Get the low-down on how each of the major social channels can be used to your advantage (or not)

It’s been a big year for social media, with plenty of ups and downs for the giants in the field, and a few newcomers becoming household names. It can be a bit of a headache just keeping track of it all, to say nothing of constructing a social media strategy. So here’s a quick rundown of the most popular social sites: who’s up and who’s down, but also what each set of readers is likely to be looking for, and what you can do to make each service work for you.

For our purposes, the social media world can be clustered into three groups: the social superstars that are popular right now, the up-and-comers and alternatives who have found a space on the fringe, and the also-rans that either haven’t quite caught on or had their best days several years ago. But remember that each service has its own features and a slightly different audience, and a less popular service might have something to offer that its competitors can’t match.

Popular Now

Facebook collected its one-billionth active user in September, so it makes sense to start here; if your customers are using social media at all, they probably have a Facebook account. The company faced tough questions this year about its efforts to promote advertising through the social network, but even here they have advanced farther than most of their competitors. With its direct support for business accounts, Facebook remains a simple and powerful tool for reaching an audience that, for the most part, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. (hint: get 35 “Likes” as quickly as you can so that you can reserve your vanity URL.)

Google+ still has only a fraction of Facebook’s user numbers, but it’s built to leverage the infrastructure that Google has been building for years. One of its biggest draws has become Hangouts, which have grown from a venue for simple video chats to include presentations, live talk shows, and more.

Businesses that depend on person-to-person relationships with other professionals have a lot to gain from leveraging LinkedIn’s service.

The leading professional network is having a good year as well. LinkedIn now boasts 25 million profile views per day, a stat that highlights the site’s biggest feature. A revamped design for its profile pages launched in October, offering a cleaner, more sophisticated interface to help users connect. Businesses that depend on person-to-person relationships with other professionals have a lot to gain from leveraging this service.

For years a genuine cultural phenomenon, YouTube has solidified its place as a professional tool. Entertainers and whole media companies have emerged using YouTube as a distribution channel for media, and businesses can use YouTube channels to present videos ranging from product demonstrations to commercials.

Twitter is easily the simplest of the popular services, but it benefits from the philosophy of doing one thing very well: with more than half a billion active users, it’s a great way to get into direct conversation with your target audience, spread news quickly, and see what customers are saying about your company and industry.

As the king of social news, Reddit has emerged as a cultural force, and its system of user up- or down-votes offers a simple way to gauge a topic’s popularity. With its user-generated nature, Reddit makes sense for businesses that want a strong connection to online culture.

On the Fringe

Specialization was the key for Pinterest as well. The photo-sharing site broke the 10-million user threshold faster than any other, and it’s become notable for its overwhelmingly female user base in the U.S. It remains a relatively new service and its user base is still settling, but for businesses with a lot of visually oriented material it can be a worthwhile investment.

Foursquare may have cooled off a bit from its headier years of 2010 and 2011, but it still includes more than 20 million users and launched a major redesign of its mobile app in June. It’s still a strong resources for location-based businesses.

StumbleUpon feels like a perennial also-ran, but its user base has more than doubled in the last two years, reaching 25 million in June. Like Pinterest, its users are mostly female, and having been around for a decade lets it offer a robust set of features that newer services haven’t built yet.

Getting Stale

MySpace was sent to pop-culture Siberia years ago, and for good reason: it currently ranks 193rd in global web traffic. But it’s not quite dead yet, either. The site recorded 25 million unique visitors in June, and it’s developed an identity as a social entertainment site, particularly for professional musicians.

Digg went back to basics after a three-part sale in June, and now offers a slick, news-driven front page and stronger social media integration. Like StumbleUpon, its history gives it a lot of tools that can be useful if its users come back, but it still has to prove it can make that happen.


ErikErik Owomoyela is a social media consultant and content contributor for AEI.