With so many social networks available, it’s tempting to see each one as another opportunity, another channel to add to the toolkit. But should we?

Does a business really need to be on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Quora, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Medium and WeChat – along with whatever else the cool kids seem to be using this week?

Probably not. But while ten or more social media channels may be excessive, it isn’t that unusual for marketers to find themselves stretched across more social media channels than may be practical.

The fear is that the day will come when someone on a higher pay grade will call you into their office to ask, “Where’s our Tik-Tok strategy?”

As always, the mantra is quality, not quantity. How many social networks can a strategy include before it begins to cannibalise itself?

Risk versus reward

When adventurer George Leigh Mallory was asked in 1924 why he wanted to climb Everest, he famously answered “Because it’s there.” Mallory and his partner unfortunately died approximately 300 metres from the summit and it would be another three decades before Edmund Hillary would finally plant his flag where no man had been before.

In retrospect, “Because it’s there” seems like a pretty inadequate reason to risk so much and fail. But many a social media strategy has attempted to conquer yet another social network with little more than the same justification.

Ten years ago, I was hired to help launch a new cloud hosting business. Reams of market research had told the management team that their target audience were heavy users of social media. Therefore, the C-suite was eager for social media to lead the marketing strategy.

I dutifully created my plans, talked to customers, set up listening posts and concluded that Twitter and LinkedIn were the most important networks for the brand to focus on with the limited resources available (me). But when I presented my findings and strategy to management, the first question back was, “What about Facebook”?

I explained how the target audience weren’t very active on Facebook – and certainly never used it for B2B purchasing decisions. In fact, as the target audience was primarily made up of tech developers, the pervading attitude towards Facebook was extremely negative.

My protestations didn’t go down well. In the minds of the management team, Facebook was an important – nay, essential – box to be ticked if the brand was to be “a social business”. Facebook had to be included in my strategy.

Because it was there.

Unfortunately, maintaining the Facebook page stole attention away from those networks that actually benefitted the business. But when Facebook’s numbers remained stubbornly unimpressive in every monthly report, the message came back that I had to somehow “fix” Facebook and improve those results.

It took a few months before the mountains of evidence finally convinced the management team that Facebook would only ever be a drag on the social media strategy.

Don’t believe the hype

Then there are the new networks that keep popping up every year or so, each promising to be the next big thing we should add to our social media mix.

Shiny new toys are always tempting. They can also be extremely distracting, disruptive and, ultimately, disappointing to a social media team already working effectively with the channels it has.

Do you remember Plurk? Launched in 2008, Plurk is big in Taiwan, but the rest of the world quickly left it alone. How many businesses invested heavily in Google+ only for it to never live up to expectations? In 2014, all of the buzz suggested Ello could be the one to finally unseat Facebook from its top spot.

It wasn’t.

There are only so many social media platforms it is practical to use. And that means if a new one comes along it has to be pretty damned world-changing to warrant transferring attention away from the long established and thoroughly tested tools I already have.

Ultimately, a social media team only has a certain amount of time, effort and resource to spread around.

Of course, we shouldn’t ignore new platforms, particularly when different clients or strategies will each lend themselves to a different mix of tools, audience demographics and interaction styles. Plus, we need to be able to answer the inevitable questions from clients and other stakeholders with evidence and authority to explain why a lawnmower brand probably doesn’t need to be on Tik-Tok right now.

While it may be tempting to view every additional social channel as a potential opportunity, without an increase in budget and resourcing to match, the risk is that you may undermine the success of your other channels.

As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.