“Social Media” is a term that’s thrown around all the time to refer to websites and online platforms where people can chat, share cute photos of their cat, argue about politics, and do all kinds of other cool things. For business owners, social media presents a great opportunity to get people looking at, talking about, or even buying your products!
But, there are a LOT of websites that qualify as social media, and all of them are pretty different. How do you know which ones are the best to use, and how to use them? In this post, I’m going to give you a basic overview of several of the biggest social media platforms out there right now in 2020, and, what the pros and cons are for each of them if you’re considering using them for your business.
Side Note: If you’d prefer to watch a video, rather than reading through this post, check out the video version HERE!
A couple of things to keep in mind before we get into this: first, don’t feel like your business has to be on every social media platform. If you try to build on too many platforms at once, you’ll end up stretching yourself thin. Most small businesses should probably shoot for 2 or 3.
MSD Consulting is on 4 and counting, but that’s because my business serves clients that operate on a variety of social media sites. I keep up with all of them so that they don’t have to! This guide will help you to narrow down which ones you think will be the best fit for YOUR business.
The other thing to consider is how quickly a lot of this information can change. Because of how fast-paced the internet is, and how quickly new platforms can be created, or disappear, this landscape is constantly changing from year to year. Here are three graphs, from 2018, 2013, and 2008, respectively, showing the number of active users on the biggest social media platforms.
While the top dogs have been around for quite a while, a lot of the smaller platforms have completely changed! And, keep in mind, the top dogs aren’t safe either; remember when Facebook was competing for market share with MySpace and AOL? Talk about those today, there’s a decent chance you’ll get a confused look from a nearby teenager, even though those platforms were all the rage just a decade ago. So, if you’re reading this several months or years down the road, keep in mind that this could be outdated. I might repeat this kind of post every so often, especially if there’s a major change, so make sure you subscribe so you can stay up to date!
Let’s start with the biggest social media platform out there. Facebook has been around for a long time, and it is MASSIVE. There is no other platform that even comes close to competing with it for active users.
Mark Zuckerberg, aka “The Zuck”, originally created it in 2004 as an online forum exclusively for Harvard students, but he quickly realized that it had potential to grow way bigger than that. And boy, did it ever! According to Facebook’s 2019 report, the number of people active on the site in the last month of 2019 numbered 2.5 BILLION PEOPLE. To put into perspective just how huge that is: the world’s population is 7.8 billion people. 59% of those people have access to the internet, totaling 4.6 billion people. That means that almost FIFTY FIVE PERCENT of the world’s internet users are active on Facebook!
Having more users gives Facebook a big advantage over other platforms in a lot of areas. You can reach a much wider, more diverse audience on Facebook than anywhere else. In particular, Facebook has been one of the most successful in getting older generations to participate in using social media.
It is one of the easiest platforms to pick up and use quickly, so it’s a natural fit for someone looking to keep up with their grandkids. However, the disadvantage to this is that the grandkids sometimes won’t do as much on the site if they know that grandma is watching. So, the engagement from younger users tends to be lower.
Because Facebook has been at this for so long and been so successful, this has also allowed them to make their tools for advertisers very intuitive and effective as well. It’s very easy to create an ad, customize who it targets, and see the projected results of the ad.
Their features are particularly good for targeting people in a geographic area, such as the city where your business is located. In addition to advertising on your own page, Facebook Groups are a great way to connect with potential customers who are in a specific area, or are interested in the type of products that you’re selling.
All of this sounds great, but that doesn’t mean that Facebook is the perfect website, not by a long shot. They’ve been criticized for a number of things over the years, such as collecting too much of your information, selling that information to companies, security breaches that put user data at risk, inconsistent content moderation policies, and those are just the biggest incidents.
This just goes to show that even the biggest platforms are susceptible to data breaches and sketchy practices, so it’s best to carefully monitor what information different sites will gather when you sign up for them, and what information you voluntarily give them.
Should your business be on Facebook? As long as you’re not exclusively targeting a younger audience, probably!
Next up, Instagram, best known as a mobile platform for sharing pictures and videos. It was originally created in 2010, and it very quickly started to gain popularity. So much so, that Facebook opted to purchase Instagram for a billion dollars in 2012, and the platform has been under the Facebook umbrella ever since.
Since then, it’s continued adding features and growing, currently at over a billion active users. So, about 22% of the world’s internet users have Instagram. While this platform is geared more towards a younger audience, it’s not far behind Facebook in terms of adoption by the older population.
Instagram is known as one of the best platforms for visually engaging content. They have a TON of ways to share pictures and videos. For the main page, or timeline, It’s very easy to post pictures right from your phone, with the option to add filters for some extra flair.
The Instagram Stories feature is a way to post pictures and short videos that will only be available for 24 hours, but have more interactive options for your audience to engage with the post, such as polls and animations. Their Instagram Live feature allows users to broadcast themselves in the moment, even getting other users to join in if they want. Instagram also recently introduced Reels, where you can post quick, 15-second videos that have unique visual effects filters that you can apply to make your video stand out.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising that the most successful accounts on Instagram are the ones that can come out with visually engaging pictures and videos on a regular basis.
The advantage that businesses can have in advertising on Instagram is the different avenues that they can use to promote their posts. They can make an ad show up in the main timeline, in between viewing people’s Stories, and on their Explore page. Thanks to their integration with Facebook, their targeting and analytics are also quite good.
The main disadvantage of Instagram ads is that it’s not easy to get users to click on a link to go to a site or app other than Instagram. There is a feature that allows users to swipe up on a Story post to go to a link of your choice, but this feature is only available for accounts that have over 10,000 followers. If you’re not there yet, you can include a link to your primary website in the bio section of your profile, but that’s about it as of right now.
Should your business be on Instagram? If your business can create visually appealing/engaging content, sure!
Next up, we have Twitter, the viral platform known for hashtags and character limits. Twitter has also been around for a very long time, originally created by Jack Dorsey in 2006. The platform does have a lower overall number of active users than the other platforms we’ve talked about so far, at “only” about 350 million.
However, the platform has been extremely influential, due to how easy it is to use to communicate information in real-time. It’s the platform of choice for public figures, news organizations, or just anyone that wants to interact with others and talk about what is going on in the world right now.
The thing that made Twitter stand out among the other emerging platforms was the fact that messages were limited to 120 characters, so there was no one making long, drawn-out posts that were annoying to scroll through. That made it the perfect social media network for people using smartphones who didn’t want to burn through all of their data trying to load big posts.
The limit has since doubled to 240 characters, which makes sense given the increasing size of phones, and capabilities of mobile data. But, it still gives Twitter a unique feel compared to other platforms. It’s great for sending out quick pieces of information, like news headlines, jokes, or brief questions.
Twitter was also the first platform to popularize the use of the hashtag, #, (some of you may know it as a pound sign) as a way to connect people of similar interests. It was actually first used in 2007 as a way for San Diego residents to communicate important information to each other about the spread of the local wildfires. Since then, it has been adopted by just about every social media platform as a way for users to come together and share posts on a common topic.
For small businesses and entrepreneurs, Twitter is a bit of a mixed bag. The platform is very easy to use, interaction with other users is intuitive, and their advertising tools are also good. However, Twitter requires a very different approach than any other social media platform. While social media posts in general tend to have a relatively short life span, this is especially the case on Twitter, where the path to success is being quick to jump on recent trends and hashtags.
There are also fewer tools for tailoring your audience to a specific area. So, most local small businesses won’t gain as much of a following on Twitter as they will on other platforms, unless a trend pops up that could be relevant to you. However, if you have a brand that lends itself to more viral content, such as consumer electronics, world news, or popular culture, Twitter is a great place to build.
Should your business be on Twitter? If you’re a pretty localized business (like a restaurant or shop with one location), it’s probably not worth it. But, if if your business/brand isn’t localized, and will tend to keep up more with online trends, Twitter could be a great fit.
And now, for the king of video sharing platforms. YouTube has also been around for a good while, initially created in 2005 by three early PayPal employees. It grew VERY quickly, announcing just a year after launch that they were getting over 100 MILLION video views per day on the platform. This caught the attention of none other than Google, who bought the platform, and has been running it ever since.
YouTube was incredibly revolutionary when it first launched, because at the time, there were very few online platforms dedicated to hosting video content. Most were focused on text and images, since it was a lot more challenging back then to integrate the necessary technology to host videos. YouTube addressed this by making their platform exclusive to videos, and made it easy for users to share YouTube videos on other platforms. It has obviously been very successful in this, since it has almost 2 billion active users today.
The platform really started to come into its own when it introduced a program called the YouTube Partner Program. Similarly to other social media sites, YouTube earns its money by displaying ads around or within the videos that people upload. The YPP gave the site’s top creators a chance to earn a cut of the revenue that the ads on their videos brought in.
Now, it has become entirely possible to make a successful career out of uploading content to social media; the term that has been coined for those in this career field is “influencers”. YouTube stands out in this area, as they are still one of the only platforms to directly compensate their creators, while influencers who are popular on other platforms primarily earn their money via sponsorships from other companies. It’s not a very stable career field, by any means, but it’s a fascinating development in how we think about using social media, and YouTube were the ones that pioneered it. If you’re curious as to how these influencer careers actually work, I might be making a post in the future, breaking down how it works, so make sure to subscribe and leave a comment letting me know what you’d like to see.
If your business has any interest in creating video content on a regular basis, having a YouTube account on hand is highly recommended. There’s simply no other platform that gives you as good of a one-stop shop video platform experience. People can subscribe to your channel so that your videos show up on the front of their YouTube page, and they can even turn on notifications that will give them a heads up whenever you publish a new video.
Plus, if your channel grows enough, it can even become an additional source of revenue for your company. However, getting to that point takes a LOT of work! Your channel has to have over 1,000 subscribers before you can start bringing in money, and it takes a lot of promotion, work, and patience to get to that point. I’m certainly not there yet, but I’m working on it (you can check out my progress so far here)!
Now, as far as an advertising platform goes, for small businesses, YouTube frankly is just not the best. Don’t get me wrong, Google’s advertising tools are very advanced, allowing you to see all kinds of information about how your ad is performing, who it is reaching, and how people are responding to it.
However, they use a “Cost per View”, or CPV, cost structure, which means that your bill goes up each time someone views your ad. This can make budgeting tricky, as you can’t set a specific dollar amount that you want to spend, unlike other platforms. It could be worthwhile if you really want to build out an audience specifically on YouTube, or believe that you can reach your target market effectively via YouTube, but overall, the value proposition is just not as appealing for small business owners.
Should your business be on YouTube? If you can demonstrate the value of you/your business through a video, and are willing to dedicate the time/effort to building it, get on YouTube!
Those are the four biggest platforms out there that I think are the most deserving of a full explanation, but I’ll take a few minutes here to quickly cover some smaller social media platforms that you might want to be aware of. While on the other platforms I talked about, you can probably reach your target market fairly effectively with the right strategy, these platforms will tend to be a bit more niche in terms of the audience you can reach.
Known for being a hub for crafts that look amazing on the site, but when you make them they look like a kindergarten art project, Pinterest is a social media platform dedicated to sharing pictures and videos, typically of a more artistic variety.
Similar to Instagram, it’s a platform dedicated to visual media, but you can include a lot more in the way of information about the visual media that you’re posting, like the craft instructions I just mentioned. It’s been around since 2009, and currently has about 400 million active users, about 60% of which are female.
As far as advertising goes, their tools are actually really nice, simple to use, and give you a good amount of control over who and where your ads are targeted. They even have features for businesses that sell their own goods to actually allow Pinterest users to buy directly through Pinterest, rather than having to go to a different site.
That being said, it’s not for everyone: I’d be most likely to recommend Pinterest for businesses that are trying to promote their unique products, especially handmade or custom things like clothing, pastries, or artwork.
Should your business be on Pinterest? If you’re making/selling unique or handmade products, or are targeting a female audience, yes.
Introduced to the world in 2012, Snapchat was the mobile messaging app, created by a group of Stanford students, which made curious teenagers and concerned parents around the world ask, “Do the messages REALLY delete themselves after they’re sent?!” If you’re not familiar, SnapChat is known for the ability to send your friends pictures or short video clips, called Snaps, that can only be viewed once, after which they’re deleted and you can’t access them again.
To answer the previous question of whether they’re REALLY gone, yes, SnapChat does actually delete them, but there are ways that the people you send them to could manage to save them if they really want to. Remember, if you put it on the internet, it’s never TRULY private. But, all of that aside, SnapChat is a good-sized platform, with around 230 million active users, the majority of which are very young, and the platform keeps up a steady stream of new features and content for people creating on the platform.
For those wanting to advertise on SnapChat, their features are reasonably good quality. They’re not quite as in-depth as most of the other platforms we’ve looked at, but if you have a product or advertising strategy that you think could appeal to a younger audience, SnapChat might be a good option for you.
Should your business be on Snapchat? If you’re trying to reach a millennial/Gen Z audience, and can put out good visual content, yes.
Speaking of controversial social media apps that are popular among the kids, TikTok is all the rage right now in 2020. It was developed initially in China by the massive media company ByteDance in 2016, and they brought it over to the US the following year, where it spread like wildfire among younger users, growing to over 700 million active users worldwide.
The main appeal of TikTok is that it is almost entirely based around short videos, under a minute long, and including a bunch of tools that make it very easy to create fun clips with. One of the more well-known features is that you can make a video and put it alongside a different video that someone else made, allowing for some fun challenges and content that lend themselves to going viral on the platform.
While this all sounds like a lot of fun, TikTok is very controversial, due to its Chinese developers having ties with their country’s government, and the fact that the app has been shown to access more information on your phone than is necessary for the app to operate. These concerns are really serious, with even President Trump getting involved, almost outright banning the app in the US, until the app was saved by an agreement that was reached where an American company could have ownership and control over the US business operations of the app.
As far as whether or not your business should use TikTok, I would personally advise proceeding with caution. Similar to SnapChat, the users on TikTok are predominantly very young, and their advertising tools are of decent enough quality, although the content is based primarily around video. It’s easily the hottest social media platform out right now, but, with all of the volatility and privacy concerns surrounding the platform, I would only recommend it if you really strongly believe that you want to get in on the latest trend and get a younger audience to be more aware of your business.
Should your business be on TikTok? If you’re really trying to catch the latest trend and reach a young audience… proceed with caution.
And, last but certainly not least, the social media network for professionals. LinkedIn is actually the oldest social media network in our roundup; it was started back in 2003, also by some former PayPal employees. It was acquired by Microsoft in 2017, and currently has over 700 million active users. While LinkedIn wasn’t the first social media network, or the first online job search platform, it was one of the first to combine the two.
The platform has a professional tone, where you’re much more likely to find someone posting inspirational entrepreneurial quotes or a rant about company culture, rather than memes or viral videos. Rather than “friends” or “followers”, on LinkedIn you have “connections” with other users, who can endorse the skills you have listed on your profile. LinkedIn also has job listings, where you can put out your resume or CV so that recruiters can find you, or you can view job postings that companies have put out there and apply for them.
For someone wanting to promote their business on LinkedIn, it’s surprisingly simple to create a page, and post content. Microsoft’s implementation of advertising tools for these pages don’t have as much in the way of fine-tuning controls as some of the others we’ve talked about, but they’re more than enough to promote your business or services to professionals who might be interested. If you want to target an older, more experienced crowd in the workforce, especially if you’re a B2B business, LinkedIn is the best place to do it.
Should your business be on LinkedIn? If you’re targeting white-collar professionals, absolutely!
Now, of course, I couldn’t talk about EVERY single social media platform that’s out there. It’s entirely possible that your business could find great success on one that I didn’t mention here today. But, I hope that this video did give you a better understanding of the biggest platforms out there right now, and give you an idea of what social media network you might want to promote your business on.
If you are wanting to venture onto one of these platforms, or if you’re coming away from this video with questions, be sure to leave a comment, or send me a message on any of my platforms, linked below. I regularly post content for small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to learn more about how to leverage online tools for their business, so if you want to get my blog posts and videos in your email every time I post them, make sure to subscribe below, and follow me on your social media platform of choice (I’m probably on it).