Embracing social media outlets will help your bakery connect with the Millennial generation.

As a Millennial herself, Heidi Curry has a keen understanding of what types of marketing messages resonate best of all with Millennials. Her job, as senior manager of bakery global research and development for Dunkin’ Brands, puts her right on the front lines of bakery innovation in today’s competitive marketplace. Her team was instrumental in the successful introduction of Dunkin’s Croissant Donut, among other projects.

“For Millennials, it’s really about connectivity,” says Curry, who was a panelist on the “Winning Over Millennials” education session during the recent National Restaurant Show 2015 in Chicago. “They really like the ability to customize and try new products that are fun and exciting.”

Keys to success include offering rewards and incentives that keep customers active with your brand. For example, with DD Perks, Dunkin’ Donuts customers earn five points for every dollar they spend on qualifying purchases when they pay using an enrolled Dunkin’ Donuts Card, either plastic or via the Dunkin’ Mobile App. Once a member accrues 200 points, he or she receives a coupon for a free any-size beverage of their choice. Members have the opportunity to share their rewards through the Dunkin’ Mobile App with friends, family and colleagues. DD Perks members also receive a coupon for a free, any-size beverage upon enrollment and on their birthday. Additionally, throughout the year DD Perks members receive exclusive offers, rewards and bonus points toward their favorite food and beverage purchases.

“Our job is to perceive a trend and then build that trend into how it fits into our brand. You really truly have to listen to your consumers throughout the entire process. We have a really open forum on how we develop new products. We put ourselves in the shoes of Millennials. It’s not dictating what’s meant to be for your brand, but listening to what customers want and expect.”

Customization plays a critical role in keeping Millennials satisfied. Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, now offers a choice of soy milk or additional sweeteners for its beverages. The same holds true for the entire menu.

Millennials want more options, including a choice not to indulge once in a while. To provide more choices, Dunkin' Donuts' DDSMART items meet at least one of the following criteria: 25 percent fewer calories; 25 percent less sugar, fat, saturated fat or sodium than comparable fare, and contain an ingredient or nutrient that is nutritionally beneficial, such as whole grains. “If they want a new Croissant Donut or a DDSMART product,” Curry says, “our menu gives Millennials the ability to customize every day in the restaurant.”

Report card on social media

The majority of small and mid-sized businesses use social media to grow. And yet for many of these firms, deciding which of the sites to use, and how best to find clientele on them, remains a challenge. SocialCentiv, whose software-based service helps companies find new customers on Twitter, recently released its evaluation of how five of the social media world’s most popular sites perform as marketing vehicles for small businesses.

In addition to Twitter, SocialCentiv’s guide includes looks at the pluses and minuses of Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest. SocialCentiv’s conclusion: For many small businesses, Twitter delivers the most bang for the advertising buck.

“Roughly 80 percent of small and mid-sized companies employ social media in their expansion efforts,” says Bernard Perrine, co-founder and CEO of SocialCentiv. “And yet a 2013 study found that nearly 60 percent of small business owners had received no return on their investments in social networking. While that can be understandable, it is also unnecessary.”

A major reason why small businesses often find marketing value elusive on social media is the dizzying array of networking sites to choose from, Perrine said. Optimally, for time-pressed entrepreneurs, it often makes more sense to research which site or sites their customers frequent and focus their efforts there. Which will you focus on? Here is the skinny on the most popular social networks.

Facebook: Prominent, but pricey

For many small businesses, the answer to where their customers are hanging out in the social media landscape will, at first blush, appear to be Facebook. Facebook’s more than 1.39 billion active users spend an average of about 20 minutes on the site per visit. About 48 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 check Facebook when they wake up, according to Statistic Brain.

“Around seven out of every 10 Internet users in the United States is on Facebook,” Perrine says. “The site is the biggest, most dominant player in social media.”

Another advantage of Facebook is that advertisers can target would-be customers based on a variety of criteria, such as an individual’s location, gender, interests and relationship status. The flip side, Perrine noted, is that the marketing landscape on Facebook is getting crowded. The site had 1.5 million advertisers in the summer of 2014. And as of late 2013, one million of its advertisers were small and mid-sized businesses.

“At least one observer has wondered whether Facebook is reaching the point of advertising saturation, where marketing efforts become increasingly difficult as an overload of companies try to reach the same customer base,” Perrine says.

Making matters worse, Facebook is effectively killing off “organic,” or unpaid, reach by corporate marketers – ensuring they must pay to share their messages with the site’s members. In response, Forrester Research has urged brands to stop making Facebook the center of their relationship marketing efforts.

“As has been noted elsewhere, Facebook knows it has the biggest user base in social media, and its advertising prices are starting to reflect that,” Perrine says. “As the head of a small business myself, I can understand why other entrepreneurs could have a hard time achieving much of a return on investment from marketing on Facebook.”

Google+: Where are the members?

This social network is a bit of an odd duck. Although it boasts in the neighborhood of 2.2 billion user profiles, one study found that only 9.9 percent of those profiles have any content that has been posted publicly. It gets stranger still. Another researcher estimated in January 2015 that the service had only four million to six million active posters to date.

“Nobody is using Google+,” Business Insider wrote in reporting what those two researchers had discovered.

Since its inception in 2011, Google+ has had a user base made up of younger, technology-friendly men. That can make it attractive for companies that could find value in that demographic, such as emerging technology firms that seek an audience willing to take a flyer on new software or hardware systems, Perrine says.

LinkedIn: Favorite for B2B marketers

Like Google+, LinkedIn is an odd duck – albeit in a good way. With 300 million-plus active users, LinkedIn’s niche is the professional audience. This gives it an edge in in users that are college educated (38 percent) and between the ages of 30 and 49 (representing 27 percent of U.S. Internet users in that span).

In fact, Business Insider discovered that LinkedIn is the only major social media outlet that has higher penetration rates among users in the 50- to 64-year-old age group than in the 18- to 29-year-old bracket.

“A 2013 study found that 53 percent of business-to-business advertisers had successfully used LinkedIn to acquire a customer, compared to 22 percent for business to consumer marketers,” Perrine says. “Advertisers can target LinkedIn audiences on everything from their job titles and employers to geography and age,” Perrine said. “That can be a compelling proposition for purveyors of high-end business services, such as accounting and valuation.”

But observers such as WordStream have noted that LinkedIn can be a costly advertising platform. “LinkedIn may simply provide a wealthier, higher-end audience than many small businesses need or can afford,” Perrine says. “For advertisers that cater to younger or less affluent demographics, other social platforms may better serve their interests.”

Pinterest and Instagram: Picture-heavy

Pinterest has definite pluses for marketers, although some outsiders are already wondering how much growth will be in store for the site, which should hit 47 million monthly active users this year. An eMarketer study released in February said that Pinterest’s essential function – serving as an online pin board or visual bookmark – “isn’t necessarily something that large numbers of people may want to do.”

Another point to consider: The vast majority of Pinterest members are female. Although men are growing their share of Pinterest’s user base, they currently make up 16.7 percent. EMarketer projects they will account for only 20.5 percent by 2019. “While estimates vary, women drive somewhere between70 percent to 80 percent of consumer spending. They also serve as 75 percent of the primary shoppers in their households,” Perrine notes. “Marketers who ignore female customers do so at their peril.”

That said, Pinterest is still an emerging platform, and thus may not be a perfect fit for every advertiser. “The emphasis on Pinterest is the visual,” Perrine says. “To attract users’ attention, marketers need compelling images or videos, which can be a challenge for small businesses in, say, the services space.”

Another issue is Pinterest’s advertising product suite, which eMarketer called fairly limited. “While Pinterest may have value for some small businesses, it remains something of a niche play,” Perrine says. Some of the knocks on Pinterest as marketing vehicle also extend to Instagram, the image and video-heavy social site that Facebook owns. In addition, figures floated in the trade press about the cost of Instagram advertising suggest that the network could be beyond the means of many small businesses.

Why Twitter works

Twitter brings an advantage for advertisers that other social platforms cannot match: The ability to reach consumers at the time they’re ready to buy.

“The seemingly simple innovation of limiting users’ posts to 140 characters means people use Twitter to express what they want in real time,” Perrine says. “Two of the most common phrases that people Tweet are ‘I want’ and ‘I need.’ Those are the words every advertiser wants to hear.”

While the sheer volume of Twitter usage can present a challenge for small marketers, tools like SocialCentiv can make the process of finding willing customers a snap. “Some 288 million monthly active users send roughly 500 million Tweets daily,” Perrine said. “That can be a lot of posts to comb through. But SocialCentiv’s tools help companies filter out the noise so they can respond in real time with discounts on products and services on which people want to spend money.”

The bottom line, he added, is that SocialCentiv’s software provides small businesses with an affordable, easy and fast avenue for finding new customers in a way that simply wasn’t possible before Twitter got its start in 2006. “While every social platform presents marketing advantages, nothing beats Twitter,” he says.