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Social media use has become widespread across the U.S. A January 2018 Pew Research Center survey showed that 69% of U.S. adults use at least one social media site, with the median American using three. All eight social media sites that Pew surveyed on have experienced growth in use between 2012 to 2018, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Social media site use by U.S. adults, Jan. 2018
With the number of social media sites that exist, as a business owner or organizational leader you may have the question "What social media site(s) should I use?" The answer will be different for each business,depending on several factors.
What are your goals?
Any time you implement the use of a tool, you should have an identified goal that the tool's use will help you in reaching. The same goes for social media tools. It is easy to post large quantities of content to one or more sites without accomplishing anything. So, make sure you have determined your goals. You may find the need to use more than one social media tool to accomplish your goal(s). Consider the following goals to get you started:
- Improving customer service
- Increasing brand/farm/organizational awareness
- Learning about your audience/customers
Whatever goals you set for your social media use, ensure that you've decided how you've going to measure achievement and that they help drive you toward achieving your overall business/organizational goals.
Who do you want to connect with and where are they?
Are you looking to connect with your individual customers, local community members/residents, businesses, colleagues, women, techies? Different tools attract different types of users. For instance, 41% of women surveyed by Pew indicated using Pinterest compared to 16% of men. What are the demographics and interests of your audience? Developing a written profile of your audience, or several for different audience segments, can be helpful and may be something you have on hand if you've developed a marketing plan.
Figure 2. Social Media site use by age group
Once you've identified who your desired audience is, you can look at the social media sites they are currently using as well as researching the demographics of the users for the different social media tools you're considering. Figure 2, also from the Pew Research Center, illustrates the use of different social media sites by age group. For example, while Facebook has high use by most age groups, other social media sites show wider variability in use across age groups. Depending upon your specific goals and target audience(s), you could survey them, asking which sites they use and on which they would prefer to interact and connect with you.
Where are your competitors?
What platforms are your direct competitors most active on? What sort of activity and engagement are they generating? While you shouldn't base your decision on what social media to use solely on that used by your competition, knowing the current social media environment can assist you in determining a strategy for your use of social media. Perhaps, for example, you determine through research that your desired audience is migrating to a social media site, not currently embraced by your competitors. By identifying that, you have an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage by being the first to connect on this different site, in addition to having a presence on the site currently used by the competition.
What type of content do you want to share?
Different social media platforms lend themselves better to different types of content. Instagram is image-centric and isn't an ideal choice for lengthy posts or article length text. Facebook handles a variety of content types, but photos and video are now the most likely to be shown in the newsfeed of followers due to Facebook's current algorithm. Video can now be supported on several social media sites, with Facebook Live, Periscope (owned by Twitter) and YouTube as examples.
How do you want to engage?
While it may seem obvious that social media is intended to provide a platform for engagement and communication between you and your audience, there are different expectations that come with the different sites. For instance, Twitter is much more of a "real-time" conversation than Pinterest. Facebook tracks the responsiveness of pages to private messages (not comments on page posts) sent to the page and will display that on your page. In general, it's more acceptable to tweet numerous times every day than it is to do so on Facebook. However, regular and consistent posting is key on all sites. Make sure that you've considered the aspect of timeliness - what your audience wants as well as what you can deliver - when choosing which sites to use.
Answering these questions should lead you to identify the most appropriate social media platform(s) for your business or organization. On a regular basis you'll want to measure whether, and how well, you're achieving your goals for social media use. Don't be afraid to drop the use of a social media site if it's just not working for you.
Social Media Use in 2018. Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (March 1, 2018)
Which Social Media Platforms Should You Use for Your Business? Digital Marketing Institute. Accessed 7/25/18.