Social Media vs Social Networking. The definition of social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue. Social networking, on the other hand, is a social structure with people who are joined by a common interest.
Social media marketing is an important component of every marketing strategy. Is a company Facebook page enough? Or should other platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ play a role as well? And which other social media platforms are attractive for business use? From professional social networks and platforms for finding images to options for bloggers and social video networks, you need to find something that matches your needs.
Social networking websites
Social networking websites are social media channels that don’t tend to focus on any one specific topic and instead aim to attract a wide spectrum of users. Users communicate, click, and share different content types that reflect their interests, making the themes on such social networks just as diverse as the users themselves.
Facebook: the social hostess with the most users
There’s simply no getting around the original social network when discussing social media, and the rise of new competition over the past few years has done little to chip away at the market leader’s supremacy. One of the premier annual reports on the sector, the Social Media Marketing Report, confirms once again that Facebook is the king of the hill with 93% of all marketing specialists opting for the Palo Alto-based tech giant. As of the second quarter of 2018, Facebook had 2.23 billion monthly active users.
Strengthening customer loyalty
Facebook is widely considered to be the mother of all social media platforms and its most basic functions consist of providing an outlet for its members to communicate with each other as well as with private companies, through various Facebook marketing campaigns. A services or a brand’s social media page is often home to a constant exchange of praise, criticism, and reports of user experiences. And while this real time interaction can be a challenge for community managers, it also presents attractive possibilities for strengthening customer loyalty.
Viral marketing: a fool’s errand without compelling content
Social engagement via Facebook is now common practice for most companies. As a global marketing and interaction platform, Facebook offers businesses exceptional reach. Interesting posts that are shared by users have the potential to spread like wildfire, reaching a large number of users in the process. This phenomenon is known as “going viral”. Combined with its low cost and its broad reach to a wide range of potential customers, viral marketing is becoming increasingly important for many companies. On Facebook, authenticity and relevant content count most. Only professional-grade posts and appropriate topics are the material you need to make a real impact. As an interface between perspective customers and businesses, Facebook profiles serve as ideal mediums for customer care and serve as outlets where input and ideas for new approaches to products can arise.
Under appreciated, underloved: Google+
Brought about by its namesake company in 2011, Google+ provides an alternative possibility for those accustomed to Facebook. As is the case with comparable portals, Google+ also incorporates similar functions that allow users to post and share information. By categorizing contacts through “circles” (e.g. “customers”, “partners”, or “influencers”) a direct and target group-specific communication flow is able to take place. But while it enjoys moderate success amongst businesses, Google+ has still yet to catch on as a network for private users. They have 111 million users (with about half of these active users).
High user figures — limited activity
According to a study, over 90% of the 2.5 billion users of google have never made a single post public. Google+’s high user rates are simply due to the fact that every Gmail user is automatically assigned an account upon registration. This includes all Android users, for whom creating a Gmail account is required. Even if many users’ activity is about as lively as tumbleweed rolling through a ghost town, a presence on the network still remains relevant—mostly for search engine ranking-related reasons.
Image networks: Pinterest and Instagram
With roughly 300 million active users, the micro blog for photos and videos Instagram is one of the most popular social networks currently on the market. And while it’s possible to share pictures and videos with Facebook or Google+, Instagram has its own unique dynamic that is centered on pictures. The app offers countless photo editing features. Entries are categorized with the use of hashtags.
Instagram also lends itself particularly well to reaching target groups through good content and well-thought out strategies. But there are also other ways to gain more attention for your companies outside of your own Instagram account. Over the past few years, product placement has again proven itself as a serious means of advertising, with businesses using influencers to market their products. Instagram has also recently introduced the option of placing ads in users’ news feeds.
First launched in August 2016, this feature allows users to share pictures and short videos (which can additionally be labeled and drawn upon) that weave together a story when viewed in temporal sequence. What makes this function so special is that these pictorial narratives are automatically deleted after 24 hours. This latter aspect makes Instagram Stories remarkably similar to Snapchat’s ‘My Story Function’, a similarity that Instagram co-founder and CEO, Kevin Systrom, was ready to recognize.
According to estimates, there are roughly 100 million Pinterest users, with 81% of users identifying as female. Many use the platform as a source of inspiration for topics concerning fashion, lifestyle, and travel. At its essence, Pinterest is a kind of virtual bulletin board and doesn’t entirely adhere to the set-up of conventional social networks. Although traditional aspects of social media, like interaction and communication, don’t play such a large role on this site, the network is a great tool for increasing customer loyalty and strengthening your brand. The concept here is simple: users collect pictures and posts or those of others and share them on their pin boards. Pin boards can be structured according to different themes. Other users can also be followed; as a follower you will then receive their latest “Pins” in your feed. As a further advertising option “promoted pins”, are included into the natural, or organic content of users.
Among the social networks mentioned here, Snapchat occupies somewhat of a special role. This platform isn’t so much a traditional social media platform as it is an image messaging app. The mobile app, which is available for both Android as well as iOS, is used to send photos and videos that have been created and edited (often with drawings and animation) on smartphones or tablets. The trick here is that the sent images and recordings automatically delete themselves 10 seconds after they’re viewed. It should be noted, though, that there are ways to recover and save these images. This app is particularly popular among teenagers, a fact that can partly be attributed to host of playful features the program offers.
Snapchat has gone through some major developments over the last few years. It’s ‘My Story’ function enables users to publish pictures that have been loaded in sequential order so that they tell a story. These can then be accessed over a 24 hour-period after which they are then automatically deleted. Additionally, conventional text messages as well as video calls are also possible.
The online community for images is among the oldest of its kind. Images taken by both amateurs and professionals alike can be found on the platform. In addition to images, the platform also allows videos whose length does not exceed three minutes to be uploaded to the site; there, users can also add other information and buzzwords to their recordings. In addition to enabling files to be archived, Flickr also makes it possible for users to view and comment these images, facilitating an exchange of sorts among these. The platform also commonly used by some companies to archive and distribute press photos. As of March 2016, though, automatic upload of larger amounts of data is no longer gratis and now requires users to be registered ‘pro’ members in order to take advantage of this function. Many experts see this as a chance for platforms like Google Fotos (the successor of the web application, Picasa), which allows many image files to be uploaded free of charge.
Tapping into emotion to increase customer loyalty
Clever use of Pinterest and Instagram can be an excellent way for businesses looking to gain more attention from potential customers. Pictures and videos offer clear advantages over texts in that their messages are conveyed much more directly. Visual media is also an effective means for tapping into emotions and can prove especially useful for image building. By “giving a face” to your business through photos and videos, visual marketing is able to substantially contribute to branding efforts.
- Effectively using Pinterest and Instagram requires communication to be particularly image-heavy. Popularity on Facebook doesn’t guarantee similar success on other social networks. And it is precisely this sort of half-hearted approach to social media that prevent many companies from reaching their full potential. Only by truly investing time and energy in such platforms will your business begin to reap the benefits of a solid visual marketing scheme.
Carving out a niche: blogging networks
The origins of platforms like Twitter and Tumblr can be traced back to the blogging scenes. Today, however, they’re often used outside of the blogosphere. Twitter in particular has many accounts that have been set up by companies, organizations, media outlets, celebrities, politicians, etc. Users of both networks share different types of content (news, links, images, videos). Those who chose to follow a particular timeline are then presented with news regarding this profile in their time line, just as is the case with Facebook. Users who aren’t registered with the account also are able to view all the content that’s posted.
According to estimates, there are some 680 million Twitter users. Of these, approximately 305 million are active users. Twitter has established itself as a reliable marketing channel in the United States, with most major companies presiding over at least one account. One of the biggest challenges in getting your message across on this platform has to do with Twitter’s design. Tweets are only allotted a maximum of 140 characters. In terms of how these messages are spread, Tweets are posted chronologically on users’ profiles and appear within followers’ newsfeeds.
The need for a quick response
With the help of the ‘@’ symbol, users are directly addressed, and by incorporating a hashtag (#) individual posts can be assigned to specific topics. Tweets coupled with photos, videos, or links are particularly effective in grabbing your followers’ interest. Ideally, with enough exposure, Tweets geared at target groups will provide your account with more followers. Another possibility for boosting your business’ profile comes in the form of Twitter Advertising, which provides sponsored profiles and tweets. Operating in real time, Twitter demands quick reactions to current events and a high posting frequency from its users.
High Potential for courting controversy
Although Twitter has proven time and again to be a powerful resource for increasing the reach of your brand or company, those overseeing social media accounts need to be well aware of one potentially dangerous pitfall: hashtag-hijacking.
- With its high post rate and real time posting, Twitter can be a helpful medium for interacting with potential clients and customers. Further advantages include the ability to share links, pictures, and videos. Drawbacks are the 140 maximum character length and the potential for mass backlash against promotional campaigns.
Unlike Twitter, Tumblr is a more traditional blogging platform given that texts here aren’t limited by a minimum number of characters. In addition to posts, images can also be published on users’ blog space. And while it may not have the same clout as other, more prominent social media networks, with some 230 million users worldwide, most of which are teens are young adults, the platform is nonetheless still full of potential for marketers. Tumblr is also a popular social media platform for companies in North America, and, due to the nature of its demographics, is especially well suited for more international audiences as well as campaigns aimed at younger audiences.
Another aspect Tumblr has in common with more conventional social media platforms is the fact that content and topics can also be labeled with hashtags, making these relevant posts easier to find. This feature makes it easier to spread high-quality content and increase the chances that an entry will go viral. In order to build up a network and publish target-group specific content, it’s first necessary, however, to acquire your own following of sorts. This can be done by posting relevant content, following users similar to the target group that you’re trying to reach as well as by sharing and communicating others’ content. The trick here is to come off as authentic and genuine as you can. This allows you to more quickly gain the trust and attention of other users.
➔ While not as prolific as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr enable companies to reach younger, more media savvy audiences.
Most experts agree that, at least as social media is concerned, that it’s best to maintain a healthy barrier between your work life and private life. For this reasons, many companies advise their employees to avoid communicating with business contacts via networks like Facebook. Professional networks like LinkedIn, however, have created themselves a niche market by catering explicitly to a more professional environment.
Many experts advise against openly sharing too much information on social media platforms. Companies have been known to use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. to screen applicants before deciding to invite them in for an interview. Not having an easily accessible social media presence can be a major drawback. This is where professional networks like LinkedIn come into play: here, there is little need for users to share personal information, and they can instead focus exclusively on business-related matters.
As the go-to networking site for users around the world, LinkedIn hosts a respectable 332 million total users. This social network is structured into three pillars:
- the network area, which involves building up and expanding your own personal network,
- the knowledge section, which encompasses internal messages as well as the transfer of knowledge among users, and, finally,
- the opportunity portion on the website, which deals with continuing education possibilities and refocusing career paths.
What Instagram or Flickr offer for images, SlideShare offers for presentations: SlideShare allows you to publish and archive company or job-related content online, which unregistered users are also able to access. In addition to presentations, documents, infographics, webinares, and videos can also be uploaded. And when these are also labeled with the right keywords, then they can also be found in the Google search results.
Networking and maintaining an image
LinkedIn is first and foremost about making new contacts and staying in touch with former colleagues and associates. But it would be a mistake to think that the network is set up exclusively for business-to-business topics. People who are active on a professional network are also potential customers of the companies in their contact lists. LinkedIn also serves as a job portal where both potential employees and employers are able to find out more about one another before further steps of the employment process are taken. Current or former colleagues have the option of rating each other. It’s important to note that on LinkedIn, companies are judged by their merits as employers, rather than the quality of their products or services.
Things look a bit different when it comes to SlideShare. Here, companies can demonstrate their expert knowledge, in addition to other their products, services, or innovations. The content published on this platform should always be professional in terms of its appearance and structure and should further include appropriate keywords so that these presentations can also be found in search engines.
➔ LinkedIn is the best platform for connecting with business contacts. As a part of a broader social media strategy, this professional network enables companies to strengthen their own image, scout talent, and share professional competencies.
YouTube is another social media marketing outlet that offers great potential for spreading your outreach. The site can be reached directly through Google search results, making it particularly appealing. A total of 6 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube every month. This means standing out amongst the competition can be a fierce undertaking. And as is ever the case when it comes to content marketing: the quality has got to be right. Otherwise, you’ll be sure to be confronted with an onslaught of negative comments and ratings by unimpressed YouTube visitors. In addition to creating customized channels, YouTube also offers marketers the opportunity to promote their products or clients through target-group appropriate influencer marketing.
Vimeo is especially interesting for those looking to promote more technically advanced videos that put a greater emphasis on looks. Not only does the website appeal to more refined and professional audiences with its looks, its content also reflects this aesthetic: wobbly smartphone videos can’t be found on this platform. What users will encounter are professional, high-quality film productions, many of which that are of a more artistic and creative nature.
Vimeo is set up in a similar way to YouTube — anyone can watch the videos, but only community members are allowed to evaluate and comment on these. But the two portals differ in the way they deal with the topic of membership: those wishing to upload more than 500 MB of video material per week have to switch to a fee-based scheme. Companies wishing to post videos containing advertisements or content commercial nature are forced to sign up for a paid membership option. Independent production companies, charitable organizations, and artists are all exempted from this rule.
There’s no single recipe for success when it comes to setting up and operating a YouTube channel. An expensive, professional production can easily lose out to a short, amateur clip of a pet doing something funny. But the rewards for striking viral video gold can be well worth the efforts. The list of world-wide viral hits is long and YouTube is often the place of origin for many of these. Companies can profit from the emotional appeal of many videos, and YouTube’s visual nature lends itself particularly well to creating such connections. A further bonus is that new products or services can be quickly and easily explained and described to viewers.
In addition to its enormous audience, one of YouTube’s biggest advantages is that one needn’t be an experienced film maker in order to experience success. In stark contrast to this model, there’s Vimeo, which rather lends itself to posting more advanced and professional content. On both channels, companies are able to profit from the emotional character of many of their videos. In general, it’s much easier to create an emotional attachment with videos than it is with other media forms. Videos are also a great way to explain to customers how now products and services work.
➔ YouTube and Vimeo should always be seen as channels that complement your other marketing efforts. When utilized in tandem with other portals, these outlets can provide significant support in maintaining the image or brand of your company.
Target groups rather than channels
In today’s advertising environment, opting out of campaigns on social media platforms simply isn’t an option. When executed thoughtfully, businesses have the potential of starting a viral phenomenon that can translate into enormous gains in viewership, web traffic, and ultimately profit. But maintaining this wave of success is only half the battle. An expansive reach is of little use when target groups are ignored. By cleverly adding social media platforms to your marketing mix, businesses and companies are able to gather input directly from their customers, without having to perform extensive, large-scale surveys.