Businesses have flocked to social media over the past year. With shops forced to shut their doors and relentless lockdowns to contend with, it’s one of the easiest ways for brands to maintain a connection with their audience.

It’s not just brands that are upping their social media usage, though. According to the Sprout Social Index™ 2021: UK & Ireland Edition, 76% of consumers have used social media more in the past year and 63% have bought something from it.

The surge in social media use has expanded the reach of brands—particularly those used to operating in a localised area—but it has also dramatically increased competition. Marketers feel the pressure to stand out with wildly innovative campaigns, viral posts and award-winning content.

It’s a lot to think about. While our research confirms that social media is the place to reach and interact with potential customers, it also highlights just how much pressure marketers place on themselves. They want to be everywhere and reach everyone all at the same time which, last time we checked, is pretty much impossible without unlimited resources.

It’s not only impossible, it’s unnecessary.

The more businesses we see on social media, the more we come across generic posts being reused across all channels. This isn’t an effective way to use social media for business. Not all platforms are created equal, and what gets eye-popping results for one brand might result in tumbleweed for another.

Ideally, brands should take the time to figure out which social media platforms work best for them depending on their goals, their content and their audience.

So, how do you find out which are the best social media platforms for business?

What social media platforms are your audience already on? 

The easiest way to figure out the best social media platforms for business is to identify where your audience already spends time. It’s far easier to join an existing conversation than trying to start a fresh dialogue.

Dig into social media demographics

Our research shows that Facebook is still the place most people follow business accounts, particularly among older age groups. Instagram is also a firm favourite for keeping track of brands, but it has a much younger audience.

In terms of sheer numbers, Facebook takes the lion’s share of social media users, with 55% of UK and Irish consumers using the platform. It’s followed closely by Instagram (54%), WhatsApp (51%) and YouTube (49%). Close to one-third (32%) of consumers have a Twitter account, 32% are on TikTok, and 29% use Snapchat.

Think about who you want to target and the platforms they favour:

  • Gen Z: These digital natives are most likely to be on Instagram (93%), YouTube (90%) and Snapchat (88%). They are the least likely demographic to follow a brand on social, but if they do, 84% will do so on Instagram.
  • Millennials: Millennials flock to Facebook (83%), Instagram (82%) and YouTube (78%). Most (87%) strongly agree that social media is the fastest way to connect with a brand, and they are likely to do this on Facebook (70%), Instagram (64%) and Twitter (33%).
  • Gen X: Most (89%) are on Facebook, and 80% are on WhatsApp. Almost all (96%) are more likely to be loyal to a business when they feel connected to them on social media, while 95% expect a response from a company if they reach out to them
  • Baby Boomers: Facebook is their preferred platform (92%), followed by YouTube (57%) and WhatsApp (63%). They are the least likely demographic to buy something from a social media platform (57%).

Don’t be swept up by new social media channels

The mix of emerging and long-standing social media channels show there is a lot of scope for reaching the right people in places where they already hang out.

However, there are some channels, like Clubhouse, that enjoyed a moment in the limelight only to lose traction. The adoption rate among businesses seemed huge, but only 2% of consumers actively use the platform now. If you’re targeting general consumers and not selling to businesses, it might not be the right channel for you.

Marketers don’t need to race to be first to jump on new platforms. Taking the time to vet whether an emerging platform is right for your goals, audience and industry will pay dividends in the long term.

Keep an eye on your successful competitors 

You can also explore what channels your competitors are seeing the most success on. If they’re enjoying lots of engagement on Instagram and Snapchat, there’s a good chance your audience (which will be similar) is also there. 

Look at consumer wants and needs

Look at what consumers want, too. Our research found that while only 5% of brands prefer using YouTube to build a community, 24% of consumers said they want to see more businesses on the platform. It’s the same with Instagram. Only 19% of businesses say it is their preferred platform, while 43% of consumers want more from brands there.

Don’t forget about niche social media platforms

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the big players, but they aren’t the only platforms you can focus on. They cater to multiple types of business in almost every sector, but they also serve numerous other consumer needs: following celebrity news, connecting with friends and family, and sharing holiday photos, for example.

Niche social media sites attract users that are interested in a particular industry or topic. For instance, 14% of consumers are on Reddit, 11% are on Google My Business, and 13% are on TripAdvisor. It’s worth seeking out one or two niche platforms that tie into your brand and its goals.

What are your social media goals?

The pressure to be everywhere has incited a surge in brands trying to cover all bases on all platforms. It’s a common myth that spreading your net far and wide will reap better rewards. Instead, focus on what you want to achieve with your social media efforts and leverage the platforms that will help you get there.

Creating goals and milestones for your social media efforts can help give it a purpose and align with your overarching business goals.

When you know what you want to achieve on social media, you can identify the platforms that will help you reach those goals.

Our data shows marketers’ top social media goals include increasing brand awareness (65%), community engagement (45%) and web traffic (39%).

If your goal is to increase web traffic, you might decide to veto Instagram if you have less than 10,000 followers simply because it’s hard to direct traffic to your site without the swipe up feature. On the other hand, if you’re trying to increase community engagement, you might choose to focus on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat where engagement levels are high. 

The purpose of different social media platforms

Each platform comes with its own special set of features, all of which can be useful for various reasons. Like we said before, not all social media platforms were built for the same thing.

TikTok and Snapchat are great for boosting brand engagement and pushing viral content, whilst Instagram’s shoppable features make it a go-to platform for ecommerce brands, and Twitter and Facebook are often used as additional customer service portals.

Let’s look at some of the key purposes of social media:

  • Selling products: lnstagram’s shoppable features make it a prime social media platform for ecommerce brands (like IKEA, which links its posts to the items featured), but Facebook and Pinterest also have introduced social commerce features to simplify the buying process.
  • Building communities: Our research found Facebook to be marketers’ top platform for building and nurturing communities. Many social channels offer a place for consumers with similar interests (no matter how niche) to congregate.

  • Carrying out customer service: Social media is the ideal place to generate reviews and respond to customer queries. In fact, timely responses to customer service enquiries on social media matters the most to customers. This isn’t reflected in business activities though, since 30% of marketers say providing customer service and support is a business goal for social media.
  • Sharing videos: Visual content performs well on the majority of social media platforms. Longer, educational videos work well on YouTube, while short, meme-style videos do great on TikTok.
  • Posting brand updates: Of course you want to shout about the success of your brand, but where do you do it? LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great for sharing thought leadership pieces, while Instagram Stories can tease out product launches.

What channels are already working for you?

Unless your brand is completely new to social media, you probably already have some data you can draw from to see which social media platforms work best for you. This is one of the most effective ways to determine your dream team of social media channels because it’s real-life data about your customers—not your competitors, not a generic demographic.

Here’s how you can decipher which platforms are already working hard for your brand.

Check referral traffic from Google Analytics

See where the majority of your social media referral traffic comes from. Remember that this just shows the platform that drives the most click throughs, not the platform that generates the most engagement or has the most followers.

Identify high-engagement platforms

While Google Analytics shows which platforms drive website traffic, checking your engagement levels will show you where your audience connects with you the most. When identifying high-engagement platforms, look for:

  • How many followers you have
  • How many shares and likes you get on each post
  • How many comments you receive
  • How much interaction you get from customers reaching out to you first

The juggling act: Managing multiple social media channels

You don’t have to be on every single social media platform, but there’s a good chance you’re going to be on at least two or three. When you’re posting different content to each channel, using platforms for different purposes, and interacting with your audience in different ways, it can get a bit chaotic.

It’s not enough to share the same article or video across every social channel with the same copy. Instead, you need to create a unique experience on each platform.

Start by investing in a social media management tool where you can access all of your accounts from a central dashboard. Then, develop a strategy for each of your chosen platforms that includes:

  • How often you’ll post
  • What types of content you’ll post
  • Your goals and objectives
  • An actionable growth plan

Don’t forget to track and measure your efforts to see what’s working and what’s not (and to gain deeper insights into your top performing social channels). A consolidated tool like Sprout can help you manage, organise and execute your social strategy on each social media platform.

Choose the best social media for your business

Don’t dive head first into every social channel. Cherry pick one or two platforms to start with and build up from there. As you go, define and re-define what “success” means to you and try not to put too much pressure on yourself.

Most importantly, concentrate on what your business needs. Identify who your customers are, take time to understand their needs, and create social media content that aligns with your overarching business goals.

Looking for more insight into what consumers expect from brands on social? Download the Sprout Social Index™ 2021: UK & Ireland Edition.