LinkedIn is designed to be more professional than other social media platforms. Users create profiles that are similar to resumes, and companies can create pages that showcase their business. Because LinkedIn is a professional platform, it's the best place to post job openings and information about company culture. You can join industry-specific LinkedIn Groups to ask and answer questions. This helps your brand, paints you as an industry expert, and brings people to your company's page and website. [Learn more about using LinkedIn for business.]
Additional reporting by Jill Bowers, Danielle Corcione and Brittney Morgan.