Find out how you can use different types of social media platforms and formats to reach your digital marketing goals.
When you’re thinking about creating a social media strategy for your business, a few leading platforms probably come to mind right away: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and maybe YouTube or Pinterest, depending on your industry.
However, there are many types of social media sites out there, with new platforms and formats popping up on the regular. Some of them are pretty niche, while others have the potential to become the next Instagram or TikTok.
One thing that’s changed since the early days of social media is that many platforms used to focus on one function, such as social networking or image sharing. Now, most established social media platforms have expanded to incorporate live streaming, augmented reality, shopping, social audio, and more.
So, instead of giving you high level descriptions of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (you can find that anywhere!), we grouped a wide variety of platforms into nine general categories that focus on specific use cases and what businesses can accomplish by using them.
How to choose the best types of social media for your business
With the ever-growing number of social media platforms, it can be overwhelming to constantly wonder whether each of them is worth your time.
To avoid spending too much of your time learning the ropes of every new platform, let your social media marketing strategy guide your decisions, and only join the networks that support your goals.
Follow these three tips to build your own criteria that will help you evaluate any new social media platform, no matter what it is or how it works.
Know your audience
The first question you should ask before joining a new social media platform is: where is your audience?
It makes more sense to go where your audience is already hanging out than to join a new platform and attract your audience to it.
The second thing to understand is how your audience is using that platform. What type of content are they looking for? Which types of accounts do they follow? Are they passive consumers or content creators?
For detailed insights into how people use different social media platforms, dive into our State of Digital 2021 report.
Source: Digital 2021 report
Keep up to date with social media statistics
Whenever a new social media platform emerges, it’s essential to know the difference between a shiny new object and a fast-growing platform that has the potential to stick.
Although no one can tell the future, one way to know if a platform has staying power is to compare its statistics to established social media platforms.
If you’re not sure where to find recent stats, we’ve got you covered:
- Instagram Statistics
- Facebook Statistics
- Twitter Statistics
- YouTube Statistics
- Pinterest Statistics
- TikTok Statistics
Align to your key business goals
Ask yourself: which platforms match my business goals best?
For example, if one of your goals is to increase awareness about a new product or service that could benefit from video tutorials, you should focus on video-only platforms (like YouTube and Vimeo) or video formats available on the sites you’re already active on (like Instagram Stories and Reels, Facebook Live, etc.).
Types of social media platforms and formats you should know in 2021
1. Social audio platforms and formats
Examples: Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, Spotify
Used for: Listening to live conversations on specific topics.
How your business can use them: New social audio platforms (like Clubhouse) and formats (like Twitter Spaces) have thrived during COVID-19 lockdowns while people have been at home with more time to join live conversations.
The most significant advantage of audio social media platforms and formats is the high attention and engagement you’re likely to get from opt-in listeners.
Lively, engaging conversations can help you build your image as a leader in your niche and introduce your business or products to valuable audiences already interested in topics related to your niche (otherwise, they wouldn’t be tuning in).
Here are some thought starters for using audio social media platforms:
- Host industry panels.
- Broadcast news and big announcements.
- Host interactive sessions (such as AMAs) with your audience.
- Record interviews during a live Clubhouse/Twitter Spaces chat and upload them as a podcast (example: The Social Media Geekout show).
- Build your business’ thought leadership through a 30-60 minute show.
2. Video social media platforms and formats
Examples: YouTube, TikTok, Instagram Stories and Reels, Facebook Watch
Used for: Watching videos in short and long formats.
How your business can use them: Video social media platforms are great for capturing attention, driving brand awareness, and bringing products to life in a way that still photos can’t.
Any video content that you publish should be designed to entertain, educate, and/or inspire your audience. Videos made purely to sell aren’t going to engage viewers.
Some of the best examples of businesses using video social media platforms are:
- Ryanair on TikTok — highly entertaining, show a good understanding of the humor and nuances of TikTok users.
- Notion on YouTube — creates educational content that’s both helpful and inspiring for its users.
- Beautiful Destinations on Instagram Reels — provides travel inspiration through short, professionally shot clips.
3. Disappearing content formats
Examples: Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories, LinkedIn Stories
Used for: Sending ephemeral messages privately and publishing timely, in-the-moment content for all of your followers to view for up to 24 hours.What Type of Social Media Marketer Are You in Friends Characters?
It takes all types of social media marketers to make a team. Take our quiz to find out…Are you a Ross?
How your business can use them: Ephemeral formats like Stories are well-suited for posting timely content, such as announcements, limited edition items, or live events.
Most Stories and Snapchat content also feels more genuine and less polished due to the 24-hour shelf life. As such, it allows businesses to show a more human side.
Here are some ideas for how your business can use disappearing content:
- Polls, voting (using interactive Stories stickers)
- Teasers/countdowns to product launches
- Behind-the-scenes content
- Time-sensitive announcements
A great example is from one of my favorite local bakers, who posts their weekly specials on their Instagram Stories.
4. Discussion forums
Examples: Reddit, Quora
Used for: Asking and answering questions, networking, forming communities around niche- and interest-based topics.
How your business can use them: Be genuinely helpful to your customers by lending your business’ subject matter expertise and answering questions related to your industry. Bonus points if you can share information about your brand and products in your answers, but that shouldn’t be your primary goal of participating in discussion forums.
One thing to note: On Reddit, it’s highly frowned upon to insert any self-promotion into answers. If you’re posting as a business, make sure to answer the original question and only add links to your products if they’re genuinely helpful. Before posting in a subreddit, check the rules to verify if including links to your own business is allowed.
While Microsoft didn’t create the /r/XboxOne subreddit, once they saw how popular it was, they started engaging with Redditors by hosting AMA sessions with game developers.
5. Shoppable social media platforms and features
Examples: Pinterest Product Pins, Facebook Shops, Instagram Shops, TikTok, Shopify, Douyin, Taobao
Used for: Researching and purchasing products from brands directly through social media platforms.
How your business can use them: Take advantage of built-in mobile-friendly features to allow your audience to purchase from you without having to leave a social media app.
Features like Pinterest Product Pins, Instagram Shops, and TikTok’s in-app shopping allow you to connect your product catalog directly to your profile on each app.
Even if your followers don’t like to make purchases on social media platforms or have longer buyer journeys, shopping features can allow you to tag products, add additional product info and drive traffic to your website.
Some great ways to use shopping social media platforms:
- Limited edition drops, e.g., announcing an exclusive product launch on social media and linking or tagging the product via your product catalog
- Social selling
- E-commerce (many social media platforms have e-commerce integrations, such as Shopify, which you can access directly from your Hootsuite dashboard)
- Retargeting, e.g., creating custom audiences based on who has engaged with your Facebook/Instagram Shops
You can also host live shopping events on social media. Livestream shopping has become a huge market in China, encouraging platforms like Instagram to introduce Live Shopping.
6. Social media live streams
Examples: Twitch, YouTube, Instagram Live Rooms, Facebook Live, TikTok
Used for: Broadcasting live video to many viewers. Live video streams can range from one person showing themselves and what they’re doing on their screen to professionally organized panels with multiple speakers.
How your business can use them: Livestreaming’s popularity exploded during the pandemic when people were stuck at home during lockdowns with nothing to do.
However, you don’t need a global pandemic to get viewers to watch your live streams. There are many ways to make tune-in-worthy streams, from interviewing well-known guests through doing exclusive product reveals to hosting AMA sessions with your business executives.
Livestreams also offer the opportunity for users to interact live with the hosts, so it’s vital to monitor and engage with comments during the stream. Read more tips in our guide to social media live streaming.
When COVID-19 put Formula 1 races on hold during 2020, several drivers started streaming themselves playing driving simulators on Twitch, which became hugely popular with fans.
7. Business social media platforms
Examples: LinkedIn, Twitter
Used for: Connecting with professionals in your industry or potential clients.
How your business can use them: Business social media platforms offer many potential uses: recruiting and hiring talent, building B2B relationships, and connecting with professionals in your niche.
Platforms like LinkedIn are ideal for B2B purposes, because they allow brands to connect with new audiences, meeting them where they go to network and do business.
But LinkedIn is not the only business-forward social media site out there. Twitter offers businesses the chance to find relevant conversations, and add to them in meaningful ways. A great example of this is Adweek, which hosts a weekly chat for digital marketers called #AdweekChat.
There are also communities built around industry-specific hashtags on Twitter, like #MarketingTwitter and #FreelanceTwitter.
Pro tip: Set up a keyword-based column using your industry’s hashtag in Hootsuite to monitor for appropriate conversations to participate in.
8. Closed/private community social media platforms
Examples: Discourse, Slack, Facebook Groups
Used for: Creating communities, with the possibility of requiring registration or other screening measures for new members.
How your business can use them: Businesses can use private groups to bring members of their community together to bond over shared challenges, help answer each other’s questions, and feel a sense of professional belonging.
As the group admin, your business has the right to set rules about things like self-promotion. Many groups (especially on Facebook) require members to answer a few questions before joining to screen out spammers, but you can also use these fields to ask members to opt-in to your email marketing list.
A great example is the Instant Pot Facebook Group, started by the brand in 2015 and has grown to over 3 million members who love sharing recipes and product tips.
9. Inspirational social media platforms
Examples: Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, blogs
Used for: Searching for information and finding inspiration for anything from cooking to travel to decorating to shopping and more.
How your business can use them: Curate visuals and inspire your target audience with content tailored to their preferences, and weave in your own products where relevant. Use collections, playlists, tags, and guides to group your content and create themes that match your audience’s interests.
Inspirational social media platforms like Pinterest and YouTube are well-optimized for search, which means your posts should include keywords, hashtags, and images that align with what your audience usually searches for.
Travel bloggers often do a great job of optimizing their blog posts and YouTube videos for searches like “What to do in [Destination]” and “[Destination] Travel Guide.”
Source: Hungry Passport on YouTube
Whether you’re building a community or evaluating new platforms for your business to join, there are many types of social media you can use. Some are pretty much mandatory for any business, while others only make sense if they align with your specific niches or use cases.
Whatever your needs and goals, it’s a safe bet you’ll find a way to use social media to benefit your business.