One of the toughest choices you have to make in social media marketing is which networks to go with. Get this decision wrong and you’re stuck preaching to the wrong crowd or producing the wrong kind of content to engage them.
Each network has its own strengths and weaknesses, making
them better for certain marketing objectives than others. So let’s take a look
at the pros and cons of the top social media platforms – plus the goals for
they’re are best suited for.
In this article, we’re going to assess the following social networks:
For each of these networks, we’re going to look at three key factors: who uses them, the kind of leads you can generate and the targeting options that’ll help you pinpoint the right audience. Before we get into the specific networks though, let’s take a little look at the advantages and disadvantages of social media marketing itself.
Social media marketing has changed a lot over the years – in
some cases, for the better; in others, not so much. So let’s take a look at the
advantages and disadvantages of social media marketing in 2020.
The reason social media took off as a marketing channel in the
first place is because it created an environment where brands can reach large
audiences they would struggle to encounter via other means.
According to the latest Digital In The UK report from We Are Social, 45 million of the country’s 66.44 million population were regularly using social media in 2019. Facebook dominates the UK social scene with 40 million active users, followed by LinkedIn with 27 million, Instagram with 24 million, Twitter with 13.6 million and Snapchat with 17.15 million monthly active users.
However your target audiences may be, you can find them on these networks.
With so many people using social media networks, you need a
reliable way of getting your message seen by the right audiences. Search
engines have the major benefit of keyword targeting but this isn’t something
social networks can really leverage in the same way.
Social networks have their own advantage, though, in the user
accounts people create when they sign up and the personal data this involves.
Users are also handing over endless session data every time they use these
apps, constantly telling networks more about which topics they care about,
political subjects that matter to them, sports they enjoy most and any other
interests they have.
Advertisers can use this data to pinpoint the right audience,
based on the interests users demonstrate.
Facebook currently has the most advanced targeting options in the online advertising space and it shares these with Instagram. You can find a breakdown of the targeting options available in our Facebook targeting options explained article and have a play around with Facebook’s Audience Insights tool (above) to get an idea of just how much data the network puts at your fingertips.
We often associate content marketing with SEO but social media provides a platform for brands to promote their content with users who aren’t actively searching for it.
For brand awareness and keeping audiences engaged, social media has become a crucial strategy for reaching audiences during passive moments (when they’re scrolling, not searching).
Video is playing an increasingly important part in social media marketing, too. YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are top three social networks in the UK (excluding messaging apps) and these are all dominated by video content in 2020.
Interestingly, separate research from DataBox finds that Facebook
advertisers are split on the video vs image ad debate. While 52% say they
leverage video ads more on the network, the remaining 48% said they rely on
images ads more.
However, the same study reveals almost 60% of Facebook
advertisers using video ads say they drive more clicks on the network.
Back in 2016, Marketing Week asked
marketers which channel drives the best brand engagement and social media
trounced the competition.
This has been one of social media’s biggest strengths, allowing brands to engage directly with users – both as a community and individuals. Some networks are more engaging than others but it also depends on what kind of engagement you’re looking for.
Instagram generally drives the highest engagement rates at an average of around 3-5%, depending on your niche, content and other variables. That said, engagement is declining on the network and Facebook is also seeing a decline of its own.
Meanwhile, Twitter engagement is up by 23% and cost per
engagement (CPE) is down by 12%, according to the company’s Q3 2019 Letter to
Research by ActiveCampaign lists social media marketing as the most effective form of advertising in terms of influencing users to research a new product.
According to PayPal’s Commerce Index, the number of UK businesses selling on social media is predicted to double by Q2 2020, resulting in an extra 600,000 UK retailers selling via social.
Despite concerns about fake news and misinformation, social
media remains a trusted source of info for people in the UK.
According to data from Ofcom, half of all adults in the country use social media as a primary source of news. Perhaps people trust themselves to be able to discern fact from fiction or maybe the freedom to follow and unfollow brands at will simply gives users more control over the content they see vs traditional media, such as TV.
One of the key downsides for social media users is that
platforms are increasingly dominated by ads and promotional content. A 2020 study from Guild finds that nearly
half of UK LinkedIn users believe the platform is becoming more focused on
marketing and sales opportunities than actual networking.
This comes at a time when Facebook is showing fewer ads in the News Feed and questions about social advertising mount up. It’s not all bad news, though. According to data from Merkle (Q4 2019), Facebook impressions were down roughly 5% from the previous year but clicks are on the up and Facebook ad spend increased by 15% over the same period.
It seems Facebook users are seeing fewer ads but clicking more.
Facebook was the first major social network to throttle organic
reach, essentially forcing marketers to pay up for ads in order to reach their
audiences. This peaked in 2018 when algorithm changes resulted in fewer ads and brand
content appearing in the News Feed in exchange for more posts from users’
Now, agencies are voicing
concerns that Facebook is doing the same thing with Instagram.
While a good set of targeting options will help you find the
right target audience on social media, there’s a limit to how much you can
target purchase intent. The biggest strength of search engines is that you can
target keywords demonstrating users want to buy now.
You can also target keywords that indicate lower purchase intent, allowing you to capture leads at every stage of the consumer journey.
Social media is different because people users aren’t actively
looking for content on networks. They’re just scrolling through feeds and
seeing whatever content is given to them. So you’re generally trying to inspire
purchase intent with social media campaigns although this is changing as social
(Remember, PayPal predicts the number of UK businesses selling
on social is set to double).
With organic reach on the decline, marketers are forced to invest more in social media marketing and this is pushing up the cost for everyone. Costs-per-click are on the rise and it’s no surprise UK digital ad spend continues to increase, despite economic uncertainty.
UK Advertisers spent an estimated £14.73 billion on digital ads
in 2019 – an 11.2% increase from the previous year.
With every ad click becoming more expensive, brands need to be
increasingly strategic with their advertising strategies to keep ROIs on track.
Although, there is a silver lining with Amazon providing competition for Google
and new networks like TikTok and Byte potentially rivalling Facebook in the
Competition can only be good for CPCs.
Now, it’s time to take a look at the top social networks and assess their pros and cons as marketing tools. This will help you choose the right platform for your social media marketing.
One of the biggest strengths of this network is reach. The sheer number of people using Facebook on a daily basis is unrivalled in social media with 2.41 billion monthly active users and 1.59 billion daily (Q2 2019) and the diversity of people (age range, professionals, consumers, etc.) on Facebook means every business can find their audience on this network.
The other major strength of Facebook advertising is its targeting options,
which have been the best in the business for many years now. By layering
targeting options, you can pinpoint the most specific of target audiences and
deliver highly-relevant ads, based on their interests and online actions.
There are some things to keep in mind about Facebook, though. Firstly, its user base is getting older as young people turn to other networks. According to data from Pew Research Center, the biggest growth demographic is users aged 55+ years while Baby Boomers are the second-biggest driver of growth. The number of Millennials and Gen-Xers on the platform has been relatively steady between 2012 and 2019.
It’s important to understand this demographical shift as the average age of Facebook users is only going to increase over time.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on how the network deals with
controversy over ad targeting and fake news – something that’s already resulted
in fewer ads and branded content appearing in users’ News
Feeds. The social giant is always testing new ad formats and
placements to keep the platform effective for advertisers but this means we
have to constantly reassess the network from a marketing perspective.
Target highly-relevant audiences, bring qualified traffic to your website, build brand awareness, tell brand stories, provide customer service.
Facebook is the only social media platform we can say every
business should probably be using in 2020. The size of its user base, combined
with its excellent targeting options means you can reach just about any
audience from a single network.
The only real exception will be if you’re only targeting Gen
Z where Facebook adoption is weaker. If the average Facebook user continues to
get older, the network will eventually lose its all-rounder status but this
isn’t going to happen any time soon.
Related content: How to advertise on Facebook
A few years ago, Instagram was the rising star in social
media but now the platform is a true giant – and it’s still growing. In June
2019, Instagram reached 1 billion monthly active users
and the network is growing much faster than its parent company, Facebook.
With 71% of users under the age of 35, Instagram is
the place where you can truly engage with both Millennials and Gen Z on the
Instagram also inherits Facebook’s incredible targeting
options, allowing you to pinpoint the most relevant audiences.
Instagram is a purely visual network and it lends itself
better to brands that can create highly visual content (fashion, travel, food,
luxury brands, etc.). This gives the network a strong B2C edge but those
targeting options mean this can still be a useful network for B2B campaigns,
especially as more business decision roles are taken up by Millennials.
While Facebook is a solid choice for B2B and B2C brands,
Instagram is more geared towards consumer campaigns. If you’re targeting CEOs
at prestigious firms, then you’ll probably have better luck on Facebook,
Twitter and LinkedIn (keep in mind the average age of CEOs). That said, there
are more Millennial CEOs and key business decision-makers than ever who are
using Instagram on a daily basis.
Targeting Millennials and Gen Z, visual branding,
storytelling, reaching a wider audience.
Instagram can’t compete with Facebook in terms of audience
size (not yet) but it’s growing quickly. More importantly, it’s the go-to
network for Millennials and Gen-Z who essentially grew up with the platform –
precisely the demographic Facebook is starting to lose.
This makes the two networks a strong combination and you get
all of the same excellent targeting options and similar ad formats across both,
making campaigns easy to manage.
Generally, B2C brands creating highly-visual content are going to get the best from Instagram. With its targeting options, you can certainly deliver B2B ads to the right audience but the limiting factor is the number of executives/decision-makers you’ll be able to reach on the network.
Related content: The complete guide to Instagram advertising
With 330 million active monthly users (Q1 2019),
Twitter can’t match Facebook in terms of audience size. We can forgive that,
though, because Twitter connects you with a highly-engaged, content-hungry
audience and this makes it one of the best networks to promote your lead gen
content (blog posts, guides, free downloads, etc.).
Twitter is also one of the few networks where you can still
get results organically. You’ll get the best results by combining organic and
paid via Twitter advertising but you’re not entirely
dependent on your ad budget.
This is a good thing, too, because ads are generally more
expensive on Twitter although its billable actions model means you’re only
charged when users complete your campaign objective.
Twitter is another network we need to constantly reassess as marketers. Despite rapid growth ahead of going public in 2013, the network failed to meet projections and user numbers have stuck around the 300 million mark in recent years. This is still a worthy audience size but lack-lustre growth has forced the network to reconsider its identity (it now calls itself a news platform) and ad innovation has been particularly slow.
However, Twitter has kept itself in the running and it could be first in line to benefit from any struggles Facebook runs into. It seems fully aware of this, too. After Facebook refused to restrict targeting for political ads, Twitter announced a ban on all political ads across the network from November 2019.
B2B branding, lead generation, content promotion,
establishing your brand as an authority/news source, engaging with industry
Twitter is among the few social networks that can deliver
for B2C and B2B brands and this could make things particularly interesting if
the competition with Facebook heats up. Twitter has repositioned itself a lot
in recent years and its prowess as a B2B platform has had a lot to do with
Unlike a lot of the newer networks, you can reach executives
and decision-makers, freelancers and consumer audiences as well. This is a big
deal if you’ve got a product or services geared towards the consumer/individual
and businesses – eg: software with basic, professional and business versions.
Twitter’s highly-engaged user base makes it easy to interact
with your target audiences, too, but you will have to be very active on the
network to turn this engagement into genuine leads.
Final verdict: Twitter is an essential network for B2B campaigns
and companies targeting both B2B and B2C audiences.
We’ve just hyped up Twitter as a B2B platform, but LinkedIn still rules the roost in social B2B. 2019 has been a big year for LinkedIn advertising, too, and you can read an in-depth analysis of what’s changed recently in our article on why it’s now so much better.
The most important thing about LinkedIn is its
business-minded user base. People go there to network and discuss business and
they’re open to engaging with ads and promotional content.
Then you have LinkedIn’s targeting options: less
sophisticated than Facebook’s but every bit as effective. This allows you to
target people in specific industries, in specific roles, at specific companies
– no matter how niche you need to get.
LinkedIn ads are among the most expensive in the industry
but it’s worth remembering that this platform is the only one that allows you
to specifically target decision-makers at companies that can take your brand to
the next level.
B2B brand awareness, target high-value prospects, thought
leadership, industry networking, promote in-depth content.
To connect with the decision-makers at target companies,
LinkedIn is essential. No other platform allows you to target high-value
prospects based on the companies they work at and their position. LinkedIn also
allows you to establish your brand as an industry authority and the network
gives you the space to do so with in-depth, data-driven content.
This space also allows you to differentiate your brand from
the competition – as long as your content adds value for other users (a lot of
businesses forget this part).
YouTube isn’t just a social network, it’s the second
most widely used search engine in the world. This makes the platform
ideal for building your online video portfolio but you can also use YouTube
advertising to generate leads from all those searches.
YouTube has one of the most cost-effective ad formats in
digital advertising, too. With TrueView ads, you only pay when a user watches
the first 30 seconds of your video ad or the whole thing (whichever comes first).
By this stage, you know you’ve engaged the user and your money is well spent –
the challenge is creating ads that are captivating enough.
Crucially, Google research has shown that 62% of consumers watch video reviews before making a purchase and more than 55% of shoppers now watch videos while making purchase decisions in-store.
Capture B2B and B2C leads, brand awareness, expand your audience, drive traffic and engage Google Ads leads.
If you’re able to produce enough video content to make the
most of YouTube’s ad formats, the platform provides a low-risk and affordable
channel for building brand awareness and generating leads. Engaging users
through YouTube ads is the challenge but TrueView ads mean you only pay when
YouTube also brings a lot of organic opportunities to the
table thanks to its large online community and integration with Google Search.
To make the most of this community, you’ll need to create practical, useful
videos (think how-tos, tutorials, product reviews, etc.) and promote them
heavily on your other social platforms to build a following.
You don’t need a major YouTube presence to make use of its
advertising potential, though. So, if you’re more interested in delivering
video ads than creating viral clips, YouTube is still an advertising platform
Related content: Guide to advertising on YouTube
Rewind a few years and Snapchat was the new Instagram. In
fact, it was being lined up as the Instagram killer by many. The newcomer
boasted rapid growth, high engagement and a young userbase that was primed to
shape the future of all things social. Best of all, Snapchat was going to be at
the heart of everything – and this was before the platform rolled out any
serious advertising products.
Snapchat Stories were walking all over other social content formats in terms of engagement.
Sadly, prospects look very different for Snapchat in 2020, largely thanks to Instagram rolling out Instagram Stories in 2016, which were uncannily similar to Snapchat’s innovative format. Since then, Snapchat has seen a ~40% drop in engagement while the number of daily active users (DAU) fell from 191 million in Q4 2017 to 186 million in Q2 2018 (Statista).
All hope isn’t lost yet, though. User numbers started to
rise again towards the end of 2018 and figures from Q2 2019 put DAUs at 210
million – the most the network has ever had.
Short-term growth is back on track and Snapchat boasts the youngest user base of the networks we’ve looked at so far with a massive 85% being 25 or younger. This is currently the network’s biggest strength and its reinforced by engaging ad formats and strong targeting options. The challenge for Snapchat is getting engagement back up and keeping its recent growth spurt on track.
Connect you with the under-25 demographic and Millennials,
visual branding, storytelling, reaching a wider audience.
If you’re using Instagram, then you should probably also
look at Snapchat – especially if you’re targeting Millennials and Gen-Z.
The biggest problem with Snapchat right now is that
Instagram can pretty much do the same and more (and often better). This has
hurt Snapchat in recent years and impacted its effectiveness as a marketing
platform. That said, we’re still talking about one of the most prominent
networks in the industry and the only one that’s posed a real threat to
Instagram’s dominance among younger users.
Luckily, you can use both as a marketer and hope that the
rivalry with Instagram will force competitive prices and innovation between the
Instagram may have the larger user base, better growth
performance and higher engagement rates but Snapchat still has
the slightly younger crowd. If that under-25 age bracket is important to you,
then Snapchat is a key channel. We should also recognise its knack for
innovation, which could prove to be its biggest asset, assuming Instagram
doesn’t keep pinching its best ideas.
TikTok is the new sensation in social media and it’s already the most-downloaded app in iTunes, beating Facebook, Instagram and everyone else. This was the case in Q4 2018 and data from September 2019 also placed TikTok at the top of the list.
This is helped by how popular the app is in China and India, the world’s two largest populations but TikTok is becoming increasingly popular in the US, UK and other western nations. If the video app proves to become as popular here as it is in Asia, TikTok will be a major force.
This presents a major opportunity for TikTok, which happens
to be backed by the highest-valued startup in the world, ByteDance, which is
currently valued at $74 billion. That doesn’t quite stand up to Facebook’s almost-$500 billion evaluation but
it should protect TikTok from being bought out by any potential rivals.
Let’s not get carried away, though. Despite its incredible
growth, TikTok still only has 3.7 million users in the UK
and it currently doesn’t offer any advertising products – although it is
testing ads in the UK and US.
Oh yeah, and Instagram has also just released a Reels feature, which is almost an exact copy of TikTok.
Engage with young audiences in Asia and much smaller (but
growing) audiences in the US, UK and Europe.
If you want to engage with young audiences in Asia (especially China and India), TikTok is already a major channel. Global brands like Coca-Cola have already used the platform with great success to enhance their presence in China.
For the vast majority of brands, though, TikTok is simply one to watch. User numbers in major Western markets still need to increase and we’ll have to see what the platform can offer in terms of social media marketing, which is still in the testing stage.
Quora is a relatively new addition to the social media
scene, essentially acting as a user forum where people go to ask questions.
Topics include pretty much everything you can think of and a lot of the
questions on Quora have purchase intent that brands can use to offer advice.
For example, companies can monitor Quora for questions like “How do I increase
quality backlinks in SEO?”The company can explain to this user how
to increase quality backlinks and the challenge is to promote its software
product through their answer in a subtle way. Most businesses get this horribly
wrong and over-promote themselves in their answers.
You can also use Quora as an audience research tool to learn
more about your prospects, based on the questions they ask. In 2016, the
platform allowed you to deliver ads that are relevant to the topics users are
This was a real turning point for Quora as a marketing
The forum format of Quora makes it easy to target users
based on topics, questions and keywords. You also have a number of interest and
behavioural targeting options but it’s a shame you can’t target people based on
their industry, company, job title, etc.
Quora is particularly effective for B2B campaigns but it’s
also got a lot to offer B2C brands with product recommendations/comparisons and
Generate organic and paid leads, build brand awareness,
allow you to answer audience questions directly, audience/content research.
Probably, yes. The more important question is how much you
should use Quora. At the very least, it’s a powerful tool for generating
content ideas by finding out what your target audience is asking and the
problems they’re facing. You can take things further by answering relevant
questions on the platform with the aim of generating leads from potential
You’ll find a lot of people in charge of buying decisions at
companies turn to Quora for advice. The challenge is answering these questions
in a way that positions your brand without being overly promotional – something
you’ll see endless users fail at miserably while browsing the platform.
Aside from organic lead generation, you also have Quora ads,
which allow you to get your message seen outside of answers. You can use these
to reinforce your organic presence, which allows you to be less promotional in
your answers while increasing visibility.
Pinterest is an interesting network. It doesn’t make as many
headlines as the other big names, but it’s a selling power tool for the right
brands. More than 250 million people browse this platform every month in the
search of new ideas for anything from interior design to recipes, fashion
inspiration and all kinds of other interests.
More importantly, 83% of weekly users say they use the platform to help them make buying decisions.
Pinterest is a visual network and you’ve got to make things
look good to get attention on this network. You also need to understand your
audience – above all, that almost 80% of Pinterest users are female (Statista).
Also, 73% of Pinners say that content from brands makes the platform more
useful – that’s right, they actually want to see content and ads from brands.
If that target audience sounds good to you, Pinterest is a
powerful social network that also enhances your organic search and paid
Product sales, brand promotion, drive traffic, network with
similar brands (eg: photographers and wedding cake makers), promote content.
Pinterest has the narrowest user base of the networks we’re looking at in this article. However, this is actually one of its biggest strengths if that user base is important to your business because you don’t have to work so hard to target the right users. Audience aside, you’ll also need to be promoting the right kind of visually-stimulating products or services and creating high-quality images that capture people’s attention. If you’ve got all that covered, Pinterest deserves a spot in your social media marketing strategy.
Knowing how quickly things change in the social media landscape,
advertisers need to keep constant attention on where things are headed.
Thankfully, change doesn’t quite happen overnight and we already have some
clues about how brands will engage with users on social in the near future.
In 2020, 92% of marketers say video content is an important part of their marketing strategy and you only have to look at the current social landscape to see why. From Facebook and Instagram to Snapchat and newcomers like TikTok, video content is at the heart of social media – and this is the now, not the future.
Advertisers need to face up to the fact that video is becoming
the standard, not the exception to engaging with social users.
Filters are the only example of augmented reality (AR) that has really caught on so far but the likes of Facebook are working on much bigger things in this area.
Facebook is developing a virtual reality social platform that brings people’s avatars together from different locations, which kind of looks like a mashup of VR video conferencing with a 3D Facebook world.
This technology is in its infancy and it’s hard to say which implementations users will take to but the global adoption of filters on Snapchat and Instagram shows how much potential is there.
It seems strange to talk about social commerce as a thing of the future in 2020 but progress has been surprisingly slow in this department. Instagram has become the first major network to roll out a dedicated in-app checkout system for true social buying, but it’s only available as a closed beta in the US for now.
We’ve already seen how the number of UK businesses selling on
social is set to double but the technology still needs to mature for wider
adoption to take place.
Each of the networks we’ve looked at today has something
different to offer. It’s not enough to simply know which networks your target
audiences use (they use many); you also need to understand the role each
network plays in their daily lives and how that makes them suitable for your
Equally, you need to be able to produce the right kind of
content to get the best results on each platform. It’s no good trying to nail
Instagram if creating epic images and videos is out of reach.
If you want more info on the networks we’ve looked at today or need help with your social media marketing, get in touch with our social media marketing team on 023 9283 0281.
Header image credit: Freepik.com
Michelle joined Vertical Leap in 2011 as Marketing Manager, having spent the previous 15 years of her marketing career in the recruitment, leisure and printing industries. Her passions include dogs, yoga, walking, cycling, the beach, mountains and tapas.
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