So you say you want to use social media, but you don't know where to start. Here's a quick and dirty guide to the major platforms, including a few new-ish ones: everything you need to know about how they work, how you should use them, and why you might avoid them. Keep this bookmarked should you ever need to make your social media case to the C-Suite or convince a social media virgin to adopt.
The thing to keep in mind about platforms is that one isn't inherently better than others for everyone. You must make your platform choice based on your brand's personality and needs, as well as your audience's proclivities and your own personal comfort level. There's no need to go whole hog on all the major platforms at once. Start with one or two that feel natural for both you and your brand, and add platforms to fill brand needs or seek out new customers.
What: Everyone lists this platform as number one, but that's only because it was there first, which is as good a reason as any to evaluate it for your brand. Facebook has the business of paid advertising down, and though they keep tweaking it, it's fairly straightforward and easy to use, as well as adjustable to any income. You can promote a post or create an ad for as little as $5, and they provide helpful tips for how and why to spend more money. If you don't go the paid social route with Facebook, your exposure will be a bit more sporadic. Regardless, it's a good place for regular updates about your brand.
How: Create a business page with attractive visuals, a few posts that give updates about the service or product you provide, and start by inviting your friends to "like" the page. From there, think about paid social options to expand your likes.
Why: Facebook can be good for local brands, brands looking to attract an older audience, and anyone interested in getting their foot in the door or paid social.
What: Twitter is the global water cooler, the place where your brand can chime in on whatever conversation your audience is already having, or start a conversation. For engagement, there's no better place than Twitter. However, breaking in isn't as easy as you might think. Paid social is an option on Twitter and works similarly to Facebook, but if you find the right Twitter community and grow your following through excellent and consistent content marketing, organic social shouldn't be a problem here.
How: Decide what your Twitter personality is going to be. Are you going to be funny? Informative? Conversational? Cheerful? Helpful? Figure out your brand personality for engagement, and then consistently roll out a Twitter schedule. For example, decide every Tuesday to do a gratitude tweet, where you find a different reason you're grateful for your followers. Set aside an hour each day to find tweets to engage with. Ask a question on Wednesdays and wait for answers. Be funny on Fridays and tweet about the weekend. And always always always use hashtags.
Why: Twitter is a must for brands looking to be really active on social with content marketing. It's also becoming one of the first places people will look online to find your brand if they want to tag you in a compliment or a complaint, either of which you should be noting, anyway. Secure your handle now, and start following your industry peers strategically.
What: If your brand is remotely visual, you should probably be on Pinterest. Pinterest is the heart of content marketing, and especially geared toward the fashion, cooking, and DIY industry. Pinterest recently rolled out paid pins, which could be a good way to get started, or you can opt for simply making boards that feature your products and aesthetic.
How: If you're unfamiliar with Pinterest, it's one of those platforms you need to spend some time looking at how other brands use it. Come up with clever, brand-appropriate names for your boards, and showcase your products with tips on how to use them. Create inspiration boards, and re-pin pins from influencers you'd like to have in your community.
Why: If you want to attract a female demographic interested in aesthetics, DIT, design, fashion, fitness, lifestyle, or food, this is your platform. Think of it as a carefully curated scrapbook for your brand.
What: Instagram is where you showcase your best photos and video clips. There's a real opportunity here to be creative with your photos, using filters and third party apps to make them pop, as well as long captions or helpful tips to help your audience understand how to use them. Paid social is only available to select brands at the moment, but look for updates to that policy in the next year or so.
How: You can use Instagram for high end photos (filtered and touched up with apps) or for a behind-the-scenes look at your company (employee spotlights or how-it's-made clips) but regardless, it's a good place for storytelling. Use your captions wisely, and remember that a colorful, beautiful account is a followed account.
Why: Instagram is a great place to reach the demographic a bit older than millennials, and anyone visually inclined. Fitness brands, beauty brands, and lifestyle brands should all be on Instagram.
What: YouTube is the global TV channel. If you're at all interested in creating video content, this is the place to go. It's easy to use, and the YouTube community is rabid. Other video platforms, such as Vimeo, are great for higher end, more niche video content, but YouTube is the place to start.
How: Concept videos as part of a series. What information do you have to offer in video format, and how can you roll that value out in a series of videos? Put together a simple recording setup, invest in a couple good ring lights, and get started. Also useful for personal brands in the form of vlogging or video diaries. Keep it short, keep it simple, and keep it pretty.
Why: Video is the new black. More people are watching video content than ever before, across all devices.
What: I'm not the biggest fan of Google+, but because of Google's SEO recipe, you must have an account. If you're using YouTube, you can link your Google+ account so that updates get posted there as well, and your Google+ account doesn't look dormant. Google+ is also a very visual platform, and the design lends itself to creative profile photos.
How: Hangouts-On-Air are great if you want to live-stream conversations, and are slightly more formal than Periscope or Meerkat. Google+ is also great for local brands looking to find their community through connections in already existing Google contacts.
Why: Because you have to if you want to be found on Google search. See here for a more detailed (though slightly out of date) guide, and leave a comment if you have more tips for this platform.
What: Snapchat might be my favorite new platform. Watching how influencers and brands use the story function is exciting, and I see opportunities for everyone to tell stories on Snapchat. While paid advertising on Snapchat is astronomically high, brands can use the story function to showcase real personality. This is also THE place to go to get that millennial audience. Additionally, it can be a good resource for influencer outreach, as sponsoring a snap can still feel very casual and real for the audience.
How: Because Snapchat doesn't have a great search function, you should share your Snapchat name on other social platforms to get followers. Set aside a day or two a week to create stories about your brand. For example, string together 10-second video clips to have a conversation with your followers or take them around on your day's events. Or use the photo function to play a game with your followers by asking them to find your product in the photo (sort of like Where's Waldo). Because snaps disappear after 24 hours on stories, there isn't a ton of pressure to make your content super-polished. Have fun, tell an authentic story.
Why: One word: millennials.
What: An absolute must for any B2B brand or recruiter. It's not the sexiest platform out there, but it has hundreds of millions of members, and if you want to be seen by the B2B community, you have to have a company page there.
How: Put everything about your company on the company page. Think of it as an ultimate resume for you or your company. Include your mission statement and an extended "about" description, and start following companies you'd like to be in your peer group. Interact regularly with other professional organizations and keep abreast of hirings and job changes for possible company growth.
Why: It's the social network for grownups, and if you want to be taken seriously, you have to have a presence there.
What: Tumblr is a micro-blogging site that is beautifully designed and extremely easy to use, especially with the well-executed mobile app. Tumblr can work for brands of all sorts, from text-based brands to visual brands and everything in between. There are certain audiences that have a rabid Tumblr presence, and you should find out if your industry is active there.
How: It's easy to choose a free theme and get started with posting your own content and curating content with the re-blog function. Use tags to make sure your blog is findable, and start following blogs. Use it to share content from tastemakers or connect with other brands.
Why: It's the easiest blogging site out there, and can be really helpful for niche audiences.
What: Not for the faint of heart, these apps are the newest social platforms out there, but they've caught on quickly and proved some staying power. They are live-streaming apps that can broadcast whatever you're doing to a potentially large audience. Periscope is linked to Twitter, so if you're already secure on Twitter, this might be a good fit. Some prefer Meerkat (who differing functions include archiving and tablet support) but whichever way you go,
How: The uses here are still being worked out, but that's exciting because it means the potential is huge. Behind-the-scenes content would work really well here, as well as tours of offices or special sneak peeks, and off-the-cuff conversations. You can also use it for a kind of Ask-Me-Anything service, by answering tweets in real time. I'd recommend having at least one other person to interact with during the live-stream, however, as a monologue can be awkward unless you're really comfortable with that kind of thing.
Why: If you start using these apps now, you'd be an early adopter, and have all the cache that comes with that. You also might just inject a new energy into your brand by playing with live-streaming.