Content Inspiration

Which Social Media Channels Should Your Brand Focus On?

By Cara Hedgepeth on April 19, 2024

When Meta launched its Twitter look alike, Threads, in summer 2023, social media managers scrambled to learn everything possible about what some were deeming "the Twitter-killer." They hopped on the platform and did their best to make a splash. More than six months later, was the rush worth the payoff?

This is a familiar story in marketing. With the myriad of social media channels available and the pressure on brands to remain relevant, as marketers, we're constantly challenged to determine the best social media channels for our brands to focus on.

If there is one key takeaway from this guide, let it be this: businesses should not be on social media platforms without a clear purpose and strategy behind their presence. It's better to fully commit to a few channels where you know your target audiences spend time, and where your brand can consistently develop and post worthwhile content, than to create an account for the sake of it.

This guide is designed to help you determine what social media platforms are right for your business and how to make the most of them.

What are the most popular social media platforms to consider?

Understanding the various platforms available and their capabilities—user demographics, strengths, and weaknesses—is the first step in crafting your brand's social media strategy.

Let's start with a high-level look at platform usage.

While marketers spend a lot of time talking about Meta, YouTube is actually the most widely used social media platform. According to Pew Research, 83 percent of U.S. adults report using YouTube. Sixty-eight percent report using Facebook, 47 percent use Instagram, and 27 to 35 percent of adults say they use Pinterest, TikTok, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.

But it behooves any marketer to look deeper than these topline numbers. The popularity of these social media channels varies considerably by demographic. While YouTube scores highest in usage across all age groups, LinkedIn and Facebook are most popular among 30 to 49-year-olds, and those 50-65+. Instagram, Pinterest, and X are most popular among 18 to 29-year-olds on average (although usage is lower across the board on X compared to all of the other platforms).

When considering where to invest your brand's effort over the long term, another factor to take into consideration is user growth and decline across your specific audience segments or demographics. While YouTube and Facebook dominate the social media landscape, the share of adults who use these platforms has remained stable since 2021; meanwhile, TikTok and Instagram have seen rapid growth over the same period.

By understanding the audiences on each platform and which are on the rise with the users you're targeting, you can already start to make more calculated decisions about where your efforts may be best spent. Where does your business' audience fall among these demographics today, and which platforms are they adopting that will impact tomorrow? Do your company goals include trying to reach new and younger audiences? Answers to these questions will assist in narrowing down your options.

chart shows the popularity of social media channels

Image attribution: Pew Research Center

Strengths and weaknesses of the major social media platforms

Before dedicating significant resources to developing content on any platform, consider the types of content each channel supports and how that content serves the goals of your brand.


YouTube is a video-only platform and the second-most visited website globally, after Google, which translates to a huge potential audience for your brand. While YouTube is a search engine itself, its videos are also prioritized in Google searches, meaning that a strong brand presence on YouTube has the added benefit of directly increasing organic search discoverability for your brand.

If you don't have the resources to consistently develop, post, and engage with high-quality video content, it may not make sense for YouTube to be at the center of your company's social media ecosystem. However, it's important to note that at this stage, video is going to be a crucial part of any social media strategy. The dominance of video is evident in the investment other social media platforms have made in expanding the number of "signature" video formats they support (everything from TikTok to Instagram Reels, Facebook Stories and YouTube Shorts).

What's so great about video? It's engaging, versatile, and offers great ROI for marketers. According to Wyzowl, 44 percent of people prefer to learn about a new product or service via short video content versus other methods such as reading an article or viewing an infographic. Eighty-seven percent of marketers say video marketing has directly increased sales, and short-form video offers the highest ROI of any social media content type with videos that are 30 to 60 seconds seeing the most success.

chart of how consumers prefer to learn about products

Image attribution: Sprout Social


Along with YouTube, Facebook is the most-widely used social media platform, and there's good reason the platform has continued to be a juggernaut in the social media space. Originally built for general content sharing among friends, family, and communities, Facebook supports multiple types of media, making brands less reliant on video alone to drive engagement. For example, the platform still provides a straightforward way to share links in posts, which can be a low-lift tactic for driving engagement and traffic. And, while changes over the last few years have limited Facebook's targeting options, it remains a relatively strong advertising platform with broad targeting, custom audiences, and lookalike audiences still available for brands to leverage.

Facebook is also a fairly stable platform for reaching Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers as they age. User growth has remained consistent since 2021 and is forecasted to continuously increase in the U.S. between 2024 and 2028 by a total of 12.6 million users (a 5.04 percent increase). However, its lack of traction among younger audiences (13-17-year-olds usage on Facebook is only at 4.8 percent), highlights the need to consider alternative platforms if your brand's goal is to engage with Gen Z and younger generations.


Video-only until late 2022, TikTok is still predominantly a short-form video platform, though more recent updates have extended the length of video uploads and introduced horizontal video. It stands out as a strong platform for brands seeking to reach Gen Z and young Millennials as well as those eager to introduce themselves to new audience segments with niche interests. TikTok's algorithm excels at showing content to users most likely to engage, meaning (with the right content) brands have the opportunity to reach a vast audience and potentially go viral. The app has recently been integrating more shopping features like in-app purchases that make it easier to convert audience interest into quick sales.

TikTok features that have helped make it a popular platform include music (it did start out as after all), trending sounds, duetting, and stitching. However, limitations around what brands can do with these TikTok features—including restricted access to the full music and trending sounds library—can make it difficult to present as unique on the platform.

Brands who thrive on TikTok prioritize constant creativity, authenticity, and innovative collaborations with creators on the platform. Before going all-in, consider if the fast-paced, informal nature of TikTok aligns with your brand and products. Also, be prepared to invest a solid amount of energy and budget in content creation and planning. Staying relevant requires constant attention to trends and popular challenges on the app. Paid advertising and influencer marketing is also relatively expensive on the platform, especially for smaller businesses.

Editor's note: The long-term viability of TikTok in the U.S. market is uncertain. As of March 2024, a bill was introduced and quickly advanced in the House that, if signed into law, will require TikTok's parent company, the Chinese owned ByteDance, to sell the platform to a U.S. company within six months. Failure to do so would effectively result in TikTok being banned from app stores and most internet providers. This potential ban has yet to slow TikTok's user growth.


Instagram reigns supreme for visual storytelling, offering a variety of placement options, including in-feed posts, Carousels, Stories, and Reels. This makes it ideal for industries that thrive on captivating imagery, such as fashion, beauty, food, and travel. Instagram's Discover page algorithm makes it easy for new users to find content based on their interests, and its shopping capabilities have made it seamless for users to purchase products within the platform. Because it's under the Meta umbrella, it's also easy to share content between Instagram and Facebook, which could help make the most of the assets you create that are a fit for both channels. However, you'll want to avoid sharing any content you've created on TikTok on Reels, as Instagram penalizes videos that are uploaded with the TikTok logo.

A lot of what makes Instagram a popular platform also makes it difficult to stand out. Consistent engagement and vibrant and compelling visuals are necessary to differentiate your brand from the crowd, which again brings up the issue of resources—do you have original photography available? Where are you sourcing content? Is user-generated content (UGC) an option? After introducing Reels in 2020, largely to compete with TikTok, Instagram has been prioritizing its video content; does your business have the capability to create video for Reels? You'll also want to consider if your products can be effectively represented in a quick snapshot. While captions can tell a story, the platform is more suited for short, impactful messages.


Another highly visual platform, users come to Pinterest looking for inspiration and ideas. This makes it a powerful tool to introduce potential customers to your brand and products at a time when they're more receptive to recommendations. With 450 million active monthly users, and nearly half of those users with an income of $100,000 or higher, Pinterest is a great place to reach people who are ready to spend. According to the platform, 85 percent of U.S. users have made a purchase based on pins from brands.

While Pinterest might not be the most popular social media platform, pins can stay active and on people's boards for a long time, driving traffic to your website or product landing pages even months after you initially post. The majority of Pinterest users are women, particularly those between 25 and 50 years old, which may not be ideal for brands targeting a different demographic. Like Instagram, success on Pinterest hinges on creating high-quality, engaging visual content. This requires ongoing investment in content design and photography.

Mastering Pinterest's algorithm is tricky. When surfacing search results, the platform goes beyond keywords to weigh factors like image quality, user behavior (saves, clicks), and pin popularity. This equates to a lot of testing for brands to find what works best.


LinkedIn stands out as the premier social network for B2B marketers. Originally designed for professional networking, it's become the most popular business website, offering a wealth of opportunities for brands targeting professional decision-makers across industries. The platform is a powerful source of B2B lead generation in addition to helping companies discover their next business partner and attract top talent to join their teams.

LinkedIn is an excellent place for companies to share expertise about a particular field or industry, elevate thought leaders within the company, and even give a window into workplace culture. In addition to the traditional content types you'll see on other social media platforms—images, video, and text posts—LinkedIn also offers some unique options for posting directly to the platform, including editorial style articles, recurring newsletter series, and documents like PowerPoint presentations and PDFs.

Since LinkedIn is a professional platform, users expect high-quality content with valuable insights. Creating content that resonates with your audience and establishes your brand as a thought leader requires ongoing effort and expertise.

Like most social media platforms, organic reach on LinkedIn has declined in recent years. This means that paid advertising may be necessary to amplify your message and reach a wider audience. LinkedIn Ads includes a diverse range of ad types, targeting through lookalike and retargeting audiences, and more. However, most LinkedIn ad campaigns have a minimum daily budget of $10 which could present a barrier to entry for marketers with small or inflexible budgets.

X (formerly known as Twitter)

X is best known as the preeminent app for breaking news and live conversations, making it a great platform for your brand to engage in public discourse and demonstrate responsiveness by addressing customer concerns publicly. Since the platform was acquired by Elon Musk, who made swift changes including laying off members of the content moderation team and those dedicated to trust and safety, the platform has seen a significant amount of user volatility. However, industry leaders, politicians, journalists, and other thought leaders remain active on the platform. If these key voices are integral to your strategy, it might make sense to continue posting and engaging with content.

In addition to the unpredictability of the platform over the last two years, the fast-paced nature of X can make it difficult for brands to stand out. Content has a short shelf life, and it requires constant posting to maintain visibility. While X allows for images and videos, it's primarily a text-based platform, so it's important to think about how your brand can drive a meaningful impact within the 280-character limit.


Threads—Meta's answer to Twitter's turmoil—had an explosive start. Thanks in large part to the ability of users to easily import their Instagram followers, Threads amassed 100 million users in just five days, besting the previous record-holder, ChatGPT, which gained 100 million users in its first two months.

Usage quickly fell off after the initial burst, and while Meta has rolled out Twitter-inspired features (tags, search, and polls) in an effort to hold onto users, X remains the foremost social channel for breaking news and commentary.

Understanding your audience and competitors on social media

Armed with valuable information about who is on each of these platforms and how they operate, you can now focus on determining where your audience is most active and what kinds of content they're engaging with on each platform.

An easy place to start is analyzing the channels where you're already active to assess where your brand is seeing the most quality engagement.

Study user behavior and conversion paths with tracking links to determine where the bulk of your engaged traffic and conversion traffic are coming from. You may be surprised to see that a significant number of quality website leads have originated from platforms you aren't prioritizing today.

Which social media metrics should your brand pay attention to?

Analyzing on-platform engagement must go beyond counting likes and shares. On each platform, weigh metrics such as:

  • Engagement Rate: This measures the percentage of your followers who actively interact with your content (likes, comments, shares, clicks, etc.) Divide the total number of engagements by your reach (number of people who saw your post) and multiply by 100 to get a percentage. A higher engagement rate indicates your content resonates with your audience.
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): This measures the percentage of people who see your post and click on a link you've included. A high CTR suggests your content is not only engaging but also effectively directing users towards your desired action.
  • Brand Mentions and Sentiment: Monitor how your brand is being mentioned across social media platforms. Analyze the sentiment of those mentions (positive, negative, neutral) to understand audience perception and identify areas for improvement.
  • Comments and Replies: Comments and replies indicate deeper engagement. Analyze the content of comments to understand what resonates with your audience and identify any complaints or questions that need addressing.
  • Saved Content: A user saving your content (bookmarking, adding to a list) suggests they find it valuable and want to refer.

Using social media comparison and benchmarking tools

You can't rely solely on your own social analytics to determine where and how your audience is best reached. Social media comparison tools allow you to look beyond your own social channels to see where your competition is seeing success with their audiences.

  • Identify your competitors, including direct competitors—businesses that offer similar products and services and target the same customers; secondary or indirect competitors—those that fall in the same general category as your business but offer a different product or service; and finally, substitute competitors—businesses that offer different products or services but target the same customer base.
  • Gather information about those competitors. Which social media channels are they using to reach their customers? What content types are they leaning into?
  • Analyze the competition's strengths and weaknesses. Are they seeing success because of the popularity of the product? Is their social presence distinctive? What topics are they posting about most frequently? How are they balancing educational versus promotional content? How consistently are they posting on the channels where they have a presence?
  • Determine what the results of this competitive analysis mean for your business' social media strategy. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses relative to the competition. Analyzing the competitive landscape will help you to pinpoint where your competitors may be lacking, where white space exists, and where your businesses may have a competitive advantage.

Once you've narrowed down the social channels you believe present the greatest opportunities—you'll want to test different types of content to further improve performance on each channel.

For example, if you've identified Facebook as an engaged platform for your audience, A/B testing will provide insight on how the same topic performs across different content types. Maybe you experiment with a link post and then use a photo from the article to test out image content.

Study how creators and influencers in your market engage with audiences for innovative tips and techniques you can test on your own channels.

When it comes to creative execution, it's a mistake to just post the same content across every channel, but creating custom content for each channel isn't efficient either. New AI-powered tools like ATOMM™, help marketers adapt original content for different channels and audiences using GenAI.

Working with influencers and creators

As the social media landscape has evolved over the years, influencers and creators have become a crucial part of a successful social media strategy.

Getting your content in front of an influencer's already engaged audience can help your company reach new potential customers while building your business' credibility. A successful business strategy is built on differentiation—what can you offer your customers that your competition cannot? Tapping into influencers and creators can spark those moments of differentiation, help your brand stand out, and win new business.

How do you find the right influencer or creator to represent your company? The insights you gain about your target audience will be key in allowing you to narrow your search and choose influencers with similar audiences on the social media channels that align with your brand.

influencer marketing

Image attribution: Ivan Samkov/@normvanya

Once you have an idea of the types of influencers you're looking for, third-party influencer marketing platforms can help you search for and vet influencers, manage day-to-day contact, plan content, and even manage your campaigns.

Both TikTok and Instagram have a Creator Marketplace where you can easily search for creators who are already posting about your brand, industry, area of interest or niche, by searching keywords that relate to your business or relevant hashtags as some of your target creators may already be talking about your industry or brand organically. Don't underestimate the power of doing your own initial searches on each platform to find people who you think might be a good fit.

At the end of the day, creator and influencer relationships are just that—relationships. While it can be tempting to seek out a new influencer for every campaign and initiative, there is value in building relationships with a small number of creators who can really get to know your brand well and act as brand ambassadors all year long. Even better if these creators can make content for multiple channels at the same time.

Focus your social media strategy

If there is one constant in the social media landscape, it's change. The number of platforms in the market, their user bases, algorithms, and features are all constantly evolving alongside our digital culture.

Don't try to master them all, but do remain informed enough to make smart decisions about which platforms you should be mastering now and next. Instead of focusing on how to drive vanity metrics, aim for consistent and rich engagement with a qualified audience. Let your audience lead.

Featured image by master1305 on Adobe Stock.


Cara Hedgepeth

With a degree in journalism and more than 10 years of experience in writing, reporting & social media marketing, I've covered the DC arts & entertainment scene, written features for regional and national magazines, pitched and written content for industry blogs, and most recently, helped to build and grow the social media presence of major brands. In my current role at AARP, I manage the community engagement and social media content strategy for AARP's enterprise accounts where we reach more than 2.8 million followers on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, X and TikTok.