Hardly a month goes by without “the next big thing” in social networking being launched. It seems only yesterday that Quora was about to take over the world, then it was Empire Avenue. More recently we’ve had Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. In the last few days, I’ve been invited to a new network targeted at the Fitness industry.

And today’s winner is….

All of these were launched with enormous fanfare, and often followed by a lot of talk about exponential growth, how they’re going to wipe out Facebook, and so on.

Some have done incredibly well at picking up users, but don’t see much activity after that. Others have made a big impact from an awareness point of view, but still have a relatively small number of users; these reasonably recent statistics suggest that Pinterest is punching well above its weight in that regard, still having only an estimated 200,000 users in the UK.

Don’t just panic. Evaluate.

For anyone in charge of an online marketing strategy, the big fear is always that the next “next big thing” would be perfect for them, and that they’ll be missing out catastrophically if they don’t jump on it. That’s still the only thing, in our opinion, which explains the growth of Google +. Actually, the far bigger risk is that you waste a lot of time on something which won’t help you meet your objectives, and potentially damage your efforts on other more established sites in the process – nobody can be everywhere at once.

Choose your weapons logically

If you were fighting a duel and a new five-ton rocket launcher came out, would you abandon your handgun for it? Probably not, because although it might be bigger and theoretically more powerful, it’s no good if you don’t have a huge truck to get it where you’re going. Social media is no different – you need to evaluate whether the “bigger and better” elements of a new platform are vital for the task in hand, and whether you have the resources to work with it anyway.

So, next time you’re told about an amazing new site you need to check out right now, ignore all the blather about growth and potential, and ask yourself whether you can answer “Yes!” to any of the questions below.

I know that (a section of) my target prospects are there, and I want to reach them

This is a great reason to add a new site into your strategy. If there’s reasonable evidence that a certain demographic, or business type if you’re B2B, is using a site – especially if you’re not reaching them effectively through the rest of your marketing mix – then it’s worth investigation.

For example, if you’re looking to improve your brand’s visibility or perception amongst younger, more educated, design-led people, then a clever Instagram¬† stream might just do the trick. Of course, Instagram just provides the opportunity, it’s down to you to come up with great content which’ll catch their imagination.

I know that many of my customers are there, and want to use it as a communication channel to my brand

The mobile phone companies’ (notable O2 and Vodafone) use of Twitter is a good example of this. They’ve done some great work building loyalty and community with their customers by being where those customers are.

The platform includes unique functionality which will be valuable

We’ve all been guilty of getting a bit overexcited at “cool” new functions, and the function might just be the key thing you need to move forward on a marketing objective.

A word of caution, though: firstly, make sure that it’s genuinely useful as well as cool – and that it’s realistic for you to make use of it. The Google+ Hangouts feature is an example of this – in theory, being able to run mini-videoconferences from within the platform is definitely cool. If you’re working in B2B marketing and have ten major clients and a relatively small pool of prospects though, the chances of getting enough people together at one time to make practical use of it may be slim.

Unless you know that the entire country has signed up overnight, you also need to be confident that you’ll be able to bring your customer or prospect community along with you. Remember that, if they’re not already there, getting people to sign up for a new site (and revisit it regularly) is a BIG ask in today’s oversaturated world. So be sure that that killer function is absolutely compelling.