For marketers juggling a million different tasks and to-do lists, social media platforms can feel like pieces of hay: on its own, each one is lightweight and manageable—but collect enough, and suddenly you have a bale too huge to lift.
So when new platforms make their way into the mainstream, you’re faced with a problem. Failing to test new platforms as they arise and carve out their niches in the social market could result in unexplored opportunities; but on the other hand, your boss won’t give you any additional resources to handle the increased workload that comes with managing yet another seemingly simple social tool.
Meanwhile, the constant pressure to build and maintain an active, engaging social brand often causes marketers to overlook a simple truth: not all social media networks are created equal. Brands will find that the social networks offering the strongest returns are not necessarily the highest-value social networks for other companies.
A few months ago, after reading about brands that are having wild success with Snapchat marketing, you decided to do the same. You put in the time, followed the best practices, and nothing materialized. Last week, your senior director asked to see some data from your social efforts, and you had nothing to show. You’re not getting any ROI out of your efforts, and even though companies are hailing Snapchat as their best new content channel, it’s proving to be nothing more than a time and resource drain for you.
You need a plan—something you can present as an answer to the questions you know your boss will have. So, what do you do? Do you cut bait on Snapchat and risk looking like a fool? Or do you let the numbers make the call, trim the fat, and focus on platforms with proven value?
The Economist learned a valuable social media lesson the hard way. It committed to building a social presence on every major platform, which meant creating and maintaining a Pinterest account and a Tumblr account. It was a flawed strategy, though, because Pinterest and Tumblr failed to bring in the results the company wanted. Meanwhile, the work of maintaining these different accounts meant that the media publication was likely missing out on opportunities available through other social networks that might be more conducive to reaching The Economist’s target audience.
As Digiday reported, the publication’s struggles on Pinterest and Tumblr convinced the company to stop updating its accounts. Instead, it shifted those freed-up resources to channels more likely to drive the results the company was hoping for—which meant putting more effort into LinkedIn. The company also resolved to value quality over quantity, which meant that it was willing to post less on LinkedIn in exchange for promoting only the best content it published.
The results were commanding. Over the next year, The Economist increased its LinkedIn following from half a million users to 2.4, and it continues to add 25,000 followers each week. The company also takes time to produce content specifically for LinkedIn’s platform and how its users engage with content, which is a luxury its marketing team likely wouldn’t have enjoyed if they were still trying to find success on Pinterest and Tumblr.
The Economist is a case study any brand can learn from: casting a wide social net doesn’t necessarily work when certain channels fail to offer any reward. Yes, it takes time to build a social presence and to determine whether your efforts are gaining any traction with consumers. But once it looks like your efforts on one social network are being wasted at the expense of a more promising platform, it’s time to test a different approach.
When it comes to social media, marketing departments can get overly consumed with volume at the expense of efficiency. But successful marketing, like so many aspects of running a successful business, is built around being economical. You have a set marketing budget, and you optimize your various campaigns to make the most of those funds.
The same is true for your social media marketing strategy. The social landscape is maturing, and it’s easier now than several years ago to see what these platforms offer and how they are unique from one another. For the most part, social networks are becoming increasingly segmented, with certain populations and demographics gravitating to one social network over another—or at least a group of social networks over their competitors.
The growth of neighborhood-based social network Nextdoor suggests that new entrants to the social media space will aim to occupy these more specific interests, engaging users through a common interest, value, or experience. Brand marketers should take a similar approach, identifying their strongest social channels and putting their effort into getting the most out of these opportunities.
If your Instagram efforts aren’t giving you much back in return for your efforts, the cost may seem minimal. But when you think of that wasted Instagram marketing as time not spent working on your most successful social account, it’s easy to make the case for using fewer social networks, and fully developing the ones with proven value.
In many cases, you’ll be able to pinpoint the most effective platforms for your brand by identifying the ones that your audience is most likely to use. For many companies, Facebook is indispensable just because of its sheer size. As Pew Research Center pointed out, 79 percent of all adult internet users in the United States—68 percent of the total American population—has a Facebook account. Due to the size of Facebook’s user base, virtually every brand should be able to find its audience there. While the platform may not always be the highest-ROI channel for your social media marketing, it is pretty reliable as a driver of traffic, distributing content, and building brand awareness.
Alternatively, other social media platforms have proven to be popular among specific groups. LinkedIn tends to be very successful for business and other professional audiences, which is a big part of why The Economist found so much success by funneling its efforts there. Pinterest, by contrast, is a female-dominated platform: forty-five percent of all female internet users in the United States are on Pinterest, compared to just 17 percent of men. Instagram’s active user base skews young: fifty-nine percent of the 18- to 29-year-old crowd use Instagram, compared to just 33 percent of users ages 30 to 49.
Twitter is similar to Instagram in having a younger audience, although the scale is not so extreme. But Twitter differs in having an active user base that’s generally more educated than other platforms, with 29 percent of all college-educated internet users owning a Twitter account. Each brand will have to use these demographics, along with more specific consumer information, to determine which social media networks are best suited to reaching their target audiences. There’s no way to prescribe a best approach—each strategy will have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Some will tell you that you can’t afford to do without any social network. In a perfect world, that’d be true: you’d have all the time in the world to build your social content for an infinite number of platforms. But since most marketers lack the luxury of endless time and bottomless marketing budgets, the smart move is understanding your priorities and putting your effort into the channels offering the greatest reward.