There are dozens of social media platforms that you can use to connect with and engage your current and potential clients. While it may seem like a good idea to cover your bases and have a presence on all of them, it is better to focus your energy on several carefully-selected platforms that match both your goals and audience. Each social media platform has its own unique traits, and your content and audience may be appropriate for one platform and not another.
For example, photos have good impact when posted on Facebook and Instagram, but are less effective on Twitter. Likewise, if your target demographic is men over 65 years old, Pinterest might be a bad choice because research shows that this platform is appealing to women under 50 years old. It is important to research and choose the platforms that are most appropriate for your goals and audience. An Internet search for “social media statistics” and a visit to the Pew Research Center’s Web site (www.pewinternet.org) can get you pointed in the right direction.
Three of the biggest social media platforms today are Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
According to the Pew study, 67% of all Internet users use Facebook. So while it’s not quite accurate to state that “everyone is on Facebook,” a lot of your potential clients likely hang out there. More than one billion people like and comment an average of 3.2 billion times every day on Facebook, making it the largest social media platform in the world. Facebook is used by businesses to connect with existing clients and to cultivate new relationships, and its “liking” system is a useful tool for generating buzz for products and/or services, enabling fans to help you spread the word.
Because so many businesses now have a Facebook page, many consumers will look for your Facebook profile before even looking for your Web site. In addition to business pages, small (and large) businesses can advertise within the Facebook platform. While these ads are expensive, they are targeted to specific Facebook users in various parts of the site.
LinkedIn is generally perceived to be the place for business professionals to hang out, providing a platform for entrepreneurs and business people to connect, interact and network. Each LinkedIn profile is similar to a resume, listing your current employment, work history, education, skills, received recommendations and other relevant information. According to the Pew study, 20% of all Internet users use LinkedIn. 36% of users are college-educated, and 34% have an annual household income of at least $75,000.
Many small businesses use LinkedIn as a means of promoting a professional public image and establishing a business presence. You can create a profile for yourself and set up your business as a company profile to gain authority. On your company profile, you can list your services and products and a link to your Web site. Even though LinkedIn is geared toward connecting you with other industry professionals rather than with clients, the connections can prove beneficial and be a source of good business in the future.
Twitter enables users to send and read text-based messages known as tweets; each tweet is limited to 140 characters. According to Pew research, 16% of Internet users use Twitter. The most dominant age group is 18 to 29 year olds (27% of users) with some college education (17%). As a small business, you can tweet your own messages, retweet interesting and relevant tweets and comment on others’ tweets. Other users can follow you, and your tweets will automatically be shown to them.
Not all of your Twitter efforts will be posting new content. In fact, the majority of your activity might be in the form of retweets and comments. You can tweet a message directly at an authority in the hopes that they retweet to their followers (in order for this to happen your content needs to be remarkable or something so interesting that the authority cannot help but retweet). People tend to follow both people and businesses, so you might consider both personal and business Twitter profiles.
Aside from the Big Three, other noteworthy social media platforms include:
Google+ (pronounced Google Plus) is a newer social media service launched in mid-2011. Google+ has a +1 button that is similar to Facebook’s “Like” button. The +1 button allows users to start conversations and publicly recommend pages across the web. Each day, Google’s +1 button is used over 2 billion times, meaning that your content could be spread across the Internet as users +1 you to their friends and families.
Aside from the benefits of having your content shares, Google+ is essential for search engine optimization (SEO). Every Google +1 is a stamp of approval for that content. As your content receives more +1s, it can indirectly improve your page’s Google search rank, because Google uses data from social media signals to judge the quality of a web page or content.
Instagram is an online photo-sharing service that enables users to filter photos and share them through Instagram and other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Launched in late 2010, Instagram now has more than 90 million active users each month, and 40 million photos are shared each day. Pew research shows that 13% of all Internet users use Instagram, and that it is especially appealing to the 18 to 29 age group.
Instagram users can apply interesting filters to transform the look and feel of their photos, and the photos appear as squares instead of the 4:3 aspect ratio that is typical to most digital cameras. These features give Instagram photos a distinctive appearance. As a small business, you can post compelling images, including links to your Web site and content in the comment section so users can instantly connect with you.
Pinterest is a visual content sharing service where users “pin” images, videos and other objects to their pinboards. According to Pew research, 15% of Internet users use Pinterest, and it is especially popular among women who are between 18 and 49 years old. In addition to individual profiles, Pinterest supports boards for small businesses.
Users can pin things from your Web site by clicking on a “Pin it” button similar to Facebook’s Like and Google’s +1 buttons. Pinterest can be used to build brand awareness through visual content and to help drive Web site traffic.
YouTube is a video sharing site. Every minute, 72 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube, and over 4 billion hours of video are watched each month. While we would all like our videos to go viral with millions of views, this should not necessarily be the goal of small business videos on YouTube. Instead, you can use the platform to tell viewers about your products and services while conveying your brand to your audience.
Since most viewers have a limited attention span, it is best to keep videos brief and to the point, aiming for a length of about two to three minutes. Any longer than that and viewers either won’t finish the video or worse, they will skip it all together because it’s too much of a time commitment.
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