"It's overwhelming." "I can't take it anymore." "Please, make it stop." No, these are not comments I've collected from people studying for their driver's license, cramming for the bar exam, or facing off against Rafael Nadal in a tennis match. These are comments I've heard from people who are trying to decide what social media channels to use. It can be an emotional choice, because our competitive human nature dictates that we must be good at everything, all at once. We like to multi-task, and we want to shine, but this all-or-nothing approach can spell disaster, or at least frustration, on the social media scene.
Let's walk through a process that will allow you to optimize your online experience, extend your reach, and still leave you some time to get some fresh air. To make this work, we have to go 'wide angle' for a moment.
Write down the answers to these three questions:
- What kind of business do you want to create?
- What would your ideal version of that look like?
- How do you want to spend most of your time to realize that?
I want you to think beyond next week on these questions, envisioning where you will be six months to a year from now. You might answer that you like controlling your own time, scheduling client calls in advance, or you might answer that you really like facetime and try not to use email very much. You might say your clients are all local, or global. You might say that you want all interactions to result in solid lead generation or you are okay with networking that pays dividends down the line.
Now, let's filter this information into social media channels.
A blog offers you the most control of all social media. You post when and what you want. You can moderate the comments of readers before they post. You can steadily build audience engagement, creating a situation where readers anticipate your every post. Blogs, particularly those on WordPress or Tumblr, allow you to interact with other bloggers and quickly build community. Master of this: Seth Godin, whose blog is the most popular in the world written by a single person. Yes, he says he writes all his blogs himself. So should you.
Twitter knows no geographic boundaries and therefore is truly 24/7. Jump into this global news ticker of information, articles, advice, and business promotion if you are willing to post (or schedule posts) from 5-10 times a day, and don't mind getting into conversations with people you may never meet face to face. Are you a control freak? Obsessed with ROI? Then Twitter is not for you, because people will mention you or your brand, join your feed, or retweet you without you having anything to say about it. This openness is also Twitter's greatest strength, because you can reach out to influencers, journalists and brand managers and often get their attention instantly. Master of Twitter: @afromusing. Juliana Rotich's Twitter feed is like listening in on an ongoing TED talk.
As befits its origins in a dorm room, Facebook is a row of fraternities and sororities made up of people you know or sort of know. Facebook exerts a great deal of control over how your posts are displayed and who sees them, so you will have to be active hour to hour, personally posting material, to stay on top of everyone's news feed. Because it is not as open as Twitter, Facebook is best when you leverage your existing network, announcing local events or launching products, or creating a place for people to discuss your brand. The Facebook audience trends toward female, and it is aging. Younger folks have realized their parents are on Facebook and have decamped to Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. Master of Facebook: Starbucks, with more than 30 million likes on Facebook. It's an online coffee bar.
Pinterest is the place for soaking up luscious images, salivating over bottles of wine you might want to buy, gazing longingly at places you'd like to visit or clothes you might like to wear. It's one big catalogue. To play, you should bring along something strikingly visual to post. Notable exceptions: The Wall Street Journal and others are posting quotes pulled from articles. Secret weapon: Be sure to link each pin back to your website so when people click on it, they go to your neighborhood. Master of Pinterest: Jane Wang. Her Pinterest has something for everyone, like a general interest magazine.
With the ability to make almost any snapshot look like a still frame from an Italian movie, Instagram is Flickr's cooler younger sibling. It works well alongside Foursquare (see below) and works best for individuals, though some brands have been notable early adopters. You can leverage your Twitter and Facebook networks to build a fan base on Instagram.
If your business has a physical location, sign up for Foursquare and list it there.
LinkedIn is not just for posting your resume and finding a job. If you sign up for LinkedIn groups specific to your industry or customer base, you can talk to people who want to hear your message. The game here is to be curious, ask questions of the group, and foster dialogue. Users click back to your website to learn more about you. Master of this: David Ackert asks the right questions in LinkedIn Groups to keep readers engaged.
It's worth it to get on Google+ just so your business will be part of Google Places and benefit from better results in Google searches. In my opinion, Google+ has been run over by a truck called Facebook, so I limit my time on Google+.
Quota, founded by former Facebook developers, is where the smart kids hang out. It's purely a question-and-answer forum and is a terrific personal brand building platform. Master of this: Sean Hood, whose eclectic approach to movies draws a crowd.
When you look at that list, it's pretty easy to choose your best social media channels if ask you these core questions:
- How much do you need to control the conversation?
- How much time can you allocate to this?
- Are you ready to expose yourself?
Not expose yourself in a way that would get you arrested. What I mean is, to what extent are you willing to mix the personal and the professional? There's a spectrum here, with blogs permitting you to put the most professional face on things, Facebook being more personal, and Instagram being the most personal of channels with the most exposure. There is also frequency to consider: You can post to your blog once a week, to Quora or LinkedIn once in a while, and set up a listing on Fourquare and Google Places once and be done. In contrast, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram will require your attention - or your staff's attention - many times a day.
One final thought: You can't be all things to all people. Though you should try out all of these social channels, only one or two will really deliver for you. Twitter may zoom while Facebook could fall flat. If you need to market to professionals, LinkedIn may well be your playground. If you or your brand is all about lifestyle, go for Pinterest with gusto. Stick with what works. Ignore the rest. Best of all, just about all of these services offer robust means to measure who you're reaching and how effectively. Remember, though, as Drew Hubbard has pointed out, you need to look at all your metrics with a clear eye.