Doing all the necessary research to choose the right mix of social networks for your social marketing campaign may seem overwhelming, but, hey, this is the web — help is at your fingertips. There are many resource websites with directories of social networking sites, usage statistics, demographic profiles, and valuable tips on how to use different sites. The selection process is straightforward, and the steps are similar to constructing a plan for paid online advertising.

Site Name What It Does
Alexa Ranks traffic and demographic data by site
Experian Hitwise Presents top ten social sites by visits per week
DoubleClick Ad Planner by Google Compiles traffic data by site
Google Toolbar Install Google Toolbar with Google PageRank (not available for all browsers)
Ignite Social Media Compiles traffic, demographic data
Mashable Presents social media news, web tips
Practical eCommerce Lists 18 social networks for entrepreneurs
Quantcast Compiles traffic and demographic data by site
SEOmoz Compares 101 business social networks
Social Media Today Compiles statistical sources
Social Networking Watch Aggregates social net news and stats
Toms Skyline Design Lists 17 vertical market sites
Traffikd Categorizes over 400 social media sites; regularly updated
Virgin Media Ranks top ten Gen-Y social networks
Yahoo! Voices Ranks ten senior social networks
Wikipedia Provides directory of more than 160 social networking sites

Follow these general steps to get your research under way:

  1. Review the strategy, goals, and target markets for your social marketing campaign.

    If your B2B business needs to target particular individuals during the sales cycle, such as a CFO, buyer, or project engineer, be specific in your plan.

  2. Decide how much time (yours, staff, or third parties), and possibly budget, you want to commit to minor social networking sites.

    Don’t underestimate how much time social media marketing can take. After you’re comfortable with Facebook and (if it fits) Twitter, it’s okay to start with just one or two minor sites and slowly add services over time.

  3. Skim the directories and lists of social media to select possibilities that fit your goals.

    For more ideas, simply search using terms for your business area plus the words social network or social media (for example, fashion social network).

  4. Review the demographics and traffic for each possibility by using a site such as Alexa, Google’s double-click ad planner, or Quantcast. Cull your list to keep only those that “fit.”

    Market share is ranked not by traffic to the sites themselves but, rather, by “the amount of traffic they refer to other sites.” This approach may be valuable for business analysis because it discounts personal users who stay on social media sites to communicate with their friends. The Other category encompasses sites such as Flickr, LinkedIn, Delicious, and Google+.

    [Credit:     Source: StatCounter Global Stats;]
    Credit:     Source: StatCounter Global Stats;
  5. Review each network (see suggestions in the following bullet list) to make sure you feel comfortable with its web presence, user interaction, Google PageRank, features, ease of use, and ability to provide key reports. Prioritize your sites accordingly.

  6. Enter your final selection in your Social Media Marketing Plan and set up a schedule for implementation and monitoring on your Social Media Activity Calendar.

  7. Implement your plan. Modify it as needed after results come in.

    Wait at least a month before you make changes; gaining visibility within some social network sites can take time.

For leads to other social networks that appeal to your audience, look for a section named Other Sites Visited (or similar wording) on one of the statistical sites.

Keep in mind these words of caution as you review statistics in Steps 3 and 4 for various minor social networks:

  • Not all directories or reports on market share define the universe of social media or social networks the same way. Some include blogs, social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, or news aggregators. Small social networks may come and go so quickly that the universe is different even a few months later.

  • Confirm whether you’re looking at global or U.S. data. What you need depends on the submarkets you’re trying to reach.

  • Determine whether the site displays data for unique visitors or visits. A unique visitor may make multiple visits during the evaluation period. Results for market share vary significantly depending on what’s being measured.

  • Repeat visits, pages per view, time on site, and number of visits per day or per visitor all reflect user engagement with the site. Not all services provide this data, whose importance depends on your business goals.

  • Decide whether you’re interested in a site’s casual visitors or registered members. Your implementation and message will vary according to the audience you’re trying to reach.

  • Check the window of measurement (day, week, or month or longer) and the effective dates for the results. These numbers are volatile, so be sure you’re looking at current data.

Regarding social media or everything else, consider online statistics for relative value and trends, not for absolute numbers. Because every statistical service defines its terms and measurements differently, stick with one source to make the results comparable across all your possibilities.