Choosing your social network

Decide what you want to achieve through social networking before you plump for a platform, says Katie Moffat

This article first appeared in issue 230 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

A universal problem for anyone using social media to build their profile or raise awareness of a product or service is deciding where to focus their efforts. People tend to start with the most well known, i.e. Facebook or Twitter, or they set up profiles on lots of different platforms and then struggle to keep them updated. This is what I would call a ‘tools first’ approach and it should be avoided if you want to get the best out of your social media activity.

There are two problems with this approach. First, you’re making an assumption that your target audience is actually using the platform. And second, if you are working with a small team, or on your own, it’s going to be a struggle to keep all of your profiles and pages effectively updated.

Before you do anything, start with your objectives; what are you trying to achieve? Do you want to drive traffic to your site? If so, which page do you want to drive them to? Or maybe you want to use social media to help drive new business enquiries or to position yourself as an expert in a particular subject.

Being clear on what you’re trying to achieve will make it much more likely that you will be successful. You should then spend some time defining your target audience by doing research into where, online, is the best place to reach them. Once you’ve taken these steps, it may be clear that in terms of reaching your target audience and achieving your goals, having a Facebook page, for example, is not necessarily the best use of your resource.

The most usual malfunctions in social media aren’t the high-profile fails, where an intern tweets something inappropriate, or a company does something wrong and finds itself trending on Twitter. Much more common are the times a company or individual sets sail into the world of social media, with the idea of setting the world alight, only to return home with a bruised ego after failing to register on anyone’s radar. A bit of work before you set off will make all the difference.