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There hasn’t been anything that has changed our lives in the last 30 years more than social media, except for may the Internet or Iphone. This is no small feat.
But according to statistics people spend more than 2 hours and 24 minutes on social media.
If people are spending so much time on it, what exactly is it?
Social media is any digital tool that allows users to quickly create and share content with the public. Social media encompasses a wide range of websites and apps. Some, like Twitter, specialize in sharing links and short written messages. Others, like Instagram and TikTok, are built to optimize the sharing of photos and videos.
What makes social media unique is that it is both broad and relatively uncensored. While many social media companies impose some limitations—such as taking down images that display violence or nudity—there are much fewer limitations on what someone can share than there with other means of mass communication like newspapers, radio stations, and television channels.
Anyone with internet access can sign up for a social media account. They can use that account to share whatever content they choose to, and the content they share reaches anyone who visits their page or profile.
The use of hashtags on social media groups content together by topic, allowing users to connect with strangers who are sharing content related to a topic of interest.
How Social Media Works
Since social media covers so many different kinds of websites and applications, the function of these tools also varies. However, most social media sites start with a user creating a profile, usually by providing a name and an email address.
Once a profile has been created, users can create and share content. For instance, an Instagram user with a new account can take a picture and share it on their profile with a caption. In addition to creating content for their profile, social media users can find other users whose content they want to follow or comment on. Depending on the type of social media, a user may “follow” another user, add them as a “friend,” or they may “subscribe” to another user’s page.
Social media often uses “feeds” that allow users to scroll through content. Social media companies use algorithms, based on a user’s profile data, to determine the content that appears and the order that it appears in. The feed will include content from “followed” users, as well as from entities that pay to promote their content.
Types of Social Media
There are many different types of social media, and many services could fit into multiple categories. Here are a few of the major types, along with some examples.
Social networks specialize in connecting and exchanging thoughts, ideas, and content with other users—often with users who share tastes and interests. Facebook and Twitter are examples of social networks. Though more professional than others, LinkedIn may be considered a social network, as well.
As opposed to social networks, which specialize in letting users share and exchange raw thoughts and ideas, media networks specialize in distributing content like photographs and videos. Instagram and YouTube are examples of this. A YouTube user, for example, will upload a video they’ve created, and other users can “like,” “dislike,” or comment on the video. If they enjoy the video enough, a user may choose to “subscribe” to the creator, so that new videos from that creator appear in their feed.
Discussion networks like Reddit are the ideal outlet for posts that can spark in-depth discussion among users. Users can leave detailed responses in the comment section, and other users can respond directly to those comments, allowing for conversations to grow and develop organically.
Blogging sites like WordPress may also be included in the discussion network category, though some would consider blogging its own type of social media.
Review networks like Yelp and TripAdvisor add social media aspects to user reviews of products and services. Users can interact directly with those leaving reviews, as can the businesses being reviewed.
The 21 most popular social media sites in 2019
(MAUs stands for Monthly Active Users, and MUVs stands for Monthly Unique Visitors.)
1. Facebook – 2.23 billion MAUs
Facebook is the biggest social media site around, with more than two billion people using it every month. That’s almost a third of the world’s population! There are more than 65 million businesses using Facebook Pages and more than six million advertisers actively promoting their business on Facebook, which makes it a pretty safe bet if you want to have a presence on social media.
It’s easy to get started on Facebook because almost all content format works great on Facebook — text, images, videos, live videos, and Stories. But note that the Facebook algorithm prioritizes content that sparks conversations and meaningful interactions between people, especially those from family and friends. If you want to learn more about succeeding with the updated Facebook algorithm, Brian Peters, our Strategic Partnership Marketer, shared the secrets of the new algorithm and what you can do to thrive on Facebook.
Also, remember to optimize your content for mobile as 94 percent of Facebook’s users access Facebook via the mobile app.
2. YouTube – 1.9 billion MAUs
YouTube is a video-sharing platform where users watch a billion hour of videos every day. To get started, you can create a YouTube channel for your brand where you can upload videos for your subscribers to view, like, comment, and share.
Besides being the second biggest social media site, YouTube (owned by Google) is also often known as the second largest search engine after Google. (So if you want your brand to be on YouTube, I would recommend reading up on YouTube SEO.)
Finally, you can also advertise on YouTube to increase your reach on the platform.
3. WhatsApp – 1.5 billion MAUs
WhatsApp is a messaging app used by people in over 180 countries. Initially, WhatsApp was only used by people to communicate with their family and friends. Gradually, people started communicating with businesses via WhatsApp. (When I was in Bangkok to buy a new suit, I communicated with the tailor via WhatsApp.)
WhatsApp has been building out its business platform to allow businesses to have a proper business profile, to provide customer support, and to share updates with customers about their purchases. For small businesses, it has built the WhatsApp Business app while for medium and large businesses, there’s the WhatsApp Business API. Here are some stories of how businesses have been using WhatsApp.
4. Messenger – 1.3 billion MAUs
Messenger used to be a messaging feature within Facebook, and since 2011, Facebook has made Messenger into a standalone app by itself and greatly expanded on its features. Businesses can now advertise, create chatbots, send newsletters, and more on Messenger. These features have given businesses a myriad of new ways to engage and connect with their customers.
If you are thinking about using Messenger for your business, here are seven ways you can use Messenger for your marketing.
5. WeChat – 1.06 billion MAUs
WeChat grew from a messaging app, just like WhatsApp and Messenger, into an all-in-one platform. Besides messaging and calling, users can now use WeChat to shop online and make payment offline, transfer money, make reservations, book taxis, and more.
WeChat is most popular in China and some parts of Asia. If you are doing business in those areas (where social media platforms like Facebook are banned), WeChat could be a good alternative.
6. Instagram – 1 billion MAUs
Instagram is a photo and video sharing social media app. It allows you to share a wide range of content such as photos, videos, Stories, and live videos. It has also recently launched IGTV for longer-form videos.
As a brand, you can have an Instagram business profile, which will provide you with rich analytics of your profile and posts and the ability to schedule Instagram posts using third-party tools.
To help you get started and succeed, here’s our complete guide to Instagram marketing.
7. QQ – 861 million MAUs
QQ is an instant messaging platform that is extremely popular among young Chinese. (It is used in 80 countries and also available in many other languages.) Besides its instant messaging features, it also enables users to decorate their avatars, watch movies, play online games, shop online, blog, and make payment.
I have to admit I don’t know much about QQ but Carrie Law from ClickZ has written a helpful brief introduction to QQ for marketers. It seems that while QQ, a desktop-native platform, used to be the top social media platform in China, WeChat, a messaging app from the same parent company, has taken over its place.
8. Tumblr – 642 million MUVs
Tumblr is a microblogging and social networking site for sharing text, photos, links, videos, audios, and more. People share a wide range of things on Tumblr from cat photos to art to fashion.
On the surface, a Tumblr blog can look just like any other websites. So many blogs that you come across online might be using Tumblr!
If you want to consider Tumblr for your marketing, Viral Tag has written a starter guide to Tumblr marketing.
9. Qzone – 632 million MAUs
Qzone is another popular social networking platform based in China, where users can upload multimedia, write blogs, play games, and decorate their own virtual spaces.
According to several people on Quora, Qzone seems to be more popular among teenagers (while WeChat is more popular among adults). But the rise of mobile-based platforms like WeChat seemed to have caused a decline in popularity of desktop-based platforms like Qzone.
10. Tik Tok – 500 million MAUs
Tik Tok (also known as Douyin in China) is a rising music video social network. It was the world’s most downloaded app in the first quarter of 2018, beating Facebook, Instagram, and other social media apps.
My initial impression is that it looks like Instagram for short music videos (though I’m sure it’s more than that). Users can record videos up to 60 seconds, edit them, and add music and special effects.
While it is most popular in Asia, my hunch is its popularity might spread to the west. It has recently acquired Musical.ly, a similar music video social network where 11. Sina Weibo – 392 million MAUs
Sina Weibo is often known as Twitter for Chinese users (since Twitter is banned in China). It has features similar to Twitter — 140-character microblogging, uploading of photos and videos, commenting, and verification of accounts.
If you would like to learn more about Sina Weibo, What’s on Weibo, a social trends reporting site, wrote a helpful short introduction to Sina Weibo.
12. Twitter – 335 million MAUs
Twitter is a social media site for news, entertainment, sports, politics, and more. What makes Twitter different from most other social media sites is that it has a strong emphasis on real-time information — things that are happening right now. For example, one of the defining moments in the Twitter history is when Janis Krums tweeted the image of a plane that landed in the Hudson River when he was on the ferry to pick the passengers up.
Another unique characteristic of Twitter is that it only allows 280 characters in a tweet (140 for Japanese, Korean, and Chinese), unlike most social media sites that have a much higher limit.
Twitter is also often used as a customer service channel. According to advertisers on Twitter, more than 80 percent of social customer service requests happen on Twitter. And Salesforce calls Twitter “the New 1-800 Number for Customer Service“. There are many social media customer service tools, such as Buffer Reply, available now to help you manage social customer service conversations.
13. Reddit – 330 million MAUs
Reddit, also known as the front page of the Internet, is a platform where users can submit questions, links, and images, discuss them, and vote them up or down.
There are subreddits (i.e. dedicated forums) for pretty much anything under the sun (and above). Subreddits, however, have different levels of engagement so it’s great to research to see if there are popular subreddits that your brand can be part of. For example, r/socialmedia tends to be pretty quiet so we are rarely on Reddit.
Besides submitting your content to Reddit and participating in discussions, you can also find content ideas and advertise on Reddit.
14. Baidu Tieba – 300 million MAUs
Baidu Tieba is a Chinese online forum created by Baidu, the largest Chinese search engine in the world. My interpretation of Wikipedia’s description is that Baidu Tieba seems to be similar to Reddit, where users can create a forum thread on any topic and interact with one another.
15. LinkedIn – 294 million MAUs
LinkedIn is now more than just a resume and job search site. It has evolved into a professional social media site where industry experts share content, network with one another, and build their personal brand. It has also become a place for businesses to establish their thought leadership and authority in their industry and attract talent to their company.
To help you grow your LinkedIn Company Page follower, we have written a blog post covering a simple five-step strategy.
LinkedIn also offers advertising opportunities, such as boosting your content, sending personalized ads to LinkedIn inboxes, and displaying ads by the side of the site.
16. Viber – 260 million MAUs
On the surface, Viber is quite similar to major social messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger. It allows users to send messages and multimedia, call, share stickers and GIFs, and more.
However, Viber presents many more opportunities for businesses. As a business, you can buy ads, promote your brand through stickers, engage your community, display your products in the shopping section, and provide customer service.
17. Snapchat – 255 million MAUs
Snapchat is a social media app that focuses on sharing photos and short videos (as known as snaps) between friends. It made the Stories format popular, which eventually proliferated on other social media platforms like Instagram. But the rise of Instagram Stories seemed to have hindered Snapchat’s growth and marketers’ interest in using Snapchat for their brands in general.
If you are not familiar with Snapchat, here’s our beginner’s guide to Snapchat. Or if you are undecided between Snapchat and Instagram, we wrote a little comparison of Snapchat and Instagram for brands.
18. Pinterest – 250 million MAUs
Pinterest is a place where people go to discover new things and be inspired, quite unlike most social media sites where engagement is the primary focus. According to Pinterest, 78 percent of users say that content on Pinterest from brands are useful (much higher than that on other sites). This gives your brand an unique opportunity to shape their purchasing decisions.
As Pinterest users want to be inspired to try or buy new things, having a presence on Pinterest could help put your brand on their minds. Here are some tips on using Pinterest for business that the Pinterest team shared with us.
19. Line – 203 million MAUs
Line is a multi-purpose social messaging app that allows users to message, share stickers, play games, make payments, request for taxis, and shop online. It is the most popular messaging app in Japan and is also popular in other areas in Asia.
Brands can create official accounts on Line to share news and promotions, which will appear on their followers’ timeline.
20. Telegram – 200 million MAUs
Telegram is similar to most social messaging apps and is often known for how secure it is as a messaging app.
There are several ways brands can make use of Telegram, besides providing one-on-one customer support. For example, brands can create chatbots for the Telegram platform or make use of Telegram’s channel feature to broadcast messages to an unlimited number of subscribers.
21. Medium – 60 million MAUs
Medium is an online publishing platform with a social network element. It’s free to publish on Medium and free to read most articles. Some articles are reserved for only paying members.
Besides publishing original content on Medium, it’s quite common for brands to republish their blog posts from their company blog onto Medium to extend their reach. (That’s what we’re doing here at Buffer.)
If you want to experiment with Medium, we wrote a guide to Medium for marketers and a blog post on the nine strategies we tried on Medium.
Benefits of social media for brand building
1. Increase brand awareness
With nearly half of the world’s population using social media platforms, they’re a natural place to reach new and highly targeted potential customers.
Think people only connect with brands they already know on social media? Consider that 60 percent of Instagram users say they discover new products on the platform.
When Absolut Vodka ran an Instagram campaign to promote its limited edition Spark bottle, the company achieved a five-point lift in brand awareness.
2. Humanize your brand
A UK study from Trinity Mirror Solutions found that more than half of adults do not trust a brand until they see “real-world proof” that the brand is keeping its promises.
To connect with customers—and potential customers—you’ve got to show the human side of your brand. How are you embracing your brand values? (Do you even have brand values?) How are you looking out for the best interests of your customers and employees? Does your product really work?
The ability to create real human connection is one of the key benefits of social media for business. We call these Meaningful Relationship Moments. Introduce your followers to the people who make up your company and showcase how existing customers are using and benefiting from your products.
A social media advocacy program can be a great way to humanize your brand.
3. Establish your brand as a thought leader
No matter what industry your business is in, social media offers the opportunity to establish your brand as a thought leader—the go-to source for information on topics related to your niche.
Like brand advocacy, thought leadership is a great way to build consumer trust. In fact, LinkedIn research in partnership with Edelman shows that marketers underestimate just how much thought leadership can impact trust, especially for B2B marketers. About half of B2B marketers surveyed believed their thought leadership would build trust in their companies. However, more than 80 percent of buyers said thought leadership builds trust.
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer also found that 63 percent of people trust technical experts, compared to only 42 percent of people who trust businesses.
Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes has more than 1.5 million followers on LinkedIn, where he shares his insights about social media and entrepreneurship.
LinkedIn—particularly the LinkedIn Publishing Platform—is a great social network to focus on when aiming to establish yourself as a thought leader.
4. Stay top of mind
Most social media users log into their accounts at least once per day, according to Pew Research Center, and many people are checking social multiple times per day.
Social media gives you to the opportunity to connect with fans and followers every time they log in. Keep your social posts entertaining and informative, and your followers will be glad to see your new content in their feeds, keeping you top of mind so you’re their first stop when they’re ready to make a purchase.
Benefits of social media for growth
5. Increase website traffic
Social media posts and ads are key ways to drive traffic to your website. Sharing great content from your blog or website to your social channels is a great way to get readers as soon as you publish a new post
Participating in social chats—like the weekly #HootChat on Twitter—can also be a great way to increase your visibility, get attention from new people, showcase your expertise, and drive traffic to your website.
A2: Curating content helps you:
– Save time
– Build relationships with other sources
– Provide new perspectives that support your own content
While it’s not a replacement for creating content, it has many benefits. #HootChat
— UpContent (@getupcontent) April 19, 2018
Offer great value in the chat, rather than being too promotional. Just make sure your website address is included in all of your social media profiles so that people who want to learn more about you can do so with one easy click. Even better, use a pinned post to highlight a landing page on your website that’s relevant to the chat.
6. Generate leads
Social media offers an easy and low-commitment way for potential customers to express interest in your business and your products. Lead generation is such an important benefit of social media for business that many social networks offer advertising formats specifically designed to collect leads.
For example, Renault Europe used Facebook lead ads that allowed people interested in learning more about a new model to book a test drive directly from Facebook, with just a couple of taps.
The ads had a 7.9 times lower cost per lead than ads linking to a form on the car manufacturer’s website.
7. Boost sales
No matter what you sell, social media can help you sell it. Your social accounts are a critical part of your sales funnel—the process through which a new contact becomes a customer.
As the number of people using social media continues to grow and social sales tools evolve, social networks will become increasingly important for product search and ecommerce. The time is right to align your social marketing and sales goals.
For individual sales professionals, social selling is already a critical tool.
Take Hootsuite Academy’s Social Selling Course and learn how to find leads and drive sales with social media.
8. Partner with influencers
Word of mouth drives 20 to 50 percent of purchasing decisions. When you get people talking about your product or company on social media, you build brand awareness and credibility, and set yourself up for more sales.
One key way to drive social word of mouth is to partner with influencers—people who have a large following on social media and can draw the attention of that following to your brand.
Research from Nielsen, Carat, and YouTube shows that collaborating with an influencer can give your brand four times more lift in brand familiarity than collaborating with a celebrity.
Benefits of social media for content creation and distribution
9. Promote content
Promoting your content on social channels is a great way to get your smart, well-researched content in front of new people, proving your expertise and growing your audience.
For example, Adobe used LinkedIn Sponsored Content to showcase its research, including infographics and videos.
Marketing decisions-makers exposed to Adobe’s promoted content were 50 percent more likely to view Adobe as shaping the future of digital marketing and 79 percent more likely to agree that Adobe could help them optimize media spend.
To maximize the social media for business benefits, make sure to have a content marketing plan in place.
10. Go viral
As people start liking, commenting on, and sharing your social posts, your content is exposed to new audiences—their friends and followers. Going viral takes this concept one step further. As people share your content with their networks, and their networks follow suit, your content spreads across the internet, getting thousands or even millions of shares.
This exposure is especially beneficial because all those shares, likes, and comments show an existing connection with your brand. If I see that my friend likes your article, I may be inclined to check out what you have to say, even if I’ve never heard of your company before. In a world where there is far more content than any one person could ever consume, a friend’s social share acts as a kind of pre-screening.
Going viral is no easy task, of course, but without social media it would be next to impossible.
11. Source content
There are two key ways businesses can source content on social media:
- Source ideas: Ask your followers what they want, or engage in social listening, to come up with ideas for content you can create yourself. Put simply: Give people what they’re asking for. It’s a sure way to create content that people will want to read and share.
- Source material for posts: Create a contest or use a hashtag to source user-generated content (UGC) you can share. Getting your followers involved can build excitement about your brand while also providing you with a library of social posts to share over time.
Just how much content can you get through a UGC campaign? Check out the #wanderlustcontest hashtag from National Geographic, which has generated more than 60,000 posts.
Benefits of social media for communication
12. Reputation management
Your customers are already talking about you on social media, whether or not you’re there to respond. If you and your team are on the ball, you can pick up on important social posts about your brand to highlight the positive and address the negative before it turns into a major issue.
Is someone saying something about your business that’s not true? Be sure to share your side of the story in a polite, professional way. Someone singing your praises? Send them plenty of thanks and draw attention to their kind words.
13. Crisis communication
When a Philadelphia Starbucks store had two black men arrested, the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks went viral, and fast. The hashtag was used more than 100,000 times in just three days. That is officially a crisis.
Starbucks, to its credit, responded quickly.
We apologize to the two individuals and our customers for what took place at our Philadelphia store on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/suUsytXHks
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) April 14, 2018
After this first apology, the company followed up with several more statements on social media, and announced that it would close all of its stores for a day of racial-bias training. It remains to be seen what the long-term effects of this incident will be for the Starbucks brand, but the consequences would almost certainly been worse if the company had not responded quickly and appropriately on social media.
Does your company have a plan in place for dealing with a crisis? While smaller brands may not have a crisis blow up to such a large scale, a smaller number of shares can have a devastating impact within a tight-knit community or niche.
Silence is not an option when it comes to responding to crises on social media. Maintaining well-run and managed social accounts and having a plan in place can help make sure you’re present and ready to engage if the worst occurs.
14. Customer and audience engagement
Social networks give you the opportunity to interact directly with customers and fans, and likewise give them the chance to interact directly with your brand. Unlike traditional media, which offers only one-way communication, social media is a two-way street.
If you want customers and followers to be engaged, you have to be engaged yourself. Stay active and respond to comments and questions on your own social media posts in a way that’s appropriate to your brand.
— Postmates Support (@Postmates_Help) May 26, 2017
You can also use social media monitoring to keep an eye on what people are saying across the social web.
15. Customer service and customer support
People expect brands to be available on social media and seek out their social accounts for customer service. Research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that brands who don’t meeting those expectations damage their bottom line.
The HBR research, which specifically looks at Tweets, shows that customers who receive a response to their Tweet would be willing to spend more with the brand on a later purchase, especially if they get a response within five minutes. That holds true even when the initial Tweet was a flat-out complaint.
Benefits of social media for gaining insights
16. Monitor conversations that are relevant to your brand
We mentioned social media monitoring above as an important element of audience engagement. But it’s also important as a key source of intelligence about your brand, your competitors, and your niche.