There are a ton of social media sites and services out there. Nearly every major network has a handful of tiny competitors, who all hope that they can attract even a small percentage of the unique visitors checking out their behemoth counterparts. Understandably, this can create some confusion for new businesses. Which networks should you focus on? Do you need to have a profile on every single one? Or can you just hit the big guys and skip the little ones? Well the answers aren’t a simple yes or no, but there are some questions you can ask yourself to help figure out where you should focus your resources, and who you can ignore.

1. What is the size of the service?

This one is pretty darn important – after all, if no one is using a website then it isn’t worth your time. But there are some services that sort of fall in a grey area – an odd limbo-esque state wherein there is a sizable, core group of users but not much interaction outside of them. Google+, for example, is one of those sites. You should always make a profile for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Those are the major players in the social media world, and are where most of your customers are going to be. Then start to look at the smaller guys. Google+ enjoys a very large core group of tech aficionados so if you’re a tech company, you should be on Google+. But if you don’t see much of your target audience on the smaller sites, then feel free to ignore them. You should cast as wide a net as possible when it comes to social media, but sometimes it’s just impossible for new businesses to devote that much time and effort when first starting out.

2. Why am I using this site?

A pretty basic question. Why are you devoting your time and energy to this particular social media site? Is it to get people to read the articles you put on other outlets? If so, you should consider looking into services like StumbleUpon and, as long as your articles weren’t only written to sell something, Reddit. StumbleUpon is a little bit more relaxed and simply guides traffic to any articles filed under a particular broad heading, like business or sales. Reddit is trickier, and requires that the user-base positively reacts to your submission. If they don’t, no one will read anything you submit.

But maybe you aren’t writing anything for anybody, you just want a place that customers can find and follow. In that case, stick with Facebook and Twitter. Keep in mind, though, that you have to give your customers a reason to follow you. Typically that reason is pretty basic and doesn’t change from the time-tested formula of ‘If I follow them, they will give me discounts’ but it’s up to you to figure out if you want to expand your profiles beyond being another source of coupons.

3. Can I honestly maintain this outlet?

This question is key. There is nothing more damning to a potential customer than an outlet that hasn’t been updated in three months. Going off of your Twitter account alone, they may even wonder if you’re still in business! You need to be able to dedicate at least an hour a day to updating all of your social media outlets – especially for services like Twitter that expect constant updates. Anything less and you’ll be doing more harm than good. And remember that your updates shouldn’t just be a constant stream of updates and tweets that essentially say ‘Buy stuff from me because I’m the best!’ Like we said above, you have to give your followers a reason to follow you. Post news about your industry, updates from the office, pictures of cats (if you think that they are appropriate). And never forget to talk with your followers – social media is about opening channels of communication, giving your customers a bit more of that all-too important human element.

Starting and maintaining a presence with social media sites is more complicated than people think. It requires an enormous amount of creativity to keep from stagnating, and it is very easy to put off updating your feeds to focus on things you consider more important. If you don’t think you have the time to update eight different sites every couple of hours, that’s fine – you just need to remember to pick the ones that both fit your needs, and that you enjoy using. Social media shouldn’t be a chore, so don’t get in over your head and just start out with whatever you think you can handle. You can always sign up for more accounts later!

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