In our first article, we laid out the overview of this series, which pulls apart platform-based content marketing in order to help the reader better understand what makes it all tick. In our second article, we took a look back at the emergence of different online platforms, and how innovations (such as websites, banner ads, social media, etc.) shifted how consumers react to content and advertising (and, of course, when they are one and the same).
In this article, we’ll look at the biggest platforms currently in the digital landscape and how each one impacts the industry. This will serve as a foundation for a later deep dive into how each platform 1) attracts audiences and forms communities; 2) utilizes interactivity to facilitate content engagement; 3) values content, creators, and behaviors in its own economy; 4) facilitates certain types of content; and 5) positions livestream as a tool within its infrastructure.
Twitch – A platform driven by creators
We’re going to spend the most time on Twitch as we feel that it is doing more to create a compelling content experience than other platforms out there.
Twitch is traditionally the gamers’ platform. People spend hours and hours playing games (or watching people play games) on Twitch. And, because of that, strong communities form around prominent gamers. In recent years, thriving communities have also sprouted around music, art, cooking, and fashion. However, even streamers who engage in other activities may also stream themselves playing games as part of their content. If your brand is considering Twitch for marketing, don’t consider the game-centric focus a limit; most of the planet plays some kind of video game. But this focus does establish a specific tone for content created on the platform – one that appeals to gamer sensibilities.
The most important aspect for marketers to note here is that the nature of the content on Twitch is long-form. Unlike YouTube influencers (discussed below) whose short, quick, often kinetic videos can go viral, Twitch influencers form their communities more slowly through extended sessions and communication with their audiences. Because of this, their communities are ultimately more engaged and committed. broxh_ is a joyful, laid-back, self-effacing Twitch streamer from New Zealand, who goes live for hours creating beautiful wood sculptures.
These long-form sessions with influencers create the feeling of having a deep relationship with them, making the Twitch experience a lot like hanging out with friends. This fosters a sense of belonging among audiences. Sarah Iooss, head of Sales for Twitch, said recently on the Next in Marketing podcast that “Twitch is where people find their people.” It’s for people who feel “isolated, but not alone”, a sentiment perhaps heightened during the pandemic, but still powerful even when not in lockdown.
Twitch has also done far more to promote interactivity than other platforms, from facilitating chat activity to integrating interactive elements – such as polls – directly into its interface, to encouraging the creation of third-party interactive tools. The result is greater opportunities for active expression during streams, and a stronger and more dynamic relationship not only between streamer and audience but among individual members of the audience itself.
Since streams are long-form content, audiences end up investing a lot of time in their favorite streamers and, subsequently, want to support them financially. Twitch has therefore created a robust economy around support tools, such as subs, gifts, and bits. All of these are different ways that fans can give back monetarily to the streamers they love. There is an opportunity, then, for brands who work with streamers directly to develop content that appeals to their audience. The streamer is allowed to create content notably beyond its reach, the audience clearly sees the brand doing what they do daily: Support a streamer financially.
“Twitch is for people who think they’re fun.”
When brands support a streamed event, therefore, there isn’t really a sense that an influencer has sold out (as there potentially would be for a television or music star) but rather that the influencer is being rewarded for creating a fun and dynamic streaming channel on the platform. This ultimately results in the audience giving the content a very real value.
YouTube – A platform driven by mass audience
Despite not having Twitch’s robust community-building apparatus, communities have formed on YouTube. For instance, a strong community of book lovers (BookTubers) has thrived among a small group of users. To a larger extent, a beauty tips community (fueled in part by brands) has also thrived on the platform. However, the relationship between content creator and viewer is still one dominated by passive consumption.
YouTube’s big advantage in the platform wars is its sheer reach. Everybody knows YouTube, there is a low barrier to entry (as opposed to Twitch, which requires a bit of acclimation), and it is already a part of everyone’s digital ecosystem. Even Twitch streamers often cut down their long-form content into small chunks to upload to YouTube.
Whereas Twitch is typically a single long journey, YouTube’s strength is in how effectively influencers and brands on YouTube create deep catalogs of content that can be watched back-to-back. So there is still a way to engage an audience over a long period of time. However, the YouTube algorithm does suggest videos outside a brand’s own channel, which could spin potential audiences down other corridors of the “YouTubeplex”.
“YouTube is for people who think they’re bound for greatness.”
On YouTube, however, interactivity – which we feel makes content intrinsically more valuable – is relegated primarily to the comments section. YouTube comments, as much as they can be an echo chamber for trolls, can also be shaped into a healthy discussion forum, though not nearly as buzzing as the chat feed on Twitch. There is a livestream feature on YouTube, but because YouTube communities tend to be less cohesive and interactive tools are light, a broadcast tends toward more of a passive viewing experience. So, for instance, Coachella Live does very well on YouTube because what viewers really want is access to something they would otherwise need to attend live.
TikTok – Driven by trends
We are particularly excited about the content opportunities on TikTok as it continues to evolve as a platform: Expanding its live capabilities, raising its video length cap, and engaging more with brands. However, at its core, TikTok is still all about going viral, which of course has its advantages and disadvantages.
Whereas on Twitch, it is very much the community that elevates content creators, on TikTok, it is the algorithm (similar to YouTube, but to a supercharged degree). This can be good for instant fame, but that speed makes it harder for communities to form around a TikTok star. Also, the algorithm typically results in a single viral video becoming a meme for other TikTok creators, creating a kind of referential feedback loop that could elbow out new, fresh content. The interface and algorithm do make discoverability exciting – the user can scroll past trending videos rapidly to find new voices – but unless a creator follows up an initial viral video with a large number of equal-quality videos that break the meme loop, a flavor of the moment may quickly fade away, or become drowned in the memes around it.
All of this makes livestreaming on TikTok really interesting. With the length cap for pre-recorded videos in place, live is the only option for long-form content, which is seemingly antithetical to the way that TikTok operates. But with its low-fi production value and demand for immediacy among its user base, TikTok livestream could be a great conduit to form a feeling of intimacy between, say, a celebrity and their fanbase. The stream basically feels like you are on a video call with the streamer.
“TikTok is for people who think they’re funny.”
Brands have certainly been leveraging the “TikTok-verse” but it’s been difficult to crack, and TikTok will need to continue to develop its tools to allow a certain level of production backend needed to really craft engaging brand-centric content. Brands can, of course, get on TikTok and form their own immediate personality, and they can also sponsor existing TikTok stars. But we are only beginning to see what platform marketing on TikTok can be.
Instagram – A platform driven by image
Instagram is all about personal aesthetics, which is why it is dominated by photographs and images; high production value in small bursts. Videos – and even livestreaming – on the platform tend to reinforce a culture of highly curated self-expression, so it has done little to foster an identity as a content platform. Which may not be such a problem when the culture on the platform tends toward looking great and like you are having fun, rather than being entertaining, or even having something meaningful to say. The other day, I heard Instagram described as having a “culture of faux-authenticity”. If TikTok is driven by trends, Instagram is almost anti-trend, as users fiercely express how unique they are.
“Instagram is for people who think they’re hot.”
Checking your Instagram consists of looking through pictures of your friends and of those you follow, and not engaging with content in the kind of way that would be of more value to brands. The trick for brands, then, is to push content to Instagram that aligns with how people want to see themselves: Personal moments in a beautiful setting that feel aspirational.
In terms of livestreaming, Instagram only allows you to go live on a phone, so it severely limits producing live content that may feature multiple guests, playback video, graphic overlays, etc. Basically, as the platform favors highly polished images, it disincentivizes highly polished livestreams and videos.
Facebook – A platform driven by personal connection
Facebook wants to be able to connect everyone in the whole world, and over the last two decades has made great strides in achieving this. But whereas the communities that take root on Twitch, or even YouTube and TikTok, make people feel a part of something bigger than themselves, Facebook celebrates being part of a small community. Even when Facebook facilitates connections within a large community, it does so in a way that makes it all seem small.
“Facebook is for people who think they’re heard.”
Interactivity is a big part of the Facebook ecosystem. Posts, reactions to posts, and direct messaging are fantastic ways to interact and exchange ideas among users. But when it comes to large groups of people and brands, there is very little for an audience to do. This is why the ad model reigns supreme. Unlike Twitch, Facebook has no real economy between users (or between users and brands) other than the economy of eyeballs – and ads thrive on eyeballs. Facebook supports content in a disappointingly traditional way: By making it commercial-based. And we know how increasingly easy it is to ignore commercials.
LinkedIn – A platform driven by professional connection
LinkedIn’s singularly focused community makes it fertile ground for planting content seeds for robust platform marketing. The platform may not consist of the communities that appeal to all brands, but business-to-business (B2B) brands should seriously consider a LinkedIn content strategy.
“LinkedIn is for people who think they’re successful.”
What is interesting about LinkedIn is that it has almost gamified the acquisition of contacts, which means everyone is more heavily invested in what is happening on the platform. And it has built up an economy of influence, affluence, and access, which provides audiences in search for certain kinds of content: Primarily educational and information content (not that it can’t also be highly entertaining). This is the kind of content that wouldn’t necessarily thrive on Twitch and TikTok, and could easily get lost on YouTube.
Content created for LinkedIn can be easily and thoroughly connected to a particular community, one that is deeply invested in a particular industry or in the culture of vocational success. You can also take classes on LinkedIn (they purchased Lynda.com in 2015), which can be another effective form of content for brands, especially if they have a specific B2B offering.
Twitter – A platform driven by opinion
Individuals on Twitter are typically part of many communities, which, for the most part, don’t have a lot of long-term cohesion on the platform. But the communities that do exist are highly charged, and so there is intrinsic value in putting relevant content in front of them. Since the primary interactive engine on Twitter is conversation, any content a brand injects into one of these communities should be something that invites response. More so than any of the other platforms we have discussed above, Twitter audiences love to comment.
“Twitter is for people who think they’re deep.”
Vimeo – A platform driven by tools
Vimeo attempts to establish communities and serve as a social media portal for content creators but is used primarily as a very useful repository for content. It’s a video hosting tool that makes it easy to embed video, catalog your content, and shape a very reliable livestream event. For remote conferences and business presentations with a specialized audience, we highly recommend Vimeo. As for marketing your brand? That might be a harder nut to crack on this platform.
Reddit – A platform driven by knowledge
Not often considered in the same breath as some of the other platforms we’ve mentioned above, Reddit communities can have a powerful impact on brand image and audience behavior. Despite being a varied and sometimes volatile space, Reddit houses deep conversations that at least attempt to get at clarity on specific topics. In terms of content, Reddit is even more raw and unpolished than TikTok. It not only does not care for your beautiful logo animation, but it also despises the fact that you want to add it to the beginning of your video at all.
Self-promotion is frowned upon on Reddit and, to a certain degree, restricted. Also, a user has to have clout on Reddit, and that is doubly so if you are a brand. The audience doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and they don’t want to be marketed to. So, if you are going to offer content to a Reddit community, it better add to the conversation in a bold and truthful way. If it isn’t, Reddit will eat you alive.
“Reddit is for people who think they’re smart.”
For this reason, raw and unadulterated AMAs (Ask Me Anything) with a brand’s most public figures can be a highly effective form of live content on Reddit. Pre-recorded tutorials may find a home here, as could brand videos that respond directly and humbly to public criticism; pretty much content that earnestly contributes to the conversation.
With this in mind, a brand with a savvy platform marketing strategy aimed at Reddit could succeed in the space. Because the communities are so engaged, a content “win” in this space could elevate your brand substantially.
The distinctions highlighted in this article exist right now. But each of these platforms wants to draw audiences away from the others: TikTok upped its cap to 10 minutes, vying for a corner of YouTube’s audience base; Twitch has plans to expand its messaging features to keep social media fiends within the platform; and who knows how the content streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max could integrate into these creator-driven platforms. It is possible that the ultimate aim for any of them would be to mash all features together into one, giant, content platform – but that, of course, would be a mistake. The reason different platforms exist is that different people exist. And the platforms, along with the brands, benefit when the way people receive and interact with content resonates with who they are as individuals.
Preparing to write this article, we had a company brainstorm, and in that conversation, the following observation emerged: “Twitch is for people who think they’re fun. TikTok is for people who think they’re funny. Reddit is for people who think they’re smart. Instagram is for people who think they’re hot. Facebook is for people who think they’re heard. LinkedIn is for people who think they’re successful. Twitter is for people who think they’re deep. YouTube is for people who think they’re bound for greatness.”
Perhaps not an entirely accurate summation (or for that matter entirely fair), but it does speak to the idea that each of these platforms has a distinct personality, which challenges brands to shape content to appeal to those distinct personalities.
Cover image source: Rubaitul Azad