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For the purpose of this column, I’m going to focus on the “big” networks—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, foursquare, LinkedIn and flickr.

As you’ll notice, that’s still a pretty long list. Having an active, well-managed presence on nine networks isn’t just a challenge for many brands—it’s impossible. Here’s where the challenge comes in: How do you determine which networks offer the best return on engagement for your brand and are the best use of your time?

Here are three ways to find the right fit for your brand:

1. Be an early adopter.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t hurt to try out a network before the bandwagon comes barreling by. A great example of this is Pinterest. In its earliest days, no one on the marketing side knew if Pinterest was going to be a useful tool, but the brands that decided to test the waters earned an early following and were able to capitalize when Pinterest got huge.

If an up-and-coming network is starting to generate buzz among the social media addicts, set up a page or an account and see how things go. At the very least, you’ll have your brand’s name staked out in case it becomes the new Facebook, and at worst, you’ll have spent a couple hours reviewing your branding and company information.

2. Meet your fans on their turf.

This is a no-brainer. If you’re monitoring a Twitter search for your brand’s name and regularly see Instagram photos popping up, get on Instagram. Or if your LinkedIn page isn’t getting much attention, reinvest that time elsewhere.

Finding your fans can be tricky, but if you’re doing your homework and paying attention to what people are saying about your brand, you can pick up on trends related to where your fans are spending the most time talking.

3. Keep your presence well-tended.

One thing that always frustrates me is when a company has a whole string of social media icons on their website, but only their Facebook and Twitter pages have any activity. If your brand publicizes its presence on a network, you should make sure there’s regular activity and monitoring.

In fact, stagnant networks often do more harm than good. Leaving a network unattended means any negative feedback will go unanswered. This not only leaves issues unresolved, but also looks bad whenever another fan runs across the page. If you decide to stop participating in a network, consider deleting your page or at least hiding it. After all, when’s the last time you got a lead from your brand’s Myspace page?

These three rules will get you headed in the right direction, but social strategy as a whole consists of a lot of trial and error. Come up with a plan, stick to it and then tweak it as necessary to get the desired results. When in doubt, focus on your core networks and promote strong engagement on fewer networks.

Nick Powills is the CEO of No Limit Media, the social media arm of PCMS Social Solutions. For more information, please visit