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The year 2020 has brought with it a different set of challenges. Brands have realised that with growing digital preferences, influencer marketing is one of the best ways to engage with consumers, especially in this Covid situation. Many brands have increased influencer marketing budgets, depending on their brand objectives.

Being different in algorithms and the kind of audiences they offer, the choice for a brand to choose one platform over another is based on one's effectiveness, which results in its specific content generation strategy.

The recent debate on social media over which platform is better in terms of content quality and influencer collaboration with brands made analyse and explore the avenues of each of these three platforms — TikTok, Instagram  and YouTube — in terms of the level of freedom for brand integration in a two-part story.

Bhavya Sharma

"TikTok is a much more massy video platform with solid inroads in tier three and four cities in India. A lot of the content is 15 seconds of instant laughter or gratification, making it easier to consume more content in little time," said Bhavya Sharma, Head, Communications and Brand Partnerships, Urban Company, while explaining how these three platforms differ from each other tremendously. 

"Next up is Instagram, where you can upload images as well as videos of varying duration. The emphasis on aesthetics is very high. YouTube is primarily a learning platform. Consumers watch videos to learn something, say DIYs, recipes, skincare tips, etc. So, the focus is more on the content authority. The purposes and content formats differ for all three, so does the influencer reach and ROI," added Sharma.

As the effectiveness of these platforms would typically depend on the brand's target audience, for Urban Company, influencer campaigns done on Instagram are more effective than TikTok.

Urban Company has experimented with TikTok in the past but hasn't seen much value yet, said Sharma.

Kalyan Kumar

Kalyan Kumar, CEO and Co-founder, SocialCatalyzers, said TikTok is a new platform and so are its influencers, and thus longevity and depth of such content is still to be established.

For even Beardo, while Instagram and YouTube are the mainstays, TikTok has been relatively a new channel for it and remains almost an unexplored territory.  

Sujot Malhotra

Looking at this whole space as an evolving ecosystem, Sujot Malhotra, Chief Business Officer of Beardo, said, "The content tonality and key influencers are very different across the platforms and it is a huge effort for our internal teams to manage all three hats equally well. For us, it is subjective, depending on the campaign; there are two ways to look at it, either width (reach) or depth (engagement)."

Some time ago, the brand for its new campaign 'Always A Beardo' had gone live with its first serious attempt at partnering with TikTok influencers.

Apart from different audience characteristics, it is often argued how the content creators differ in each of these platforms. 

Kartik Kala

Kartik Kala, Business Head, TopSocial India, said, "Creators on YouTube are identified as veterans while the ones on TikTok are identified as a layman. Trying to professionalise content on TikTok isn't a good idea because that's not what the audience is looking there. Similarly, trying to break the aesthetics of Instagram isn't a wise move."

Pawan Sarda

Pawan Sarda, Group Head, Digital, Future Group, suggested the best duration of video content across these platforms. "TikTok is best suitable for challenges and where the content is within 10 seconds of length. Instagram suits for any content that is within the length of a minute. YouTube is preferable for longer formats."

Prashant Sharma

Talking about the level of creative freedom across the three platforms, Prashant Sharma, CMO, NOFILTR Group, said YouTube wins hands down when it comes to freedom. "Creators can choose how they would like to incorporate the brand in their concept and videos. This freedom does not exist on TikTok. While YouTube is good for conversions, TikTok and Instagram are good for engagement and branding," Sharma said.

Sharma said there is no perfect metric to track ROI in terms of conversion leading to sales. In terms of engagement-based ROI, it depends on creators promoting the brand and platform. Each platform has its own set of demographics, which appeal to respective brands.

Karthik Nagarajan

For Wavemaker Thrive, the collaboration is with the influencer primarily. Platform customisation is essential but comes as the next step. Sometimes the same content is portable across platforms. Still, in most cases, they need to be adapted, keeping in mind the audience and the platform experience, said Karthik Nagarajan, CCO, Wavemaker. And, therefore, ROI depends on the business goal at the point, and it might not always be about reach and engagement.

Each platform has millions of daily users, making them the fertile spaces for virtual "foot traffic" for your brand ads and campaign. And thus, Malhotra of Beardo advised that the primary lens should be that of finding the right influencer, irrespective of the platform the person is active on. 

"While each platform has its unique content type, distinctive performance metrics, varied interest groups, and different audience demographics, their algorithms run differently and hence favour content differently. While all three platforms amplify the digital presence of the brand, investment on each of them is decided as per the target intended," he said.

Instagram, for instance, increases sales due to in-app shoppable links. TikTok increases UGC and engagement due to the unmatchable ease of (branded) content creation.

Sameer Makani

Sameer Makani, Co-founder and MD, Makani Creatives, said YouTube and Instagram provide better ROI than TikTok as the audience of TikTok is fairly young with limited purchasing power. "YouTube, as a platform, reaches every demographic possible, which provides brands with an opportunity to reach out to a wider audience."

Shradha Agarwal

"There is an overlap, but yes, there are unique audiences too, YouTube has more than 400 million audience reach, TikTok approximately more than 250 million, whereas Instagram is only a little less than 100 million. One can still find similar audiences on YouTube and TikTok, but Instagram has only a particular type of audiences. The reach on TikTok and YouTube is the highest but engagement is very high on TikTok,” Shradha Agarwal, Co-Founder and COO of Grapes Digital, said.

She said one hashtag challenge on TikTok could give billions and not just millions of views. The very recent Dettol Hand Wash challenge crossed 100+ bn views.

Fashion gets a great return on Instagram, low ticket FMCG has a great return on TikTok like Ustraa, and YouTube is to drive consideration like TV. So ROI is different on a different platform for different brands.

Brands choosing any specific platform depend on the amount of customer interaction they are able to gain out of a specific association. According to a recent report that Makani quoted, Instagram leads in influencer engagement. 82% brands consider it as an apt platform for brand placement due to its consumer-friendly outreach.

Sharma of Urban Company suggested that a brand focused on showcasing its products in great detail would like to take it to YouTube. A brand that is more in the beauty or luxury zone would probably pivot towards Instagram more. And lastly, for a brand that is mass-market and wants to build recall at supersonic speed might want to go for TikTok.

For FMCG, fashion and lifestyle and beauty categories, Sharma of NOFILTR said these prefer TikTok and sectors such as BFSI, gaming, sports, technology and auto, etc., prefer YouTube and Instagram.

YouTube's content is considered much more informative and in-depth.

"YouTube has no competition when it comes to detailed product reviews, explainer videos, and application and demonstration videos. Recommended for tech brands," Kala said.

While TikTok is for real, relatable and snackable content, the flagship of it is its hashtag challenges, which help in massive engagement with impressive brand reach and recall.

He said FMCGs can benefit by creating a buzz over TikTok. However, since the demographic (Gen Z) has less purchasing power, sales conversion is low.

As the popularity of the platforms increases even more, YouTube remains the most preferred for influencers. At the same time, TikTok has emerged to be massier in just a few years of its inception and Instagram can be considered as a mainstay for aesthetics.