Is your small business on social media yet? I’m sure you’ve heard of the great potential social media holds for marketing your company, so I won’t preach to the converted. Everyone knows about the 6 big players – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn – but trust me, not all of them are right for your small business.

It’s important to figure out where your audience lives online. If you’re a lawyer targeting divorced men in their 60s you might have trouble finding clients on Instagram. If you’re selling Pokemon shirts to preteens LinkedIn probably isn’t your go-to. But there are also practical restraints when choosing a platform. Some social channels require photography skills and visual resources, others need compelling copy to shine.

Choosing the right platform for your industry is critical. Read on to avoid tears, frustration, and a perpetual drain on your credit card.

1. Instagram

Monthly Users: 500 million
Who Should Use it: Designers, architects, food, fashion or any business with great visual content
Ideal Post Frequency: Once a day
Secret Weapons: Use Afterlight to create beautiful images, and Instagram’s Hyperlapse for time lapse videos

Instagram is a thriving social platform for the young, creative and trendy; 90% of its users are under 35. The key to success on Instagram is great visuals; so if you’re like me and don’t have pretty things to photograph there’s very little point (as a copywriter I spend all day on Google Docs – not the stuff compelling pictures are made of).

On the other hand, if you’re an architect or design agency keen to show off your creations and network with other young entrepreneurs, Instagram could be your holy grail. Check out these beautiful collections to see how it’s done:Architecture Instagrams of the Week, and 10 Inspiring Graphic Designers to Follow on Instagram.

To be successful you need to understand the weird world of hashtags; luckily there is a comprehensive guide to get you started. Hashtags can be supremely annoying or incredibly powerful depending on how you use them. Like all social platforms there’s a fair amount of strategy involved; and also a few lesser known hacks that can give you an advantage.

You’ll also need a decent quality smartphone to upload your pics, as Instagram isn’t desktop friendly. Some people have designed emulators to get around this but it’s not a recommended approach. So if you’re stuck in the 90s and using a Nokia brick phone it’s time for a serious upgrade.

Top Tip for Success: Instagram has its own, unique etiquette when it comes to likes – there’s an unspoken law of returning them. So liking and commenting on other people’s photos will quickly get you attention in return, meaning more people see your business.

2. LinkedIn

Monthly Users: 100 million
Who Should Use it: B2B companies & recruiters
Ideal Post Frequency: 4-5 times a week
Secret Weapons: Rapportive for Gmail automatically finds your contacts on LinkedIn

LinkedIn has over 400 million total users, but only 100 million monthly active users. Despite its relatively small size against the other social giants, it has still managed to carve out a niche as a powerful B2B marketing platform.

While person-to-person networking is still a critical component of LinkedIn,paid advertising is now possible in the form of sponsored content. LinkedIn is the perfect space for B2B advertising because people are in the right mindset to see your business articles, white papers or webinars. Everyone is on LinkedIn to market themselves professionally, which makes them more likely to reshare business related content. This is a stark contrast to personal platforms like Facebook; where corporate and B2B content can seem out-of-place, annoying and intrusive.

So if you’re B2B, LinkedIn should be a core component of your marketing strategy. Other businesses will struggle to market themselves on this platform – however you can still make good use of it for personal networking and recruiting skilled employees.

One last important point; don’t be a creeper! LinkedIn shares more information about your personal viewing habits than any other platform. If your ex-boyfriend is a paid user and you visit his page 10 times within an hour, he’ll quickly realise (not that I know from experience).

Top Tip for Success: Create some insightful presentations on SlideShare, which is owned by LinkedIn. SlideShare is growing rapidly and is highly indexed by Google – this platform is oozing potential for B2B marketers with compelling content to share.

3. Twitter

Monthly Users: 300 million
Who Should Use it: Everyone
Ideal Post Frequency: 4-8 tweets per day
Secret Weapons: Use HootSuite or TweetDeck to schedule & optimise your activity

Twitter burst onto the scene in 2006, and over ten years has grown into a revolutionary conversational platform. It allows your customers to communicate with you directly when they don’t feel like calling or emailing. These relationship building opportunities make Twitter valuable for almost any business – retailers, builders, architects, hospitality, creative agencies, B2B, you name it.

I strongly recommend that you engage with and respond to everyone who mentions you; it’s a great way to collect feedback and resolve customers’ issues. To drive real engagement you’ll also need to share valuable content. This means articles, blogs or videos that people actually want to talk about. Not all content needs to relate directly to your brand. A good guide is to aim for20% content about your business, and 80% miscellaneous content that your readers would enjoy (including reshares from third parties).

Twitter is also an excellent platform for promoting events and conferences. Create an event hashtag in advance to build buzz and excitement; and when the big day arrives encourage guests to tweet their photos and experiences under the same hashtag. RepCap have compiled some great advice; explaining the top 4 ways to leverage Twitter at your next event.

Tweeting itself can be a difficult art form due to the 140 character limit, but this is also part of its charm. I love Twitter because it’s a constant source of hilarity – an endless supply of short, punchy and witty observations on current events and trends. Brilliant tweets have plenty of potential to go viral.
Hubspot has compiled some pretty hilarious viral examples from big brands.

While you can achieve good results simply by being active and engaged, there are paid options for businesses who want to increase their reach. Twitter Advertising lets you create a Promoted Account, which means your business appears on the side to users with relevant interests. Promoted Tweets let you extend the reach of a particular status update, which is great for advertising special deals or events.

Top Tip for Success: Your business Twitter should be honest and transparent, the ‘voice’ of your company. While it’s tempting to schedule tonnes of content in advance, this is no substitute for human interaction – you should be responding to as many interactions as possible, every day. Stay informed on current events and react to those too.

4. Pinterest

Monthly Users: 100 million
Who Should Use it: Interior designers, retail, fashion & beauty, businesses targeting mothers or parents
Ideal Post Frequency: At least 5 pins a day, right up to 30
Secret Weapons: Use Buffer to schedule pins, and Pinvolveto sync with your Facebook

Personally I don’t have a Pinterest account because I’m an impulse buyer and my wallet would get punished. And this is why retailers love the platform! Pinterest users aren’t just looking for inspiration; most of them are ready to buy. A huge amount of referral traffic is driven by Pinterest, in fact they are the number 2 source of all social media traffic to Shopify stores. Think of Pinterest boards not just as collections of photos, but consumer wish-lists.

It’s important to note that Pinterest draws in a predominantly female audience (recent studies have suggested that around 81% of users are female). Statistics have also shown that Pinterest users are more likely to be mothers. So if your small business is targeting parents, Pinterest may be a wise option for you.

However, Pinterest is a tricky platform to navigate if your business isn’t well suited. You need a tonne of great visual material. If you’re a retailer of pretty products and have professional photos of them, Pinterest is a brilliant way to push people to your website or even straight to buying. It can also be good for photography and design studios who want to sell prints or drive their brand awareness. But if your creations don’t make attractive pins – you’re out of luck my friend.

Top Tip for Success: Make sure you include a price tag on your pinned products. Pins with prices get 36% more likes than those without, and are more likely to result in sales.

5. Google+

Monthly Users: 300 million
Who Should Use it: Small businesses who want to boost their SEO
Ideal Post Frequency: 1-5 times per day>
Secret Weapons: Use Circloscope to manage your circles & boost engagement

I always get strange looks when I mention Google+ as a social media channel. Often labelled a ghost town, Google+ is shrouded in a weird cloak of mystery and misinformation. The marketing world is still divided about whether it actually has any use. Some commentators have fervently prophesied its demise for years, but like the Mayan apocalypse it never seems to happen.

Despite its naysayers, Google+ is still chugging along and home to a small following of passionate, devoted users. Google+ allows you to create a community relevant to your passions, so it’s attractive to keen groups with a shared interest. For this reason it’s home to a number of cliques – including photography enthusiasts, gamers, IT nerds, cooking bloggers, political activists and motorcyclists.

To be honest, tapping into these communities is going to be a challenge for most small business owners. You’ll find it more practical to take advantage of Google+ for its moderate SEO perks. The URLs shared in public Google+ posts are crawled and indexed quickly (unlike Facebook and Twitter posts). This can help build your link equity and search ranking to some extent. In short, Google+ is a decent ally to have on your side in the SEO marketing battlefield – but don’t rely on it to win the war.

Top Tip for Success: If you have a quality website, try a regular pattern of posting on Google+ to boost your SEO ranking. Having said that, the future of Google+ is doubtful and its user base is declining, so taper your efforts accordingly.

6. Facebook

Monthly Users: 1.71 billion
Who Should Use it: Any business willing to pay
Ideal Post Frequency: 5-10 times per week
Secret Weapons: Use ShortStack to create stylish competitions & Perfect Audience for retargeting ads

The goliath of all social media, Facebook needs no introduction. It’s used regularly by a whopping 20% of the world’s entire population. Statistically speaking, that’s simply too gigantic to ignore. Like most people I check mine multiple times a day. Why? I don’t even know anymore. Call it a permanently ingrained compulsion.

But is Facebook right for your small business? Short answer: Yes. Virtually any company can flourish on Facebook if they’re willing to invest the time and cash. The “fun” B2C industries (e.g. entertainment and hospitality) have a natural advantage over others, but even the most dull B2B or professional service should be able to find their niche.

The beauty and power of Facebook lies in its extremely specific targeted advertising. You can zone in on users by location, demographics, interests, behaviours and connections. With Facebook’s Custom Audiences tool you can even target people based on their internet behaviour – showing them ads because they’ve visited your website recently, or downloaded your app.

With Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences you can select a certain group of users (this could be your existing community, people who like your brand, or people using your app or website) and let Facebook’s powerful algorithm build an audience of similar people to target.

The power of these targeting tools should not be underestimated. Until recently, techniques like retargeting were only available to large businesses and corporations. Now your small business can harness the same grunty technology – you just need to invest the time and funds.

Top Tip for Success: There’s no such thing as a free meal! If you want great results, you’ll have to pay – regardless of how brilliant your content strategy is. Invest in video creation if your budget allows as Facebook is increasingly favouring this type of content.