Which Social Network is Best for Merchants?

For the most part, ecommerce and marketing professionals tend to agree that social media plays an important role in the success of an online retail business. That's good to know, but one tiny problem remains: With so many social networks and ways to interact with consumers on the World Wide Web, which site is THE BEST one to invest your time and energy on?

This is a question that has plagued marketers for a few years now, but since social media has officially been around long enough for every facet of it to be thoroughly examined (in most cases, more than twice), the pros and cons of the various social networks out there are well documented. This means finding the one that is going to be best for merchants should be a cinch, right?

When it comes to social media, the first thing that pops into most people's minds is their Facebook profile. Mark Zuckerberg's famous website may have a questionable privacy policy, but there's no doubt that when it comes to growing and engaging with your audience, advertising and even selling your products (through "f-commerce" services from companies like Volusion and Ecwid), Facebook has all of its competitors beat. With more than 1 billion users, Facebook has the largest collection of potential consumers out there, and plenty of ways to get your brand in front of their eyeballs, including its various advertising programs (display ads, Sponsored Stories, etc.) and the new-ish Graph Search feature.

Twitter is a great platform for marketing your brand and sharing your unique message with the world. Since you only have 140 characters to say what you need to say, it really ensures that you stick to the essentials (something most marketers would be smart to do more of). It's also an excellent platform for accepting and responding to customer queries and complaints (and retweeting compliments) in an efficient manner. Plus, with new services like Chirpify, in-stream Twitter-commerce is starting to become a reality, although a shaky and certainly immature reality, for the time being.

Google+ has yet to come out with a really feasible, useful shopping option like Facebook or Twitter, and it certainly doesn't have the audience reach that Facebook can offer, but it does do one thing: help you get found. Since G+ is so closely integrated with Google Search, setting up a Google+ Page for your online ecommerce business is a great way to improve the way your business shows up on the world's most popular search engine (by a long shot). Google+ also offers the added benefit of Google Authorship, which is great for online merchants with a blog, as it will provide their content with more credibility and authority in the SERPs.

Merchants love Pinterest, because it allows them to share images of their products to interested consumers, and we all know how much people on the Internet love pictures. The huge surge in popularity that Pinterest has seen in the last two years has been a dream for retailers, particularly those that sell products that lend themselves to being looked at repeatedly, such as apparel or home décor. And although interested consumers can't actually make purchases on the social pinboarding site, Pinterest does allow them to click and link and be taken directly the specific page on their website for the product their interested in. So, since it is basically the online version of "just browsing" through a store, and can thus lead to impulsive purchasing decisions, Pinterest is certainly a favorite among online merchants, for good reason.

So, which is best?
Well, I guess that depends on what you're looking for. Having a presence on the "Big 3" (Facebook, Twitter and Google+) is more or less imperative for different reasons (brand recognition, search visibility, customer engagement, etc.), but finding the one that works best for your business is really a matter of what your company's unique needs are. While Facebook currently offers the largest selection of audience targeting and advertising options, as well as third-party services that allow you to actually sell your products through the search engine, making it the most solid, go-to social network for most merchants. But with that being said, don't discount the power of Pinterest as a way to drive interest in your products and help browsing consumers find your offerings while they're already searching for similar items.