by Jim Belosic at ShortStack

Everyone has a favorite social media platform. Some people are addicted to Facebook — checking the Pages they admin every hour, on the hour, while sneaking an occasional glance at their personal News Feeds. (You know who you are.)

Others shudder at the very thought of life without Twitter. Could they stay in the know about, well, anything without the microblogging service? Pinterest took the world by storm last year and women everywhere developed serious window-shopping habits while men just shook their heads, puzzled about the whole phenomenon. Then there is LinkedIn, favored by mid-level managers, CEOs and job seekers from coast to coast.

Add to that Reddit and Quora, Flickr and Instagram, Ning and Bing, Google+ and Yelp and you have, well, brain freeze.

There are a handful of people who have figured out how to use eight or ten or even a dozen social media platforms well, but it’s an art. And most people simply don’t have the time to devote to maintaining an effective presence among many platforms.

That’s okay: it’s better to have a strong presence on a few platforms than to spread yourself so thin that none gets sufficient attention and your business or brand suffers because of it.

So how do you know where to go? With the exception of Facebook, there is not *one* platform that every business should be on. (In fact, there are some that don’t really need to be on Facebook, but that’s a separate article.) Since Facebook is so popular and talked about so often this article will focus on a couple of the others that I think many, if not most, business would be wise to investigate and invest some time in.

  • YouTube. More than 3 BILLION videos are viewed on YouTube every day. It’s fairly easy to post videos that relate to your company’s products or services. Even two-minute homemade videos can inform your customers and even inspire virality. There’s an example below. If you were the sponsor of a similar event, or the manufacturer of supplies used at such an event (in this case, paintball supplies) this video would be a slam dunk. The production quality is higher than a total amateur could create, but it wouldn’t be that difficult to create something more homemade that captures the same flavor.

For other inspiration, check out digital camera maker GoPro‘s channel full of user-generated videos.

  • Twitter. People either love Twitter or they hate it (or, more accurately, they “don’t get it”). If you’re in the latter camp, we urge you to commit to it for a few weeks and then see what you think. By committing, we mean target a few key players in your business segment, follow them, and see how they reach out to their customers. Read the content they link to. Chances are this exercise will give you some ideas about how to better market your own brand or service. At first it will be confusing. Following people on Twitter is like getting a glimpse into some weird secret world (in a good way) where people are sharing all sorts of great information. Yes, there is a lot of junk, too, which is why you have to be selective about whom to follow.  Books have been written about how to use Twitter, but for starters, head over to Twellow, a directory of Twitter users, broken down by “industry.” It will help you narrow your focus. For tips about how to use the service, check out AllTwitter. Did anyone else see this description of Twitter that seemed right on? “It’s a simple service for smart people.” Give it a few weeks and let me know what you think — via Twitter, of course: @shortstackjim.
  • LinkedIn. This social network is mistakenly thought of as a job-hunting website. It’s much, much more. Once you set up a profile for your business, look for LinkedIn groups that are related to your business. They exist so that professionals in specific fields can meet virtually to discuss issues related to their industries. By joining and then participating with groups you can stay current with what’s happening in your industry. Of course it’s also great for networking. If you want to do some more reading about how to use some of the newer features on LinkedIn, here’s an article from Susan Adams at Forbes that highlights some of the most essential information.
  • Google+. Google+ hasn’t attained the popularity of Facebook, or Twitter, but come on: it’s Google. As of today it has 400 million users and it’s only a matter of time before oodles more people are on it. In the meantime, why not get a jump start and at least establish a profile for yourself and make it a place where you can initiate conversations with your customers. Establishing “circles” on the platform will allow you to target various marketing messages to specific groups of customers. This blog post, from State of Search, is a year old and a few things have changed, but the author does a good job breaking it all down for newcomers.
  • Instagram. I’ve written extensively about best practices to increase engagement and I always say that one of the best ways to get content shared on Facebook and beyond is to include great visuals. Instagram, the photo-sharing site, makes it super easy and fun. Lots of businesses were early Instagram adopters and you can see some of the innovative ways they use the app here. Some of them might inspire you. These tips from Mashable offer even more help.

The key with all of these platforms — and with any social media you engage in — is to make your message integrated across all of them. You should have links to your website and make it easy for people to follow you on Twitter on your Facebook Page. On your Twitter profile, you should have a link to your website or blog. On your blog you should have a sign-up for your newsletter. And so on….

What social media platform(s) works best for your business? Have you invested time or money in one that ultimately didn’t pay off? Are there other social media networks that you’re curious about? Let me know in the comments section.

Jim Belosic is the CEO of ShortStack, a self-service custom app design tool used to create apps for Facebook Pages, websites and mobile web browsing. ShortStack provides the tools for small businesses, graphic designers, agencies and corporations to create apps with contests and forms, fan gates, product lines and more.