Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, Quark, Technorati, Tumblr, SlideShare, Blip.tv, Flickr, Bebo, Ning, Zynga, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, WordPress, Reddit, Myspace, Okrut, Meetup, Eventbrite, hi5, Myspcace….is your head spinning yet? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Business owners keep getting told that they need to start engaging online. Advice most business owners have taken to heart according to  a Webs.com survey that says nearly 70 percent of small businesses now use some form of social media to promote their products (More info). I’m skeptical of this statistic, especially because most small business owners I have worked with still do not understand how to effectively use social media. Some have set up Facebook Pages, but haven’t actually posted anything since it was created. And some use the sites in detrimental ways to their image. Part of the reason I believe that small business owners are still feeling at a loss when it comes to social media is because they have no idea how and WHERE to direct their efforts. They’re told to join the online space, but not how to decide what platform will work best for them.

This is an issue I ran into a lot while working for the military; many of the unit level public relations offices wanted to do social media but they didn’t have enough resources or people to devote full-time to it. They would call in wondering how they could manage hitting the big 4 networks (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, & Youtube) that the headquarters levels used. I would have to work with them to pick one platform where they could concentrate their efforts that would give them the most benefit. Which is my key advice here: Concentrate on platforms that will give you the maximum  benefit only!

You know the big networks, but is your key audience really there? Most networks give out their demographics. For instance, Living Social & Groupon look similar but they cater to different audiences, and they’ll show you on their advertising pages how. Some demographics might be harder to find, but it’s worth it to your business to find the networks where niche interest groups exist. For instance, Tumblr has a huge arts and crafts community (I like to bake and paint so I’m always Tumbling). Tumblr also makes it easy to share infographics and photos, which is why The Economist features their cartoons and charts on the platform. The point is, Facebook might have half of the human planet on it, but it’s harder for niche interest groups to get found. These groups will be the difference between simple views on your site or walk-in’s at your location and sales. Views mean nothing if they don’t result in more sales in the long run.

Finding the right platform for your business will take research, but it will be worth it to your marketing efforts in the long run. If you’re looking for a place to start, The Top 100 Directory has a great list of 350 Niche Social Networking Sites. And remember just because you build an audience on one, doesn’t mean you won’t get attention on other networks. Most of your audience participates in more than one social network, so odds are they will share your posts and you will still be seen on the top social platforms. Let your customers spread the word, they’re best at it anyway.

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