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Social network advertising: Which platform is my community on?

Social network advertising: Which platform is my community on?

Social network advertising is an increasingly popular way to get the word out about government projects, and more particularly, about the opportunity for the community to get involved or have their say on the project. But, which platform is right for your project and your specific target audience?

Social networks are clearly a fantastic channel to promote public interest projects. The opportunity for locational, demographic and interest targeting of advertisements potentially makes your various social channels a potent and cost-effective mechanism to get your message to precisely the right people.

The very best way to work out which platform is right for you is to get into the advertising sections of each platform and create a targeted advertisement. The platform should let you know just how many people you should expect to reach.

Before you go creating accounts on each of the platforms there is, fortunately, enough generic research to give you a starting point for assessing the merits of your options.

I’ve pulled together data from a bunch of resources below to give a big picture overview of demographic strengths and weaknesses of each platform. My focus here is on the English language networks. I have NOT included YouTube because of a relative lack of data. This is an oversight I will correct in another post soon.

A word of warning, however, the research inevitably is incomplete. So you will more than likely need to experiment a bit. Fortunately, social network advertising can also be very affordable during an experimental phase while you’re designing your advertising strategy.

The charts below have been drawn from data from a number of research reports and including the Pew Research Centre study, which looked at social network demographics in the US market; Statista which collates statistics for global and national social network activity; and Social Media News which gathers and provides commentary on Australian based social network data.


Social network size: How do they compare?


Chart: Global social network account holders

Source: Statista


On a global scale, Facebook is clearly the elephant in the room. It is far and away the largest network globally. Aside from China (where QZone holds sway); Russian zones (where V Kontakte and Odnoklassniki dominate): and Iran (where Facenamia is the preferred network), Facebook dominates the global map. Simply put, if you want to reach the largest possible audience (rather than a particular niche) then Facebook is undoubtedly the place to advertise.

Facebook is followed in turn by Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram and then, far behind, Pinterest.



A cautionary note, the citizens of various countries are not responding to social networks uniformly.

Just to demonstrate that not every market is the same, I’ve put together the chart above comparing membership of the same five platforms in Australia. You’ll note that while Facebook still clearly dominates, Instagram has flourished here, followed by Linkedin and Twitter, with Pinterest way behind.

The conclusion is the same. If you are looking at the breadth of reach, then Facebook is the best-placed platform to deliver to a wide and diverse audience. The other platforms are clearly more niche.

Let’s explore just a few of those nuances.


Social networking platform preferences by sex



There are more women than men on Facebook, Instagram and (by a very long way), Pinterest. Pinterest stands out as a very good platform for niche advertising to women.

In contrast there are more men on Twitter and (very slightly) Linkedin. But the differences are at the margin, so I wouldn’t be recommending either for “targeted” advertising to men. Facebook still wins on this front.


Social networking platform preferences by age group



Because of it’s overall market saturation, Facebook is the preferred platform of all four age groups.

Close to 90% of the 18-19 year age group are on Facebook, which is extraordinary and runs somewhat contrary to some online commentary about younger people moving away from Facebook because mum and dad (and grandma and grandad) have joined up! Instagram is also massively popular with 18-19-year-olds; over 50% have accounts. Millenials really do “own” Instagram.

In contrast, older folks are showing a willingness to sign up to Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, and, of course, Facebook but not Instagram. It seems that Instagram just isn’t hitting the mark with the over 50s.

For some reason, Twitter seems to appeal to the over 65s but not 50-64-year-olds. Why is anyone’s guess. It does, however, appeal to the 30-49 year age group, who appear to be the most catholic in their social network tastes with the most even spread across Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter.


Social network preferences by educational attainment



When we look at social network preference by education we start to get some more useful information about the “social cohort” we are targeting.

Facebook has everyone, which is no great surprise. LinkedIn, by contrast, is completely dominated by college attendees and graduates. So much so, that it is the second most popular network amongst this group.

Pinterest and Twitter are also both very popular with college graduates, while Instagram is more popular with college students. High schools student (and people with a High School level education?) prefer Pinterest and Instagram, followed by Twitter and, along way behind, Linkedin.

The key lesson from this chart is that if you’re thinking about targeting college graduates, then Linkedin is definitely worth a look. The only caveat I would place on that is the degree of engagement Linkedin users have with the platform compared to Twitter users. It may well be that the engagement rates (and therefore exposure to your adverts) is much higher on Twitter despite the lower user numbers.


Social network preference by personal income



Once again, everyone is on Facebook irrespective of income level.

Unsurprisingly, given what we know about educational attainment, wealthier people tend to be on Linkedin than the other networks, although Pinterest is also well served by this particular group.

The slight surprise for me is that the Twitter demographic profile isn’t even more skewed to higher income earners given its reputation as the home for the chattering political classes. However, given that the top trending hashtags often seem to feature Justin Bieber, perhaps it isn’t so strange.

Instagram is popular among the less wealthy; i.e. young people. No surprises there.


Social network preferences by location



There is a clear skew away from Linkedin for rural residents, as well as a significant preference from Pinterest. Instagram and Twitter are also less popular with rural folk.

It seems that the closer we live to city centers the more we like to use Linkedin, Instagram and Twitter.


Social networking platform preferences by ethnicity



This particular data set is unique to the US market, and I’m not confident that it has any relevance at all outside of the US. I haven’t been able to find any similar data breaking down social network preference by ethnicity for any other countries (although I’m sure it exists somewhere; certainly in Facebook’s databases!).

There are, however, some really pronounced differences between the three identified groups – Hispanic, black and white – which provide important lessons in making cultural assumptions for targeted campaigning.

For example, Pinterest is much more popular with white people than black people, whereas Instagram is much more popular with Hispanic and black people than white people. Why that is, I don’t know. And, as I said, it is completely irrelevant if you happen to be reading this in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada or anywhere else.

What is important is that it is worth checking on local preferences if you are targeting specific CALD communities. It may well be that social network preferences amongst different cultural communities aren’t captured in the commonly referenced data.


Which social network is right for your community?


In summary:

  • Facebook is the behemoth and should probably always be the first port of call.
  • Pinterest is worth exploring if you are targeting women (particularly, younger educated women)
  • Instagram is worth looking at if you are trying to reach younger people
  • Linkedin is the place to find wealthy, well educated, urban professionals
  • Twitter has a slightly broader user base than Linkedin of more highly engaged educated people
  • Ethnic cohorts may have specific preferences that need local investigation


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