With many social media options, small businesses need focus

When Snapchat went public this year, it was a reminder to many small business owners that they need to be part of the social media evolution. But which network? Snapchat? Facebook? Instagram? All of the above?

Many owners opt for a mix, picking services that will be the best marketing tools for their companies.

"Each channel is used in different ways, and should be used in different ways. There's no 'one size fits all,'" says Michelle Vroom, whose eponymous public relations company in the Philadelphia suburb of Horsham advises small businesses on how to use social media.

Instagram and Snapchat, for example, have more young users. LinkedIn, for many people, is a tool for professional networking and job searches. The majority of users on Pinterest are women, while Tumblr appeals to social bloggers. There are also channels focused on specific industries, such as Architizer for architects and Glozal for real estate.

Owners shouldn't think in terms of this service or that one, but look at all the options to develop a strategy, experts say.

"They need to think about where their audiences are, what they are reading, what they are doing," says Kenneth Hitchner, public relations and social media director for Creative Marketing Alliance, which is based in Princeton Junction, New Jersey. "If you are marketing to seniors, you're not going to be using the latest social media app like Snapchat because the audience isn't there — just like if you are marketing to teens you probably aren't going to use something like LinkedIn."

White Rabbit New York, an online lingerie retailer, uses Instagram to reach customers in their 20s and 30s. Co-owner Mariana Hernandez finds that those shoppers, when they hear about a brand, want to look it up on Instagram. Once they've bought from the company, they also visit its Facebook page, where there are stories, event announcements and other posts.

The New York-based company also uses Pinterest, where users "pin" links to items for reference or for their friends to see. Hernandez continually experiments with different kinds of pictures, videos and content to keep up with the changing tastes of social media users.

"There's a lot of trial and error, seeing what sort of content works on each site," Hernandez says. "We try to stay connected to other startups to see what's working for them."

That kind of experimenting is what draws studioSPACEnyc to Instagram and Snapchat. The company, which creates art installations using nylon string, lights, images and videos, posts about its work on social media and sees the reaction — in effect test-marketing the art it sells to companies and organizations.

Prospective customers are more likely to see the company's work on social media, founder Jacob Fisher says. Like other business owners, he uses the data provided by the platforms that show how many visitors his posts get to judge whether the outlet is effective.

"If we look at the analytics of the website and how many people view my Instagram account, we'll see 200 a day on Instagram and 15 on my website," Fisher says.

Facebook is the most widely used social media service, with a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center finding that nearly 80 percent of adults who use the internet are on Facebook. Thirty-two percent use Instagram, 31 percent are Pinterest users, 29 percent are on LinkedIn and 24 percent use Twitter.

The differences among the services go into an owner's social media strategy. Facebook posts are available for years, while some Instagram posts disappear after 24 hours. Companies that use video in their marketing have many options. While YouTube was the online video pioneer, the most popular services also have video capabilities. Twitter is used by companies not just for advertising, but to break news about their products and services.

Abhi Golhar likes Snapchat for its feature allowing users to put dog faces on photos — an irreverent add-on that appeals to his sense of fun as he promotes his real estate investment business.

"It gives you the ability to be you," says Golhar, owner of Real Estate Deal Talk in Atlanta. "I'm a crazy, goofy guy and I'm answering questions for investors."

He also uses LinkedIn to reach people who focus on specific topics like real estate investing, and he likes Instagram because it includes hashtags that he can use to start online conversations.

What a company sells can also affect its choices. Consumer products and services that can be beautifully photographed are perfect for Instagram and Snapchat, where images and videos are the main draw. Facebook is set up more so users can click on links that will take them to websites where they can browse or order merchandise.

Jon Leonoudakis uses four different platforms as he advertises "The Sweet Spot," a streaming series about baseball. He uses Facebook because of its 234 million users in the U.S. and Canada, Twitter because he can do quick tweets aimed at people who are baseball fans and Instagram because it has more younger users. Leonoudakis writes longer posts detailing his project on LinkedIn.

Besides being a great advertising tool, social media also gives Leonoudakis' project credibility with streaming services that he wants to sell his series to.

"They ask, 'what are you doing to promote yourselves?'" Leonoudakis says. "When they see we're on social media they know we're in the ebb and flow of the business."

Many companies that don't believe social media can help them grow nonetheless make sure they have a presence on at least one channel.

MemberSuite, which makes software for organizations like trade and industry groups, posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn although social media doesn't necessarily help it get new customers, CEO Andrew Ryan says. Its news and blog items increase awareness about the Atlanta-based company, and also help it maintain its reputation.

"What (social media) does is give us a sense of credibility and gives our customers confidence in us," Ryan says.


Follow Joyce Rosenberg at www.twitter.com/JoyceMRosenberg. Her work can be found here: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/joyce-m-rosenberg