Wikipedia's “List of social networking websites” lists over 300 active social networking sites. Whew! That’s a bunch of social networks that you could potentially participate in, but you can't be everywhere all the time. Nor, do you need to be.
Some of the smaller networks may fit perfectly into what you're doing with your business but, for the most part, you'll want to focus your efforts into one or more of the Big 5 Social Networks. What are the are the Big 5 you ask? They are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest.
I'll cover each below in more detail to help you understand what these networks are all about and how they might fit in with your marketing plan.
Facebook is the largest social network by far. It was launched in 2004 for college students but has since grown to serve a wide audience and age range. At the end of June 2012 it reported 955 million monthly active users.
Facebook uses a more closed format than other networks like Pinterest and Twitter. That means that it's more difficult to have your content seen by other people outside your direct Facebook “friends”. But the fact is, with the sheer number of people on Facebook, it’s hard to really go wrong with having a Facebook presence if you build it strategically.
You can create a Facebook Page, which serves as your business presence, so that your audience can sign up to receive your updates. Over the past year, Facebook has become a much more visual network with individuals and businesses sharing more photos and videos.
Facebook is also a very interactive network that allows people to share more detailed content and the commenting system makes for an even more cohesive interaction.
Facebook provides analytics called “Insights” to help people gauge the effectiveness their posts. A wide variety of businesses benefit from participation in Facebook and can also advertise cost-effectively to grow their following.
Twitter was launch in 2006 with a unique twist where you use only 140 characters on your updates. This is an interesting concept because it forces people to create concise, interesting and sometimes entertaining content for their followers. You can upload photos also but Twitter is more of a text-based social network that works very well for many businesses.
Twitter reaches a wide audience much like Facebook and boasts over 500 million active users and receives over 1.6 billion search queries daily.
It is also a very open format where, unless your Twitter updates are made private, users can search and easily find content from people they don’t follow. This makes for a tremendous opportunity for businesses sharing content on popular topics.
LinkedIn was launched in 2003 making it the oldest of the big 5 social networks. LinkedIn is focused on professional business people making connections.
Service providers do very well on LinkedIn, but most businesses can benefit from a LinkedIn presence. The site is a source for not only finding clients and employment, but also for similar business people to share advice, ideas, connect to work on projects and more.
Its much smaller than either Facebook or Twitter with 175 million followers but generally people and businesses regularly using LinkedIn are more likely to benefit from the connections they foster.
Google+ is a relative newcomer, launched in 2010. Google+ attracts a more technically-minded audience, but offers interesting possibilities due to its connections with Google’s other products, including search. They have over 400 million users, but only about 100 million are active on a monthly basis.
Much like Facebook, Google+ allows for the sharing of photos, videos, lengthy content, and creating discussions. And while Google+ doesn’t necessarily reach the average social media user, the strength in Google+ comes from a number of sources and a couple of notable ones are:
- Hangouts: This is similar to a webinar but you are able to see the people in the group at the bottom of the screen via sophisticated audio/video conferencing software that is built in to Google, allowing businesses to make more meaningful connections with their audience.
- The +1 button: On the network and throughout the web, Google users are able to show appreciation for content by giving it a “+1”. The +1 can help grow word-of-mouth audiences, but also can have an impact on traffic through search engines.
The deciding factor is where does your audience participate? If your audience is on Google+, it’s a good idea to explore the possibilities.
Pinterest is the baby of the big 5 social networks, launched in 2012. According to Comscore, by September 2012, it had 25 million users. While on the surface, it seems like they have a very small audience, it’s a unique network that many businesses are already tapping into and business strategists are keeping an eye on the progress.
This is the most visual network by far, because it’s focus is on sharing photos of things of interest to its users. These shares are called “pins” and allow users to create virtual “pin boards” in a variety of categories. Videos can be shared too but that is generally not the focus. The site also attracts considerably more women than men, giving you something to consider in your participation.
If your product photos are visually appealing or your content tends to be very visual you may do very well on Pinterest. Like Twitter, Pinterest is an open network and you will find that your Pinterest content is readily seen and shared by people who don’t directly follow you.
Of course, where you focus your efforts is up to you. But just remember it’s always better to do one or two things really well, instead of many things poorly. If you’re just getting started with social media, pick one to get your feet wet. If you’re already involved, evaluate whether you’re putting your attention into the right areas and make a plan to explore new areas or dig deeper into existing ones.