Since Facebook was launched in 2004 (an unbelievable 13 years ago!), social media has become a big part of our personal and professional lives. In fact, it’s estimated that over an average lifespan, each person we will spend five years and four months on social media. That is a lot of time!

There is no denying that social media is now a part of most businesses' online profiles, but not all companies are using it effectively. Knowing the social media that best suits your small business can be key to a more effective and profitable online presence. If you're new to social networking and want to know which platform is best for your business, below you can find a quick overview of the six biggest social media channels most used by small businesses.

Facebook

Facebook is a great social media platform for all businesses. It is very easy to set up and run, and Facebook works incredibly well with visual content, such as images and video. If you are a business that can showcase its products or services through this type of media, Facebook will work well for you. You can also use Facebook now for live video streaming which many online brands and personalities are using to really connect with customers and followers on a personal level.

Businesses that tend to have a large following and high engagement levels on Facebook include retailers (particularly fashion and sports brands) and travel firms, like travel agents and holiday rental companies.

Twitter

Twitter is a good platform to use to interact with customers and other brands, and most big service provider companies now use Twitter for customer support. Twitter is different to other social media channels in that it limits the length of each posts to 140 characters, but people also use Twitter as a search engine so keep this in mind when thinking about what you want to say. Whilst you are limited to 140 characters per tweet, you can be very creative in how you present it and this could have a big impact.

Statistics show that tweets that contain strong visual content perform better than those that don’t. Businesses can use imagery or videos to show off their skills. For example, if you are a hairdresser you could post a before and after shot of a haircut or colour. There are over 500 million tweets sent per day, so to keep your businesses message in front of your customers, it is recommended that you post content at least 3-4 times a day.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a business to business networking site, so if you work in a B2B company you should definitely create a LinkedIn profile for your company. The type of businesses that achieve good results from this platform are advertising agencies, recruiters, IT solution businesses and professional service companies – accountants, lawyers and financial planners.

The type of content that does well on LinkedIn differs to the type of content that does well on Facebook or Twitter. Things like case studies, PowerPoint presentations and customer testimonials do very well on LinkedIn. You can also use LinkedIn to post blog-style articles which will rank well in online searches.

YouTube

YouTube can be a very effective social media marketing tool for many small businesses, if you're not afraid to get to grips with making and sharing videos. In fact, YouTube is the second most popular search engine which means if you have a presence on YouTube and you're sharing relevant content that your customers may want to see, your company could reach lots of new online customers searching for something you have already featured in a video. As you may have already noticed, when you now do a Google search, YouTube results matching your search terms always appear near the top of your results page.

YouTube is definitely worth considering if your company sells any kind of product that people will use to make, or do something - like tools, craft supplies, beauty products - because you can then upload and share "How to" videos to support your customers. You can also use YouTube to post behind the scene videos or interviews with customers or maybe your employees and use these videos as promotional material on YouTube and on your own website. Other businesses that would benefit from having a presence on YouTube include any kind of educational or mentoring company as you can post preview or introduction videos of your lessons or seminars for potential students to try before they buy.

Pinterest

A tool for creating and sharing mood boards online, Pinterest has transformed many businesses since it's creation in 2010. Another visual social media, images are "pinned" from web pages (or uploaded manually) and saved on themed boards. If you have a website with a lot of high-quality images of your product(s) or simply relating to the service you offer, you should definitely consider having a Pinterest account and adding all of your content to the social network. It's also possible to purchase products directly through Pinterest.

Companies in the wedding, food, creative, interior design, fashion, travel and lifestyle businesses have great potential to benefit from additional exposure on Pinterest, but that's not to say other companies should ignore this social network. Any business can use Pinterest to add a bit of personality to their company by having inspiration boards where they share the images or quotes that relate to their company, staff or message.

Instagram

Instagram is an extremly popular and visual social network that allows users to share images and videos, both in their profile "grid" and also - due to recent changes - in Snapchat-esque Instagram Stories that disappear 24 hours after they're shared. Because of the app's popularity among younger people (18 - 25 year olds) and because it is so visual, the businesses that are best suited to Instagram are those that have a young target market and have a photographic product or service to offer, e.g. lifestyle businesses (fitness, cookery, interior design, fashion, travel). That said, any company can do well on Instagram if they have a strong and appealing aesthetic thanks to their branding or perhaps an attractive workspace.

TIP: for managing social media channels is to focus your time on a maximum of two – three channels so that you can grow your following and have a good level of engagement between your followers and your business.

About the author

Emma Saldanha is a content creator here at Findmyshift. Emma has more than 10 years experience in content creation, marketing and PR. In between writing for Findmyshift, Emma writes marketing and branding advice for small to medium business on her blog, writtenbyems. Connect with Emma on Twitter and Facebook.