Are You Using The Best Social Media Platforms For Your Strategy? Know With This Social Media Platform Guide.

Use this guide to help select the best social media platforms for your social media strategy.

Social media is no longer an experimental part of marketing. Social media spending is 16% of marketing budgets and is expected to increase to  24% in five years. Social media is also an essential part of digital marketing which has surpassed traditional with digital ad spending reaching 62% of total ad sales. Today brands must go beyond the top social platforms or simply continue to use current brand social platforms.

Social media plans are more sophisticated with organic, paid, and influencer content. How do you decide among hundreds of social platforms? To simplify the process the table below lists social options in eight categories by key characteristics and top platforms per category based on total users.

To develop or update a social media strategy, focus on social media categories, social media platform content characteristics, and social media platform user demographics. The table and this article provide monthly, daily, and U.S. user stats. For user demographics of each social media platform visit Pew Research Center’s Social Media Fact Sheet. For user demographics of social media websites visit Similarweb.

Use this guide to help select the best social media platforms for your social media strategy.
Use this guide to select the best social media platforms for your social media strategy in 2024.

Audience Size and Engagement: Total audience size is important when selecting a social media platform within which to invest your time and money. Yet traditional measures of monthly active users or unique monthly visitors only tell part of the story. A user could visit a platform once a month and be included in the audience size. Engagement is another important factor that looks at how active those users are on the platform. How many users are daily users and how much time are they spending per day or session?

Target Audience Demographics: How active is your target audience on each platform? Define the target audience by demographics such as gender, education, income, ethnicity, and age. Look for social platforms popular with your target age group. Look at both monthly active and daily active users by age. A high percentage of Millennials may be monthly users of Facebook but if you look at daily usage, they may be more active on Instagram. If your target is Gen Z, Snapchat or TikTok may have the highest daily usage.

Target Audience Psychographics: Not all people in a generation have the same interests, therefore it is also important to define the target audience with psychographic variables such as values, beliefs, and interests. People interested in crafts, fashion, the environment, or gaming may be active on other social media platforms where those interests are popular such as Reddit, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or TikTok.

Target Business Category: Not all purchase decisions are considered in the same social media channels. Therefore, also consider the type of business. Is the brand B2C or B2B? What industry is it in? Is it a local or national company? Does the brand offer online sales, in-person, or a combination of both? The type of business could make other social media channels more relevant to a plan such as LinkedIn, TripAdvisor, or Yelp.

Target Communication Objective: Finally, consider the communications objective. A plan to build brand awareness may work best with Facebook, YouTube, and Buzzfeed. A plan to improve customer response may work better on Twitter/X and Messenger for customer support and TripAdvisor for customer reviews. A B2B lead generation plan may best leverage Blogs, Podcasts, and LinkedIn. A direct sales plan for a multinational fashion brand could work best with Instagram, Pinterest, and WhatsApp.

Now that you know how to select social platforms what are the top social media platforms? Below I describe the top three or more social media platforms by eight key characteristic categories.

Social Networks: These are the websites and apps that connect people sharing personal or professional interests through profiles, groups, posts, and updates. Facebook has 2.9 billion monthly users (198 billion active daily) and 239 million users in the U.S. It is the largest social media channel of any  category. LinkedIn is the dominant business and professional social network growing to 810 million monthly users (559 million active daily) and with 200 million users in the U.S.

Social Messaging: Instant messaging platforms are chat applications created around social networks for communication on mobile phones with fewer limits and more features than traditional texting. Facebook Messenger has grown to 736 million users (390 million active daily) and 188 million users in the U.S. But is still behind Facebook owned WhatsApp with 1.3 billion users (1.1 billion active daily), but only 93 million in the U.S. Other popular messaging apps include Discord, WeChat, and Slack.

Microblogs: Microblogs are a form of traditional blogging where the posts are limited by content length or file size. The leader in Microblogging continues to be Twitter/X with 436 million monthly active users (217 million active daily) and 94 million users in the U.S. Pinterest is a social pin board dedicated to visual discovery, collection, and sharing that limits posts to single images or video. Pinterest has grown to over 431 million monthly active users (112 million active daily) and 85 million users in the U.S. TikTok has grown quickly to 150 million monthly active users (36 million active daily) and 113 million users in the U.S. Another consideration is Instagram’s Threads just launched in July 2023 but Mark Zuckerberg reports that it reached just under 100 million users in October.

Blogs: Blogs are websites that contain posts or articles in reverse chronological order that include hyperlinks and usually allow commenting. WordPress is the top blogging platform with 297 million monthly visits and 65 million in the U.S. Wix is the second-largest blogging platform with 52 million monthly visitors and 17 million in the U.S. Other blogging platforms to consider are Blogger and Squarespace.

Media Sharing: This category is for social media channels developed mainly for sharing image or video media. YouTube is the lead video sharing site with 2.6 billion monthly active users (319 million active daily) and 246 million users in the U.S. Instagram (owned by Facebook) is a quality photo sharing social channel that has grown to 2 billion active monthly users with 1.4 billion active daily and 158 million users in the U.S. Snapchat is a photo- and video-sharing messaging service in which media and messages are only available for a short time before disappearing. Snapchat’s monthly active users total 557 million active monthly with 319 million active daily and 107 million users in the U.S.

Ratings and Reviews: Reviews are reports that give someone’s opinion about the quality of a product, service, or performance. Ratings measure how good or bad something is expressed on a scale. Yelp is the innovator in crowdsourced ratings and reviews representing a broad range of interests. Yelp has 141 million monthly visits with 131 million in the U.S. For travel related businesses TripAdvisor has 169 million monthly visitors with 92 million in the U.S. Other ratings and review platforms to consider are Google My Business (Google Business Profile), Angi, and Amazon.

Social Bookmarking: Social bookmarking sites are online services for users to save, comment, and share bookmarks of web documents or links. Social bookmarking sites have expanded into content discovery and curation tools. Reddit is the top social bookmarking platform with 861 million monthly active users (36 million active daily) and 223 million in the U.S. Buzzfeed is a content discovery platform with 97 million monthly visits to its website and 52 million in the U.S. Buzzfeed also creates content with popular channels on Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube and offers native advertising opportunities for brands generating 2.4 billion cross-platform content views a month.

Social Knowledge: Social knowledge platforms are web-based information exchanges where users search for 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 crowdsourced encyclopedia with 4.5 billion monthly visits a month and 650 million in the U.S. Brands cannot create their own pages but should monitor for misinformation. Quora is the question and answer site that focuses on higher quality content and attracts 806 million visits a month and 330 million in the U.S.

Podcasts: Podcasts are a series of episodes of digital audio or video content delivered automatically through subscription. The number of podcast listers has grown to 505 million monthly active users. There are 164 million podcast listeners in the U.S. (48 million weekly listeners). iTunes is the innovator in Podcasting. Other social platforms to consider are SoundCloud, iHeartRadio, Audible, and Spotify.

This is not a comprehensive list of social channel options, but it does provide a list of the top platforms by category to choose the best for your social strategy in 2024. What social platforms have you found to be the most effective? For more details on selecting the right social media platforms see this article about Selecting Social Media Platforms Based On Strategic Fit.

Social Media Is Not An End Onto Itself. Marketing Context Matters When It Comes To Social Media Strategy.

I love history. I like learning about what has happened and how we got to where we are today. I read history books and when I travel, I can’t help looking up the past of the place. It provides context for my surroundings. Many friends and family aren’t as curious or interested in history. They’d only read about it if it was required homework for class.

Learning about the past helps me understand the present and contribute to the future.

Social Media Strategy Begins With Context.

Context is the situation in which something happens so that it can be fully understood and assessed. You may not need the history of a city to fully enjoy it like me. However, understanding why a client or manager needs a new social media strategy is required homework for developing an effective social plan or campaign.

Whether you’re working freelance for a business, for an agency on clients, or directly for a company or non-profit research the background. History is simply the study of facts and events connected to something. Take time to understand the facts related to a brand’s marketing situation before jumping into social media strategies and tactics.

Marketing Strategy As A Social Media Skill.

Recruitment and career firm Zippia reports that marketing strategy is the 4th  most important social media skill behind writing, graphic design, and data analysis skills. As Abby McCain says, “Even though you may not be the one coming up with the company’s marketing strategy, you will need to be able to help further it through social media.” With 16% of marketing budgets spent on social media, it is a key element in meeting marketing objectives.

As marketing expert Jon Gatrell says, don’t view “social media as both the beginning and the end.” Social media is one part of your client’s overall marketing and business. The more you understand the bigger picture, the more effective your social media will be. You’ll also earn the trust of a client or manager who will hear you speaking their language using terms they care about.

How Do You Do Gain Marketing Context?

A thorough client or manager will give you all you need. They’ll be clear about how the business has performed recently and give you a specific market share or sales number they need to meet next year or next quarter. They’ll give you a well-defined target audience, explain the marketing problem or opportunity, and identify main competitors.

In reality, even big companies may give something vague like “We need help with our social media.” If you’re in college, or a recent grad, it could be “You’re young and get this stuff, do social media for us.” Or you may get part of what you need. Either way, ensure you still gather and organize all information to create an effective social media strategy.

Gather data about the internal and external environment and organize it into strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Identify marketing and communications objectives and understand the brand’s social media climate. Then determine if they need a comprehensive plan or a shorter-term campaign. The graphic below gives an idea of what to gather and a process to follow (click on image for a downloadable PDF).

1. Understand the purpose of social media strategy is to connect social media efforts to business or organization requirements. Likes are nice but they won’t pay your client or company’s bills and your salary or fee.

2. Discover how they started, why they exist, and what they sell. Know how they’ve been performing. A recent decline gives you a clue to a problem you need to help solve. What’s their current marketing? Who are the current customers and what segment of the market do they appeal to?

3. Learn what market they’re in, their main competitors, and market trends. A trend could be an opportunity social needs to help leverage. Scan external factors that may impact business such as new laws, an economic downturn, or new technology. Determine target audience (demographics for B2C, firmographics for B2B). It’s not always current customers. It could be a new segment of the market to grow sales or publics who aren’t customers but key stakeholders to improve relations or manage reputation for PR or corporate communications.

4. Summarize your situation analysis into a SWOT graphic highlighting relevant marketing communications/PR-related insights by strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A picture of the main problem or opportunity should emerge – why a new social media strategy is needed.

5. From the situation analysis and SWOT define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound objectives. Measure marketing performance representing success with the main problem or opportunity. Think market share, sales, revenue for a for-profit and donations, volunteers, event attendance, or enrollment for a non-profit.

6. Set communications performance objectives to represent successful communication connected to the marketing problem or opportunity. Think target audience brand, product, or cause awareness, ad recall, change in brand attitudes, sentiment, or engagement. For other stakeholders set specific objectives that measure the relationship or reputation goal.

7. Conduct a social media audit. Systematically collect and analyze what the brand is currently doing on social media and where. Do the same for customers talking about the brand (UGC), and the main competitor’s social media.

8. Determine the scope of the social media strategy. Do you need a comprehensive long-term social media plan to achieve the marketing and communications objectives? A social media plan will determine all social media strategies and tactics for a brand budget year.

9. Guage the need for a smaller social effort. Do you simply need a shorter-term campaign to achieve the marketing and communications objectives? A social media campaign is separate from other brand social media to promote a single promotional offer in a shorter time frame.

The Process Produces Results. 

Even clients who provide much of this information will leave some out that could be important. They’ll appreciate you asking questions and going through this process. It shows you care enough about building their business to do your homework and that builds relationships. Studying social media trends is important, but you can’t make your client’s social media relevant to those trends until you fully understand their business.

When receiving a new social media project resist the urge to jump in and start posting. Take a step back and get some context. Your client will appreciate the effort and the effort will pay off in better results for your social media strategy and your social media plan. As social media expert Jay Baer puts it, “The goal isn’t to be good at social media, the goal is to get good at business because of social media.”

Timing Is Everything. How To Create A Social Media Content Calendar With This Free Template.

You know social media is important. Most businesses and organizations are active in social media to achieve multiple marketing and communications objectives. But how do you decide when and where to post your social media content? Content calendars traditionally come from the journalism and publishing field, but they also benefit brands publishing in social media.

When and where should brand social media content appear?

A main tool for social media planning is a social media content calendar. A content calendar is a way to plan and visualize how content will be distributed during a specified period. Scheduling your content ahead of time makes it more efficient and effective.

This template is a simple calendar table for strategic planning. It can be kept in an online Word or Google doc or as an Excel or Google spreadsheet and shared with team members. Content calendars can also be built into social media management software tools for easy auto-scheduling and collaboration. (Click to download PDF)

Plan Your Content With A Content Calendar.

On the left side of the social media content template place each social media platform and list the target audience and/or persona. If the social media strategy calls for multiple target audiences, include each individually and list all social platforms used to communicate with that target audience.

Note that one social platform may be used to communicate with multiple target audiences. For example, a university may use Facebook to communicate with both prospective students and their parents, so it would plan different content accordingly.

Next on the calendar, indicate which content will be distributed on which day, and at what time. Also, identify the title or theme such as Liquid Plumr®’s Will It Clog? or Heinz’s Adulting Sucks. These were the themes for two successful social media campaigns.

Specify any assets needed such as specific images, videos, or links for each post. Then indicate the hashtags and keywords that need to be included, from campaign and brand hashtags to trending topics.

Determine Posting Times And Posting Frequency By Social Platform.

Engagement varies by the day and time you post which varies per platform. Frequency is also important as some platforms require more posting per day or week than others to increase organic reach. To get started with posting times use data from online resources such as Sprout Social’s Best Times To Post or HubSpot’s Best Times To Post.

To get started with posting frequencies consider data from guides such as Hootsuite’s How Often To Post or HubSpot’s How Often To Publish. As you run your social media schedule and measure results, you’ll discover your own best times and frequencies customized to your brand, market, and target audience.

The template is set for one week but can be easily expanded to cover longer periods such as a month or quarter. By researching best practices and tracking brand results for days, times, themes, assets, hashtags, keywords, and repetition, content should be optimized for the greatest response.

Questions to consider when developing a content calendar:

  • What content is the target audience looking for in each platform?
  • When are they most likely looking for it?
  • What questions are they asking that the brand can answer?
  • Which content will be brand-generated versus consumer-generated?
  • What relevant third-party sources can be used for content curation?
  • Where will each type of content be best delivered and how often?

Plan Ahead But Also Plan For Spontaneity and Engagement.

Content calendars plan messages ahead of time, but you also must be flexible to take advantage of trending topics. You also want to fit in live, unscripted interactions with individual customers.

Oreo’s Super Bowl Blackout post could not have been planned ahead of time but became one of the most successful brand tweets by creating content in real-time.

Remember that brands shouldn’t create all social content on their own. Curation and user-generated content are important components of content creation. Always be looking for relevant third-party content to share. And look for brand fan posts to reshare and boost (with permission).

Don’t Forget Larger Pieces of Digital Marketing Content.

Be sure to repurpose your larger content marketing into the social media content calendar. Indicate when key pieces of other digital marketing content are being published for promotion. Note upcoming blog posts, articles, research reports, case studies, white papers, eBooks, presentations, webinars, and email newsletters.

Break down larger content into smaller posts, images, infographics, and videos over time. Mine that bigger content for small insights that will make engaging, entertaining, and educational social media. Plan for a mix of real-time relevant content, seasonal or promotional content, and longer-term evergreen content.

With a little planning and a social media content calendar time can be on your side. How could you use a content calendar?

Social Media Changes Quickly. This List of Free Tools, Regularly Updated Articles, Reports and Certifications Will Help Keep You Ahead.

While working on the 4th edition of my Social Media Strategy book (Coming February 2024!) I compiled a new concise and updated list of free tools and resources. These sources are all regularly updated and are the most relevant to creating and implementing social media strategies.

Some are frequent reports with updates and others are evergreen articles that have ongoing updates by the publishers. I also have free tools that can be used to develop strategies or use as class exercises. There are key industry news blogs and podcasts to keep up with current news and updates. I also include a list of strategy and platform courses with professional certifications.

They’re organized by categories of Reports, Data, Tools, News, and Certifications.

Annual/Quarterly Social Media Industry Reports

Frequently Updated Articles/Data for Social Media Plans

Free Tools for Social Media Content/Plan Creation

Social Media News Blogs

Social Media News Podcasts

Current/Past Social Media Platforms

Social Media Strategy Professional Certifications

Platform Social Media Professional Certifications

I hope you find this list helpful. If I missed any valuable ones please let me know!