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In 2014, there are endless established and emerging social networks. We’re currently spending a significant portion of our daily lives sharing disappearing instant messages, six-second videos of our online and offline escapades and in the extreme, simply saying the word “Yo!” to complete strangers. From a business perspective, we would like to tap into their success and have a presence, albeit limited on some, on all of the social channels available to us. However, finding the time and resources to maintain every social platform out there can be extremely time-consuming, if not downright impossible.

If your business is just beginning to tread the online waters, then you may need some help in establishing the appropriate social networks for you. Many make the, admittedly easy, assumption of plumping for the most popular and visible networks, however, this can often have unfortunate and costly consequences, as each business has individual needs to meet on the ever-evolving social scale. To help you decide which social media platform is best suited for your business, we have created a simple guide that should help you identify the right social fit for you.

Ask yourself: Why?

Before we take a look at the many social offerings, at the heart of almost every successful social campaign is an effective and detailed strategy. You wouldn’t enter into a new business venture blind, so don’t attempt to do the same with your social networks. Before you proceed, you must ask yourself: Why am I trying to take my business social? What am I hoping to achieve? How will I maintain the channels?

At its core, social media is all about reaching out and connecting with your audience on an authentic level. In order to be able to do that well, you need to understand exactly who your existing and prospective customers are. If you own a business with a storefront, you will be more than aware of the types of people who cross over your threshold on a daily basis, but they may not be the people that will actively engage with you online and via social networks.

When defining your target audience, you should start to distinguish their character, personalities and habits. Who are your customers? How old are they? What do they like most about your brand? What do they like to do online? Do they already share content from brands and businesses they enjoy? You will need to leverage the activities and interests of those you’re looking to attract in order to see if the demand for your social presence is out there.

From here, identify exactly what you’re looking to get out of social media. Are you looking to boost conversions? Engage with your customers? Maintain an active online presence? Ideally, these should all be by-products of social media usage and in the digital age, an online presence is, in many ways, fundamental to success. By completing this step, you can pinpoint any potential problems or concerns you may have with your existing online setup, and then begin to establish how, or if they can be resolved by increasing your social output.

Upon carefully defining your audience and social intent, take the time to work out which social networks your customers are using and currently prefer. Each individual channel has its own features, user base and quirks. Twitter is an excellent platform for keeping up-to-date from a media and news perspective, Facebook will allow you to converse with friends and loved ones, whilst sharing personal content and Google+ has many different search benefits that come from the channel’s social features. With billions using social media every single day, it is incredibly important to understand the differences between the platforms, so you can begin to focus your efforts on the right areas.

Once you have evaluated your current setup and proposals, it is time to delve into the expanding and developing world of social media. As referenced to earlier, there are countless social options available to you. Here are just a few of the most successful platforms used by those with a strong social strategy for their business:

Twitter

Who should use Twitter: To put it simply, if you are a business owner looking to increase almost any element of your business, Twitter could help you in the long term. At present, there are around 15 million individuals, SMBs and multinational corporations tweeting from the UK on a daily basis. Twitter has become part of the fabric of everyday life for many, and we can almost guarantee that there will currently be a conversation that is relevant to your industry or business occurring on Twitter. If you’re not on board, you simply cannot be a part of it and you will miss out.

What should I share with my followers: Twitter allows you to start and join the conversation – it’s a fully-fledged democracy in its own right. Whether you are sharing a unique promotion, personal recommendation or providing individual commentary on the latest news from your industry, Twitter will provide you with the appropriate moment to reach out and engage with your audience. Remember, you must be professional at all times and listen to what is being said around you. Harnessing the thoughts and opinions of others can go a long way in improving your social technique.

How often should I post: Ideally, you should be posting content to Twitter, on average 3-5 times per day. You must make it worthwhile, though. Don’t simply spend your time re-tweeting the thoughts and opinions of others – this will stilt the natural ebb and flow of potential conversation and give the wrong impression to those that are considering following or engaging with you. Try and express your personality through your tweets and reflect the values and beliefs you hold in high regard for your business.

Are there any useful tools I can use: HootSuite is an effective management tool that will allow you to work alongside Twitter and schedule your tweets in advance. This tool can come in particularly handy if you’re finding that you don’t have time to sit and monitor the social network on a regular basis. However, you should try to monitor your Twitter feed at least once per day, as a lack of response or content gaps in your feed can give a negative impression to those viewing your profile externally. HootSuite also allows you to create personalised lists that can help you keep track of any engagement from your followers and movements made by your competitors.

Facebook

Who should use Facebook: There are nearly 1.3 billion users on Facebook, but that’s not to say the network is a safe and secure bet, particularly for businesses. The platform can be a difficult beast to tame and not every business can truly reap the rewards the channel can offer. Ultimately, Facebook is perhaps best equipped to share updates and instantly respond to questions or comments from your followers. So, if your products or services require that level of customer service, then Facebook may be ideal for you.

What should I share with my followers: You can share a lot of content via Facebook. Perhaps the most relevant for business is event posting, posting product/service information and the deployment of paid advertisements. Once again, you should be looking to spark conversation amongst your followers, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or share content that requires a response from your followers.

How often should I post: Generally, once or twice a day. You can also share content from others, so this figure may increase from time-to-time. It is worth noting that because of the personal nature of Facebook, usage typically peaks outside of traditional work hours, so you may find any tracked data is skewed slightly more towards the early morning or late evening, depending on the nature of the services you offer. Vitally, Facebook does allow you to track the success of your published content by date and time, so ensure that you monitor this and post any future content with the knowledge gained from this data.

Are there any useful tools I can use: If a dedicated analytics or tracking platform is outside of your initial budget, you should consider using a URL shortener for any links sent out from your existing platforms. Every time a user clicks on a shortened link, the service will register the click and provide insightful and relevant data that will highlight how much traffic is gained directly from sharing to and from Facebook.

Google+

Who should use Google+: Ideally, you’ll be toying with the idea of using Google+ if you already have an existing online and social presence. More importantly, if you’re yet to use the service, you should be looking into making waves by looking to strengthen your search engine positioning and take advantage of the local benefits the network has to offer. You can read more about leveraging Google+ for local search purposes in our‘Your guide to Google My Business’.

What should I share with those within my circle: Google+ refers to followers as those within your ‘circle’ – Google’s terminology for a list or group of followers. Google+ is almost certainly more formal and professional compared to the laidback approach Twitter and Facebook offer. Therefore, you need to amend your content styling accordingly. You should be promoting industry-relevant  published content from your website via Google+, in order to encourage conversation with your followers and those within your industry.

How often should I post: As the platform is Google’s proposed alternative to Facebook, keywords, hashtags and search engine optimisation are central to the appeal of Google+. You should push out updates to your Google+ profile each time you publish content on your website. By linking to your content, you could increase traffic to your website significantly.

Are there any useful tools I can use: In the past, Google Authorship was seen as the big beneficial  draw for Google+ users. By becoming an authorised user, your content would see a significant boost in search positioning and would generally see an increase in external online commentary and traffic. However, Google has since retired the program. Google has been experimenting with other useful extensions to the network and is expected to launch a new publishing platform for user-generated content in the near future.

LinkedIn

Who should use LinkedIn: If you long for familiarity and a traditional approach to social activity, many of LinkedIn’s features are reminiscent of old-hat networking techniques. The main principle behind the network, is the number and the degree of connections you have with other users. The platform is mainly used by business owners (with an associated company page), those looking to recruit and those looking for employment/looking to keep in touch with colleagues and old friends.

What should I share with my followers: Once more, you should be pushing out any published content from your website. Providing you make strong connections, LinkedIn provides an excellent way to engage and converse with like-minded individuals and monitor the digital movements of your competitors and those you hold in high regard. Also, when the opportunity arises, you should be posting and promoting any vacancies you may have.

How often should I post: You should roughly post your published content on the network roughly two-to-four times per week, depending on your current content schedule. You should also make use of the ‘Pin’ tab – this allows you to pin a particular piece of content to the top of you profile, ensuring your followers and visitors are immediately drawn to the post.

For continued success on LinkedIn, you must ensure you have entered a relevant, rich and SEO-friendly company description that details the work you have carried out previously and the work you currently carry out. Similarly, ensure all of your businesses contact details are present and correct. If you are the owner of a SMB, ensure that you have made connections with those you currently employ. This can prove invaluable in making further connections and boosting engagement with those from your industry.

The new crowd

Aside from the increasingly successful, and often overlooked, Pinterest and Instagram, the (relatively) new social platforms currently receiving online acclaim are Snapchat and Vine – particularly amongst the youth market (13-20 year olds). Both of these networks continue Instagram’s trend for mobile adoption, with both channels starting out as dedicated smartphone applications.

Snapchat’s USP is already being emulated by some of tech’s major players, with Facebook expected to launch their own version of the service imminently. The application lets users set a time limit for the availability of each message they send;  with any expired posts being deleted from the app’s servers within a matter of minutes. At this point, substantial user statistics are notoriously hard to come by. However, these flippant and whimsical applications are expected to increase their grip on social over the coming months as new features are launched. Therefore, if you believe your business can benefit from these new networks or can offer something unique and interesting, then now may be the best time to get involved.

Keep focussed and press on

Choosing the appropriate social channels for your business is the first step to maintaining a successful social campaign. Moving forward, you should aim to define the character and traits of your audience and identify the best platforms that will help you to reach out and engage with them on an authentic and dedicated level. Ultimately, whether your choices are being driven by which networks your audience spend time on, hard analytical data or how to showcase your content in a unique manner – you should harness the influential power of the network’s best practices in order to boost engagement, increase your ROI and build a confident and assured online presence.

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