2018 Social Media Update: Top Social Media Channels By Category

This is my yearly update on the latest social media channels and stats. Social media 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 5.0 has over 200 in 28 categories. To simplify I have divided social media channels into eight categories by key characteristics and list the top three or more channels in each.Guide to Social Media Platform Channel OptionsSocial Networks: These are the websites and apps that connect people sharing personal or professional interests through profiles, groups, posts and updates. Facebook now has 2.2 billion monthly users (1.45 billion active daily) and is by far the largest social media channel of any of the categories. Some new features on Facebook include Watch Party which lets people join a live stream with friends so everyone can watch and comment together. The Groups tab brings all groups together in one place and a Join Group button embeds on websites and the dating feature matches users up with others who opted in for a dating profile. The new Facebook Ad Manager has been redesigned for efficiency and insights for optimization plus new education products. LinkedIn is the dominate business/professional social network growing to 562 million users in over 200 countries with opportunities for recruitment, professional networking/development, B2B prospecting, and social advertising to professionals. New LinkedIn features include an active status notification and you can add video to the Summary and Experience sections of your profile. Trending topics has been added to the feed showing trends related to a member’s connections and content preferences. Smart replies uses artificial intelligence to suggest replies to the messages received.

Social Messaging: Instant messaging are chat applications created around social networks for communication on mobile phones with less limits and more features than traditional texting. Facebook Messenger has grown to 1.3 billion users but is still behind Facebook owned WhatsApp with 1.5 billion users. Messenger gets new features like video with emphasis on customer service and bots. New features on Messenger include redesigning the app to be simpler, cleaner and faster with AR camera effects. New WhatsApp features include payments to send and receive money, the ability to delete sent messages, groups descriptions, group video calling, location and time stickers, plus Apple CarPlay and YouTube integration. Other popular messenger apps include Kik (300 million) that is popular with younger users age 13 to 23, Viber (900 million) which is popular in Eastern European countries, and Line (217 million) which is popular in Asian Pacific countries.

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 21.5 billion blog pages a month with top media and marketing publishers including CNN, CBS Radio, TED, TechCrunch, the NFL, and UPS. WordPress has introduced new user center improvements. Tumblr (owned by Yahoo) is the short-form blog focused more on photos and video and less text that has growth to 409 million blog accounts and 737 million unique monthly visitors. Like other social media Tumblr has advertising options and has recently introduced a new safe mode feature to help tone down their adult content reputation. Blogger was the first major blogging platform and is owned by Google. Recent stats estimate 95 million monthly visitors to blogger.com down from 167 million in 2017. 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 163 million monthly visitors while Typepad has dropped to around 14 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 has grown to 330 million monthly active users with 500 million tweets sent everyday with an option for Twitter Ads. Twitter is great for real time news discovery, has become a second screen for live events and has become a mainstay for social media customer service. New Twitter features include doubling the character limit to 280, redesigned desktop site and mobile app to be lighter, faster and easier, Anti-Harassment and Cyberbullying Features, Moments for everyone, a new explore tab that combines moments, trends and search, and safer DMs. 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 200 million monthly active users. The site is dominated by women, but many new signups are men. Pinterest is the place for topics such as DIY, travel, holidays, event planning, recipes and decorating. New Pinterest features center around visual search for consumers and for marketers through Pinterest Ads. Vine was the micro-video platform built on 6 second videos that shut down in January 2017, but you can still access an archive of videos. A non-Twitter owned new video app called V2 (Vine 2) may be coming. Musical.ly has captured the young teen market with instant music videos growing to 60 million monthly active users and over 200 million app downloads. The app creates 15-second videos and lets you add popular songs, add filters and effects with hashtags. Original shows are being added to Musical.ly via Viacom, NBCU and Hearst. It reaches 14% of teen and young adult US consumers. Clammr was a short form audio sharing social media app, but it shut down last summer.

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, social media ads and video bloggers that provide reviews. The channel is good for brand content marketing or influencer marketing with YouTube stars. Also consider YouTube Music and YouTube TV. Recently YouTube added new live streaming tools and features. Instagram (owned by Facebook) is the quality photo sharing social channel first created as an app that has grown to over 800 million active monthly users with 500 million active daily. It is a good place for fan engagement, social ads and user generated brand content. It continues to add Snapchat like features. New Instagram features include redesigning its Explore tab, with Topic Channels to browse by topics, new group video chat, and AR camera effects for photos and video. Snapchat is a photo- and video-sharing messaging service in which media and messages are only available for a short time before disappearing. It has grown its monthly active users to 300 million and its daily active users to 187 million. Snapchat delivers an impressive daily reach of 41% to 18-34 year olds in the US and average time spent per day is over 30 minutes. It offers innovative social ads and has a new design that is easier to use that may attract older users. Also consider Flickr (owned by Yahoo) which has 90 million active monthly users with up to 25 million photos shared a day, Vimeo with 170 million monthly active viewers for niche video audiences and LinkedIn owned Slideshare with 80 million users is great for business and content marketing with 80% of traffic coming from search. Whattpad is a story-sharing app growing in popularity that now has 65 million users. Brands such as Wendy’s are experimenting with the platform creating stories around its summer drinks to reach teen girls.

Live streaming video continues to expand with Periscope  as a leader with 10 million users and 1.9 million daily active users. Facebook Live is a big competitor with Facebook pushing Live video. Facebook claims 8 billion video views per day or 100 million hours (includes all video). 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 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. For niche audiences Amazon owned Twitch is a live streaming platform for gamers boasting 140 million unique monthly users

Geosocial: 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 105 million venues around the world. Swarm is a separate app for checking in, but marketers reach consumers on Swarm through Foursquare. Foursquare is great for businesses with physical locations and offers options for social ads with robust location analytics. Marketers can leverage Google geo-location features though Google My Business that adds businesses 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 160,000 active neighborhoods with social 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.

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 with 174 million active monthly users and 155 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. Yelp offers many social 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. Amazon attracts 80 million monthly visitors, has over 152 million active accounts and offers over 183 million products. Amazon has also been reported as being the largest single source of Internet consumer reviews. 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. Angie’s list first removed its pay wall and now is combining with HomeAdvisor to create more than 22 million monthly users. Angie’s List also offers social 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. If you are in the human resources or the recruitment industry company reviews on Glassdoor are important. The entertainment industry should consider niche review sites like Amazon owned IMBb.

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 and has 330 million users. 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 social ad solutions with big brands like Coca-Cola, Toyota and Duracell running campaigns. 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 13 million visitors a month. Digg is a good place for content marketing and also social advertising. StumbleUpon is the discovery engine that finds and recommends web content to users who can rate web pages, photos and videos. StumbleUpon has dropped to roughly 11 million visitors a month. This social channel is good for content marketing, influencer marketing and attracts 120,000 brands leveraging social ads. Buzzfeed is more on the content discovery side of this category but has attracted a lot of attention with an audience or over 650 million. The big opportunity for marketing with Buzzfeed is social 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 2.6 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. NowThis and Chase created a campaign targeting Millennials last summer. Social Bookmarking innovator Del.icio.us was officially closed to a read only site in 2017.

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 with 374 million unique monthly visitors and over 71,000 active contributors to over 5.6 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 attracts 317 million visitors a month. 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 200 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 also offers social ads. Ask.fm is a fairly 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 10 million unique monthly users and does offer social ads. Also consider Answers.com, ChaCha, WikiAnswers (now part of Answers.com).

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. Another option is TuneIn, which has 75 million users and 5.7 million podcasts.

One other consideration is that 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.

Social Media Not Meeting Expectations? Perform A Social Media Audit.

Companies have been active in social media for years. Today 97% of Fortune 500 companies are on LinkedIn, 84% are on Facebook and 86% are on Twitter. But those efforts were likely created in a piecemeal fashion. Different brand accounts were added for different reasons at different times. Objectives or options may have changed. Or you may be so focused on current social accounts you are missing out on opportunities elsewhere. How do you know you are posting the right content in the right places to drive the right consumer actions? Perform a social media audit.

Free social media strategy audit templateWhat Is A Social Media Audit?

A social media audit is simply a systematic examination of social media data. It is a snapshot of all social media activity in and around a brand evaluated for strategic insights. Why? Different organizational objectives and target markets may require different social media messages and platforms. Existing brand accounts may be wrong for current business objectives and new social media platforms may be ideal, but were never considered. Perhaps brand social media was started by marketing or public relations, but now customer service requests are overwhelming the system and increased integration is needed.

First Start By Listening.

Use social media tools to gather data about brand social media channels and content. Discover what consumers are saying about the brand, product, service, and key personnel in any social platform. Listen to what is being said by and about brand competitors. You may be monitoring social media daily, but simply responding to what comes your way.

Analyze the bigger picture. Qualify and quantify social media action looking for patterns and opportunity. Listen with an outside perspective to the social talk about your brand, employees, customers and competitors. Look on both official corporate social media accounts and unofficial or personal accounts.

If you don’t have a social media monitoring software or if you are a startup or student just getting started simply go to each social media platform and search the brand name to find the conversations. Look on official brand accounts to see what the brand is doing and look at the conversation happening on those official brand accounts.

Start with the social channels you know the brand has brand pages (they are probably listed on the brand website). Then search other popular social media channels the brand does not have official accounts to find additional consumer brand content. Do the same for one main competitor to find their social channels, brand content and consumer brand conversations. This Social Media Channel Template provides a list of top social platforms by category for ideas on where to look for official brand accounts and consumer brand conversations.

An audit need not capture every mention, but should gather a complete picture. Find conversation on all social platforms. Be sure to consider social networks, blogs and forums, microblogs, media sharing platforms, geosocial, ratings and reviews, social bookmarking, social knowledge, plus podcasts. This Social Media Channel Category Guide provides a quick guide to the top social media platforms in each category by kind and key characteristics.

Next Organize Social Talk Data.

When collecting social talk data it should be organized for meaningful analysis. This can be done by following a social media audit template such as the one I created from the concept of the Five Ws that journalists use to write news stories. Gather social talk into three categories of company, consumer, and competitor (down first row) then record observations by where, what, when, and why (across columns).

Collect and Analyze Social Media Audit Data by:

  • Who—company, consumers, competitors
  • Where—social media channel (YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) and environment (describe the look and feel)
  • What—type of content (articles, photos, videos, links, questions, etc.) and sentiment (positive, negative, neutral)
  • When—frequency of activity (number of posts, comments, views, shares, etc. per day, week, or month)
  • Why—purpose (brand awareness, promotion, drive traffic, customer complaint, praise, etc.)

The number of rows under “Who” will vary based on the number of brand and competitor social accounts and the number of social media platforms where consumer brand talk is found. Larger organizations may need to divide the “Company” category further into departments, offices, or employees. Capture what each location or executive is communicating.

Then Determine What The Data Is Saying.

Does the data point to opportunities? Are there trouble spots? Do brand social media platforms present a consistent look, voice and unified message? Are customers complaining about similar product or service issues? Is the brand consistently posting quality content and consistently responding to customers? Are there social platforms where customers are talking about the brand, yet there isn’t an official brand presence? Answer these questions and use a five-point scale to mark each channel as a problem (1) or an opportunity (5) for a defensive or offensive social media strategy.

Determining the “Why” for each social action is important. If you can’t think of a strategic purpose then reevaluate the effort. Is maintaining a brand account on specific social media platforms worth the organization’s time? Once a purpose is determined, identify the social media metrics to measure performance. Ask questions such as, “Why does the organization have a Pinterest page and how is success being measured?” “Because everyone is there” and “to increase followers” is not enough. If you know the business purpose and metrics ask, “How has the platform performed? With roughly 10% of marketing budgets spent on social media it is more important than ever to connect social action to higher-level business objectives and justify expense.

Finally Evaluate Brand Engagement.

Are your consumer’s engaging with your brand? How are views, likes, comments and shares? Have they gone up or down over time? Advertising Hall of Famer Howard Gossage said, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them.” In social media reach is gained when consumers find content interesting enough to share. Quality content is important. Whether educational or entertaining it must be considered valuable. Only social media that is viewed and shared reaches an audience that can then take action to meet business objectives.

Today you can also interrupt people’s social feeds with paid social media or native advertising. Paid social media can buy reach to a targeted audience, but that does not replace the need to create interesting content. Social media advertising merely buys exposure. Content must convey value to drive consumer action, further distribution, and ultimate ROI.

Is It Time For A Social Media Audit?

If you haven’t evaluated your brand’s social media presence in a while it may be time for a social media audit. Use this template to see how consumers are experiencing your brand in social media. You may uncover some problem areas, promising opportunities, social channels you should be in and ones you should leave behind.

A social media audit can help you:

  • Realize the need for increased integration with other departments.
  • Find gaps in brand promise and product/service performance.
  • Uncover inconsistencies across brand social accounts.
  • Reveal blind spots in current social action with content, schedule and response.
  • Discover consumer ideas for product/service improvements.
  • Optimize brand content to drive engagement.
  • Find unexpected consumer generated content on other platforms.
  • Discover valuable brand or industry influencers.
  • Optimize time devoted to most effective social media platforms.
  • Learn from successful competitor social strategies.
  • Uncover a need for metrics to connect social action to business objectives.

Whether launching a new social media effort or evaluating current social activity, a social media audit can deliver valuable insights to create or optimize any social media strategy. For the bigger picture in social media strategy, more tools, templates and guides, plus a framework for creating and executing a complete social media plan consider the 2nd Edition of Social Media Strategy: Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations in the Consumer Revolution. bit.ly/QSocialBook