Which Network Works? Finding the social media network that’s best for your business

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Social Network JugglingAccording to research company Experian, approximately 91% of online American adults log on to a social network every single month. That percentage represents about 129 million Americans. That’s 129 million potential consumers your company has the ability to reach on at least a monthly basis.

Goodness. That’s a lot of people.

And that’s just in America, and just people aged 18 and over. If you’re a company with the ability to ship your product all over the world, that number rockets upward. And if your product is targeted toward teenagers as well as adults, bump that number up even higher. Frankly, it’s getting to the point where very few companies can afford to ignore the social media revolution.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that there are thousands upon thousands of social networks out there. Sure, we’re all pretty familiar with Facebook and Twitter. But how many of you are on hi5? Or Disaspora*? How about Heello? No? Then what about Bebo? Maybe Orkut?

The number of networks is growing at an almost daily rate, which is in direct opposition to the growth of resources in many companies’ marketing departments. While social networking options are seemingly infinite, marketers have extremely finite resources at their disposal. We can’t be on every social network all the time, so instead we have to strategically select which channels to use for our digital marketing messages. But which social networks are right for your company?

The following is an overview of six of the major social networks. This list, of course, is by no means exhaustive, nor do the individual descriptions necessarily list the pros and cons of each network to the full extent, but this information should help you decide which networks are good fits for your company’s marketing message.

Facebook

Pros: Facebook is the undisputed king of social networking. It claims more than 800 million individual user accounts worldwide. Because of its mass popularity, potential customers are likely to search for a company on Facebook before any other social network. Facebook allows simple photo, video, and link sharing in addition to standard status updates, making it a robust marketing platform, and it supports a host of third-party applications that can integrate with a Facebook page and increase its creative functionality, including contest and audience polling applications.

Cons: Facebook is infamous for constantly changing its privacy policies, which tends to raise the hackles of its users. Facebook also has very strict rules about hosting contests on the site, any breach of which may result in the permanent deletion of the offending page. Additionally, only people who have liked a Facebook page are able to see the content posted by the company that owns that page, so many companies, especially smaller organizations, will need to put a heavy focus on increasing the number of page fans before engaging in a true social media marketing strategy.

Recommendation: Because of its immense popularity and wide audience base, virtually every company out there should have a Facebook page. Facebook is a good platform for more complex social marketing strategies. However, while Facebook is an essential social network for companies, it’s important that marketing managers using it dedicate time to remaining current on Facebook policy and format updates. Marketers using Facebook should expect to spend a good amount of time plotting out strategy and keeping current on Facebook’s latest changes.

Twitter

Pros: Though not quite as popular as Facebook, Twitter is still a major social networking platform. Twitter boasts an increase of 460,000 new accounts per day. Its simplicity makes it an easy tool to use, and the ease with which users can share tweets (via retweeting) makes Twitter an extremely viral medium. Unless a user’s tweets are marked as private, anyone can view a particular tweet, even non-followers, which makes it easier to expand a follower base as opposed to Facebook, where people generally have to be fans before they see a company’s message. The ability to reply to a Twitter user with the click of a button (via an @reply or @mention) also makes Twitter a great two-way communications tool.

Cons: The 140-character limit can be restricting, especially when attempting to share a complex marketing message. Also, the immediate and viral nature of Twitter is a double-edged sword. The ability for any user to retweet and @mention a company means a poorly received tweet has the same chance of going viral as a positive tweet, potentially exposing the company to amplified negative word of mouth. While the open nature of Twitter can be a positive thing for attracting new followers, it also represents a lack of control over the message once it’s tweeted to the world.

Recommendation: Given the huge number of Twitter users, it’s a hard social network to ignore. Companies looking to make a true impact on social media using consumers should give Twitter some serious attention. Twitter-based social marketing strategies should be simpler in nature than Facebook strategies, which can represent a smaller time investment. However, a Twitter account should be monitored extremely regularly, given the immediacy of the network and the prompt responses Twitter users have been trained to expect. Twitter is a good tool for providing potential customers with personalized company messages and for engaging in customer service and customer relationship management.

LinkedIn

Pros: LinkedIn has been receiving quite a bit of attention lately, due in part to its May 2011 IPO. The network now boasts well more than 100 million total users. Though it is a professional peer-networking program at its core, LinkedIn has been steadily working on increasing its business page offerings. LinkedIn also provides the ability to create Groups, which allow companies and their customers to connect directly on product and service discussions.

Cons: LinkedIn’s Groups feature currently does not link to its business pages, so a company cannot be officially tied with a group that it starts. In terms of product marketing, LinkedIn doesn’t offer as many robust tools as other social networks.

Recommendations: LinkedIn’s Groups platform makes it a great tool for people in service and consulting industries. Experts in these industries are able to find group discussions on any number of industry-specific topics and lend their own expertise, which can lead to an increase in business. It is also a great network for the self-employed, due to the focus on individuals rather than large businesses. However, LinkedIn isn’t necessarily the best fit for companies selling a tangible product, given its limited company page platform. LinkedIn’s functionality is much better suited to companies looking to better engage in Human Resources tasks, such as posting open positions within the company and headhunting potential new hires. Marketers should keep an eye on LinkedIn, however, as the network continues to add new features on their business pages.

Google+

Pros: Google+ shattered the record for the amount of user accounts created in a short time span. Even though it’s a newer social network, Google+ carries with it the considerable resources of parent company Google. The site is being constantly improved and expanded, and it offers a few functionalities that don’t exist on other platforms, such as “Hangout,” which is a quick, simple, multi-user video chat service that some companies are using to have face-to-face interactions with their customers. Google+ business pages are still in their infancy and have plenty of room to grow.

Cons: As a relatively new social network, Google+ is still struggling to find its core audience. It shattered records in terms of achieving a high number of users in a relatively small amount of time, but the network is generally unproven. While Google+ is widely considered more streamlined than Facebook, it seems to offer very similar functionality, meaning social networkers may not find much incentive to switch over to Google+ unless Google includes more stand-out features in the near future.

Recommendation: Google+ presents a great opportunity for companies with the resources to dedicate toward managing a page on the network. If more companies make the move to Google+ and offer exclusive content, more social media users are likely to follow and make Google+ part of their everyday social network regimens. Smaller companies, though, with fewer time and personnel resources, may wish to focus their marketing efforts on other major networks for the time being, rather than split focus on a network with an unproven user base.

Foursquare

Pros: Foursquare is the uncontested champion of geolocation social networks. It offers companies some great audience metrics, including how many people have checked into your location and the male-to-female ratio of those who have checked in. Foursquare also offers a fairly robust platform for companies to offer social deals and discounts to people who check in on the mobile platform, rewarding them for their patronage and encouraging repeat visits.

Cons: Although Foursquare is the dominant player in location-based social networking, it still puts up some comparatively small numbers in terms of overall social media users. Foursquare’s marketing tools are basically limited to value-based discounts or special offers, which means it may not make sense for companies that typically shy away from price reduction specials. It also means that Foursquare is better suited for bringing customers back in the future rather than attracting new customers in the first place.

Recommendation: Foursquare is a valuable social networking tool for companies that strive to encourage frequent repeat visits and customer loyalty. Although Foursquare does list nearby specials for anyone checking in at a certain location, the platform isn’t really known for generating new customers. If your focus is on new audience development rather than customer loyalty, your company’s resources may be best spent elsewhere. However, if frequent repeat business is key to your company’s success, Foursquare is a great, simple option for loyalty reward marketing.

Myspace

Pros: As one of the earliest social network successes, Myspace has not only a lot of name recognition, but also a surprisingly high number of users. In the last few years, Myspace has rebranded itself as an individually curated entertainment network. It was recently purchased by a company called Specific Media, which has given an ownership stake to entertainment icon Justin Timberlake, who hopes to resurrect the site as a major hub for entertainment sharing.

Cons: It’s no secret that Myspace has been losing users left and right for the last handful of years, especially since the meteoric rise of Facebook. The company has changed owners a number of times, and so far, Myspace hasn’t been able to reverse the flow of user numbers.

Recommendation: Myspace has a small but loyal following. It’s fairly well regarded as a great networking platform for musicians. If your company works in the entertainment industry, especially in music, then Myspace might be worthwhile as a social marketing platform, though with Facebook’s up-and-coming ability to host digital music tracks, even this niche market may find itself wandering away from the once-popular social network. Myspace may be a good place to expose new potential customers to your music or your related products, but proceed with caution.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to choosing which networks to utilize for your company’s social media marketing, you are the expert. Depending on your company’s resources and product or service, some networks might be a great fit, while others may not be worth the initial time and energy. Maybe for some of you, the best social fit isn’t even on this list. It’s important to explore the options available and make an educated decision when it comes to selecting your social networks, and when it comes right down to it, the best social network for you is the one that’s being used by your customers.

Where are you finding the most success in the social media world? Which networks are you thinking about joining in the future? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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