When I started at Buffer, I was given permission to make mistakes, to ask forgiveness rather than permission, to always test everything.

So I’d like to give you all some permission as well.

You have permission to pick and choose your social networks.

In fact, often times it may be best not to be on certain social networks, perhaps because of the time it takes to do social right or because your customer personas don’t fit with a particular network. When you’re choosing which social networks to be involved with, it’s okay to be picky. You have my permission.

The next step is making an educated decision on which social networks to choose. There are a big number of factors that could weigh a decision for you, and I’ve done my best to collect them here in this post. From demographics to research and a whole lot else in between, here is what I’ve found to help you choose your social networks.

how to choose a social network

The most popular social networks, by active users

What the raw data can tell you about choosing a social network

According to data pulled together by Digital Insights, here’s the breakdown for the social networks with the most monthly active users. You can check the Digital Insights blog for the overall number of users, too, although active users is likely to be a more meaningful metric when making decisions.

Social networks, ranked by monthly active users:

  1. Facebook: 1.28 billion
  2. Google+: 540 million
  3. Twitter: 255 million
  4. Instagram: 200 million
  5. LinkedIn: 187 million
  6. Pinterest: 40 million


social networks monthly users

You’ll notice that Facebook is far and away the most popular social network, with twice as many monthly active users as the runner-up. You’ll notice a Facebook-as-king theme running through much of these stats.

Here is the chart for social network growth, courtesy of a report published at the first of the year by GlobalWebIndex. It acts as a nice counterbalance to the overall active user numbers since it highlights what may be some up-and-coming social networks.

fastest growing social networks

Should you decide which network to join based on its size?

Yes and no. Size matters inasmuch as you’d probably like the network you join to have reached a tipping point of users, popular enough that spending your time there will be time well spent. For that matter, even Pinterest’s 40 million users could be enough volume for you, especially if the demographics fit (see below).

At the same time, relying solely on size can be dangerous. First off, consistent social network data is hard to find. The active user stats above show a 215 million user gap between Twitter and Pinterest, yet other stories can claim Pinterest is more popular than Twitter (the difference in reporting comes down to surveys vs. stats, as well as the definition of popularity).

Also, size does not exist in a vacuum. There are scores of other factors that could be just as valuable or more valuable as you decide which networks to join. In some cases, size might be a false indicator of whether or not you should be on a particular network.

  • Will more users mean more competition for attention?
  • Are your customers on the network?
  • Does the network fit your demographic?
  • Does your industry have a presence?

Perhaps a better question is: Which social networks can users not live without?

The team at UTA Brand Studio has a tool to measure this social media dependence, and they shared findings earlier this year that showed exactly which social networks we’re most attached to.

The results, based on a survey of 2,006 U.S. adults, showed Facebook and Instagram in the top two spots.


These overall numbers are interesting on their own, and it gets even more so when you segment according to gender, age, and household income. Complete results are available in UTA’s SlideShare presentation.

For a taste of how things differ from gender and age, here are a couple of quick charts showing the rank of different networks.

gender social network dependence social media dependency by age and network

There’s lots more great demographic data to base your decision on, too.

Where are your customers? Here’s how to find out

What demographic data can tell you about choosing a social network

The Pew Research Internet Project has been compiling social media statistics and demographics for the past several years, releasing new information on a regular basis. Their latest demographic survey—a representative sample of 1,801 adults, surveyed in August and September 2013—shows who makes up the user bases for five major social networks.

Here’s a spreadsheet of the results. The numbers represent the percentage of online users who use each network. Google+ was not included in the survey.

(Note: Facebook is so far and away larger than the others that it’s kind of silly to compare them. I’ve highlighted the important numbers for everyone but Facebook. I could have highlighted the entire Facebook column.)

Social Network Demographics

That’s probably a lot to digest. Here’s a quicker look at the social networks that provide the best fit in a number of different categories.

social network demographic categories

How might these stats impact your decision to choose the right social network?

It’s possible that you’ve created buyer personas for your customers, and you know general information about their age, gender, income level, and so forth. You can line up these insights with the demographic data of a social network and see which networks fit.

(For instance, I once worked at a company with an almost exclusively 65-and-over demographic. Instagram would not have been a major need for us.)

You can also judge the value of a social network based on how well it fits your content and strategy. If you create content that your audience loves, you’re likely to find your audience on social networks that love sharing your particular style of content—video, images, long-form, etc.

Here’s a helpful way of looking at it, courtesy of Jason DeMers at Search Engine Land. He broke down social networks into seven different types, each with their own characteristics.

  1. Kitchen-sink networks: Twitter and Facebook
  2. Image-based networks: Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr
  3. Video networks: YouTube, Vimeo, Vine
  4. Business-focused networks: LinkedIn
  5. SEO and authorship networks: Google+
  6. Location-based networks: Foursquare, Yelp
  7. Niche networks: reddit

7 social network types

Important questions to ask when choosing a social network

Tim Grahl at Out:Think has a short and simple list of three of the big questions to ask when choosing a social network.

  1. Does it make sense for my content? (See the seven types of networks listed above.)
  2. Do potential fans spend time there? (See the demographic information above.)
  3. Does it make sense for me?

It’s this final piece—your gut—that could make the most telling argument for or against a social network. If you’ve done your research already and are still on the fence, answering the “gut” question might be the deciding factor.

Does it make sense for me? Is it something I can easily fit into my life? Do I have time to do it? After doing some research and observation, do I “get” how it works?

I find the last part of this question series to be particularly compelling. Many of us feel like we can learn a new network if given enough time. The only problem: When do we have enough time? If you’ve given it a go and it still doesn’t make sense, weigh this when deciding whether or not to press on.

Which social networks should you join? Here’re some answers.

Let me start off by saying that you can judge the necessity of your being on a social network by looking at the stats and asking yourself important questions. And then, if it’s still just too much to take in and you’d like someone to tell you what to do, here’re some answers.

Should you be on Facebook?

Yes, if you don’t mind the competition. More than 70 percent of online adults actively use Facebook. It is far and away the most popular social network. If your customers use the Internet, they’re very likely to be on Facebook. Consider, though, that with great popularity comes great competition. The News Feed is a crowded place for your business updates.

Should you be on Twitter?

Yes, if you’ve interested in a younger, tech-savvy crowd. Michelle Manafy of Inc calls many of the users “information junkies,” and it can be a wide variety of “information:” technology, news, sports, marketing, journalism, and so on. Topical and timely work great on Twitter. Be aware that a tweet reaches its peak after 18 minutes, so get your next tweet ready fast.

Should you be on LinkedIn?

Yes, if you can play the business game. LinkedIn’s audience is full of great insights on work productivity, networking, and job hunting. B2B companies love it. B2C companies are still figuring it out.

Should you be on Google+?

Yes, if you want to impact your SEO. There are other reasons to join Google+, of course. One of the biggest is that its user base is so large and the competition is so low. Each new post comes with SEO juice, too. A word of warning: Things might seem a bit quiet at times.

Should you be on Instagram?

Yes, if photography is your jam. Instagram works great in a pairing with Facebook or Twitter, and business is booming. More and more users join every day, albeit young ones.

Should you be on Pinterest?

Yes, if you have big visuals in your content. There’s a great demographic fit, too, for business that cater to women or brands that focus on categories like food or DIY.

Conclusion: How to choose a social network

It’s perfectly okay to pick and choose which social networks you join.

Small businesses may not be able to handle a consistent presence on four or more networks, so it’s helpful to step back, assess, and choose your best bets. Study the numbers, check for your audience, and ask yourself the important questions.

Which factors are most important to you when choosing a social network?

I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. Do you try to cover as many social networks as possible? Have you chosen a select few to focus on? Come share your thoughts!

Image credits: UTA Brand Studio, TechCrunch

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Written by Kevan Lee

Director of marketing at Buffer, the social media publishing tool for brands, agencies, and marketers. We’ve got a new podcast! ?

  • Another good one, Kevan.

    A lot of newcomers don’t realize that choosing the right network(s) is critical – more so than what you do when you arrive, even.

    For the marketing firm I work with, Twitter and LinkedIn make the most sense so we concentrate our efforts there. We’ve got a Facebook page but we don’t use it so it’s hidden (I also recommend securing branded account handles on all of the networks – leave the option there for your business to develop a presence later if you change your mind!). For my husband’s construction business, we have a Twitter account (not very active) and we use Facebook much more heavily.

    I’m one of the really reluctant and inactive G+ people. I can’t help it… the quiet you mentioned is real. But, I highly recommend that all businesses at least set up a page and link it to their website. Even this association is beneficial.And if you have a brick and mortar location you can get your business location verified through Google and that will also do good things for your SEO (but that’s a whole different topic). 🙂

    • Hi Christin! So many great tips here! It could be a blogpost all its own! I love the advice to secure your brand name on different networks, even if you don’t plan on having a presence there – you never know how things might change!

  • Nigel Hearne

    I see the demographic by network data is September 2013 do you think the spread will have changed much at all since then Kevan?

    • Great question, Nigel! My intuition is that the numbers would still be pretty similar to September’s figures. If there has been variation, it might be a few percentage points, which should mean we can still draw the same conclusions with the data. I’m hopeful to see some new stats from Pew Research soon! I’ll update the post when/if available! 🙂

  • Great post, Kevan! We covered this topic yesterday on the Emphatic blog. One analogy I like for Twitter is that it’s the mullet of social media — all business in the front but a party in the back if you know where to look. All depends on how you want to use it!

  • janet

    fantastic blog!!!!!!!!

  • As a B2B marketer, I tend to focus on LinkedIn and Twitter (and trying with all my might to focus on G+ too). Thanks for the info Kevan. Very thorough and insightful.

    • You got it, Paul!

  • TakeActionWAHM

    To all this I would add, don’t be afraid to be wrong and change your tactics if necessary! I blog about blogging, albeit from the stay-at-home-mom’s point of view, and for the first few months of my blogs life, I focused on Twitter and Facebook.

    Then, I realized that although I had doubled my Twitter followers, I had not come close to doubling my Twitter traffic. I get “favorited” and an expected amount of retweets, but I didn’t see clicks coming into my blog.

    Oddly enough 90% (at least) of my blog traffic comes from Pinterest. I would not have thought that my blog topic would do well on that platform, up against all those beautiful food pictures and DIY projects, but there you go. Naturally, I’m focusing most of my social media attention on growing my Pinterest following, and also trying to figure out how to get more traffic from other sites – it’s kind of scary to have 11 of your dozen eggs in one basket.

    • What an incredible learning! I’m so glad you found Pinterest and that it’s been a good traffic source for you. Have you spent much time looking beyond FB, Twtitter, or Pinterest? Just curious. 🙂

      • TakeActionWAHM

        I do a little bit in G+, but don’t really spend enough time there to make a difference. I’m thinking that Instagram would be a good place to find more of “my people” but I need to find a way to make it work for me.

  • I certainly understand that for a large company metrics are hugely valuable, but for a smaller company who only need a small customer base ease of use is as important as the overall reach.

    I work in a business where often I’m trying to get onto social networks with my phone in really poor internet connectivity settings. I have found (for me) Twitter loads much better than Facebook and LInkedIn. Google+ is getting better. So, while traveling, I’m posting to Twitter a lot, and it means that when I’m in town with good internet, I just stick to Twitter.

    Because Google+ is automatically backing up pics when it can, it means I can share picture there when I just can’t get them up on any other network (with my Android phone).

    That said, I find good reasons to use Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. They all fit such a good niche that I just couldn’t do without them, and I also couldn’t spread to another network just because I’m at full reach already.

    I’m do look at metrics, I do need to be sure that there is a reason for the interaction on each network. But usability is also a big factor.

    • Hi Vernon! I love the emphasis on usability! Thanks for bringing this perspective to the discussion.

  • mtraininjax

    Kevan – Great post! One thing to add is that I would recommend folks do one small thing daily, weekly, monthly, whatever their frequency for the Social Media program…..repeat, repeat, repeat. Nothing kills a program like posting once and thinking that no one is listening and thus you are going to stop. Take a post from Facebook, copy the link to Twitter, to Pinterest and back to your website or blog. You never know how people find you and with more search engines out there than ever before, it is necessary to make sure that each person on a SM platform work on their program a bit each day, week or month, but do not give up. Great suggestions below as well!

  • Great post Kevan. Thanks for citing Digital Insights as a source 🙂

    To your point, every social network has it’s own advantages. For Digital Insights, Twitter & Google+ act as the primary source of Traffic & that’s where we have focused majority of our attention

    • Thanks, Omkar! It was really helpful to find the info on Digital Insights. Do you all have a strategy for Facebook, too? Or are you exclusive to Twitter and Google+?

      • Hi Kevan,We are not concentrating on Facebook as such. We had given it some time (3 months) to build organically but then figured out that it just wasn’t worth the effort.Better focus on platforms which are yielding us results already 🙂

  • Hey Kevan (great post as ever.)

    I’m a big fan of stats but the whole ‘active users’ worries me slightly. How can Google+ be second when (as you rightly say) “Things might seem a little quiet at times”? Don’t get me wrong, I love Google+ but it’s not as ‘active’ as Twitter for me.

    Also, on the Twitter front, I find that it brings me a lot of interest and leads and I am B2B with my main focus on people over 35. So it kinda bucks the trend there too.

    The Facebook argument is a sound one. Social media is the number one activity on the web and Facebook is the largest one – simple decision. But I would also need to consider the diminishing reach and poor engagement that brands now get. Facebook may well be the largest but it’s not the easiest anymore and it’s also not much use to me for B2B.

    That said, great post and something I always say to others “Go where YOUR people are” if that’s Google+ then more power to you! 😉


    • Hi Todd! Thanks so much for your comment. Lots of great insights here.

      I’ve long been wary of “active user” stats, too, especially when they are reported by the social networks themselves. One network could consider users to be active in a different way than another network. It can get confusing, fast.

  • Katya Pavlopoulos

    It’s like you guys know exactly what I’m thinking about this week and then you post mind-blowingly-useful info about it! Thanks, Kevan!

    P.S.: made my day to see vkontakte and odnoklassniki networks on one of the charts. I was very active on them back in my I-dont-speak-English days

    • Hi Katya! Really glad you found this one useful. And how cool to know those Russia-only networks are familiar to you! Awesome!

    • Yulia Lantsberg

      First of all, thank you Kevan about great and very useful post.
      Katya, you can see on this link the stat of russian audience in world and russian-only networks. http://www.masterskayafanstranic.com.ua/statistika_socialnyh_setej_2014/

      I think it’s interesting enough that odnoklassniki and vkontakte stand far ahead from world networks, including Facebook (If I don’t mistake, it’s an only case about local neworks). Although, among the Russian-speaking marketers prevailing opinion that slowing dinamics of osnoklasniki and vkontakte and rapid growing of russian-language users in facebook soon will balance the sitation to that in the world.

  • As someone with a very specific niche: I am a spiritual director, it’s OK if you are saying to yourself what the heck is that, a tiny number of people even know we exist, and even fewer know what we do; but I digress. Thank you Kevan for this article. I am constantly looking for information that will work for me and my VERY niche ministry/business and I just love this article.

    I am bookmarking it because I know when I feel I need a boost I will reread this. When I am feeling like I am a pirate with his peg leg stuck in a knothole on the deck of his ship, spinning ever spinning, I will reread it.

    • Hi Patty! Thanks so much for the comment! It’s so awesome to hear that this post was helpful for you. And what a fun analogy with the pirate – I hope you aren’t spinning too often! Glad this post’ll be around to help out. 🙂

  • Post PS: I love, not make that: LOVE!!!!!, buffer. I use it all the time!!!

  • Terril Retter

    Just ran across this post today. Good timing as we had a fairly heated discussion on channel use and priority yesterday.

    Two additional cuts on the data would be useful. US only data. Small retailers and services businesses probably have little interest in the international data and many of the social channels have a big percentage of international users. The second would be retail versus services for B2C and B2B. This focus would go a long way in determine where potential customers may be.

    We need to identify what channels might be best for growing community, which would be better for growing relationships and which would work better for developing direct contacts for promotion and sales.

    • Hi Terril! That’s such great context to think about with this question. I’ll keep my eyes out for data – I can see how that’d be very helpful! Did you guys come to any decisions?

  • Good stuff, Kevin! This one is going in my archives to refer back to when I’m feeling overwhelmed or I feel the urge to get on ALL the networks!

  • Darlyne Koretos

    We are a small nonprofit that provides consulting, coaching and training services to other nonprofits in a mid-size city. Our volunteers deliver 100% of our services and are retired and working business and nonprofit professionals. So — we are more like a B2B organization that operates in a specific geographic market. I use FB, LinkedIn and Twitter and post messages 3-4x a week. Also, post new blogs to website once a week; post new “trends” articles once a month. I use lots of photos when I can. Most of our volunteers are not on social media. Any advice, change of tactics, etc?

    • Thanks for sharing this, Darlyne! 🙂

      • Darlyne Koretos

        Well . . . I was asking for advice on my tactics. Any suggestions, changes, etc. for me to consider?

        • I would talk to your volunteers and see if you can encourage them to use social media. Find out what makes them tick in their private life and show them how socmed can fit in with that (keeping up with family, news, interest groups). You could even arrange a free course for them if you are in the UK through your local library.

  • Ann Verschueren

    Also all the way from Flanders in Belgium, great article! Thanks Kevan for sharing. I am helping our global netwerk of offices to get social, this will help for sure.

  • Wow. Great insights. Thanks Lee.

  • Hey Kevan Big Ideas Here !

    Like this Stuff. As it is very important to choose a best social networking site for your business. I use to participate in all social sites but facebook and twitter is one of my favorite for all kind of posts/stuff. Great way for your business to develop. As linkedin is for some kind of professional stuff and even some time for business location like to work on Google+ also, which is not as much active among young generation, still generate effective results.

    • Thanks for sharing your thought process! Insightful stuff!

  • This, this, this. I’m doing an experiment of my own, seeing what people post where and why. It’s part reflection of my own follows, part how people are social. Every person needs to figure this out for themselves; every brand needs to figure out these things about not only their customers, but other key players (media, investors, potential employees, etc.) as well. End of the day it may not even be one of the BIG networks; it may be the smaller, less gamed, more engaging community or forum that sees the best returns. FWIW.

    • Hi Davina! Thanks so much for the comment! I’ve got such respect for your opinion on these things, so it’s great to hear that you’re considering some of the same ideas. Interested to hear what you learn!

  • This is a great post. At Design.UX, we’ve dabbled in all of them but we get the most consistent returns from the image-based group as people like photos of our product. Polyvore is working nicely for us in that category.

    • It’s awesome to feel confident about which social networks are right for you; way to go! I haven’t explored Polyvore as fully as I should; perhaps it’s time to take a look!

  • Guest

    Thanks for doing the research for me!

  • Thanks for doing the research for me! This is one thing that social businesses should do FIRST before deciding on a platform.

  • Great post Kevan. The ‘Change in Active users’ data is from Q2/Q4 2013 – is there a place where we can get more current data?

  • Great article Kevan, this is often one of the longest conversations I have with my clients. They often feel it’s necessary to jump in all the networks at once just because they’re popular, which I don’t reccomend, especially if they are trying to handle it all on their own. Many businesses have a niche and choosing the right ones networks is key to their success.

  • Thank you @kevanlee:disqus. Great to read a well researched article that shows you don’t need to be on every platform.

    I find a combination of twitter (a community focused personal profile and a smaller industry focused business account) and LinkedIn, with a dash of G+ (particularly good for SEO and hangouts) works best for me. (I killed my facebook account a few years ago because I didn’t like the way it was manipulated.) However, I can see real value in things like Pinterest for other businesses (and do use it occasionally to bookmark/share interesting infographics).



  • Antonio Fernandez

    Kevan, what an awesome post. I really enjoyed the statistics you provide. Very thorough.

    • So glad to hear it, Antonio! Thanks for the comment!

  • Interesting post, but I do believe that you have not given enough credit to the Google Plus platform.

    As you say you need to understand your intended target audience, and then work out how they fit into the picture. then there is the issue of your blog and your web sites.

    You clearly have not defined how these are related to social media, and what the value of your other online content has, when using social media.

    It is my personal opinion that social media is just an add on to your marketing, but needs to be evaluated very clearly for the extra value that social media adds to your existing online marketing, if you have any at all.

    In my opinion using social media without a back up of a blog, a web or both is a total waste of time and effort. what value will the use of social media bring to a business, if you can not influence sales or customer intent?

    the other factors are what are commonly called #STFSEOVI or Semantic Trust Factor Search Engine Optimisation Value Indicators that come along for the ride when you make use of social media to market your web site, blog or both web site and blog. These are not the only powerful #SEOVI that come along for the ride, as each social media post is viewed as a atand alone web page by search engines, and thus carries all the potential SEOVI that a web page may have across to your other online content when you reference their URL’s *web addresses) in your social media posts.

    The social media is thus a powerful addition to your online marketing strategy, and as you say you need to take great care and choose the one that will work for you.

    Your web site and blog usually manage these two areas, by having appropriate pages where sales and customer queries may be handled, but without these what would you do?

  • Wendy Kiana Kelly

    Just clicked over from Google+ & happened upon my second Kevan Lee post in a matter of days.
    Great information – thanks for taking the time to research and provide solid information – very much something I need today!

  • #peep… I found this article on Twitter. iMUSICpeep.com

  • DQCollectionsMD

    Wow! This was so informational and helpful. My small business has tried to send traffic to our website through FB, Instagram, and Twitter all at the same time. We are learning through the school of hard knocks. But this is definitely, helping us to get the jump on which social media outlet will most likely serve our audience better. Right now, I think I I need to change a few of our accounts to go where our audience is. Thanks soooooooo very much! Looking forward to the next class!

  • I’m new at this. What’s B2b and B2C ?

    • Oops, so sorry we didn’t clarify that, Barry. They stand for “business to community” and “business to business”

  • Suffolk Social Media

    Brilliant article thank you. http://www.suffolksocialmedia.com

  • I think this is one of the best social network comparison I ever read. Thanks!

  • aulbertwest

    Thank You for this information, but I do have a question. My website is an animal information website, so I “googled” Social Networks for Pets, the first result had a list of 18 social networks for pet lovers, so my question is can Buffer do on these lesser known social networks what you do with the major ones? That is post a tweet or comment automatically. The website started out as a dog walking service, but physical & financial limitations changed that, but allowed me to expand.

  • don duncan

    Kevan I very much appreciate your sound advice

  • JohnnyDepp

    you can pick what to take a gander at and what to share. This gives organizations more chances to speak to themselves in different ways. Facebook is around a long haul duty and building connections, albeit there’s some instantaneousness as you can answer specifically to individuals’ remarks or inquiries C4040-250 pass-4sure .

  • Michelle Tanzola

    Good information, but is there an update to this article or a new version with current info? This is a year old. Because social networks can be volatile with what’s trending, I’d like to see this same information updated.

  • Samar

    Great article really, you help me to find a way to start with social media,
    The first thing I will do I will make survey to determine the best network fit for my company and depend on that i will determine the content strategy & content type, and I will test that for couple months as u said 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • seabee

    Thank you for that great post! Currently I am trying to figure out the right social media channel for me as well. It’s definitely not easy to make this choice, thats why I am trying a few different ones and just see what’s going to work better, though very time consuming…

  • actually it is very important because we are investing our time in it and hard work 2

  • Kristi

    See now this was a good article. I went to Entrepreneur first where someone’s title was almost the same, but all they did was tell you information about each site. Um… no. Good job Kevan!

  • James Smith

    Hi all, thanks for the great article! We created an update, “How to Choose Social Media Channels for your Business”, the 2016 version. We also added there users’ Areas of Interests and Behaviors. You can go through this slideshare, find out where your potential clients hang out and choose the social media platform accordingly!

    ===> http://www.altalane.com/blog/141069/choose-social-media-channels-business