Social media marketing offers huge opportunities for brands of all sizes, all over the world.

However, knowing which social media platform(s) to use for your brand's marketing efforts isn't always easy, even when you've got access to all the latest user data and platform rankings for every country in the world.

Choosing social channels
As we saw in the Q3 Global Digital Statshot, which we recently published together Hootsuite, social media use is still growing at an impressive rate, and there are now more than 3 billion people around the world using social media every month.

That figure is based on the active accounts on the most active social platform in each country – in most countries around the world that’s Facebook, but there are some notable exceptions.

For example, WeChat is the largest social media platform in China today, and VKontakte is the most popular platform in Russia.

However, as the Digital Statshot also showed, social media use isn’t evenly distributed around the world.

Barely one in every 7 people in South Asia and Africa use social media today, while less than 10% of the population of Central Asia is active on social each month.

Rapid global growth
However, social networking has quickly become one of the world’s most popular online activities, and once we allow for age restrictions on platforms like Facebook, we’ve already reached the stage where more than half of ‘eligible’ audiences are using social media today.

Social media growth shows no signs of slowing, either. Our latest research shows that more 1 million people start using social media for the first time every single day – that’s more than 12 new users every second.

So, in the time you’ve been reading this article, well over 1,000 new users will have joined one of the world’s top social platforms.

We’re spending more time on social media too, and we’re using a wider variety of social platforms in that time too.

The Philippines retains its crown as the world’s ‘most social’ nation, with users in the country averaging more than 4 hours of social media use every day.

Meanwhile, in the platform rankings, Facebook has consolidated its lead, adding an additional 50 million users in just the few weeks since Mark Zuckerberg announced the platform had passed the 2 billion user mark.

But you’ll notice that Facebook isn’t the only platform with impressive user numbers; in fact, based on the most recently published data, there are now at least 20 social platforms around the world with more than 100 million active users.

What’s interesting though, is that if you add up the users on just the top 6 of those platforms, the total already exceeds the total world population.

Evolving audience behaviour
It should come as no surprise that these numbers are the result of people using more than one social platform, but many marketers seem to overlook this behaviour when it comes to planning their social media activities.

The most important finding coming out of this data is that people use different social platforms for different objectives and desired outcomes.

And you’ll know this yourself too; you may use Facebook as a ‘content feed’, helping you keep up with the latest videos from around the web, or even the latest news.

Meanwhile, you might use Instagram to share photos of your lunch, or the latest goings-on in your office.

When it comes to chatting with your friends though, you’ve probably migrated those conversations to a messenger app like WhatsApp, LINE or WeChat.

Understanding these different user behaviours is central to building a successful social media marketing strategy.

The most important thing to realise though, is that you’ll often find the same people across different platforms.

As a result, you need to think about how you use each platform to its full potential.

The importance of a balance social media diet
Try not to share exactly the same thing across all channels in an attempt to improve reach, because in all likelihood, you’ll actually be reaching the same people multiple times, just in different contexts.

So, how do you select the right channel – or mix of channels – for your brand’s needs?

Well, the first thing you need to do is understand what you’re trying to achieve. Why are you using social media in the first place? What’s the outcome you’re trying to deliver?

The next thing you need to think about is your audience: who are the people you most want to reach and engage?

Once you’ve identified your objectives and your audience, you need to identify which kinds of content will be most relevant to helping you achieve your objectives.

And it’s only after you’ve answered those questions that you should even start to think about which social media platforms you use – because your choice will depend on your answers to the previous questions.

Choosing your platforms
Even once you’ve answered these questions though, there will likely be a few different options to choose from. There are three basic considerations that will help you narrow this list down to the best options:

Reach – how many people in your audience actively use the platform?
Context – what are these people using the platform for? Does that context offer you any valuable engagement opportunities?
And lastly, Resourcing: how much time, effort and money will you need to invest on each platform in order to achieve the results you need?

It’s worth stressing that the answers for each brand will be slightly different depending on your specific objectives, and the biggest platforms may not always be the best ones for your needs.

It’s also worth highlighting a note of caution too:

Don’t over-extend yourself by trying to manage too many social channels.

Avoid the temptation of trying to be active across lots of different platforms, because this can spread your efforts and investments too thin.

This isn’t just inefficient use of budget though; publishing half-hearted content, or failing to engage in conversations with engaged audiences, can actually end up doing more harm than good.

So, my recommendation is fewer, bigger, better; choose one or two platforms and do them well, rather than trying to bite off more than you can chew.

People, not platforms
When it comes to selecting and planning your social channel mix, focus your efforts on understanding your audience’s motivations, not just the user numbers.

Remember that what those people want, and the reasons why they use each platform, are far more important than the technological features of the platforms themselves.