Small businesses are lean shops because they have to be; they are generally buffeted by economies of scale and scope that advantage their larger brethren. Most small business owners are chief cooks and bottle washers – from being listed on business cards (the fancier end) to ensuring that the paychecks go out on time (the other end). While some small businesses may have the resources to engage with consumers on multiple social media platforms, it is better to do fewer things excellently than many things mediocrely. And a misstep on social media, like the internet, lives forever.
So, if you have a digital marketing manager who knows what she’s doing and has the support staff not only to post relevant, engaging content but also respond to consumers in an appropriate, on-brand tone, go for all the social media platforms you’d like.
However, if your company and/or brand, has only one person assigned to digital marketing, then it would be better to invest in only one social media platform. So, which one would that be? Instagram may be this year’s darling, with enviable growth and youngsters flocking to it in droves. Or maybe Twitter, where big brands use mirth and hot takes to win and lose in seemingly equal measure. The answer comes down to one main factor: Where are your consumers?
Taking a small step back, it’s fair to assume that most US consumers are on social media – 71% according to Hootsuite[i]. Given that, it is always more beneficial to fish where the fish are. For example, if your consumers are solely in the 18-29 age group, Instagram indeed may be the best social media platform if you’re only going to pick one. Throughout this blog post, I am using two major sources of information: Statista (via Hootsuite’s research) and Pew Research Center. So, here’s the first graph showing the 2018 Instagram users in the US, split by age group, courtesy of Statista:
As you can see, the majority of Instagram’s 110 million active users[ii] are in the 18-29 age group, equating to about 70 million potential active consumers. However, if you’re looking to reach a wider consumer age set, there’s only one answer: Facebook.
Like it or not, Facebook has the biggest reach across the population. As per Pew, 68% of the population uses Facebook:
Facebook has suffered multiple hacks and security setbacks in the past year, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. So, it may seem counterintuitive to recommend using the very platform most under attack from nefarious sources. It’s also true that due to Facebook being the largest platform, it is also the biggest security target. Certainly, there are intellectual heavyweights correctly warning that Facebook isn’t doing things fast enough to protect its users. The EU’s GDPR legislation is a necessary first step in giving users better control of their internet data, and given the GDPR’s broad scope (it requires all organizations established within the EU to protect its users’ data, regardless of said users’ geographical location), major websites had to revamp their privacy policies.
While the long-term effects of Facebook’s breaches on its user base continue to unfold, business and branding don’t stop in the interim. From a data privacy perspective, while it may be a losing proposition to be a Facebook user right now, as a business you may have to make the unenviable position of investing in its advertising platform. So, with the previous paragraph acting as a gigantic caveat, we push forward with our original topic of how to harness social media when you’re running a lean small business company. We start by digging deeper into Facebook, with the Hootsuite report on the 2018 digital landscape:
As of January 2018, the above graphic shows that while Instagram has a greater percentage of female users — 56% — than Facebook does, it has less than half of Facebook’s total active users. Further, when looking into all users’ age representation, Facebook has a better spread than Instagram:
To be clear, there may be instances where Instagram makes more sense as the sole/main social media platform — from a branding perspective — than Facebook. Insta has a better interface to showcase a brand’s style. So, if your business is in art, cosmetics, interior design etc, than Insta could allow you to showcase your brand and its products.
This is why most answers to any marketing question should be “it depends.” Back to the show! Circling back to the age demographics, let’s compare how the platforms perform as per Pew Research:
As you can see above, Facebook has the best representation across all age groups. While Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter are popular with folks under fifty, Facebook has them all beat in every demographic. Only YouTube is more popular, but we’re excluding it in our analysis because, in the strictest sense, YouTube isn’t as useful as a social media platform for businesses. Beyond age, consider that folks may be on more than one social media platform. So, what does that cross-pollination look like? Again, Pew has us covered:
Looking at the above chart, the “Use Facebook” column has the highest numbers across all major platforms (once again, we’re excluding YouTube), which reinforces its importance. So, across purely social media platforms for business use, Facebook has size, breadth, and sophistication on its side. We’ve covered the size (i.e. reach) and breadth (i.e. age spread), but sophistication may be Facebook’s ace: With the ability to target by age, gender, geographical area, connections, custom audiences, hobbies/interests etc., Facebook has a suite of analytical tools that can create and optimize any ad campaign you want to run. In many ways, of all the platforms, Facebook has had the most time to develop their ad business and it is probably most deeply embedded into its users lives.
Beyond the question of reach, age groups, and sophistication lies the following analytical components: CPM (cost per thousand impressions), CPC (cost per click), CPA (cost per acquisition) etc. Based on CPM alone, the data from Salesforce below is from Q1 ’16 shows the general comparison between popular platforms:
While you may note that Instagram’s CPMs are lower than that of Facebook’s, the same report notes that Facebook’s average CTR is nine times higher than Instagram’s. So, we want to look at a combination of efficiency metrics when picking a social media platform.
Beyond advertising, the other crucial aspect of picking a social media platform is the level of engagement with consumers – not only with ads, but engagement in terms of interactions with consumers. Your website may have customer service contact information, but consumers who have questions or complaints have come to expect that they should be able to contact your business via social media. Facebook is an easy platform to address their issues. One of the most depressing things to see on a brand page is consumers posting questions that go ignored and unanswered; if a brand is only pushing out content without any direct interaction with consumers, it is only fulfilling a portion of its potential. So regardless whether you have one person or ten managing your Facebook page, creating and posting content is just as important as answering consumers’ questions – all the better if you can do it with humor and directness.
- If you have limited resources for digital marketing and social media, pick fewer social media platforms to do a better job at each of them. Better yet, just pick one
- If you pick just one, make it Facebook – It has the biggest reach, the best spread across age groups, and the best ease of consumer interaction
- While efficiency is crucial to social advertising (consider the temple of Cs – CPM, CPC, CPA…), consumer interaction is key in using the social part of social media; don’t let questions and comments go unaddressed
[i] Source: Hootsuite, Digital in 2018 in North America. Link here.
[ii] Source: Hootsuite, Digital in 2018 in North America