Call it peer pressure, call it Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), or call it something else, but some marketers and even brand experts will tell companies that they need to be on every social media platform (did someone say Tinder?), everywhere, no matter what. While there's always an argument to leave no stone unturned in reaching out to existing or potential customers, in our world of finite marketing resources it can simply be wasteful to spread yourself too thin - and even potentially embarrassing for a brand to operate too far out of their element. Oftentimes, in this push to be everywhere, brands end doing themselves more harm than good by leaving a scattering of orphaned social channels, making it confusing for customers to figure out what their "real" social channels are.
Choosing which social platforms to invest time and energy into is less about what kind of company you are, and much, much more about knowing who your customers are and what they do on social media. The spaces where your customers actually seek information, dialogue and relationships...that's where you should be active.
There are no hard rules that dictate which platforms work for which companies, but taking a step back allows you to examine both your intent in social media, and what your customers are seeking. For example, you could argue that small businesses shouldn't be on Facebook because of its move towards a pay-for-exposure model that could quickly crush a budget. However, a business like a hair salon relying on word of mouth and passionate advocates might find (and need) success there. Or look at Google+, with lagging traffic and engagement numbers suggesting that the vast bulk of companies wouldn't need a presence there. But what about auto manufacturers like Ford, that capture attention using the platform's high-quality visual tools (including albums, gifs, gallery views and more) to deliver well-received beauty shots of concept vehicles to an audience that spends time on that platform? Or take Denny's, which has made a meal of success using Tumblr, finding that the long content life on the platform (due to its discovery interface and emphasis on hashtags and reblogging) makes it just right for reaching the audience they want for a fraction of the cost of broadcast campaigns.
The truth is that much of social is still the Wild West, with new methods waiting to be discovered and established. For today's brand marketers, though, the best advice is to look at your specific situation and spend your strategic hours (and dollars) meeting your audience where they are - which might serve as a gut check to pare down on some platforms that just don't serve enough of a purpose.
But no matter which social platforms your brand is focused on, remember that it's having an authentic dialogue with customers that truly moves the relationship forward. With that said, here are three platform-agnostic social strategies to have down cold:
1. Be a human. This shouldn't be hard (you definitely are one), just act like it. Remember there are human beings on both ends of your social interactions, and treat others like you want to be treated.
2. Listen. Listen when you're having an exchange and really understand where the person is coming from. Listen, also, by monitoring your audience, your competitors' audiences, and the topics that those audiences care about. Think beyond your brand and products; you need to understand what your customers care about broadly to find shared passions.
3. Have realistic expectations about your relationship with your audience. Know what to expect from your customers, establish what they can expect from you, and think the effects of these choices through. If you build and foster a community where the audience is invited and expected to share and actively participate, be ready for them to do so. Want to build a community that's about transparent customer service? Prepare to deal with loose cannons and uncomfortable moments, but know that you'll benefit through the open and active engagement. If you've prepared your community to expect expert advisors answering questions and providing resources, don't suddenly expect them to share their silliest-captioned baby and/or dog shaming photos. Commit and stay true to the expectations you establish.
If all goes well, you'll turn everyday customers into brand evangelists on a large scale and not waste time and brand resources on inefficient and superfluous social platforms - a verifiable win-win.
Lily Croll is Senior Social Strategist at Wire Stone, an independent digital marketing agency for global Fortune 1000 brands.