Common Social Media Platforms

What you’ll learn to do: Identify common social media platforms used by businesses

Facebook alone now has over two billion users. YouTube follows with 1.5 billion users, and Instagram has over 800 million. Figure 1 shows the relative size of these and other popular platforms.[1]

A pie chart depicting the Most Popular Social Networking Sites. The chart is broken into 9 categories. Facebook has 29.3 percent of the chart. YouTube has 25.3 percent of the chart. Instagram has 10.6 percent of the chart. Qzone has 7.5 percent of the chart. Weibo has 5 percent of the chart. Twitter has 4.5 percent of the chart. Reddit has 4.4 percent of the chart. Pinterest has 2.7 percent of the chart. Other accounts for 10.7 percent of the chart.

Figure 1. Monthly Active Users on Common Social Media Sites

Note the size of Chinese Weibo and Russian Qzone sites. Both are widely popular outside the US. If your business interests are global and focus on these countries, some attention should clearly be given to these as well.

Interestingly, Twitter lags in size at around 330 million global users. This may seem surprising, since it gets a lot of attention in the media, probably because of  Donald Trump’s notable Twitter habits and the many popular media feuds and tit-for-tat battles. Also interesting, Twitter use is actually decreasing in the United States. Seth Fiegerman for CNN describes the decline:[2]

Despite having the most powerful person in the world as a loyal user, Twitter (TWTR) failed to add any new monthly active users globally during the June [2017] quarter. Even worse, it’s now losing users in the U.S.

Twitter reported Thursday that its monthly user base in the U.S. declined to 68 million in the most recent quarter from 70 million in the previous quarter.

Its global user base was 328 million, unchanged from the prior quarter. Analysts had been expecting Twitter to add at least a few million users.

Despite any decline or controversy, Twitter clearly remains a global social media player, and certainly has business communication application. In the following pages, we will look at the most common or major social media platforms in some detail, and work through their respective pros and cons.

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the primary use of Facebook
  • Describe the primary use of Instagram
  • Describe the primary use of Twitter
  • Describe the primary use of YouTube

Facebook

Started in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world. With over two billion subscribers, Facebook has, arguably, every conceivable type of message and audience is within reach. However, it is important to note that younger generations are beginning to move away from Facebook, favoring platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat.

As is the case with all social media, Facebook primarily serves to connect people, which makes social media platforms ideal places for companies to connect with their customers in a way that feels personal.

Pampers

Everybody knows (or has heard) that having a baby is a lot of hard work, full of tough and unpleasant jobs such as changing diapers. However, babies are also pretty darn cute: just check out the social media feeds of any new parent. Instead of focusing on their product (diapers), Pampers instead focuses on the babies.

Screenshot of Pampers Facebook homepage.

Figure 2. Pampers Facebook page

In the “About” section of Facebook’s brand pages, Facebook provides stats on how responsive different brands are. You can see that Pampers uses Facebook as a place to engage with their customers and that they typically reply within a day (Figure 2). They also encourage engagement with their posts by inviting parents to share photos of themselves with their babies:

If you scroll through the Pampers Facebook page, you can see parents interacting and sharing stories of their children, which boosts Pampers’s reach without Pampers putting in work beyond that initial post.

Whether you belong to a multi-billion dollar global company or a smaller tech startup, Facebook is clearly useful for a variety of organizations. As you watch the following video, note how vlogger Amy Landino recommends starting a Facebook marketing campaign.

One of Facebook’s greatest tools is its ability to share posts from other social media sites: you can share YouTube videos, you can set up your Instagram account so your posts are automatically cross-posted to Facebook, and you can link to any other site on the internet.

Learn More

Check out this article, 8 companies doing social media right and what marketers can learn from them, on Marketing Land’s website to see, as the title of the articles says, some companies who are doing social media right. In particular, check out the profile on Staples’s use of Facebook.

There are, of course, downsides to using Facebook. As we mentioned earlier, younger individuals tend to skew away from Facebook, so you might not reach them on this platform. Additionally, many people have liked so many pages and have so many friends that your brand’s posts may get lost in their news feed. Perhaps most critically, there have been recent concerns over Facebook’s misuse of data as well as its data security, so it’s possible the platform will make changes or that users may shift away.

Practice Question

When considering Facebook for your business communications, you should consider the above parameters and adjust your approach accordingly. It’s probably worth arguing that your company should be on Facebook to some degree, but depending on your target market, and how you like to communicate, other venues might be better options. Also, as we mentioned, you can integrate other social media, especially YouTube and Twitter, into your Facebook efforts. In this sense, Facebook may be a hub for your social media activity, even if it’s not where most of your customers can be found.

Table 2. Pros and Cons of Facebook as a Social Media Platform
Pros Cons
Massive audience Concerns over misuse of data
Mature ad and messaging options Younger demographics can find it passé
Various features and methods to create and disseminate communications So much messaging may hide/weaken the uniqueness of your message

Instagram

Instagram entered the collective consciousness in 2010, bringing with it the application of filters to smartphone photographs. As smartphone use has grown, Instagram has seen its membership skyrocket and its company success take off, ultimately leading to their purchase by Facebook in 2012. That’s right, the third most popular social media platform for business use is owned by the number one platform.

Instagram allows people to take their ordinary smartphone photos and turn them into nostalgic or other-worldly looking high quality images.

Domino’s Pizza

Even something as simple as a Domino’s Pizza can look extraordinary on Instagram! As you look at the company’s profile, you can pick out a few “best practices” for Instagram posting:

  1. Try to post only once a day
  2. Use relevant hashtags to make your posts easy to find
  3. Invite people to comment in your captions

While businesses certainly use Instagram, the top users of Instagram tend to be individuals interested in creating a personal brand. The notion of a “personal brand” is a relatively new idea, augmented and now fully embedded into mass marketing by tools like Instagram. Here are the users of Instagram with the most followers according to Social Blade. Note the relationship here between celebrity and overall marketing.

The link between celebrity and advertising has been around a long time—just check out the ad in Figure 3 from 1915. Today’s version of this is a Kardashian or The Rock hashtagging a product or posting a picture of themselves with a product. While consumers are well aware of celebrity endorsements, these product recommendations can seem more genuine coming from someone’s Instagram account than if the celebrity is featured on a brand’s own Instagram account.

A newspaper Coca-Cola ad from 1915 with an illustration of a man in a baseball cap and the the heading reading "'Cozy' Dolan Drinks Coca-Cola.

Figure 3. A 1915 Newspaper Coca-Cola ad from the Morning Oregonian. Even over a century ago, celebrity endorsements were used to sell products.

Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez’s account has over 130 million followers. In the following article, note the controversy surrounding her taking a picture of herself drinking a Coke.

If you decide to use Instagram, the following video details its basic functions. Note the integration with Facebook given Facebook’s ownership of Instagram.

Practice Question

When assessing the usefulness of Instagram, you should keep the pros and cons listed in Table 3 in mind:

Table 3. Pros and Cons of Instagram as a Social Media Platform
Pros Cons
Ability to create multiple topic-based accounts Image-based content can limit the type of message communicated
Excellent and easy integration with Facebook Tends to attract a younger user base
Great design Changing algorithms can change how often you should post

Twitter

For the ability to quickly and concisely reach an audience, Twitter is arguably the best social media option, perhaps even better than Facebook. While Twitter started with very limited features—essentially just the ability to post a 140-character message—it has grown as a platform as its use demanded more features. Messages are still limited in length (now 280 characters instead of the 140), but there are ways to get around this limitation, including the use of threads (which string multiple tweets together) and moments (which allow you to connect tweets together after they’ve been posted). Additionally, you can include images and videos in your tweets, which allows for a much wider variety in the messages you can communicate via Twitter.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways has a Twitter presence that finds its niche between a corporate brand and a personal presence. If you scroll through JetBlue’s Twitter feed, you’ll find promotions for their events and sales. Perhaps JetBlue’s biggest strength is their consistent and professional tone across all of their tweets.

Not only does JetBlue have a consistent tone across their tweets, but they also have consistent (and on-brand) color palette. As we discussed in Module 5: Visual Media, consistent coloring can make your company presence and messaging more stable and recognizable. As you may have guessed, JetBlue has chosen blue as their primary color. As you scroll through their Twitter feed, you can see that almost every image has a predominantly blue color scheme.

Perhaps Twitter’s largest strength is the way it allows users to quickly and concisely reach their audience. Despite the increase to 280 characters, tweets are still limited in their length and encourage users to send a focused message.

While the use of hashtags has transferred over to other social media platforms (primarily Instagram), hashtagging originated on Twitter, and it represents one of its key contributions to the social media world. By tagging your posts, you increase your potential audience because even individuals who don’t follow you directly can follow the hashtag and see your tweet within it.

As is the case with Instagram, much of Twitter consists of personal accounts where people can accumulate several thousand—or even a million or more—followers. Despite the massive personal use of Twitter, the platform was originally created as a business tool. Thus, it’s no surprise that companies also use Twitter. The largest organizational (non-individual) following is, ironically, YouTube, which uses its account to generate traffic back to YouTube. Twitter’s own account, @twitter, is the second largest account, and CNN is third. Out of the top 20 accounts, these are the only three non-individual accounts. In many ways, Twitter and Instagram are similar: most content is simple promotional messaging designed to drive interest in a particular personal brand.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to use Twitter, you can check out this Twitter onboarding guide on Wired. Perhaps the most important thing called out in the article is the importance of building a community. While making one’s own tweets is probably the core activity on Twitter, following, retweeting, and hashtagging already-developed streams and ideas are equally important. For your business use, you should support and call out others’ content as often as you post your own. This demonstrates support and balance and shows a genuine contribution to a body of ideas or streams of thought.

Learn More

Check out this article from Lifewire, Retweet With a Comment on Twitter, which encourages manual retweeting, as doing so allows you to add your own content and voice while passing along the material of the original tweet.

When assessing the usefulness of Twitter, you should keep the pros and cons listed in Table 4 in mind:

Table 4. Pros and Cons of Twitter as a Social Media Platform
Pros Cons
Simple and easy to use Largely centered on personal brand promotion
Relatively large usage More manual work to integrate with other social media platforms
Ability to link by theme with hashtags Has so much content your message may get lost

Practice Question

YouTube

Google purchased YouTube in 2005, and since then, it has grown to be the second largest social media platform (in terms of regular users). Interestingly, the line between Facebook and YouTube is often blurred, despite the fact that they are owned and operated by separate entities. Many people use both platforms and link content between the two. Much of Facebook’s content consists of posted videos embedded or linked from YouTube.

While we may broadly consider YouTube to be the second largest social media platform, it operates in a fundamentally different way from most social media platforms. It does not necessarily directly compete with Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram since these platforms have many features focused on messaging, whereas YouTube focuses on uploaded videos, usually limited in length, and comments on said videos. Because of this, it’s usually best to cross-post your videos from YouTube on a different platform and start discussions and conversations on other platforms (e.g., Facebook or Twitter).

Most videos on YouTube are around 5–10 minutes long, with a default limit at 15 minutes; however, you can increase this limit by verifying your account. YouTube users may comment on videos and exchange links to other content elsewhere on the web. Additionally, users may create channels and “areas” of content ascribed to certain brands or authorship. In this sense, YouTube is an excellent way to grow a brand essentially for free.

REI

REI, an outdoor recreation retailer, uses YouTube to great effect. On the home tab of REI’s YouTube channel (Figure 4), they provide a link to shop at their store, as well as links to their other social media presences. Additionally, they have featured videos, highlighting their promoted videos.

Figure 4. REI’s Home on YouTube

As you look through their video library, you can see that they have several categories of videos, including REI Presents, REI Camping Recipes, REI: Trailheads, and REI. They use these different channels to appeal to people with different interests within their outdoor niche.

They specifically use their REI Presents videos to tell stories of people who have accomplished outdoor feats and to inspire others.

Using YouTube

The following video (on YouTube!), discusses how to place videos on YouTube. Note the author’s emphasis on how describing and placing the video will help grow its audience and overall viewership.

YouTube is an excellent platform to place content, but it arguably is not a good choice for creating discussions around the content. In this way, Facebook—or another sharing platform—should be combined with YouTube. You can embed YouTube videos directly into your website as well, which optimizes YouTube’s versatility. However, another thing to keep in mind is that, like Facebook, Google harvests data from its users and sells it to advertisers and other marketing firms.

When assessing the usefulness of YouTube, you should keep the pros and cons listed in Table 5 in mind:

Table 5. Pros and Cons of YouTube as a Social Media Platform
Pros Cons
Ease of use Data capturing and privacy concerns
Integration with other social media and websites Sheer size and volume of content requires careful placement
Massive audience Creating videos requires unique skill and tools when compared to business writing

Practice Question


  1. Kallas, Priit. "Top 15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites and Apps [July 2018]." Dreamgrow. July 3 2018. Web. July 10 2018.
  2. Fiegerman, Seth. "Twitter is now losing users in the U.S." CNN Tech. July 27 2017. Web. July 10 2018.