Social media is an integral part of the American consumer experience. Whether to learn about products, communicate with friends, watch content, or engage with current events, 70 percent of the nation interacts with these digital platforms, according to the Pew Research Center. For marketers, this reality highlights the importance of using social media effectively in the realm of business.

Social media is first and foremost a tool for building relationships. Marketers should seek to develop these channels as early as possible and engage with customers regularly. When choosing their social media outlets, companies should consider factors such as their audience demographics and how each platform type can enhance or diminish their marketing message. Companies should also be aware that like any relationship, a successful bond with their customers via social media takes time to cultivate.

Social Networking Sites

Purpose: To provide general information, to engage with a wide range of customers

Best for: Most companies, particularly those that “hard sell” products and events

Examples: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus

Social networking sites are some of the most pervasive on the internet. Encompassing such sites as Facebook and Twitter, these platforms are excellent for companies that want to share their information on a single convenient social media platform. For example, companies can communicate event details, announcements or information about promotions and other timely topics. Companies can also participate in digital customer service and respond to general discussion posts. Depending on the specific site, social networking platforms provide ample opportunities to interact with customers in real time.

The downside of social networking sites is their almost continual maintenance. In addition, their content may not always be seen by a wide audience. Because social networking platforms are so interactive, marketers should feel comfortable with audiences clicking through to a company’s main website at slower-than-average rates.

Bookmarking Sites

Purpose: To provide a designated platform for audiences to tag, collect and recommend websites and web content

Best for: Industries that rely heavily on word of mouth for new business

Examples: StumbleUpon, Kaboodle

Bookmarking sites allow audiences to identify and rate content from around the web. With these platforms, users can search for content based on their interests and find relevant content tagged by others.

Companies can use bookmarking sites to share content such as company-written articles or customer testimonials. They can also use these particular platforms to present relevant information about their field, positioning themselves as experts. When companies prove they can stay on top of their industry’s pulse, they improve their reputation and encourage potential customers to further engage in their social media presence.

Image Sharing and Messaging Sites

Purpose: To share visual content

Best for: Industries that rely heavily on this content

Examples: Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat

Image sharing and messaging sites allow businesses to disseminate visual content to their audiences. Because visual content is particularly easy to digest and share, industries that may fare well with image sharing sites include exercise, fashion, beauty, photography, travel and food.

These sites are particularly useful if a company wants to advertise its products without trying to hard-push sales. Users can comment on images and share them without pressure, so they can gain interest naturally. Companies seeking to use image sharing platforms should take special care to use high-quality images.

Video Sharing Sites

Purpose: Uploading and sharing video content

Best for: Companies that want to offer educational, visual or creative content

Examples: YouTube, Vimeo

Video content is highly popular among consumers. Thus, it’s a prime way for companies to improve or maintain their web presence. Video is excellent for organizations that want to educate their audiences, demonstrate products, share interesting visual experiences or produce creative assets. Companies can also take advantage of vloggers, who are often paid in exchange for placing company products in their videos.

Websites such as YouTube make it exceptionally easy to get content onto the web. However, the massive amount of video content available can make it difficult for users to see that content.

Social Blogging Sites

Purpose: To share longer-form content, particularly written content

Best for: Companies that want to increase SEO or traffic volume, or establish authority

Examples: Medium, Tumblr

Social blogging allows companies to provide longer-form content for readers, both in and outside their current audience. Because blog content is denser, it is a natural fit for companies that want to optimize their presence in search engines and bring more visitors to their site. The platform has a myriad of other uses, including:

  • Positioning the company as an authority in the field
  • Testing out campaign ideas on a smaller platform
  • Public relations
  • Converting web traffic into leads
  • Contributing to long-term web traffic results

To get the best results, companies that use social blogging sites need to do their best to produce high-quality content that fits the interest of their audiences. Like all other types of social media, companies also must be sure to update these sites regularly.

Social Community and Discussion Sites

Purpose: To engage in conversation with other internet users about products, topics, etc.

Best for: Companies seeking to engage with customers on the “ground floor”

Examples: Ning, Google groups, Reddit, Quora

Social community and discussion sites allow businesses to gain insight into the minds of their customers and build relationships with them over longer periods of time. These sites, made up of forums, allow users to discuss topics (such as a company’s product) in a communal setting.

When companies use these platforms, they must keep in mind that offering a direct sales pitch won’t help them win customers. Marketing managers must instead follow the guidelines of the community, only respond to questions about their company or product (never initiate) and take the integrity of the community to heart. Doing so builds trust between the company and community members and can ultimately lead to a longer-term connection.

Marketing managers have many options to choose from when deciding on the social media platforms that fit their companies. There is no one right answer. It’s certainly not required to use all available platforms. Instead, companies should look carefully at what they do and what their audiences want, then build a campaign that speaks directly to the unique characteristics and needs of their customers.

Sources: Business News DailyFuturpreneurSproutSocialHubSpotMeyer FoundationInc.

Your Career in Social Media Management

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