Before investing time and resources in a social media platform, it is important to determine whether it is likely to host people who are interested in your work, products, and services. For example, while a vintage clothes seller might perform magnificently on Pinterest, an accountant would probably be wasting his time on the network (unless he specialized in creating cute and witty visual finance tips and infographics).
The following considerations may help you make a more educated decision by addressing:
- The demographics of social network users
- The demographics of people using specific platforms social networks
- The motivations and interests of people using different platforms and social networks
Looking at the Numbers
Pew Internet ran a survey near the end of 2012 that collected data on social network usage from 1,802 respondents.
The table to the right may help you better understand how relatively useful some of the world's top social media platforms may be to your business.
For example, while Tumblr might be very buzzed about as an important online destination, only 6% of those who responded to this survey use it. Perhaps this intel will make you think twice about setting up your token Tumblr profile.
Pew's report also reveals that people who use social networks in general are more likely to be:
- Living in urban areas
- Under 50
- Between the ages of 18 and 19
For more detail, stop by Pew's 2012 report: The State of Social Media Users.
Generally speaking, you are best off investing time in social networks if you have an urban target market, as people appear to use social media for news less and less the more rural they become.
Understanding Demographics of Top Sites' Communities
Google AdPlanner shows YouTube visitors to be:
- Slightly more likely to be male
- 28% of users are between 18 and 24
- 26% of users are between 25 and 34
- 19% of users are between 35 and 44
- 12% of users are between 45 and 54
- 8% of users are between 55 and 64
- 5% of users are over 65
And 53% of site visitors are male.
Pew's survey found Facebook to be very, very commonly used (with 67% of respondents saying they use the social network), with users that are somewhat more likely to be:
- Younger adults
Quantcast reveals that Facebook:
- Has more younger users than average online
- Has more hispanic and African American users than average online
The 2012 Pew Internet study found the growing body of Twitter users to be commonly:
- Under 50, and more likely to be between 18 and 29
- Urban, as opposed to suburban or rural
As with Facebook, Quantcast shows Twitter visitors to be:
- Comprised of more African American and hispanic users than average
- Comprised of more young users than average
Pew Internet's 2012 findings paint Pinterest users as being particularly:
- At higher income levels
- Between 18 and 39
The same study found Instagram users to be notably:
- Under 50
- Hispanic or African American, as opposed to white
In addition to being significantly less popular relative to other major social networks (only 6% of Pew's survey respondents use the service), Tumblr was found to have users that are more likely to be:
- Young (18 to 29)
Quantcast's profile of Tumblr reveals the site's audience to have higher than average levels of:
- Ethnic diversity
- Users with low income
- Users with college education
Understanding Motivations and Interests Associated with Specific Platforms
People come to different social media platforms with different agendas. Not every platform-related agenda will be relevant to your work or your target audience (or at least the state of mind in which your target audience must be if they are to be interested in your work).
By having a better understanding of why certain people are hanging out on different platforms, you can make a more educated decision as to whether your work would be relevant to someone browsing a particular network.
It also helps to understand specific interests that might held amongst those who visit a particular site. Google Ad Planner can be used to research these interests, however you need to have a Google Account to access it. Google Ad Planner's Audience Interests utilize affinity scores that indicate the likelihood of someone visiting other sites of a certain category (an affinity score of 4.3 means that a visitor to that site is 4.3 times more likely to visit a site related to a given audience interest).
Motivations for Using YouTube
- Find entertainment (both user generated and mainstream)
- Learn something new
- Find a tutorial to work through a solution
- Follow news
- Follow celebrities and vloggers
- Share videos
These motivations can be considered within the context of interests of YouTube users, as seen through Google Ad Planner's Audience Interests for the site (though keep in mind the affinity score for each interest is pretty low- something certainly to be expected by a site that has such a broad audience and range of uses).
If you are:
- An online entertainer
- A musician
- An actor
YouTube is well worth your attention.
Motivations for Using Facebook
- Connect with friends and family
- Keep track of friends and family
- "Spy" on people
Google Ad Planner's audience interest results for Facebook range from cosmetics to East Asian music and Toyotas and affinity scores are very low, suggesting there is no particularly strong interest theme (save self interest) that binds people on Facebook together.
Motivations for Using Twitter
- Follow current events
- Get updates from friends
- Share updates with friends
- Get updates from blogs, prominent news outlets, and celebrities
- Livetweet events
- Engage in tweetchats
Motivations for Using Pinterest
- Find inspiration
- Get ideas for personal projects
Google Ad Planner's audience interests pictured to the right reinforce common motivations to use the site. If your work is designed to target people with these interests; if, for example, you are:
- A recipe blogger
- A food producer
- A wedding planner or professional
- Someone who sells crafting supplies
- A fashion blogger
- A makeup artist
- A home improvement blogger or expert
- An interior designer or decorator
Pinterest is well worth heeding.
Motivations for Using Reddit
- Find entertainment
- Learn something new
- Keep tabs on breaking news
- Keep tabs on various subcultures
- Engage in discourse with others sharing a common interest
- Keep tabs on major discussions held within the online community
- Keep tabs on various subcultures
- Follow favorite bloggers and artists
- Interact with various bloggers and artists
- Publish original content (images, quotes, recordings, videos, etc.)
- Share one's favorite work, thoughts, and personal taste (through curated reblogging)
Motivations for Using Instagram
- Share stylized images
- Comment on friends' images
- Peruse a visual feed of friends' lives
Motivations for Using Etsy
- Buy handmade or vintage goods
- Sell handmade or vintage goods
- Engage in some recreational window shopping
- Buy gifts
Motivations for Using DeviantART
- Showcase personal art
- Browse others' art
- Find inspiration
The niche nature of DeviantART is reflected in the site's audience interests in Google Ad Planner. People interested in DeviantART tend to also have interest in art in general, plus online fan cultures.
DeviantART users' interest in fan culture seems to be (at least according to Ad Planner results) much higher than that of general Tumblr users, suggesting that this site may be a more efficient platform for those targeting people interested in fan culture, fan fiction, and fan art.
A Word of Caution
Just because a website harbors your target demographic does not mean that you should invest a great deal of time and resources in it.
It is important to consider how potential followers/customers/clients/fans would like to interact with you, your work, or your business. In some cases, your customers may not want to interact with you via social media at all (e.g. If you run an electronics repair business, customers probably just want you to fix their broken electronics when they break and otherwise leave you alone).
It is also important to track your performance on a social network and determine whether or not your presence and engagement is producing concrete results. If your goal is to drive sales of a product and your efforts on Twitter are not moving the needle, you probably should not invest very much time in it. For more on selecting marketing tactics that actually produce results, see our interview with serial entrepreneur Stever Robbins.