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Social media marketing: Pros & cons of the major platforms

Categories: Social media

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. Considering how quickly things move in this industry, we’ll also explain any significant changes to each network so you’ve got an up-to-date understanding of them.

Facebook: The all-rounder every business should use

Facebook pros:

  • Huge reach (including the broadest range of audiences)
  • The best targeting options in online advertising
  • Equally suitable for B2C and B2B marketing
  • Engaging ad formats
  • Facebook advertising and Google Ads work really well together

Facebook cons:

  • Almost zero organic reach
  • Fewer ads on the News Feed in 2019
  • Not as popular with Gen Z
  • You need to create a lot of visual content

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.

What can Facebook do for us?

Target highly-relevant audiences, bring qualified traffic to your website, build brand awareness, tell brand stories, provide customer service.

Should you use Facebook?

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: 3 reasons you should advertise on Facebook.

Instagram: Facebook’s younger cousin for the next generation

Instagram logo

Instagram pros:

  • Fast-growing user base
  • Excellent targeting options
  • High engagement
  • Connects you with Millennials and Gen Z
  • A great visual branding tool

Instagram cons:

  • Creating enough visual content can be demanding
  • Minimal organic reach

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 same platform.

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.

What can Instagram do for us?

Targeting Millennials and Gen Z, visual branding, storytelling, reaching a wider audience.

Should you use Instagram?

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.

Twitter: Fast-paced content promotion and brand awareness

Twitter logo

Twitter pros:

  • Highly-engaged audience always on the lookout for new content
  • Great platform for promoting lead generation content
  • Quick reaction from your audience
  • Engagement revolves around conversation
  • A good source of traffic
  • A great B2B branding tool
  • Organic reach means you’re not entirely dependent on ads

Twitter cons:

  • Content lifespan is short (although you can republish)
  • Twitter traffic often comes with low purchase intent
  • Twitter advertising can be pricey
  • Requires a lot of content
  • Limited analytics

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.

What can Twitter do for us?

B2B branding, lead generation, content promotion, establishing your brand as an authority/news source, engaging with industry leaders/peers.

Should you use Twitter?

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 this.

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.

LinkedIn: The B2B network for targeting decision-makers

LinkedIn logo

LinkedIn pros:

  • The definitive B2B platform
  • Business-minded user base
  • Excellent targeting options
  • Allows you to target decision-makers and high-value prospects
  • Written content is less demanding than more visual networks

LinkedIn cons:

  • High CPCs
  • Exporting analytics data needs to be easier
  • The interface isn’t as intuitive as it should be

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 this year in our article on why it’s is so much better in 2019.

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.

What can LinkedIn do for us?

B2B brand awareness, target high-value prospects, thought leadership, industry networking, promote in-depth content.

Should you use LinkedIn?

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: Big paid and organic opportunities – if your video content is good enough 

YouTube logo

YouTube pros:

  • Second-largest search engine
  • Cost-effective, low-risk TrueView ads – you only pay when people watch
  • Relatively low CPCs
  • Solid user targeting options
  • Your videos can rank in Google Search
  • Integrates Google Ads

YouTube cons:

  • Video production can be expensive
  • Some ad formats are intrusive

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.

What can YouTube do for us?

Capture B2B and B2C leads, brand awareness, expand your audience, drive traffic and engage Google Ads leads.

Should you use YouTube?

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 users watch.

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 to consider.

Related content: 4 reasons you should advertise on YouTube.

Snapchat: Instagram’s younger rival (with some growing pains)

Snapchat pros:

  • Popular among under-25s
  • Engaging ad formats
  • Strong targeting options

Snapchat cons:

  • Weak discoverability
  • Snapchat engagement has dropped since Instagram unveiled similar features
  • No native analytics, few paid options

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.

Source: Buffer

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.

What can Snapchat do for us?

Connect you with the under-25 demographic and Millennials, visual branding, storytelling, reaching a wider audience.

Should you use Snapchat?

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 two.

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: The world’s most-downloaded app

TikTok pros:

  • Most downloaded app
  • Popular with Millennials, Gen Z and younger
  • Rapidly-growing
  • Popular in Asia and growing in western nations
  • Low-risk of being bought out by Facebook, etc.

TikTok cons:

  • No advertising products
  • Only 3.7 million active users in the UK
  • Still a lot to prove as a marketing platform

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.

Facebook is currently the world’s largest social network and Asia is its biggest region in terms of user numbers. However, the app isn’t particularly popular in the major markets of China, South Korea and Japan where home-grown networks still dominate.

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.

What can TikTok do for us?

Engage with young audiences in Asia and much smaller (but growing) audiences in the US, UK and Europe.

Should you use TikTok?

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 platforms can offer in terms of advertising, which is still in the testing stage.

Quora: The Q&A network with a lot of B2B opportunities

Quora logo

Quora pros:

  • Least demanding for content creation
  • Promising advertising platform for B2B services and products
  • Ads are relevant to content users are already browsing
  • Competitive CPAs
  • Organic opportunities from answering questions
  • Valuable audience insights

Quora cons:

  • Popular topics/questions are saturated with promotional answers
  • Limited ad options (this is still a relatively new platform)
  • Targeting options could be better
  • While CPAs are competitive, they’re still higher than Google Ads

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 browsing.

This was a real turning point for Quora as a marketing platform.

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 troubleshooting.

What can Quora do for us?

Generate organic and paid leads, build brand awareness, allow you to answer audience questions directly, audience/content research.

Should you use Quora?

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 customers.

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: Highly-niche but very good at what it does

Pinterest

Pinterest pros:

  • Powerful tool for social media, organic search and paid advertising
  • Users actively looking for purchase ideas
  • Users open to seeing ads and commercial content
  • Highly-sharable content
  • Pinterest drives traffic to your website
  • Pinterest boards rank in Google Search
  • Posts rank in Google Image Search

Pinterest cons:

  • Limited audience
  • Time-consuming
  • Takes a lot of work to start seeing results

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 advertising prospects.

What can Pinterest do for us?

Product sales, brand promotion, drive traffic, network with similar brands (eg: photographers and wedding cake makers), promote content.

Should you use Pinterest?

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 marketing strategy.

Which are the social networks for you?

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 marketing goals.

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.

Need help with social media marketing?

If you want more info on the networks we’ve looked at today (or those we haven’t), get in touch with our social media experts on 023 9283 0281.

Header image credit: Freepik.com

Michelle joined Vertical Leap’s Portsmouth office 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 yoga, swimming, walking, the beach, mountains and nice food.

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