Social media channels (also known as ‘social media platforms’) can be a great asset to any business. They work in real-time, directly connecting brands with their audiences while removing many of the traditional barriers to advertising. When used properly, social media channels can be a great brand-building tool as well as an interactive customer service channel.
When we talk about ‘social media’, we often refer to the wider ecosystem of channels — not any single platform. ‘Channel’ refers to the stream of data flowing from creators to followers; this is a common characteristic of almost all social media platforms.
If you were born after the millennium, you can be forgiven for assuming that social media has been around forever. It permeates almost all sections of society in one shape or form, however, most of these channels have only really existed for around 20 years.
It all began when simple online communities and groups started to form. This process began in the late 1990s when the internet became more accessible — and it is their communities that can be credited as the birthplace of social media. Online forums such as MSN and Yahoo chatrooms allowed users to share ideas about a variety of topics — information that was largely unavailable through mainstream media. As closed communities began to form en masse, it quickly became clear there were opportunities to standardise the technology behind them.
From here, many early social media platforms such as MySpace and Facebook started to emerge, which allowed people to create an account and privately connect with their friends. The ability for users to build profiles within these social networks was a critical change as it allowed brands, especially those working in the entertainment sector, a way of engaging directly with customers.
These early channels were limited in their use as they each required a computer and internet connection. As technology and user behaviour evolved, so too did the multitude of social media channels. Mobile phones were the next step in this evolution, acting as a catalyst for social media adoption by providing users with greater access to these channels. This was a critical moment for early adopters of ‘branded channels’, as they now had the ability to connect directly with their audiences (and vice versa), regardless of time, location or age.
Today, there are hundreds of social media channels, each with its own core audience, behavioural traits and media type. For example, Instagram and Pinterest are popular tools for highly visual brands, while TikTok and Snapchat are more appropriate for brands aimed at younger users. The type of content used on each platform should be tailored as the days of a ‘one-size fits all’ social media are long gone. While campaigns can be channel-neutral, we always advise that brands select their channels carefully and take time to create appropriate content.
There is a huge choice of social media channels available, each one specialising in its own type of content. A brand’s approach to social will depend on what kind of audience it is trying to reach — and its overall business goals. Branded social media channels such as Facebook for Business offers a huge range of data and marketing tools. These are particularly useful for brands looking to run multiple campaigns.
As we touched upon in our opening statement, some social media channels can also be useful customer service tools. Channels like Instagram allow direct conversations (as well as public), meaning followers can interact directly with businesses. They are also valuable when publishing service updates. For example, many transport companies like Transport for London use Twitter to broadcast line closures, delays and suspensions. This effectively gets urgent content to interested parties quickly — often before a member of staff can physically be there to share the same information.
Branded social media channels are also considered to be essential brand-building tools. Without an appropriate presence in this space, customers and clients may question the credibility of a company — this also goes for businesses that have some channels but neglect to update them regularly. Our position on this is that it is better to at least have a minimal presence that is carefully curated, as it allows users to find out more and potentially be signposted elsewhere (to a company website, for example).
Recent examples of social media design include Halley Stevensons, The Feather Company, Back Onside and Max McCance.
We understand that it can be difficult to choose between the various platforms. To make this decision a little easier, we ask clients ‘what are you looking to achieve?’. This may translate to more sales, increasing brand exposure in a certain area or creating a buzz around a new product launch. Another common answer is to generate more leads — this is particularly important for businesses looking to sell a service.
We also recommend that careful consideration is given to each of a brands’ ideal customer types, their behaviours and interests. While these audience profiles can vary greatly, it is important to remember that for every niche group or demographic, there are probably two or three channels perfectly placed to serve that audience.
Target audience identification can be as simple as drawing down data from a website or by looking at customer analytics, however, we recommend that some qualitative market research is undertaken to ensure this gives an honest view. Similarly, it can be easy to wrongly assume a target behaves in a certain way and will therefore resonate with a specific channel. User behaviours evolve and change all the time, and channels fall in and out of popularity relatively quickly. To stay ahead of this, we again recommend that appropriate user research is considered before investing time and money into building a channel.
Brand alignment is also essential. While every business has a right to launch a channel, it is always worth considering how a platform might align with your brand, its values and content. For example, if a business working in financial services decided to invest time and money in a TikTok channel, it would likely need to serve a very specific purpose — even if a good portion of your target audience is already there. This can also be of huge benefit, of course. Social media can be a powerful tool in changing perceptions of a business… but we recommend treading carefully.
As mentioned above, every channel has its strengths and weaknesses and that includes the type of content it handles. As a UK-based business, we tend to specialise in the platforms that have the greatest impact on the UK, European and North American brands. These include:
Perhaps the most well-known social media channel, Facebook is the second largest company in the world, boasting over two billion active monthly users. A large portion of these are businesses and brands — and a huge number of them advertise on Facebook to target audiences with carefully tailored messages that can be highly targeted thanks to their powerful analytics engine. They also own a range of other social media channels such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. This means they can offer a range of cross-selling opportunities, using the data collected from each platform.
Facebook is also useful for businesses as it allows the creation of a business page. This is different to a personal profile and contains all the advertising options mentioned above. In addition to industry-leading advertising (perhaps second only to Google), Facebook does boast a huge and diverse user base. This means it is a good solution for many businesses as a solid percentage of any target audience will be active on its platform.
With that in mind, we do have one caveat. User behaviour has changed hugely over the years. Facebook, being one of the original true social media channels, had an incredibly active user base at one point, however with the emergence of new channels like TikTok, Medium and Pinterest, it would be fair to say that engagement levels are much lower than before. This dilution has caused Facebook to be seen as a bit of a middle-ground between other platforms; a relatively safe space for brands, but not one that will push engagement to the levels of Instagram or Twitch. In addition to this, Facebook also has an ageing user base. Younger users are increasingly less likely to have an account, with only 58% of 12-17 year-olds using Facebook, compared to 88% in 2013.
Engagement aside, Facebook is still one of the best places for social listening. This is especially important for brands that want to track what consumers have to say about their company, products, or services.
We recommend that consumer-facing brands create a Facebook for Business account and use it to aggregate content from your website and other, more specialist channels. We believe that Facebook is most successfully used as a ‘catch-all’ hub where users can find anything social.
LinkedIn is the worlds largest professional social media channel. In its form and function, it is similar to Facebook in that users will set up an account and follow company (and personal) accounts. With over 774 million members spread across more than 200 countries, LinkedIn is a good representation of professional networking.
We always recommend that clients create a LinkedIn profile — there are several reasons why this is helpful but the main plus point is exposure. The majority of LinkedIn users are either business owners, professionals or ambitious, progress-driven staff at some of the biggest companies in the world, so it is can act as a catalyst for recruitment or as a source of new business.
LinkedIn is easy to use and also allows businesses to post articles. This is a reasonably new addition and blurs the lines between long-form channels like Medium. By keeping expert content such as whitepapers within their network, they can also measure engagement. This is also of benefit to brands, as you can directly see who is responding to your content — then converse with them directly. We have noticed a jump in article content in 2021 and predict this will continue in the following years.
We recommend that all brands and businesses create and engage with LinkedIn. This channel is suitable for any business or organisation. A branded LinkedIn channel is most successful when used to build leads, new suppliers and raise awareness within the business community.
With over one billion monthly users(!), Instagram is the number one social media channel for businesses looking to engage with their audience on an emotional level. Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, Instagram primarily uses visual content like images and videos to communicate information, allowing text to play a secondary role. This keeps the content fast-paced, meaning users can scroll to content that interests them much faster than traditional networks. Instagram is also one of the first social media channels to focus almost entirely on mobile. By fully embracing mobile technology, Instagram is much simpler to use and does not have many of the complications associated with browser-based networks.
Live video streaming (called Instagram Live) is also a key part of the platform — this allows brands and content creators to share live content quickly and easily. For brands such as Nike or Adidas, this means they can hold Q&A sessions with users, do factory tours and broadcast product launches or influencer endorsements.
It is also possible to advertise and sell products on Instagram. Selling is also a fairly new addition and has proved to be extremely successful, particularly for luxury product brands. While this channel may be too simplistic for some brands, we recommend that brands creating visual content should use Instagram. For example, many of our clients use Instagram as a visual diary of previous work. Companies working in the construction sector may show previous builds; furniture-makers may show bespoke pieces and document their process and textile manufacturers may share collaborations and innovations.
As a rule of thumb, the Instagram user age is lower than Facebook and significantly lower than LinkedIn. This means that products aimed at teenagers and young adults should strongly consider Instagram when marketing their brand. We believe that a branded Instagram channel is most successful when it is fully embraced, using it to show how products are made as well as the final product.
As the second most popular social media channel after Facebook, Twitter is still an important platform for brands. Text content is the primary means of communication — taking many of its cues from the simplicity of early text messaging. ‘Tweets’ are limited to 140 characters, so branded content tends to be much shorter than other social networks. Conversations are organised into ‘threads’, which can be difficult to follow for anyone who is not directly involved in a discussion. This does, however, mean that content moves very quickly, keeping Twitter more up-to-date than other social media channels. Twitter boasts that news often breaks there first — well before mainstream news services can react.
This is why Twitter is still an important consideration today — this level of immediacy can allow brands to respond on their terms before third parties can build up a narrative. It also makes Twitter a powerful tool for customer service teams. Consumers regularly go to Twitter to resolve a dispute as it brings a level of transparency that private messaging or phone calls cannot achieve.
Like Facebook, many businesses use Twitter to aggregate content from other channels. It has a useful link-building mechanic that helps brands circulate content including long-form texts, media-rich posts and much more.
The average age of Twitter users is slightly higher than Instagram and roughly the same as Facebook. Its users tend to be very active, however, making it a good space for committed brands to operate. If you have questions over how much time can be spent looking after a Twitter channel, then we recommend avoiding Twitter altogether. We believe that a successful Twitter channel will invest time and energy into day-to-day management while also sharing original content.
Most businesses aren’t familiar with Twitch as it is a relatively new addition to the social media landscape, but it is certainly a platform worth considering. Twitch’s popularity has grown exponentially in recent years — particularly among younger users. With a focus on gamers, musicians and digital content creators, it boasts a wide range of industry-leading streaming services for a huge number of interests.
As it is such a new platform, businesses are still developing ways to engage with this audience — however, it appears the best current method is through influencer and content marketing. They describe their advertising model as ‘The ultimate influencer marketing based platform’ with 62% of viewers engaging with esports and gaming personalities daily. They also claim that 64% of their viewer’s purchase products directly recommended by content creators. This makes Twitch an interesting proposition for product-producing brands, particularly ones already operating in the digital space.
We recommend that digital-first brands consider opening a Twitch channel, especially those that create content that can be digitally streamed. We consider a successful Twitch channel to feel genuine and fun — this is not a platform for ‘hard selling’.
Like Twitch, TikTok is a relatively new social media platform. It is a great social media channel for brands to connect with younger consumers on an emotional level through a unique take on video content. It is structured in a similar way to Instagram and Snapchat, however, it uses 15-second videos of original content.
While this might not be the best social media channel for brands looking to promote their products or services, it can be an invaluable tool when it comes to promoting brand awareness. Due to its unique approach towards video content, TikTok has managed to captivate millennials unlike any other platform — meaning this can often lead to increased conversions in the long run.
We recommend that content creating brands consider opening a TikTok channel to share ‘viral’ moments to show their people, products and services in a fun, light-hearted light way. We consider a successful TikTok channel to focus on engaging content that will build brand perception — this should not be used to directly push sales as it will not resonate with most users.
Recently described as the ‘most popular social media channel among millennials’, Snapchat is another social media channel that uses short video content — however, the videos only last for a maximum of ten seconds. It’s also unique in that it uses ‘stories’ to create narrative arcs and re-shareable content as opposed to individual posts.
It is often difficult for brands to stand out on Snapchat, as users tend to be very privacy conscious with the platform. As with Twitch, the best way around this is to invest in influencer and content marketing — however, this should be done with care and caution.
We recommend that brands consider opening a Snapchat channel if they produce unique, shareable video content — we do not recommend using the social media platform for event promotion or product-pushing as users will quickly lose interest.
YouTube is a video-sharing social media channel that allows brands to connect with a wide range of users. Many businesses use YouTube as an alternative to traditional blogging, instead choosing to record their content while demonstrating product or service USPs. YouTube is also useful for businesses looking to share their knowledge with the world as it allows them to create a branded channel to store their videos.
As YouTube is directly owned by Google, it benefits from its search engine placement, meaning original YouTube content can be easily found online. This is a major benefit to brands looking to build their profile or create sales leads. Like Snapchat and Instagram, uploads can form part of a series which is particularly useful for users looking to learn about a subject.
We recommend that every brand should consider opening a YouTube channel if they have the resources to create high-quality original video content. A good YouTube channel is one where a brand creates genuine connections with viewers while educating them on their products.
Much like YouTube, Vimeo also specialises in long-form video content. The main difference between Vimeo and YouTube is their audience — YouTube caters to almost everyone, while Vimeo places much more focus on professional animators and filmmakers.
As a social media platform, Vimeo caters to a more niche user base, making it difficult for brands to directly influence sales. It is, however, a great platform for content marketing — particularly for brands working in media. It also allows businesses to create a professional account with contact details, an indication of price alongside some other key information.
We recommend that companies with an interest in branded film create a Vimeo account as it is a great place to showcase your skills and generate new business leads.
WhatsApp is a media-rich messaging app that has evolved into a full social media channel in its own right. While this platform started as a replacement for text messaging, brands can now open a WhatsApp channel to share messaging content with their audiences. This is a great way for brands to speak with potential customers, triage support queries and direct sales. Much like Twitter, it is also a good customer service platform for brands looking to create direct connections with users.
We recommend that businesses looking to speak directly with potential customers, other brands or potential collaborators consider opening a branded WhatsApp channel. A successful WhatsApp channel will be appropriately resourced and managed, picking up messages as and when they come in.
Once you have selected the relevant channels for your brand, there are a few considerations that should be made. These include:
The first step of setting up a successful social media channel is to brand it. This means setting your brand colours (where possible), logo, description and URL. This may seem obvious, but contact details and easily accessed links to other online material is important information to remember. When choosing background images and cover graphics, we recommend using an image that can be cropped at different sizes. That is because devices such as laptops, tablets and phones will all display the image differently. For the same reason, we recommend you do not include text within the images themselves as this will become illegible.
One of the most important elements of building a social media channel is knowing your strengths. If a business is particularly insightful in an area, then it may be best to write long-form content on platforms such as Medium or Tumblr. Brands that produce a lot of visual content may look to focus on Instagram, Pinterest or Flickr. Subsequently, companies that need to react quickly and need to respond to things quickly may be best placed to focus all of their efforts on Twitter and Facebook.
Giving structure to your content goes beyond the post itself. Most successful branded social media content is created ahead of time as part of a much larger ‘content plan’. This plan (also called a ‘social media strategy) will be a mixture of planned and responsive content and will likely revolve around key dates in the calendar, such as building towards product launches, trade shows, awards, competitions or other anticipated events. Building a strong social media plan is time-consuming, however, it does make the day-to-day production of content much simpler.
Another great source of content can be to dig into your archives. This can be old project work, long-form content written for other purposes or behind-the-scenes images that customers may find insightful. We often find that our clients have written industry-specific whitepapers or thought leadership pieces for journals or other professional publications. This content can form the base of a strong post, putting that knowledge in front of a new audience. While this may not immediately convert into a sale or a lead, it will build up an audience perception and cement your position as an authority on the subject in question.
It is also worth considering showing customers and interested parties how you work. This may mean shining a light on staff, processes or even some of the materials used daily. This helps an audience connect with a brand and can help to build strong relationships. For example, many printers use channels such as Instagram to share ‘in progress’ videos and photographs of print projects they are working on. This helps designers to build their knowledge of how each process works, while also seeing the outcome at different stages of the journey.
Many brands like to celebrate their followers by showcasing their work. For businesses that work collaboratively, this can nurture existing relationships while encouraging new partners to come forward. For example, Halley Stevensons regularly share garments made using their fabrics. These posts are all created and finished by their clients — this helps to build their ecosystem while showing other users what can be made. Many printers within the design industry also use this technique, showcasing the design work of their clients to attract similar work.
Channel ownership is a critical part of any branded social media channel. While it may seem obvious, it is advised that someone has responsibility for responding to messages, comments and requests. It is never advised for a channel to be launched and then left unattended. This is because messages and comments will go unacknowledged — this can lead to communication issues or worse, loss of a sale or customer.
It is also important to remember that social media channels are not a sprint — they are truly a marathon. While we acknowledge this is a slight cliche, user behaviour indicates they are here to stay. It will take most brands a long time to build up a sizable following on any channel, so it is advised that a long-term view is taken in terms of content planning and how the account is run.
If your business would benefit from a fresh approach to branded social media or digital design, please get in touch and we will be happy to advise on the best route forward. We recommend that a strong brand identity is defined to ensure all online materials are unique, consistent and effective.