This post provides an update on the latest social media channels. Social media success is dependent upon sound social media strategy, which is built upon a systematic process and research. In Social Media Strategy: Marketing and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution I layout a step-by-step process to developing social strategy:
- Perform a situation analysis including organization history/mission, target market, performance and marketing efforts., plus insights into competitors and the industry.
- Conduct a social media audit such as this social media audit template to identify problems and opportunities and form SMART business and social media objectives.
- Gather traditional and social media consumer research on target audience for key insights to develop a big idea to drive social media brand content and engagement.
- Select social channels by category to fit big idea, content and target audience. Identify social integration beyond marketing such as sales, customer service, R&D and HR.
- Link business and social media objectives to specific metrics per social media channel to identify KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and measure performance and success.
Selecting social channels in step 4 can be overwhelming with so many options. Some report thousands of social media sites and apps, Wikipedia lists over 200 and Brian Solis’s Conversation Prism has just under 200 social channel options in 26 categories. To simplify the selection of social channels I have divided social media options into 9 categories by key characteristics and list the top 3 or more channels in each.
Social Networks: Social networks are websites/apps that connect people sharing personal or professional interests through profiles, groups, posts and updates. Facebook is still at the top with over 1.6 billion monthly active users and includes multiple generations from teens to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. The latest considerations are live video, instant articles, highly targeted native ads and customer service and transactions in Facebook Messenger. LinkedIn is the dominate business/professional oriented social network with 433 million users (100 million active monthly). LinkedIn offers excellent opportunities for recruitment, professional networking/development, B2B prospecting, and native advertising to professionals. The big shift is more emphasis on publishing long-form posts and Slideshare (owned by LinkedIn) presentations. Google+ is the much debated social network since its launch in 2011. Recent estimates put users at 111 million with active Google+ profiles. 2015 was the year of pronouncing Google+ dead, but a small core group of users remain active and many marketers claim positive results in driving traffic to their sites. Google+ is now not as integrated with other Google products, authorship is gone and the network has very low user rates. However, Content Factory put together a nice guide that says Google+ is sill good for high Google rankings, social sharing and overall SEO. Plus, Google is unlikely to shut down the network as evidenced by a new redesign in November 2015.
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 boasting 409 million users viewing over 22.3 billion blog pages a month with top media and marketing publishers on the platform including CNN, CBS Radio, TED, TechCrunch, the NFL, and UPS. Blogger was the first major blogging platform and is owned by Google. Recent stats indicate around 240 million monthly visitors to blogger.com. Blogger is a simpler platform with less customize options and is hosted on Google servers versus self-hosting available on WordPress. Tumblr (now owned by Yahoo) is the short-form blog focused more on photos and video and less text with 227 million registered accounts and about 550 million monthly users. Other blogging considerations could be Medium with over 30 million active users, Typepad with around 23 million monthly visitors, Squarespace which claims hundreds of thousands of blogs published in its platform and Wix also supports blogs. To find forums try some of the many forum directories and search options including BoardReader, ProBoards, or Omgili.
Microblogging: Microblogs are a form of traditional blogging where the posts have been limited in some way such as length of content or file size. The innovator and leader in Microblogging continues to be Twitter with 310 million monthly active users with 83% of those active on mobile. Every 6 seconds 1,000 tweets are sent which makes the site great for news discovery in real time. Twitter is also used as a second screen for live events and has grown into a mainstay for social media customer service. 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 continues to grow to over 100 million monthly active users. Early on the site was dominated by women, but now 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. Vine is the micro-video platform built on a 6 second video limit. This Twitter owned app/site has over 100 million viewers each month and has produced many Vine stars which companies have leveraged for influencer marketing (Vine shut down January 2017). Musical.ly is quickly capturing the young teen market with instant music videos growing to 100 million users. The app creates 15-second videos and lets you add popular songs, choose speed options and add filters and effects with hashtags. Clammr is the 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 with many shifting TV viewing to this channel. YouTube is a great place for content marketing, original shows, native advertising and video bloggers that provide reviews. The channel is good for brand content marketing or influencer marketing with YouTube stars. Instagram is the photo sharing social channel first created as an app that now has over 500 million active monthly users. Instagram (owned by Facebook) is quality image driven and has one of the highest engagement rates. It is a good place for fan interaction, native advertising and user generated brand content, but has switched to a timeline of users’ photographs based on an algorithm versus chronological order. Snapchat is the newest channel in this category but has grown quickly to over 100 million daily active users and is now more popular with 12-24-year-olds than Facebook. Snapchat is great for pictures that can be drawn on, filters, 10 second video and stories that disappear after they are viewed. 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 for business and content marketing. The big development in media sharing is live streaming video. Twitter owned Periscope has emerged to be the leader with 10 million users and 15% of Twitter’s top brands using it regularly. Recently rival Meerkat admitted defeat to Periscope with Meerkat CEO announcing to users that the company was heading in a different direction. Facebook Live is however a big competitor to Periscope with Facebook Live opening to all users and Facebook already claiming 8 billion video views per day. Music.ly has also jumped into live video with the Live.ly app for live streaming video with streams viewable in Music.ly.
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 with 50 million monthly active users and 65 million places. Swarm is a separate app for checking in, but marketers can still reach consumers on Swarm through Foursquare. Foursquare is obviously great for businesses with physical locations. Google+ Locations had check-in features, but now 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. Other considerations in this category are Nextdoor which is a private location-based social network with nearly 100,000 active neighborhoods and growing quickly. 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 public location pages from Facebook tagged in Instagram and geo-filters in Snapchat. The real innovation in this category could come from the success of Pokemon Go. Reports indicate more daily users than Twitter (21 million in the U.S.) and more engagement than Facebook (33 minutes per day vs. 22 minutes) and the augmented reality (AR) app will be taking advantage of that selling location sponsorships. This app may remain popular or not, but the big news is that after years of talk about AR taking off, it may final go mainstream combined with geo-location social media. Look for new or current geosocial channels leveraging this trend.
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 social channels in this channel include Yelp with 145 million active monthly users and 2.8 million business pages. 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 from restaurants and salons to dentists and mechanics. For travel related business TripAdisor has 340 million active monthly users. This social channel provides reviews of travel-related content and travel forums relying on user-generated content. TripAdisor offers many free and paid tools for marketing. Angie’s List is the 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 announcing plans to get rid of its pay wall to complete with larger networks. Citisearch is an online city guide that was one of the earliest review sites. Citisearch could be a consideration, but has lost a lot of ground 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 with 36 million user accounts, which is impressive, but Reddit also has a lot of non-user reach drawing a total 231 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. StumbleUpon is the discovery engine that finds and recommends web content to users who can rate web pages, photos and videos. StumbleUpon reports more than 30 million unique users attracting 100,000 advertisers. This social channel is good for content marketing, influencer marketing and paid social. Digg is the social news site that aggregates news and 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 in 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 advertising. 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 now reached 1 billion monthly video views and may reach more Millennials. Content marketing options may be limited but NowThis has formed partnerships with advertisers such as Mondelez International (Oreo) to product real time marketing videos.
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. Yahoo! Answers reported 24 million active monthly users in 2012, but this may have dropped to roughly 6 million recently (In November 2016 Yahoo went mobile for the first time with Yahoo! Answers Now). Quora is the newer question and answer site that looks to focus on and provide higher quality content. This social knowledge channel has risen in a short time to 100 million unique visitors a month. This channel could especially be good for building thought leadership. Ask.fm is a new entrant to this category. This global social site enables users to create profiles and send each other questions. Ask.fm has grown to 180 million active monthly users after being bought by Ask.com. Also consider Answers.com, ChaCha, WikiAnswers (now part of Answers.com), and Ask Jelly.
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. 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. SoundClound now has 170 million monthly active listeners with a lot of Podcast content being produced and shared. 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. 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 80 million registered users. 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.
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.