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.
(Click on the template image to download a PDF)
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.