Do you ever log in to Facebook only to see a feed full of the same photos you just saw on Instagram—then get an email from Twitter claiming you missed a friend’s Tweet, which was really just a reshare of a photo from that same feed?
There’s an ever-growing number of social media platforms to use for your brand’s digital storytelling, and, given the rate at which they’re proliferating and—almost simultaneously—conglomerating, it can be difficult to tell the advantages of each for your marketing efforts. Whether your brand is bootstrapped and trying to decide how best to spend its marketing dollars, or you’re simply seeking better engagement with your social media strategy, it’s time to take a look at the state of social networks and decide where you should invest.
Instagram recently announced that it had hit 300 million daily users and doubled its active users from 250 million in 2014 to 500 million this year. Meanwhile, Snapchat overtook Twitter in the active user category a long time ago. Of course, if all you care about are numbers, no platform comes close to Facebook, which currently hovers right around 1.7 billion active users. It’s easy to be swayed by the platforms touting the biggest numbers, but brand storytelling relies much more on target audience and engaged impressions than it does on throwing a line into the most crowded pond.
Instead of simply seeking high amounts of active users, evaluate your social media strategy. Are you hoping to grow your brand’s followership? Create a dialog with your audience? Does your brand need to be more authentic, or are users craving a crisper picture of who you are?
Most brands want to focus their marketing transformation efforts on telling stories that connect with their core audiences, but the increasing amount (and interchangeability) of social networks makes that much easier said than done. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by options, take a goal-centric approach. By considering your brand’s story, goals, and audience, you can create experiences that are authentic to audiences on any platform you choose.
There are two tactics that can go a long way in helping you decide on the best platforms to incorporate into your social media strategy. But before we cover them, a quick reminder: Keep in mind that native content is favored aggressively on all platforms. Even as algorithms have made more room for more valuable paid content placement, all platforms still prefer that the content be published natively instead of blasted to an offsite link.
When considering your options for digital storytelling via social, start by evaluating the major players. Facebook and Instagram both still favor content published on their respective platforms. They also offer larger user bases with more polished, robust publishing options and the ability to run business accounts. These platforms, then, are perfect places for brands with regular publishing cadences to share their content with some degree of flexible regularity. What’s more, Instagram’s recently introduced Stories feature makes it possible for brands to speak to those larger user bases through authentic, nonmanicured content. In the words of Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s cofounder and CEO, “Instagram Stories aims to lower the bar for sharing all types of photos and video—and not just the carefully planned and painstakingly touched-up photographs that are typical of the service.”
Snapchat continues to be best suited to brands that want to feel like users’ friends—especially those with Millennial audiences who are allergic to overly posed and filtered content. And while Twitter may not offer the large user base of many other platforms, its core audience is famously engaged, and its format favors snappy dialog between brands and their audiences. (What’s more, through Twitter’s live video feature, there’s a huge opportunity for brands to connect with audiences in new ways.)
There are also plenty of other platforms that may have a firm grasp on just the demographics you’re hoping to reach, and each comes with its unique set of idiosyncrasies. Pinterest is a great avenue for visual content that’s geared toward women—who comprise the vast majority of the platform’s user base. LinkedIn offers an avenue for professional advice and industry updates. It all depends on the story you want to tell, and, above all, the audience you want to hear it.
Beyond simply considering your brand’s goals and vision, you’ll also need to account for your specific content strategy or, as described by Krystal Overmyer in a story for the Content Standard, “audience and fit.” Does your brand want to tell lifestyle stories through videos and images, and get valuable linkbacks and shoutouts from influencers? Instagram is the spot. Need to do some more thorough digital storytelling with words, images, and videos? Facebook is the best platform for publishing native content in the most traditional sense of the term. Want to create a youthful, viral, behind-the-scenes look at your brand or a particular event? Snapchat is the most mercurial and demographically youthful option, and it strongly favors brands that have cheeky marketing people who are ready to run low-budget, high-involvement campaigns. Twitter is similar—the best way to grow your reach is to get creative with your 140-character one-liners (with images and video, occasionally) and respond to your audience.
Brands wondering how to bolster their social media strategies shouldn’t toil too hard in determining the “best” social media platform to invest in. Your success with any given platform ultimately comes down to the particulars of your content, your goals for digital storytelling, and your differentiation among platforms with respect to their purposes. (That last point is key: casting a wide net with a generic message that’s designed to work across platforms will never make your story as successful as a network-specific campaign that’s meant to live on one platform and target one audience.) From there, whether it’s quality written material that needs an audience or a new image-based campaign that belongs on the platform known for quality images, if your content is high quality and you publish it natively where it belongs, it will experience success. Once you have built up a reputation on a few platforms, your data (and a marketing automation tool) will tell you where your most valuable leads are coming from, and thus where to invest your resources.
When it comes to brand storytelling, the most important things are as true as ever: know yourself, know your audience, and know how to convey your story. From there, it’s a simple matter of telling the right story with your audience as your guide.