How to stand out when social platforms start blending in

As the world came to a standstill with the pandemic, social platforms kept moving at pace.

We saw TikTok’s popularity explode, becoming the most downloaded app of 2020. Its focus on fun and creative short-form video provided the perfect tonic to the doom and gloom of the non-stop news cycle.

Other platforms certainly took notice. Instagram launched Reels, a feature that allows users to create and edit videos with audio, effects and type. Though similar, the two aren’t identical twins; Reels are capped at 15 seconds whereas TikToks can be up to 60 seconds, Reels disappear after 24 hours while TikToks remain on the platform.

Fun, vertical videos are having a moment. In mid-2020, Snapchat introduced a feature that allows users to embed popular songs in their videos – again, much like TikTok. Snapchat appears to be championing this format now with its new Spotlight feature, a dedicated tab with short video Snaps in a vertical, scrollable feed. But, differences between the two platforms remain. On TikTok, only users with public profiles can have their videos featured on the ‘For You’ feed, whereas Snapchat’s Spotlight showcases Snaps from users with both private and public accounts.

It’s clear there’s a lot of functionality ‘copying’ going on. However, it’s an uneven race. Snapchat has struggled to grow beyond its young user base, while TikTok has had more success in reaching a wider demographic. Reports have shown that teens on the platform follow accounts from older people and the platform is apparently appealing to middle-aged people as well.

Beyond TikTok, Stories – the ephemeral vertical video format first championed on Snapchat and now so popular on Instagram – came to LinkedIn. Twitter introduced them too, but rebranded them as Fleets. Like Instagram Stories, Twitter’s Fleets and LinkedIn’s Stories only last for 24 hours. And similarly, they aren’t open for public replies, but users can react to them. LinkedIn offers reaction stickers, whereas Fleets can be responded to if the poster’s DMs are open. Twitter is also rumoured to be testing status updates, bringing the platform closer to the likes of Facebook.

‘Borrowed’ functionality is here to stay

It’s not surprising for businesses to recognise when a competitor does something successfully and tries to learn from it. These social platforms are seeing how audiences engage with different features and know there’s an opportunity to have some of that engagement for themselves. With more features being tested and launched across platforms, the increasing homogenisation of social platforms looks set to continue.

What this means for brands

Similar platform functionality offers brands more choice for how to engage with their audiences. Whether it’s vertical video, status or a new engagement button, the options to capture people’s attention are plentiful. This means an exciting opportunity to test and learn what really works, and to be more creative with content online.

It’s worth noting just because platforms appear similar, doesn’t mean their content and audience are. We’re seeing that creators are using both TikTok and Instagram Reels, growing their presence on each. Brands should consider playing the same game.

Speak to your audience – and avoid shouting into the void

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean brands should try everything at once. ‘Do fewer things better’ is still a good mantra here. Digital marketers should look at this through the lens of relevance to the intended demographic. Because what will increasingly set these platforms apart is audience.

Will your C-suite B2B tech audience engage with TikTok-style video content? Asking this question is key when planning how your creative idea comes to life in different channels. Taking the variants on the theme of Stories, LinkedIn is the place to talk to professionals, while Twitter is the place to talk about what’s happening now. Facebook and Instagram have such a huge userbase that the audience is fairly broad, though Instagram has more engaged users and Facebook tends to have an older crowd amongst its active users.

The lesson: where your audience talk about the things your brand cares about is what should drive your channel choice.

This article is part of our five trends to expect in 2021 series. Catch up on all the trends we’re expecting to see play out over the next 12 months:

If you’d like to know more about how we can help you make the most from social and digital comms, please get in touch here [email protected].

Or find out how we can help you start thinking about creating a strategic online approach in our ‘Five steps to social media success’ guide here.

Written by Kinda Jackson, MD Digital & Influencer