For any new business venturing out into the strange land of social media marketing it can be a nightmare trying to pick your way through the tremendous number of options available. It’s tempting to either pick just one to focus on, or try to spread your online presence thinly across almost every social media platform you come across. The trouble is that both of these approaches are flawed, and will probably do very little to justify the investment of your time that will be needed.

If you focus on just one social media platform then there’s always a danger of you choosing the wrong one. Not everyone realises that each platform available is targeting a specific market, offering specific advantages and benefits which won’t necessarily provide your business with the best possible gain. If your aim is to build a business to business network then there’s relatively little point spending a huge amount of time on sites such as Flickr, YouTube and Digg. On the other hand if you’re trying to target customers rather than businesses then you may not find that sites such as Twitter or LinkedIn really provide you with the advantages you’re after. Then again, you may simply be looking for good, solid SEO value, in which case there’s little point looking at Facebook.

So how do you choose the right platform for you? The most crucial aspect of getting started with social media marketing is to know exactly what it is you’re trying to achieve. You wouldn’t walk onto a sports field, watched by thousands of people, without the slightest clue as to what you’re doing there, what game you’re playing or what equipment you need to have with you. You’d plan, prepare, research and make sure that before you stepped onto the field you were fully aware of what you were doing there, what your role will be and what tools and tactics you’ll need to bring along with you.

Social media is much the same. Running out onto the field waving your arms madly in the air won’t in any way help you score. Understanding the different games, rules, appeal, tactics, tools, needs and likely audience will ensure you make the most of your social media marketing efforts, and don’t just get carried off at half time, exhausted, dazed and disillusioned.

First of all, think about who you want to target. Are you looking to develop a B2B network, or are you purely interested in reaching your potential customer base? If you’re looking to target potential customers then make sure you know where to find them. Not everyone uses Facebook, and not every subject is suited to YouTube marketing. Images may be valuable in some industries whereas text based discussions may be attracting a different audience.

There are so many social media platforms out there, with some offering more benefits to business than others, some appealing to young, tech savvy customers and others to older people looking for helpful guides, information or impartial reviews. Each platform has gouged out for itself a part of the social media landscape, and it’s important to make sure you’re standing in the right place in order to make sure the right people hear you.

Once you know who you’re targeting, and you know where to find them, the next thing to appreciate is how to use that platform appropriately. You could jump on YouTube and start creating marketing videos, but is this really what your target audience is looking for? Do some research, and find out what’s already there, what’s working and what isn’t. If you find a whole heap of YouTube videos relating to your market, and you find that they’ve each got a few dozen hits, then this gives you something of a clue that perhaps it’s dead water. Similarly if you find that similar Facebook pages to the one you’re planning only have a few fans then this may also suggest you might be better looking elsewhere.

Know your market, know where to find your market and know how to use the tools available in the right way to reach out to the right people.

Is there a social media platform you’ve abandoned because it wasn’t generating the kind of interest you had hoped for? Or have you been surprised by the unexpected success of a platform you didn’t hold out much hope for? Have you got a tip worth sharing about how to make the most of your preferred social media platform?