Whether you are launching a brand spanking new company or trying to reach a new audience for your existing one, it’s likely you’re thinking about how social media plays a part in your marketing mix. The social channels you need to be on are a total no-brainer, right? — My restaurant should share beautifully styled food photos on Instagram; my salon needs to have a YouTube channel, because beauty vloggers are a big deal. Maybe not. The right channel for your brand may seem like an obvious choice, and your gut may be pointing you in the right direction, but you need to do a little legwork to make sure.

Picking the right social media channels for your brand should be a strategic decision, one that helps you meet brand goals and one that will ultimately help your bottom line.

While it may be tempting to put your business on every channel available, it’s only worth putting in the time and effort of creating and maintaining a channel (or multiple channels) if the people you want to reach are already engaging there and if you have the capacity to maintain those channels with the necessary amount of quality content.

So, how do you decide which social media platform is right for your brand?

Set goals. What is it that you want to accomplish on social media? How will it help your business and your brand? Be clear about why you are putting yourself on these platforms and what it is that you’d like to achieve.

The answer that “everyone is on social” is a great start, but you’ll need to dig a little deeper to ensure that you’re choosing a platform that makes sense for you and your business. For example: Are you looking for increased awareness of your brand? Are you looking for a more streamlined customer service solution? Are you interested in getting more reservations for your restaurant? Do you want to drive people to your e-commerce site? Really think about what you want to get out of social media, for both your brand and your business.

Identify your audience. Who do you want to talk to? When thinking about the audience for your social media channels, you want to think about the new people you want to attract as well as your existing customers. Do you have an idea of who this person is? About how old are they? Is there a gender that is more likely to favor your product?

Once you have an idea of who your person is you can do a little research to decide which social media platforms they are most likely to be using.

Pro Tip

Pew Internet is a good resource that will give you a demographic breakdown of social media channels, adoption and growth rates, and more.

Marketing Charts offers a detailed overview of the demographics of some of the most popular channels.

Know your channels. Once you determine the social media channels where you’re likely to reach and engage your customers, it’s time to get an understanding of what each platform is, how it works, and how you might be able to use it to reach your business marketing and brand goals.

Each channel serves it’s own purpose and knowing the goals for your brand on social media will help you determine if the platforms purpose will serve in helping you accomplish them. When I think about the different social platforms, I like to start off by thinking about how people use the channels, and what they want to see there.

For example, people come to Facebook to see what their friends are up to. This is a space where people of all ages share photos of their daily lives, articles on things they are passionate about, and lots of cute animal videos. Facebook is making a move toward prioritizing posts from friends in the organic news feed, as opposed to organic posts from brands. This means your brand may not get a lot of engagement on your posts and page unless you put some paid media behind it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post on Facebook unless you are doing ads, it just means set realistic expectations, and make sure your customers know that you are sharing great content there.

Instagram is where people go to see beautiful imagery. They follow their friends, artists, photographers, and brands that have a visual style that they like. For a brand, Instagram is a place where pictures tell your story. A brand using Instagram to reach its customers should make sure to have high quality images that will catch people’s eyes as they scroll through.

Be realistic about your bandwidth. Social media isn’t free and it isn’t magic. Who is going to be in charge of your social media? Do they have the time to devote to it? It’s nearly impossible to create effective social media campaigns – that meet the goals you’ve set forth for them – if it there is not a person responsible for ensuring it happens.

Each platform, in addition to having its own purpose within people’s lives, has its own best practices for size of images, length of copy, and posting cadence. Do you have someone on your team who can ensure that the content your producing fits with the channel you’re sharing it on? While it can be perfectly OK to share the same message on your different social channels, you also want to give your customers and potential customers a reason to follow you across the different channels you’re using. Diversifying the content and making sure it fits each channel is the best way to do this.

Do you have the resources to create content for these channels? Some social media platforms require more content than others, but they all rely on a steady stream of images and text, at minimum – and someone needs to create that, ensure that the content is helping you meet the goals you set forth, and make sure it goes live when it is supposed to.

Find your match. The right platform sits at the intersection of everything above. Most small businesses will end up with a mix of channels – likely some combination of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, but, depending on your audience and your goals, you may rely heavily on Snapchat or Reddit and have no Facebook presence at all.

The right channels for your business are the ones where your audience is already hanging out, ones that help to meet your business goals, and the ones that you have the ability to fill with amazing content that tells your brand story.