Why and When to Use Different Social Media Channels

October 10, 2016

social media advertising

Back in the 90s, when cable television really took off in America, Bruce Springsteen wrote a song called “57 Channels (and nothing on).” Now we’d love to have just 57 channels to sort through—between broadcast, premium and streaming sites, there are more options than ever before. Since much of modern TV is of increasingly high quality (much of what’s on Netflix alone comes to mind), it’s become even harder to new shows to stick out.

The same is true with social media. The couple of well-established, big platforms have seen competition from a dozen upstarts. There are more active social media channels now than ever before (a statement that will continue to be true for the foreseeable future).

As with cable television, each social media channel has its own identity. There are posts on Snapchat that wouldn’t make sense on Facebook, and what kills on Instagram could get a frosty reception on Twitter.

If we want our content to stand out instead of adding to the clutter, it’s important to know what the audience is like, what type of content works best, and the best use case for each channel. Here’s a quick overview of the six biggest channels in the UK:

The Site: Twitter

What it’s Like: Twitter began as a text-only service with a strict 140-character limit. It has slowly evolved to include more visual content, and new rules will make it easier for that 140 characters to be devoted to content. Still, brevity is the rule of the day—you will even find respectable brands resorting to text-speak (“u” instead of “you”) to stay under the limit.

Twitter is a fast-paced platform, with content generally visible for 18 minutes or less. Retweets can add to content’s longevity, but the upper limit is still measured in hours, not days.

Demographics: Twitter boasts over 15 million monthly users in the UK. Of that 13 million, 65% are under the age of 34.

What Type of Content Works Best: There are over 6,000 tweets per second on Twitter. To stand out above that kind of noise tweets need to be snappy, have personality, and feature an eye-catching visual.

Use it For: Expanding your audience with links to compelling content. Include a personal comment with each link, and spend time engaging with users on the platform. It’s tempting to auto-schedule posts a week at a time, but that practice is less likely to get engagement.

Twitter is a good low-stakes way to make initial contact with a potential client or influencer. Follow them, like and retweet some of their tweets, then ask to connect on LinkedIn.

The Site: Facebook

What it’s Like: If my news feed is any indication, Facebook is a site for posting memes featuring Minions and divisive political opinions.

Only joking. Facebook has become a part of the fabric of our lives—people use it for everything from vacation pictures to wedding announcements. It’s definitely got a personal, casual vibe.

Demographics: Facebook claims 1.71 billion active monthly users. Though there are signs younger users are moving to newer platforms, 82% of 18-29 year olds online use Facebook, compared to 79% of 30-49 year olds and 56% of people 65 and up.

What Type of Content Works Best: Purely brand content—really any content without a distinctive personal voice—won’t perform well on Facebook. Keep the tone conversational, and focus on compelling stories in which customers are the hero, not the brand.

Use It For: Engaging in dialogue with customers and followers, building an audience (but expect to pay to reach that audience). Interactivity is key—it’s a good platform for running contests and giveaways.

The Site: Instagram

What it’s Like: Instagram is intensely visual—the text is usually minimal, in support of images. Which isn’t surprising for a platform built on sharing straight from your smartphone camera. Instagram may be the most overtly promotional platform—power users endorse products, and the majority of the most popular hashtags are branded.

Demographics: Instagram claims 400 million monthly users. Over half of their user base is aged 18-29, while 25% are 30-49.

What Type of Content Works Best: Bold visuals are the reason Instagram exists. Some brands go for slick, processed photos—but you’ll get better engagement if you go with candid shots edited on the platform.

Use it For: Telling short visual stories. Instagram is great for promoting your employees and corporate culture. Let your authenticity shine, and show your audience the people behind the brand.

The Site: Snapchat

What it’s Like: Snapchat started with one simple premise: Everything posted on it was meant to be ephemeral, to self-destruct in minutes or a few hours. While other platforms serve as a lasting record of memories, Snapchat is all about being in the moment, and moving on to the next moment without looking back.

Demographics: Snapchat has 100 million daily users, but they view 7 billion videos a day. Their audience skews heavily young, with 45% of users between 13 and 24, and only 17% over 45.

What Type of Content Works Best: You only get a few seconds to make an impression on Snapchat, so humorous content with a quick setup and punch line can get a good response. Keep it informal, keep it quick, and make it— well, snappy.

Use it For: Behind-the-scenes looks at your company, showing off your corporate culture, offering quick tips that improve your audience’s life.

The Site: LinkedIn

What it’s Like: LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional social media network. We focus on helping people connect with colleagues and develop their careers. LinkedIn is a little more formal than the other channels. That does NOT mean you should be stiff and impersonal, but it does mean fewer vacation photos and cat videos.

Who Is on It: LinkedIn has over 450 million members, pretty much evenly distributed throughout age brackets from 18 to over 65. Half of LinkedIn users have some form of higher education, and the platform boasts 61 million senior-level influencers, 40 million decision makers, and 6 million C-suite executives.

What Type of Content Works Best: The content that performs best on LinkedIn is content that helps the reader do his or her job more effectively, or adds to the conversation about a crucial topic in an industry? General motivational content performs well, too—but if you want to spur an audience to take action, industry-specific content is better.

Use it For: Lead generation. LinkedIn is best for building an audience of potential customers, helping them do their jobs better, and starting relationships that you can nurture through to conversion.

With so many channels available, it can be difficult for brands to generate results from every channel. Instead of spreading yourself thin, focus your efforts on the channels where your audience is most active and your message most likely to be heard.

To learn more about marketing on LinkedIn, download the LinkedIn Content Marketing Tactical Plan.