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Graham Swallow 

TikTok vs YouTube – which one is best for brand engagement?

TikTok vs YouTube – which one is best for brand engagement?

Graham Swallow, head of data and technology at Little Dot Studios runs the rule over two competing social video platforms

Recent data in a BBC News story suggested that TikTok had overtaken YouTube for the average watch time in the UK and US, a milestone moment.

My first thought was to check the metrics and sure enough, the attention-grabbing headline didn’t marry up with the rest of the article.

The reality was the research only considered mobile but, it does beg the question – is this actually a true representation of engagement levels for these two platforms?

It’s a space that is constantly evolving at speed and for brands to successfully navigate this world, it needs to be looked at holistically, allowing them to effectively engage with their target audience.

Setting the scene

First things first, we need to understand the differences between the platforms. It’s very hard to judge TikTok on a level playing field against YouTube, Instagram and Facebook because the platform doesn’t publish similar data and metrics.

For brands to be able to use any platform effectively, transparency is key, and this should be TikTok’s next step.

YouTube is much more established, currently reaching more than 90% of the UK’s population on a range of platforms from mobile to connected TV, with strong analytics to demonstrate its penetration with different demographics.

TikTok is still behind in this area, without any analytics APIs or independent measurement.

The way users digest content has changed and this has been sped up by the pandemic.

TikTok users doubled during 2020, capturing people’s imagination due to the way content is served thanks to algorithms recommending video clips that people would never normally come across. TikTok allowed a greater immediacy in what the creator can create.

TikTok can be meretricious. You don’t need pre-established audiences for content to go viral, however maintaining audiences is harder.

To be inviting to brands, TikTok will have to ensure measurable ROI is attractive enough. We’ve also recently seen YouTube Shorts announced - in a bid to try and attract creators and regain market share where TikTok is currently dominating with bite-sized content.

Which platform is best for brands?

There is no quick answer. In most cases, a multiplatform strategy is best.

There is space for this too, look at PrettyLittleThing who ranked #1 on The Digital Connections Score, our new social engagement ranking.

The brand had one of the highest engagement scores out of the 200 fashion brands analysed, which reflects not just the type of content it publishes (topical, leaning into brand ambassadors) but also the type of mechanic the brand uses.

By following, liking the post and commenting or tagging a friend, the brand garners reach beyond its existing follower base, raising awareness around the brand as well as its products.

When it comes to long-term brand building, danger arises when a company arrives on a new platform.

If the brand tries to engage with a new audience without understanding that behaviour cannot just be replicated from one platform to another, even if it’s the same demographic being targeted, the content will not land effectively.

Knowing what your company stands for and your tone of voice is as vital as understanding the platform and the audience.

It’s also fundamental for brands to know their success metric as this also plays a part in determining where is best.

This will massively vary from wanting engagement, positive sentiment, reach or a combination of KPIs.

TikTok provides the opportunity for wide reach and engagement quickly – it creates awareness, not revenue.

The unforgettable viral video of England footballer Bukayo Saka on an inflatable unicorn was part of our work with the FA, which increased its following by 150%.

YouTube on the other hand allows you to build an existing community, utilising connected TV and long-form content to a premium audience, as well as monetisation opportunities.

One thing that does resonate across both and all social media platforms is authentic, engaging content grows audiences.

How to create content that works?

Broadly speaking there are three types of content - pitch (instant gratification), play (for those who are curious) and plunge (engagement for a longer duration and deep diving).

Understanding what content sits where is key alongside being authentic.

Ensure the tone of voice fits the platform, understand the nuances.

Content has to be relevant otherwise it can be tone deaf. If you don’t understand the language and audience behaviour for each individual platform, it’s more beneficial using the content on one platform where it will land successfully.

Again, success will look different, varying from brand to brand so be sure how this is measured.

Whether you choose YouTube, TikTok or both, the principle doesn’t change.

Make decisions based on where your audience is, or perhaps based on where your competitor is and whether it’s to drive awareness, for a product launch or creating a brand identity.

If your audience is there, take your creative message and deliver the content that fits with the specific platform and your specific brand.

Just ensure you agree how you’re measuring success on each platform.

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