This is my yearly update on the latest social media channels. Social marketing success is dependent upon smart planning. In Social Media Strategy I lay out a five step process that includes a (1) situation analysis (target market, social media audit, setting business objectives), (2) developing key insights and a big idea, (3) selecting social media channels, (4) integrating other business functions, and (5) linking business objectives to social media metrics with KPI’s in each channel.
The third step of selecting social channels to fit your brand, target and content can be overwhelming with so many options. Some list thousands of social media sites and apps, Wikipedia has over 200 and Brian Solis’s Conversation Prism has just under 200 in 26 categories. To simplify I have divided social media channels into 9 categories by key characteristics and list the top 3 or more channels in each.
Social Networks: These are the websites and apps that connect people sharing personal or professional interests through profiles, groups, posts and updates. Facebook continues to grow to over 1.9 billion monthly active users and nearly 1.3 million daily users with 85% outside the US and Canada. Facebook updates include live video from a desktop, 360 photos and 360 video, giffs in comments and Workplace by Facebook is for employee communication. Messenger gets a lot of Snapchat like filters, stickers and stories. Facebook ads get more targeted and more options including instream video ads and ad breaks in live stream videos. Facebook Messenger has grown to 1 billion users closing in on WhatsApp’s 1.2 billion users. Messenger gets new features like video with emphasis on customer service and bots. LinkedIn is the dominate business/professional social network growing to 500 million users with opportunities for recruitment, professional networking/development, B2B prospecting, and native advertising to professionals. Since the Microsoft acquisition they have a redesigned desktop to be more like the mobile apps, more engagement analytics and search capabilities, chat-like messaging, a calendar chatbot to set meeting times and easier blogging interface. The feed emphasizes more content and less status updates with new algorithms and editors. Google+ is the much debated social network since its launch in 2011. The latest user stats are 111 million with active Google+ profiles in 2015. This is most likely much lower today, but certain niche groups remain very active. The new Google+ redesign in late 2015 got rid of many of the social network features, which were shut down completely as “classic” mode in January 2017 to emphasize communities. Many have pronounced Google+ dead, but it still remains as an effective channel to build targeted web traffic, high Google rankings, social sharing and overall SEO. I will also mention that MySpace still has roughly 50 million monthly active users and some have pronounced a comeback. It is still popular for music with 14 million artist and 53 million songs on the channel.
Blogs and Forums: Blogs are websites that contain posts or articles in reverse chronological order that include hyperlinks and usually allow commenting. Forums are online discussion sites also called message boards where people hold conversations via threads around common interests and topics. WordPress is the top blogging platform growing to 409 million users viewing over 23.7 billion blog pages a month with top media and marketing publishers including CNN, CBS Radio, TED, TechCrunch, the NFL, and UPS. Tumblr (owned by Yahoo) is the short-form blog focused more on photos and video and less text that has growth to 345 million registered accounts and 738 million unique monthly visitors. Like other social media Tumblr has added native ad options. Blogger was the first major blogging platform and is owned by Google. Recent stats estimate 177 million monthly visitors to blogger.com down from 240 million in 2016. Blogger is a simpler platform with less customize options and is hosted on Google servers versus self-hosting available on WordPress. Other blogging considerations are Medium which has grown to 89 million monthly visitors, Typepad has dropped to around 15 million monthly visitors, Squarespace claims hundreds of thousands of blogs published on its platform and Wix also supports blogs. To find forums try directories and search options including BoardReader, ProBoards, or Omgili.
Microblogging: Microblogs are a form of traditional blogging where the posts are limited by length of content or file size. The innovator and leader in Microblogging continues to be Twitter which is growing again up to 313 million monthly active users with 82% of those active on mobile. Every 6 seconds 1,000 tweets are sent which makes the site great for real time news discovery. Twitter is also a second screen for live events and has grown into a mainstay for social media customer service and a place for native ads with new sponsored live video. Twitter updates include 360 photos/video and a giff search library. Photos, videos, giffs and polls are now excluded from character count and the algorithmic timeline will emphasize content user’s interactive with vs. just the latest tweets. Pinterest is the social pin board dedicated to visual discovery, collection and sharing that limits posts to single images or video with captions of 500 characters and one link in the bio. Pinterest has grown to over 175 million monthly active users with much of that recent growth in global markets. The site is dominated by women, but 1/3 of new sign ups are men. Pinterest is the place for certain topics such as holidays, DIY, travel, holidays, event planning, recipes and decorating. New Features include Pinterest Lens visual discovery tool to search related styles/ideas based on what is in your phone camera and new native ads and programs to support business. Vine was the micro-video platform built on 6 second videos. Vine shut down January 2017, but you can still access an archive of videos. Musical.ly is quickly capturing the young teen market with instant music videos growing to 40 million monthly active users and over 200 million app downloads. The app creates 15-second videos and lets you add popular songs, choose speed options and add filters and effects with hashtags. Original shows are being added to Musical.ly via Viacom, NBCU and Hearst. Clammr is a short form (24 second or less) audio sharing social media app. This micro social channel is new and still small but may grow quickly. The idea is to share audio clips from longer programs like Podcasts or record original content. Some have called it Pinterest for Podcast clips.
Media Sharing: This category is for social media channels developed mainly for the sharing of image or video media. YouTube, is the original video sharing site with over 1 billion users or 1/3 of all people on the Internet with many shifting TV viewing on this channel. YouTube is a great place for content marketing, original shows, native ads and video bloggers that provide reviews. The channel is good for brand content marketing or influencer marketing with YouTube stars. New efforts include YouTube Music and YouTube TV. Instagram (owned by Facebook) is the quality photo sharing social channel first created as an app that has grown to over 700 million active monthly users as it continues to add Snapchat like features including stories, slideshow, overlaid creative tools, disappearing DMs and Facefilters. It is a good place for fan engagement, native ads and user generated brand content, but has switched to a timeline of users’ photos based on an algorithm versus chronological order. Instagram’s 200 million daily Stories users already outnumber Snapchat’s 166 million total users. Snapchat is the newest channel in this category whose growth has slowed to 166 million daily active users, but this is still higher than Twitter’s daily active users. This channel is more popular with 12-24-year-olds than Facebook, but over 35 users have grown by 224%. Snapchat is great for pictures that can be drawn on, filters, 10 second video and stories that disappear after they are viewed. Snapchat is adding more native ad options and has introduced new 3D lenses that add a AR like objects to your world. Also consider Flickr (owned by Yahoo) which has 112 million active monthly users with 1 million photos shared daily, Vimeo with 170 million monthly active viewers for niche video audiences and LinkedIn owned Slideshare with 70 million users is great for business and content marketing with 80% of traffic coming from search. Live streaming video continues to expand with Periscope emerging as a leader with 10 million users and over 200 million streams. Twitter is pushing the app with further integration introducing a “Go Live” button, Periscope videos showing up in Twitter Trends, autoplay and pre-roll ads. Facebook Live is a big competitor to Periscope with Facebook pushing Live video by paying influencers. Facebook claims 8 billion video views per day or 100 million hours (includes all video), but faces censorship challenges with high profile killings and suicides broadcast live on the social network. Music.ly has also jumped into live video with the Live.ly app for live video with streams viewable in Music.ly and has reported 4.6 million monthly active users. Early innovator Meerkat has shut down, but its developers released the new group video chat app HouseParty that is very popular with teens but still only 2 million monthly users.
Geo-location: Geo-location or geosocial is a type of social networking where user-submitted (GPS) location data connects users with local people, businesses and events. The innovator and leader in this category is Foursquare, now called Foursquare City Guide, with 50 million monthly active users and 93 million places. Swarm is a separate app for checking in, but marketers can still reach consumers on Swarm through Foursquare. Foursquare is great for businesses with physical locations and offers many options for native ads and robust location analytics. Marketers can leverage Google geo-location features though Google My Business that gets businesses added to Google location search and Google Maps and includes ratings and reviews. Facebook Check-Ins are the geo-location feature in Facebook that provides valuable benefits to marketers. It is good for increasing reach, generating awareness and has ratings and review features. Instagram Location has added locations with integration to Facebook Places. Both are great ways to increase exposure for businesses and events for search by location versus hashtag. Other considerations in this category are Nextdoor, which is a private location-based social network with nearly 114,000 active neighborhoods and growing quickly with limited native ad options. Alignable is a more B2B focused social channel. It helps build relationship between local businesses and creates a community around referrals. Other social networks also offer geo-location features such as Snapchat Geofilters. The recent innovation in this category was the success of Pokemon Go. Look for more AR features being added to current social media channels like Snapchat’s new 3D Lenses.
Ratings and Reviews: Reviews are reports that give someone’s opinion about the quality of a product, service or performance. Ratings are a measurement of how good or bad something is expressed on a scale. The top general social channel in this channel is Yelp which has increased to 183 million active monthly users and 127 million reviews. Yelp is the early innovator in crowdsourced ratings and reviews. Founded in 2004 it has grown city by city and can be very influential on sales for many businesses. Top categories include shopping, restaurants, home services, beauty, fitness and entertainment. Yelp offers many native ad options. For travel related businesses TripAdvisor has 390 million active monthly users and 435 million reviews. This social channel provides reviews of travel-related content and travel forums. TripAdisor offers many free and paid tools for marketing. Angie’s List is the long time subscription based ratings and review site with crowdsourced reviews of local businesses. Starting with review of local contractors the service has moved on to cover much more such as health care and auto care. With 12 million active monthly users Angie’s list could grow even more after getting rid of its pay wall to complete with larger networks. Angie’s List also offers native ad options. Citisearch is an online city guide that was one of the earliest review sites. However, Citisearch has lost most of its traffic to Yelp. Ratings and reviews should also be tracked on Google My Business and any other site or app that applies to your product or service such as retail sites like Amazon.com. The ground breaking website in this category was Epinions, but it was closed in 2014 by owner Ebay.
Social Bookmarking: Social bookmarking sites are online services that allow users to save, comment on, and share bookmarks of web documents or links. Social bookmarking sites have also expanded into content discovery and curation tools. Reddit is one of the top social bookmarking social channels. It was hard to track down the number of user accounts, but Reddit draws 250 million unique visits a month. If handled correctly Reddit could be a great way for a product, service or organization to get discovered – especially in a specific category or topic called Subreddits. Reddit has also started offer native ad solutions with big brands like Coca-Cola, Toyota and Duracell running campaigns. StumbleUpon is the discovery engine that finds and recommends web content to users who can rate web pages, photos and videos. StumbleUpon reports millions of users with the last available number at 30 million unique users. This social channel is good for content marketing, influencer marketing and attracts 120,000 brands leveraging native ads. Digg is the social news site that aggregates publisher’s streams via peer evaluation of voting up content for sharing. Digg has made a rebound since its relaunch growing from under 3 million monthly active users in 2012 to nearly 12 million by 2015. Digg is a good place for content marketing and also native advertising. Buzzfeed is more on the content discovery side of this category but has attracted a lot of attention with over 200 million unique monthly visitors. The big opportunity for marketing with Buzzfeed is native ads and the social company is now growing to be a cross-platform network including popular channels on Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube. Buzzfeed focuses on advertising partners who help create “content that is worth sharing.” Related to Buzzfeed is NowThis News, which creates video news to distribute to other social network feeds. This news for social company started by former Huffington Post heads has grown to 2.5 billion monthly video views and is now expanding into long-form programming, original shows and investigative journalism. Content marketing options may be limited but NowThis has formed partnerships with advertisers such as MEC to make branded marketing videos for agency clients. Social Bookmarking innovator Del.icio.us has dropped down to 1.5 million monthly visitors, but may reemerge as new owners continue to try to revive the once famous site.
Social Knowledge: Social knowledge channels are web-based information exchanges where users can search topics or ask questions and get answers from real people. This includes social sites such as wikis and question and answer websites. Wikipedia is the big one of course with 374 million unique monthly visitors and over 70,000 active contributors to over 5 million articles in English. Marketers should monitor their Wikipedia pages, but cannot make changes themselves. The question and answer sites could be good for content creation, thought leadership and influencer marketing. Yahoo! Answers is a community question and answer site launched in 2005. Yahoo! Answers went mobile for the first time in late 2016 and announced 300 million monthly users. Yahoo! Answers Now mobile app has improved features such as notifications and questions sent to experts in categories for better answers. Quora is the newer question and answer site that focuses on higher quality content. This social knowledge channel rose in a short time to 100 million unique visitors a month. This channel could especially be good for building thought leadership. Quora has added an “Ask Me Anything” service called Writing Sessions, offers Knowledge Prizes as incentives for experts to answer questions, a new editor to create more visible and organized answers, and native ads. Ask.fm is a new entrant to this category being bought by Ask.com. This global social site enables users to create profiles and send each other questions. Ask.fm has 20 million unique monthly users and does offer native ads. Also consider Answers.com, ChaCha, WikiAnswers (now part of Answers.com), and Whale, which is the new video Q&A service attracting a young audience.
Podcasts: Podcasts are a series of episodes of digital audio or video content delivered automatically through subscription. Podcasting provides a great opportunity for content marketing with brands creating their own shows or native advertising where brands can sponsor influencers. Podcast consumption has grown in the US to 67 million monthly listeners. iTunes is the innovator in Podcasting with the name coming from the Apple iPod. Some estimate there are over 200,000 million Podcasts on iTunes – a number that has doubled since 2013. But not all Podcasts are on iTunes. Other social channels to consider are SoundCloud, which is the global online audio platform that enables users to upload, record, promote, and share their original works. SoundCloud now has 175 million monthly active listeners with a lot of Podcast content being produced and shared. iHeartRadio, the internet radio platform owned by iHeartMedia (formally Clear Channel Radio) also features Podcasts. iHeartRadio used to call them Shows On Demand, but has embraced the term Podcast and iHeartRadio has over 100 million registered users. Stitcher is an on-demand internet radio service that provides news, radio and podcasts. Stitcher delivers free online streaming to over 16 million monthly listeners and could grow as it is now available for Apple Car Play. The latest consideration in Podcasts would also be Audible, which is the audio book distribution channel owned by Amazon. This big player in audio books has now branched out into Podcasts. Also look to the entire category to grow as Podcasts are integrated into new cars.
One other consideration is there are social media channels that are more popular in specific countries. If you are a global brand you want to look into usage by country and consider channel such as QZone, WeChat, VKontakte, Odnoklassniki and others. This is by far, not a comprehensive list of social channel options, but it does give an update on the top channels in each category to choose the best for your social strategy. For more insights into the big picture in social media strategy consider Social Media Strategy: Marketing and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution.