Gone are the days that marketers can broadcast the same message across three social media platforms and expect a positive consumer response. The best channels connect you with your brand champions and allow you to represent your brand voice accurately. So how do you cut the fat and choose the best social media marketing channels for your brand? This answer won’t surprise most you: research, analytics, and data hold the keys to optimizing your social media presence. In other words, strategy.

The evolution of social media marketing

For many marketers, it’s hard to remember a time before social media. Today we design Instagram Story templates and draft Facebook ad copy like it’s second nature. Something that barely existed a decade ago has become an integral part of our daily operations. But how did it come to represent such a large portion of marketing efforts? 

In its early years, social media was mostly uncharted territory. KPIs were simple metrics like gaining followers or driving more web traffic. Now, many agencies consider these “vanity metrics” because they look good on paper without actually giving much insight into the audience’s experience. As more and more marketers turned to social media to promote their brands, these metrics lost a lot of their potency. 

For example, Facebook engagement on posts—likes, comments, and shares—has declined by up to 20% in just the last two years. Is that because fewer people are following their favorite brands? Not necessarily. As Janet Aronica explains in a recent Hubspot blog, “The more that companies post content on Facebook, the more newsfeeds need to share their space, and the less users see and consume from any one company.” So it may be that, while your content is just as engaging as it’s always been, the odds of people seeing it have gone down. 

With the meteoric rise of TikTok in the mainstream and increasing legal troubles with established social media giants like Facebook and Instagram, many marketers are scrambling to readjust their social media marketing strategies. For many, it’s a simple case of seeing something new and shiny and feeling compelled to jump on it. As a result, a lot of brands are pouring time and energy into channels that just aren’t going to result in any meaningful traffic.

Users are changing social media marketing

Today’s audiences are smarter when it comes to social media advertising, and brands are being forced to discover new ways to gain traction. From Kind’s first viral TikTok challenge to Twitter’s strategic announcement that they won’t be running political ads, everybody is trying to get a piece of the social media pie. And with an estimated 2.65 billion people using at least one of the popular platforms, it’s a sizeable pie. That number continues to grow, with experts predicting we’ll top 3 billion users by the end of 2021. 

But just because users are on social media networks doesn’t mean they care about what your brand has to say on there. In fact, according to a recent study commissioned by Sprout Survey, perception of social advertising has either stagnated or declined in recent years. That doesn’t mean it’s time to throw out your social media marketing baby with the metaphorical bathwater. It just means it’s time to be more intentional than ever before. 

Why? Because social media advertising still works. As SurveyMonkey reports, “On Facebook, for example, as many as 51% of users admit to having clicked on an ad. They even influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. Nearly half of social media users (48%) have bought something after seeing an ad. A number that increases to 53% and 56% for millennials and women, respectively.”

So, what do we mean by social media channels?

Just like t.v. channels, social media channels are different platforms run by different companies that offer different experiences in the social world. From the educational, informational, and personal emphasis of Facebook to Instagram’s picture-driven aesthetics, and the temporary content of Snapchat, each channel has a unique purpose and unique audience. So how do you choose your best channel? We recommend you start by educating yourself about the pros, cons, and demographics of each. 

The big hitters

Of course, not all channels are created equal. Though they come and go—sorry, Myspace—several big hitters show no signs of stopping or slowing down. 

Facebook

Many businesses consider Facebook the crux of their social media strategy. And with a user base bigger than the population of many countries, there’s good reason. Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes, the company’s origin story has taken on nearly mythic proportions. In the third quarter of 2019, Facebook claimed 2.45 billion users. 74% of those users log in daily, and over half admit that they check their accounts multiple times each day. 

However, it’s essential to note that algorithms frequently change the way that material on Facebook reaches audiences. Plus, according to Hootsuite, many social media users (Facebook users in particular) are skeptical of self-promotion, paid advertising, and posting engagement bait. If Facebook is your primary social media marketing channel, we recommend fully leveraging high-quality organic material to create conversations and gain traction in the Facebook community. 

Instagram

Instagram may belong to Facebook now, but it’s still got a unique vibe. After it recruited over a million users within two months of launching, many heralded Instagram as one of the largest growing social sharing platforms. The picture-driven social network is all about aesthetics. It’s a predominantly visual platform that requires custom images and videos for brands to compete. Recent additions to the channel include IGTV, and Instagram Stories, which are changing the social media landscape in fascinating ways. These features make Instagram a confluence of YouTube and Snapchat, while still staying uniquely Instagram.  

With a billion or so users every month—and 500 million people logging in each day to watch Stories—it’s clear Instagram has the reach markets are looking for. That may account for why over 75% of businesses have an Instagram account that they update regularly. According to Forbes, Instagram is an essential part of building your brand’s visual presence. Through image-editing, filters, stickers, and more, you can broadcast your brand’s voice to interested audiences. 

Twitter

It might not feel like much gets said in 280 characters, but Twitter gives brands a voice that carries. When used correctly, it provides companies an authentic and engaging way to connect with their customers. Wendy’s, for example, has gone viral on more than one occasion with their Twitter persona’s sassy clap-backs. General Electric, on the other hand, uses its Twitter channel to demonstrate thought leadership and authenticity. They regularly use Twitter to educate their followers, breaking down complex concepts using simple language. 

With 145 million daily Twitter users, this channel has a smaller audience than many. But regular users are deeply engaged, especially when it comes to politics and news. Many consider Twitter the great equalizer—it’s one of the only social networks where people can connect directly with celebrities and companies (or at least their social media marketing teams). 

LinkedIn

As the hub of industry-related news, LinkedIn is an excellent option for B2B communications, entrepreneurs, and brands looking to expand their professional networks. Your LinkedIn followers will expect a higher caliber of information than those on many other social channels. The most valuable content appeals both to your business peers and potential customers. It’s also the top-rated social site for lead generation. 

YouTube

As the largest video sharing platform around, YouTube is more than just the haunt of influencers and brand ambassadors. It’s where 1.9 billion active users go to watch 1 billion hours of videos every day. As video continues to play a crucial role in the evolution of brand visibility, YouTube could become an even more important social media channel for many brand’s strategies. 

Getting off the beaten path

Though the social media channels listed above represent a significant chunk of the market, there are plenty of older staples and rising stars that round out the field. 

Pinterest

As one of the original DIY sites, Pinterest is where people go looking for inspiration. Users create boards full of Pins, which consist of images, videos, and links based on their interests. With 200 million monthly viewers, it’s not a social media giant like Facebook. But it does boast a devoted (even fanatical) userbase known as “Pinners.”

Pinterest offers an excellent opportunity for brands to show their products in action. Chobani, for example, has a board called Cooking with Chobani where people can pin their favorite recipes—from creamy french toast to savory mac and cheese. 

Snapchat

Looking for a way to connect with young consumers? Snapchat might be your best social media channel. Over 100 million people use it daily, and the most active users are young adults ages 18-24. Of course, this demographic has a notoriously low threshold for advertising. Send too many snaps—or too many promotional snaps—and your followers might hit the unfollow button. 

Instead, successful brands are using Snapchat to reward followers with coupons, product sneak peeks, and exclusive competitions. Branded hashtags and hashtag challenges are also a great way to generate brand awareness and encourage user-generated content

TikTok

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention TikTok, the newest social media channel to hit the scene. According to Oberlo, “TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world which presents an alternative version of online sharing. It allows users to create short videos with music, filters, and some other features.” Since its launch in 2016, TikTok has accrued over 500 million active users. On average, those users spend 52 minutes on the app each day. 

Choosing your best social media channels

If you feel like you’re overwhelmed by choices, or daunted by the work that goes into maintaining multiple social media channels, it may be time to pare down your strategy and pick the channels that work best for your brand. And that means figuring out who your target audience is, finding the channels that align with your brand values, and sticking to your social media goals. 

Finding your target audience

Are you trying to connect with middle-aged parents or Gen-Z athletes? Retirees or recent college graduates? Different demographics find value in different social media channels. Discovering where your ideal audience spends their time online is the first step to establishing your social media channels. One way to get this information is through competitor research. Where are your top three competitors connecting with their audiences? And how can you authentically leverage those same platforms?

Align with your brand and industry values 

Is your brand visually-appealing and product-driven? Instagram gives you a digital space to display the goods. Is your industry all about connecting with and educating customers? Twitter’s interactivity could be a boon to your business. Weighing the value of each social media channel, and comparing it to your brand’s values, will help you hone your strategy. 

Stick to your social media goals

Finding the right social channel is easiest when you remember—and stick to—your original social media goals. Are you trying to raise brand awareness, both online and off, or just create more avenues to provide high-quality customer service? Do you want your brand to be the center of the conversation or a conversation leader? Having goals and sticking to them will keep you grounded in the appropriate channels, even when you’re tempted to hitch your wagon to the next social media rising star. 

Focus on relationships, not sales

Above all else, your social media channels should be just that: social. They’re a way to meet your audience where they are. Regardless of the channels you choose, your audience is looking for authentic content that provides value. With that at the center of your strategy, you’ll be well on your way to finding your best social media channels.