Social media marketing is one of the most effective ways to reach customers in the channels where they are most comfortable. The problem for brands is that there are so many popular social media platforms that it’s challenging to know which of them are best to reach their customers.

Let’s look at how brands can determine which social platforms are the most appropriate for their core customers, and which platforms are used by different generations.

An Omnichannel Approach With a Consumer Focus

With new social media platforms popping up every day, the challenge is knowing the ones brands prefer for marketing, advertising and outreach. Here are some of the most popular social platforms today, according to a January 2022 Statista report:

  • Facebook - With over 2.9 billion monthly active users, Facebook remains the top dog in the social media universe.
  • Facebook Messenger - Facebook’s messaging app has over 988 million monthly active users.
  • WhatsApp - Another popular messaging service owned by Meta, WhatsApp has 2 billion monthly active users.
  • Instagram - Another Meta property, Instagram has nearly 1.5 billion monthly active users.
  • YouTube - As the second most active social network, YouTube has nearly 2.6 billion monthly active users.
  • TikTok - With one billion monthly active users, TikTok is rapidly growing in popularity and is regularly used by Gen Z as a search engine for local businesses.
  • Reddit - With 430 million monthly active users, Reddit serves as one of the largest discussion networks on the internet.
  • Twitter - This popular social commentary platform has 436 million monthly active users.
  • Pinterest - This popular photo-sharing network has 444 million monthly active users.
  • Snapchat - With 557 million monthly active users, this messaging service remains extremely popular.
  • WeChat - Coming in as the second most popular messaging app, WeChat has more than 1.2 billion monthly active users.
  • Quora - While it’s not exactly a social network, Quora still has an active community of 300 million monthly active users.
  • LinkedIn - This professional business social network has 830 million members.

Joe Karasin, head of growth at CircleIt, a generational platform, told CMSWire that the value of a social channel is somewhat dependent on the goals that brands have.

“If someone is looking to convert sales on their website, then Instagram and YouTube may be the best channels. If one wants to simply create awareness and provide content, TikTok could be the best choice. The best strategy is to take an omnichannel approach with a consumer focus, so this understanding is key to marketing,” Karasin said.

Related Article: Understanding the Connection Between Social Media and Great Customer Experience

Social Media Posting, Influencers and Advertising

Because most brands have a social presence on the top social media networks, they have several marketing options available:

  • Use their own social media presence to post images, videos and messaging.
  • Work with influencers on social platforms to endorse, review or talk about their products and services.
  • Advertise on social platforms so that the ads appear after relevant searches or users show interest in specific keywords.

Each of these options — which are not exclusive (brands can use all three if they wish) — has its own merits and drawbacks. Determining which option offers the most benefits and will reach the brand’s target audience largely depends on the strategy and goals of the campaign and the audience segment the brand is trying to reach.

Ronn Torossian, founder and chairman of 5WPR, a New York-based public relations agency, told CMSWire that every single marketing campaign needs to have a strategy, largely because the strategy determines the methodology they use for each social platform.

"Companies must define every strategy for every social media platform they're going to be using because every single platform is going to be different in various ways, which means companies have to understand what's going to work best to make sure that the content is going to generate engagement with a target audience.”

Most brands post content on their own social media presences regularly, so grabbing customers’ and prospective customers’ attention can be challenging, especially when brands are trying to create content that is not seen as purely advertising.

Although social media is a medium that allows brands to show their personality and character, the content that brands post should remain consistent with the brand’s voice and values. Humor and lighthearted content allow customers to see the human side of a brand.

Presentation Is Everything

Customers understand that brands are businesses with goals that include being profitable, but they do not want to be continually bombarded with sales pitches or advertising copy.

Because a brand’s strategy affects the way it markets on each platform, Torossian said that means changing the original content idea in terms of how it's presented and formatted — either in a written or a more visual format.

“Some of the things that companies have to take into consideration are the reasons why the business is choosing to use the specific platform, the audience it is targeting, the content that is going to work best on the platform and engage the audience, the brand messages the company is trying to promote and all of the ways that the content can be made unique so the company can stand out from the crowd,” Torossian explained.

Influencer marketing is often an extremely effective means of reaching niche audiences. According to an Insider Intelligence report, as of 2019, Instagram was used by 69% of marketers who work with influencers, with YouTube coming in next at 11%. A more recent 2022 Insider Intelligence report indicated that this year, 66% of influencer marketers will use TikTok.

Advertising on social media platforms provides brands with opportunities to showcase their products and services using images, text and video. On YouTube, for instance, brands can create video advertisements that play intermittently while users watch related videos.

Brands are able to target users based on their Google search history and YouTube viewing behaviors. Google has estimated that 70% of users have purchased a product after seeing it on YouTube.

Related Article: Finding Your Target Audience Through Social Media

Generational Social Media Preferences

According to Karasin, although there are exceptions to every rule, it’s safe to assume that the newer a platform is, the younger the user base will be. “Certain channels, such as Reddit, tend to have a wider range of users in varying demographics,” he said.

The data that is made available through the various ad platforms provides brands with the ability to target those in specific generations. “On Facebook, for example, because we see the most engagement from an older user base (from older millennials to baby boomers), we create content that is relevant to those in that age range,” said Karasin.

“On Instagram, we tend to see a different range, which includes younger millennials and Gen Z through Gen X.” 

Learning Opportunities

CircleIt has a different appeal to different generations. “So a Facebook ad may talk more about preserving your legacy for future generations and telling your story, while the same type of ad on IG would focus on discovering your roots and learning about your ancestors,” Karasin said.

Aneesh Dhawan, CEO of Knit, a consumer insights startup providing market data on Gen Z and millennial audiences, is in a great position to understand how to market generationally through social media.

Dhawan said that brands must truly understand the generations they wish to market to. “Not just their values, but how they express them, the trends they care about and, ultimately, the messaging that will resonate with them. When trying to understand Gen Z for example, brands have historically struggled to attract and retain their attention."

He added a warning that some brands act from a place of desperation by using slang or trying to tap into Gen Z humor without really understanding it, which is something that Gen Z considers “cringe-worthy.”

Genuine, organic outreach is the most effective way to reach this generation. “Gen Z responds best to marketing that is authentic, funny and aligns with their values of social responsibility,” Dhawan said.

“The truth is, building long-lasting brand loyalty takes time and often requires a commitment to investing in valuable consumer insights to understand what motivates this group.”

To be successful, brands need to be impeccably tuned in with not just what content and messaging resonate, Dhawan suggested, but how to effectively articulate the brand’s story.

Effectively Engaging Specific Consumer Segments

Mark Beal, professor of communication at Rutgers University, told CMSWire that there are more social media content channels than ever for brands to use to reach consumers, but to effectively engage specific consumer segments, brands must take time to truly understand which channels are preferred by each generation of customers.

“In my immersion into Gen Z, the big three — YouTube, TikTok and Instagram — are the channels that brands must leverage in an attempt to successfully engage this cohort.”

Beal said that Gen Z does not consume traditional media such as network and cable television or even Facebook, which their Gen X parents prefer. “Gen Z also gravitates towards communities of shared interests such as Discord and Reddit, online audio communities including Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse and emerging channels such as BeReal.”

Beal suggested that the content created for Gen Z needs to be concise, clever, informative and, in many cases, entertaining.

The Lowdown

With so many social media platforms available for brands to conduct marketing and advertising campaigns, it can be challenging to determine which platform is best for their goals.

Brands must establish strategies for each platform, and decide if they are going to reach customers through posting on their own social presence, working with social influencers or using targeted advertisements.

Finally, brands must understand how each generation uses social media to approach them in a way that is genuine, organic and well accepted by each generational group.