Nick Wolny is senior editor of the financial independence vertical at NextAdvisor, in partnership…
If you want to make money online this year, it be might time to log out of Instagram.
“I tried selling on Instagram, on Facebook, on everything,” says Shannon Conway, a graphic designer based in Chicago. “I would post projects that I was working on and say ‘If you need help, reach out, and we’ll start a conversation’. It didn’t really work that well.”
Then she took her talents to TikTok. “ I started just showing how to do things. I would just do tutorials, like how to draw this or that. It’s scary because you’re giving away your expertise for free.” Conway began applying her new approach in November 2021, when she had about 500 followers at the time. Today she’s at 35,800 followers, and her website traffic has more than doubled.
Conway’s organic marketing efforts on TikTok have led to eight new clients, including three clients on recurring retainers ranging from $500 to $5,000/month.
“Changing my approach has started so many conversations,” she says.
Focus more on adding value than selling all the time and you’ll win trust with your audience.
We surveyed 281 established entrepreneurs on which social media platforms they believe hold the biggest opportunities for making money online, expanding your audience, and attracting new customers to your business.
Here’s what they had to say.
TikTok is the best social media platform for growing audience and revenue right now, according to an exclusive survey of 281 online business owners.
Asked which network offers the biggest opportunity for aspiring business owners in 2022, 29.2% of respondents said it was TikTok. LinkedIn was second, winning the vote from 24.9% of respondents, and Instagram came in third with 17.4% of respondents.
The survey was conducted from April 22 to April 29. Questions were multiple choice, and respondents were given the option to expand on their choice in writing. For our question on social media platforms, 93.6% of respondents obliged and provided additional context. Select respondents were then contacted based on their answers for phone and video interviews to expand on their commentary.
As the new kid on the block, TikTok is a viral juggernaut beloved for its ability to show a more authentic, relatable side to businesses and brands. The platform has come a long way from its origins as a lip-syncing app, and recently passed Google to become the #1 most-visited web property in the world, according to data compiled by CloudFlare, a cloud-based web hosting company.
TikTok is best for entrepreneurs who want to explore the business-to-consumer (B2C) market, notes Shaun Veran, co-founder of Ouragins, an apparel company whose medical scrubs and masks have antimicrobial properties.
“TikTok allows for virality to happen more quickly and more organically than it would on other platforms,” he says. “The reason we are taking that strategy internally is because the content that we’re creating [on TikTok] can be utilized on the other platforms as well. I think the other platforms are trying to catch up, whether it be Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts.”
Related: How to Make Money on TikTok
Veran emphasizes that TikTok is often the origin point of certain videos, challenges, or conversations.
“This is something that we’ve seen in the past with Twitter. Content would start on Twitter, and then you would see it again on Instagram, and then the last place you’d see it was on Facebook. We’re noticing the same thing now with TikTok being the originator of a lot of these trends.”
TikTok isn’t just helpful for reaching new users; it can also be a gold mine for market research to see what topics in your industry are popular or relevant.
“Anything is effective as long as you’re collecting data from the right audience about what they look for in products like yours,” said James Shalhoub, co-founder and CEO of Finn, a company that produces wellness protocols and supplements for dogs. “For the pet wellness industry, understanding our target audience includes researching what pet-related videos do well on Tiktok. What do viral pet videos do that we could emulate? Or, put another way, what’s working for other people?”
In contrast, LinkedIn – a platform founded nearly 20 years ago – was also a popular choice. Entrepreneurs praise LinkedIn for its no-nonsense approach, ability to showcase industry expertise, and opportunities to connect directly with other business decision-makers and stakeholders.
The platform is a haven for business-to-business (B2B) entrepreneurs; 4 out of 5 LinkedIn members drive business decisions at their companies, according to LinkedIn advertising statistics.
“Once you focus on optimizing your profile and use the right hashtags, you can reach so many more people [on LinkedIn],” says Kimone Napier, a hiring strategist and founder of Hire Breakthrough, a company that helps pre-Series A founders with recruitment. “I recently shared a post that had over 8,000 views and ended up expanding my network. It is the most underrated platform and more business owners should start utilizing it.”
Many survey respondents noted that posts on LinkedIn have more longevity and less competition, an attractive one-two punch in today’s social media landscape.
“Business owners are tired of creating content, posting graphics, researching hashtags, and feeling like they’re in constant creation mode,” says Nikki McKnight, founder of McKnight Operational Consulting, an operations strategy company that works with both companies and entrepreneurs. “I see frustration and exhaustion [among business owners] with trying to “figure out” social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.”
Napier agrees, and her adoption of LinkedIn has been recent.
“My perception of LinkedIn in the past was very traditional, like ‘use LinkedIn when you’re working in a company, in a job’, and so forth,” she says. “And then it dawned on me over the past six months that I could possibly use LinkedIn to find more of my corporate clients.”
Napier took a scientific approach to LinkedIn. She first researched and studied industry hashtags specific to LinkedIn that were relevant and popular to the audience she was trying to attract. Once she had a strategy in place, she then focused her efforts on posting quality content consistently.
“Content [on LinkedIn] is different from Instagram,” she explains. “On Facebook and other platforms, it’s more about being an influencer. While you do have influencers on LinkedIn, more people are trying to get to know you on a personal level. ‘What does Kimone believe in? What are her values?’ People like that kind of content.”
One of Napier’s biggest posts was the result of imperfect action. “With this post, I was literally just reading through LinkedIn. I saw that the Crown Act had just been passed, so I shared my experience coming from corporate. I just shared what I was feeling in that moment, and my experience resonated with people.”
In recent years, Instagram has gone from simple photo-sharing app to full-blown media machine in the palm of your hand. Feeds, stories, reels, and live videos are all different content strategies that live within the app, and saturation has become a concern for some business owners. Instagram’s stories feature – released in August of 2016 – now sees an average of one billion posts every day, according to internal data advertised by Instagram.
If you can find your way through the noise, however, Instagram might be a perfect fit for your business. The happy medium creates a nice balance between visual stimulation and opportunities for direct messaging, according to Chernique Vertus, a life coach based in Brooklyn, New York. Vertus runs her business entirely through her Instagram account.
“Despite what the TikTokers say, Instagram still reigns supreme as the platform of choice for aspiring online business owners,” she says. “The maturity of the platform is sure to convert audience to consumer at a faster rate than TikTok. I think this is due to Instagram’s sponsored advertisements; we’re used to them, expect them, and have already spent money [on the platform].”
Related: How to Make Money on Instagram
Instagram also has more long-game brand-building potential for business owners than TikTok, according to Lainey Morse, the founder of Goat Yoga, a company that offers animal therapy and wellness experiences. After her idea went viral in 2016, she built her business up to over 20 franchisees, then had to pivot dramatically when the pandemic arrived in 2020.
“We were trying to think of a new business idea that was somewhat pandemic-proof,” says Morse. “We launched The Goatel in 2021 and started offering vacation rentals that are focused on improving your mental health and offer unique experiences that are private in nature with animals. It’s been a huge success. Since then, we’ve opened back up all of our goat yoga locations, but if we wouldn’t have pivoted to a new offering, we wouldn’t have made it.”
Morse notes that she chose Instagram because it has resonated the most with her target demographic: millennials and Generation X.
“Although TikTok is very popular with younger demographics, I believe that Instagram has the most potential to assist businesses in building their brand this year,” she says. “[Instagram] Reels are the hottest trend and attract more followers than any other method in my opinion.”
If you can cut through the chatter and keep up with algorithm updates, Instagram is an all-in-one solution for reaching and converting new customers.
“Overall, there’s solid curation and an aesthetic to Instagram,” says Vertus. “You get visual stimulation along with enough room to message accordingly.”
Conway encourages both new and established entrepreneurs to keep shaking things up.
“It’s better if it’s not perfect,” she says. “That’s the one piece of advice that I’d give. These things would not have happened had I not opened the gates and started sharing stuff that I knew how to do.”
“I’ve gotten so many more opportunities from just releasing my knowledge.”
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At NextAdvisor we’re firm believers in transparency and editorial independence. Editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our partners. We do not cover every offer on the market. Editorial content from NextAdvisor is separate from TIME editorial content and is created by a different team of writers and editors.
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