It’s hard to believe that Face­book will be ten years old this Feb­ru­ary and yet social media still seems new to many of us. Brands are strug­gling as much as they ever have done to under­stand what to do with it, and which net­works actu­ally have any real value. I noticed a num­ber of social chal­lenges that brands faced in 2013 but prob­a­bly the two most com­mon ques­tions I got asked were:

  1. Which social net­works should I focus on?
  2. How much of my time and resources should I allo­cate to each one?

The answers to these ques­tions are not as com­pli­cated as peo­ple often think, but nei­ther is there cor­rect answer to either of them. Many peo­ple have writ­ten blog posts sug­gest­ing that they have the answer — but rather than add my own opin­ions to that long list, I thought I’d just look at the data to see where the world seems to have been spend­ing it’s time over the last 12 years. (Info­graphic cre­ated in Adobe Pho­to­shop obviously!)…

 

Social Networks 2014

 

The fig­ures…

I’ve pur­posely focused here on the total num­ber of user pro­files for each net­work*. I did this purely for the sake of com­par­i­son (rather than daily / monthly active users), so before any­one bursts a blood ves­sel and calls me out in the com­ments, let’s save the messy debate around active v inac­tive fans for another time. All I want to do here is look at which social net­works peo­ple have cho­sen to join over the last decade or so.

 

The fig­ures them­selves high­light a cou­ple of inter­est­ing points that social media exec­u­tives often miss:

  • There are almost as many social pro­files just among these 21 net­works, as there are peo­ple in the world!
  • Many busi­ness peo­ple for­get that China has 3 of the world’s largest and most pow­er­ful social net­works. (Sina Weibo for exam­ple has the same mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion in China that Twit­ter does in the US).
  • Some of the Mid­dle East­ern brands I spoke to last year told me that YouTube was far more valu­able to their brand than either Twit­ter and Face­book, and they built their social strate­gies accordingly.
  • Many Span­ish brands have cho­sen to focus their efforts on the local net­work Tuenti instead of Facebook.
  • The old­est social net­work on the list Friend­ster, has a sur­pris­ingly large and active fan base (admit­tedly now with a dif­fer­ent pur­pose than it was cre­ated for).
  • Bebo is still going and plan­ning to be prop­erly re-launched again by orig­i­nal co-founder Michael Birch.
  • Google+ (the net­work we all like to poke fun at), has become the place for com­ment­ing on YouTube.
  • Mar­ket ana­lysts sug­gested in 2013 that Pin­ter­est (not even 4 years old), had dou­ble the click-through-rate of Twit­ter and drove 2x the aver­age order value of Face­book, even though it only has 5% of the user base.
  • Russ­ian net­work VK is big­ger than Insta­gram glob­ally with a mas­sive 228m reg­is­tered users.
  • SnapChat (hack­ing issues aside), 2013 saw more pho­tos dis­trib­uted on SnapChat (up to 400m each day) than there was on Facebook.
  • But… old-timer Orkut (the for­got­ten Brazil­ian net­work owned by Google) is still “big­ger” than the trendy new kid on the block SnapChat.

 

“All of this is very inter­est­ing, but just because these appear to be the world’s largest net­works, still doesn’t mean you should be pay­ing atten­tion to them…”

 

In truth, noone should be telling you where to spend your time, bud­get and resources other than your fans. Just because a great arti­cle on Mash­able might sug­gest that Pin­ter­est is smash­ing all sales records for brand X, doesn’t mean it will do the same for you. Insta­gram and Twit­ter have recently shown impres­sive returns for brands exper­i­ment­ing with adver­tis­ing, but it’s quite pos­si­ble that their audi­ences behave com­pletely dif­fer­ently than yours. It is for this rea­son that the social team at Adobe always encour­ages brands to focus only on their own audi­ences — and to become obsessed with under­stand­ing what they are inter­ested in, and how they behave.

 

I like to sim­plify this kind of audi­ence analy­sis (and con­ve­niently avoid­ing huge spread­sheets), by sug­gest­ing that brands should first look at just five key areas. I call them the “Five W’s”…

  1. Who is talk­ing about you?
  2. What are they saying?
  3. When did these con­ver­sa­tions take place?
  4. Where did these con­ver­sa­tions happen?
  5. Why did they happen?

It is the 4th (and pos­si­bly most impor­tant), “W” that I chose to focus on for this graphic. I’ve done this because I spent a lot of time in 2013 high­light­ing impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions to brands that they weren’t aware of — on net­works that they weren’t mon­i­tor­ing closely enough. It is for this rea­son that I encour­age every brand to exam­ine their fan base, and look at EVERY men­tion of their brand on a reg­u­lar basis, in order to under­stand which net­works mat­ter most to them. This kind of audi­ence analy­sis helps brands to make bet­ter busi­ness deci­sions by reveal­ing valu­able insights such as; Which coun­tries and lan­guages are the most rel­e­vant? What are the com­mon top­ics among each dif­fer­ent audi­ence seg­ment? What trends are devel­op­ing? Which con­ver­sa­tions drove the high­est engage­ment and which men­tions deliv­ered the most sales? (I wrote more about this in Adobe’s “Like-Cycle” white paper) ear­lier last year.

 

“It is only when you can see what per­cent­age of these con­ver­sa­tions are hap­pen­ing on each net­work, that you can allo­cate your time, resources and adver­tis­ing bud­gets effectively”.

 

An example of social platform analysis from Adobe Social

An exam­ple of social plat­form analy­sis from a dash­board within Adobe Social

 

Finally ~ Peo­ple Share Emo­tions Not Facts

My final point is sim­ply a friendly word of cau­tion… Social net­works are the one place where peo­ple share the things they are most pas­sion­ate about. Whether is is shar­ing an excit­ing piece of con­tent or respond­ing to some­thing provoca­tive, emo­tions drive behav­iour online. Seek­ing to con­nect with their audi­ence, I often see social mar­keters mak­ing deci­sions about con­tent or con­ver­sa­tion strate­gies, based around emo­tion rather than facts.

“Emo­tions drive social media, but they shouldn’t drive your strategy”.

What mar­keters need to be mind­ful of is that their emo­tions don’t cloud any deci­sions they make around their social strate­gies, or how they think they should reach their fans. By that I mean that a strat­egy (in any area of busi­ness not just social media), should never be based upon per­sonal opin­ion, bias or emo­tion. Suc­cess­ful strate­gies should be built upon inter­pret­ing accu­rate insight from your audi­ence — and not from any assump­tions or “gut feel­ings”. Only when you have that data at your dis­posal and you are able to under­stand it, should you go about cre­at­ing rel­e­vant and excit­ing con­tent for each social net­work. And the brands with the best under­stand­ing, will always have the most pas­sion­ate and engaged audiences.

 

* (I per­son­ally believe that email was social a long time before any of these. I also think of Skype, XBox Live, Playsta­tion Net­work or pow­er­ful mes­sag­ing app’s such as Japan’s Line as “social net­works”, but I’ve left them off here. Again thats a feisty dis­cus­sion for a dif­fer­ent time…)

** There are many social lis­ten­ing tools on the mar­ket which claim to help you track the value of social rela­tion­ships (we obvi­ously believe that Adobe Social is the best!). What is impor­tant for you, is to know which net­works your fans and cus­tomers care about — not just which social net­works you think are important.