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Understanding different types of social media and how to use them


With so many different types of social media to choose from, how can you ensure you’re making the right calls for your business?

The social media universe is expanding and growing more diverse with each passing year.

While this offers unprecedented opportunities for marketing, it can also make it difficult for businesses to know where to focus their efforts and budget in order to get the best return on investment.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the different types of social media available to marketers today, and how you can make sure they’re working for your business.

What social media is used for today

As far as social media marketing is concerned, the range of ways in which businesses can use these platforms and networks is practically endless.

The most common and powerful reasons to use social media include:

To build brand awareness

It’s estimated that there are now more than five billion social media users around the world. If you’re able to get your brand noticed by even a tiny proportion of the vast numbers of people who use these platforms every day, it’s still a great opportunity to boost your profile and build awareness.

There are many ways to approach this challenge, from investing in paid social media advertising to producing regular organic content that helps you stay visible on the fastest-moving and most competitive platforms.

To forge and maintain customer relationships

Social media platforms offer a level of one-to-one engagement and responsiveness that makes them pretty much unparalleled in terms of potential for customer relationship building. 

This applies at all stages of the typical buyer’s journey. Whether you’re looking to connect with prospects who are just starting to research a purchase, are ready to buy or fall somewhere in between, a strong social media strategy will help you do it.

To learn more about your audience

For many of your current and prospective customers, social media will be their first port of call when they want to share their opinions, ask questions and get involved in conversations that reflect their interests. These are all excellent opportunities to learn more about your audience and what matters to them.

Following conversations on discussion forums and using social listening to track mentions of your brand, along with other key terms, are among the many ways you can keep up with what your customers are saying and thinking.

To learn more about your industry and competitors

It’s not just current and potential customers who are active users of social media. Your competitors and other key players within your sector are all on there too, so it makes sense to keep an eye on what they’re doing and how they’re approaching their own social media strategies.

This is an effective way to keep up with the latest trends and developments in your industry, which will help to inform your own planning, decisions and content production.

To showcase products and content

When you want to get as many eyes as possible on your most exciting products or your newest marketing assets, social media is the place to do it.

Again, there are numerous ways to go about this, such as posting video content that demonstrates the key benefits of a new product or sharing eye-catching snippets of recent blog posts that lure readers to your website to learn more.

To drive website traffic

Social media marketing can offer enormous value, but only if it’s focused on outcomes that have a material impact on your business performance and results.

Your website is where the majority of key actions will take place as far as lead conversion and revenue generation are concerned, so driving traffic from social media to high-value pages on your site should always be a priority.

What are some of the different types of social media?

The rapid expansion and diversification of this particular area of the online world means businesses now have many social media marketing options to choose from.

While there is undoubtedly overlap between different brands – and several platforms that can be used for a lot more than just one thing – it remains important to know the main types of social media and how you can use them to your advantage.

Traditional social networks

Some of the most prominent and recognisable brands in this space – the likes of Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn – started out as traditional social networking sites that have evolved and expanded their functionality over time.

One of the most powerful benefits of these platforms is their flexibility. They offer the potential to connect with an extremely broad range of demographics across both the B2B and B2C segments, using all sorts of content, including written posts, short-form video, images and targeted advertising.

In short, if you want to pursue social media marketing in any sort of meaningful way, you need to have a presence on at least one – and ideally more – of these networks.

Image-sharing sites

Effective use of images is hugely important from a content marketing perspective. It can help you achieve some of your most important goals on social media, such as building brand awareness, attracting new followers and showcasing your product offering.

Instagram is one of the best-known and most influential names in this area. As well as offering enormous reach and the potential to connect with a vast audience, it provides in-app social shopping features that remove the barriers between customers discovering your products and making a purchase.

However, Instagram isn’t the only game in town when it comes to image-sharing on social media. Other options you might want to consider include Pinterest, Snapchat and TikTok’s photo mode.

Video platforms

Much like imagery, video offers endless opportunities to add some visual flair, dynamism and excitement to your social media content mix. 

There are many approaches you can take in this space, from producing snappy short-form videos designed to grab your audience’s attention, to presenting live video streams where you can launch new products, host interviews and invite your audience to ‘ask me anything’.

With more than two billion users worldwide, YouTube is the first video network that will come to mind for most people, marketers and customers alike. There are alternatives to the Google-owned giant, however, such as Vimeo, Twitch and the dedicated video functionality of platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Discussion forums

Discussion forums such as Reddit and Quora are a place for social media users to connect with like-minded individuals, engage in conversations and share content that reflects their interests.

From a marketing perspective, they can serve a range of purposes, including listening to what your target customers have to say, sharing educational content, using your expertise to offer valuable answers to questions and building relationships.

However, it’s important to remember that people use these forums to have relaxed conversations and develop their interests. In most cases, they won’t be thinking about making purchases or signing up to services, so won’t take kindly to aggressive marketing tactics or thinly veiled sales pitches.

How to choose the best types of social media for your business

Knowing what types of social media are available to support your digital marketing is just the first step in turning these assets to your advantage.

You also need to know what options make the most sense for your business and your customers. So how can you ensure you’re getting those decisions right?

Understand your target audience

All marketing – social media-focused or otherwise – should start from a place of customer understanding.

When faced with a range of social media platform options, one of the most important things to do is look at where your customers spend the majority of their time online.

This should yield some useful insights that point you in the right direction. If it becomes clear that Facebook and X are the most commonly used types of social media among your customers, for example, you shouldn’t be wasting time and budget on other channels that are unlikely to deliver ROI.

Choose platforms that suit the nature of your business

As well as knowing what social media platforms hold the greatest appeal for your target audience, you should think carefully about which ones make the most sense for your company and the products or services you provide.

In some respects, this should be a straightforward and easy decision. A software firm that specialises in HR solutions for small businesses, for example, will have more to gain from LinkedIn than Instagram. For a vintage fashion boutique or gym wear retailer, the opposite will be true.

Whatever channel you choose to go with, it’s vital to ensure your social media identity – comprising everything from your visual style to your tone of voice – complements and aligns with your brand as a whole.

Set clear goals

What you hope to gain from your social media marketing is another key factor that will influence your decisions as far as platforms are concerned.

If you’re focused on building brand awareness and raising your social media exposure as quickly as possible, it makes sense to invest in an approach that has a good track record in this regard, such as Facebook advertising.

When you want to reconnect, maintain relationships and communicate with people who have already shown an interest in your brand, sharing content to spark conversations on X could be the way to go. 

Study competitor and industry activity

It’s important to build a unique social media presence and make your own decisions, but that doesn’t mean you should be ignoring what your competitors and others in your industry are doing.

You have nothing to lose from keeping an eye on other brands’ social media activity, particularly when it comes to things like:

  • The platforms they’re using the most
  • What types of content they’re sharing
  • How frequently they’re posting
  • The levels of engagement and interest they’re getting from their audience

Keeping track of competitors and industry trends will help to inform your own social media strategy, both in terms of what you want to do and what you want to actively avoid.

How to build your social media presence

Once the foundations are in place and you have made key decisions about things like what social media networks you want to focus on, you can start to consider strategies to build your presence on your platforms of choice.

Invest in paid social media advertising

The creation of organic content is certainly important and will help you gain followers and build brand awareness on social media. However, it can be difficult to get yourself noticed using this method alone.

Paid social media advertising is a highly effective way to increase exposure for your brand in competitive environments, gain instant engagement with your target audience and drive lead generation.

This is a broad and multifaceted area of the digital marketing space, giving you plenty of choice in terms of what types of ads you want to run and how much budget you want to spend.

Focus on building relationships

To be truly effective, your social media marketing activities should be focused on more than just driving sales and conversions.

It goes without saying that these are important goals, but the beauty of social media is that it also gives you the opportunity to connect with your audience and build relationships that stand the test of time.

There are various tactics that can help you do this, such as taking the time to have conversations and answer questions that don’t relate directly to your own products or services. It can also be beneficial to share useful and interesting content that you know will be of value to your audience.

Drive social media traffic from other channels

If you have a broad digital marketing strategy that encompasses various channels, there will be plenty of opportunities to direct traffic towards your social media platforms.

In your email marketing communications, for example, be sure to include links to your social profiles and keep readers abreast of some of the useful content they can expect to find there.

Every blog post you publish could also be a chance to promote your social media activities, maximising the value of the website traffic you’re gaining through search engine optimisation and other digital marketing efforts.

Produce a lot of content

To avoid getting overlooked amid the constant bustle of activity on social media, it’s essential to keep your profiles updated with a steady stream of content.

This is how you stay visible in the eyes of your audience, keep up with relevant trends in your industry and highlight the value you can deliver to current and potential customers.

It’s always a good idea to keep your social platforms fresh with a diverse range of updates, including regular written posts and visual content such as images, infographics and videos.

You can also mix things up with interactive content such as polls, quizzes and games, or invite your audience to share their own user generated content, which can add an extra layer of authenticity to your brand.

Create and stick to a calendar

Closely linked to regular content production is the need to have a clear publishing calendar. This helps to provide visibility across all of your output and ensures that each social platform you use is regularly updated with diverse, engaging and timely content.

It can also make your life much less stressful, because rather than having to come up with ideas and post content on the fly, you can plan everything in advance and ensure every post meets a certain standard before going live.

Some of the most important pieces of information to include in your social media calendar include:

  • The platform for publishing
  • Publication date and time
  • Type of content
  • Overarching topic or theme
  • Copy 
  • Visual elements

What is social media analytics and why is it important?

Social media analytics is the process of collecting and examining data to build a clear understanding of how the various aspects of your social marketing mix are performing.

It can come in various forms, including:

  • Overall performance monitoring – Allows you to keep track of key performance indicators such as impressions, likes, comments and shares.
  • Paid social analytics – Monitors results from ads, promotions and sponsored posts, allowing you to collect data against metrics such as click-through rate and cost-per-click.
  • Audience analysis – Helps you learn more about the types of people your content is connecting with and how closely this aligns with your target audience profile.
  • Competitor analysis – Enables you to keep track of the results your competitors are achieving from their social media marketing, including follower numbers and engagement rates.

Analytics should be a key part of any ongoing social media management and improvement plan. The simple reason for this is that you need data-driven insights to show your social media marketing is delivering ROI and is worthy of ongoing investment by the business.

It also helps to ensure you’re constantly moving forward and improving, thanks to a deeper understanding of your own marketing and the wider social media environment. This, in turn, enables you to set more relevant and productive goals.

Tasks like social media analytics, content scheduling and production are hugely important, but they’re not always easy to keep up with, especially if you don’t have the time to do them properly.

At Axonn, we take a full-service approach to digital marketing, which means we can support all of your social media activities, from strategy and campaign planning to content delivery and analytics.

11 Minute Read

By Ross Kane | Updated

Ross leads Axonn’s editorial team and has more than 15 years’ experience in marketing and content production.

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