Often, the biggest challenge for any company implementing a social media marketing campaign is deciding where to start. There are so many avenues now for social media marketing that it can make your head spin just thinking about it.

Of course, there’s Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which are probably the Big 3 of social media marketing. But a whole bunch of other social media sites have popped up in recent years, including Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, Reddit, DIGG, Instagram, SnapChat and SlideShare. Oh, and let’s not forget YouTube, which gets up to 30 million visitors a day and is also the second most-popular search engine on the Internet, behind only Google.

Narrowing It Down

So how do you decide which of these sites to focus your social media marketing efforts on? I asked Richard Sink, the founder of Critical Connections and a pioneer in social media marketing, for his thoughts on this critical question.

“Any social media presence should always begin with an understanding of where your customers are actively engaging online,” was Richard’s answer. Or in other words: Go where your customers are.

For example, my 16-year-old daughter seems to be addicted to Tumblr. So if my main target audience is teenage girls, this is probably one of the social media sites I should be focusing on. At the other end of the spectrum, SlideShare is the world’s largest online community for sharing presentations. An estimated 60 million influential business leaders, consultants, speakers and the like visit the site every month — so if these are my target audience, I should consider focusing my social media marketing efforts on SlideShare.

“It’s all about creating as many touch points as possible with your online audience,” Richard added. “These touch points need to be relevant, consistent and engaging. Taking this approach will enable your business to capture and retain mindshare that leads to increased market share.”

Different Demographics

As with any targeted marketing effort, targeting your audiences for social media will involve segmenting your customers by demographics. But social media demographics go beyond traditional demographics like age, gender, race, location and income to include things like your customers’ passions, interests, values, beliefs and skills. “It’s about truly discovering who your customer is at a deeper level,” said Richard. “The deeper you engage and learn about your ideal customer, the easier it is for you to target your social media marketing efforts and content to their specific interests and needs.”

But what kinds of content should you be offering up via social media? Start by identifying the core needs that your business meets and problems it solves for your customers, and then generate content that helps meet these needs and solve these problems.

“In particular, visual forms of communication like images, pictures and video are becoming increasingly popular on social media,” Richard notes. “That’s one reason why Pinterest, Instagram, SlideShare and, of course, YouTube are so popular. The future of social media marketing belongs to organizations with an ability to understand and deliver these types of visual content.”

Committing Adequate Resources

Like any marketing initiative, launching a successful social media marketing campaign will require a serious commitment of resources — both money and time. But in his experience, Richard says that budgeting and staffing allocations for social media marketing often fall well short of what’s required for a successful campaign.

“Any company that’s serious about social media marketing needs to start assembling a team of resources, both internal and external, that will be responsible for creating and implementing the social media marketing plan,” he said. “More companies today are outsourcing some or all of their social media activities as they realize the importance of social media expertise and the cost-effectiveness of outsourcing versus hiring staff dedicated to social media marketing.”

Finally, Richard stresses the importance of patience when it comes to social media marketing. “The most important keys to success are committing the time, talent and resources to your social media marketing efforts, and then sticking with it over the long term. Social media marketing is a process, not an event — and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Companies sometimes pull the plug on their social media marketing just as it’s primed to take off and generate serious results for them.”