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“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that social actually is all around.” Okay yes, I did steal that line from one of my favorite Holiday movies, Love Actually. But it’s true– elements of social networking are integrated into many of the products we consume every day, even if it’s not as overt as platforms like Facebook or Twitter. Take Venmo for example. You open up the app to pay your roommate for your share of utilities and catch yourself scrolling through a feed of your friends’ recent transactions, decoding emojis to figure out what they’ve been up to. At its core, this is social networking, and it’s a feature of Venmo’s payment platform that has set it apart from its competitors like Zelle. By adding a social component to something like a payment platform, Venmo created a space for not just payments to be exchanged, but social interactions. As humans, we intrinsically crave these connections and interactions that remind us we’re not alone. Leveraging this insight has put Venmo at a competitive advantage, as with many other brands who have taken the opportunity to create a social experience around their product. Why? Because nothing can compete with the power of a strong community around a product. Case Studies: Products with Social Components & Where Brands Can Lean In There is a range of products with social components baked in. Some were created with social at the forefront, while others added social components as a feature to an existing product. Some have opportunities for external brands to join the conversation and leverage their niche communities, while others are a closed community of consumers. We’ll dive into two case studies to show the ways this has played out for two popular brands: Strava and Spotify. Strava Strava calls itself a social fitness network. The app allows users to track their activities and offers a range of analysis tools, from miles ran to calories burned and so on. But they didn’t stop there– Strava integrated a social experience into the commonly found fitness tracking app by allowing users to post their workouts to a feed, follow friends, and comment to give “kudos” (likes) to other users’ workouts. Similar to other social platforms, users find themselves following IRL friends and acquaintances, but also their idols and professional athletes to get a glimpse into their training. The app allows users to join clubs, such as a running club or group of members training for the event, and invites them to take part in challenges such as “complete a 5K in May” or “log 250 minutes of activity”. Brand Involvement Clubs and challenges are the best way for brands to get involved in the conversation on Strava. A brand can create a club like Brooks Run Club or Nuun Hydration to connect athletes who identify with these brands to each other. Another option is for brands to host a challenge such as Lululemon’s Move and Stay Connected challenge, which was created during the height of the pandemic in 2020. Spotify Spotify serves a very straightforward purpose to consumers– to access music and podcasts. With that said, they have done a great job at weaving in social components that feel additive to the experience of using the app. When you sign up for Spotify, you create a profile with your name and a profile photo. You’re prompted to connect your account to Facebook, and recommended users you may know and artists you may like to follow. Once you’re following other users, you can check your “friend activity” on the desktop app, view their profiles and save their playlists, and even create co-authored playlists with other users. In addition to these social components within the app experience itself, Spotify has mastered the art of integrating with other social networks and encouraging users to share the music and podcasts they’re listening to on those external platforms. For instance, the notorious Spotify Wrapped campaign is practically designed for sharing on Instagram Stories. But even on a normal day, the regular social sharing integration in the Spotify app that allows users to share what they’re listening to on social is seamless. Brand Involvement There are a handful of ways that brands can get involved in the conversation on Spotify. Perhaps one of the most fun and creative ways is to create a brand profile with curated playlists like McDonald's and Gymshark have successfully done. Brands may also buy a variety of ad placements in the Spotify app, including audio and video ads served to listeners who use the free version of the app, and also podcast ads. Below are a couple of questions to ask when thinking about how you can apply this to your brand or product: Can a social component be added to my product in a way that adds value to the overall experience? A social component needs to build upon your existing product, and it needs to feel natural as if the purpose of the product supports the need for a social component and the experience is additive to the product. There should also be a clear reason to create a space for consumer-to-consumer interactions. For example, perhaps you can see that these engagements are already happening on another social platform, like a Facebook Group or a Reddit thread. Can my brand join the conversation or have a presence in a social component of an existing product, like Spotify or Strava? If there’s a social component of a product that feels like a perfect fit for your brand, there may be an opportunity to establish a presence in that community. However, it’s important to approach these opportunities thoughtfully and strategically, because you will be under the microscope of a niche community. Additionally, you need to be careful that you’re joining a conversation where brands are welcome. For instance, communities like Reddit exist for user-to-user interactions, and brands can be shunned away from the platform. With this all in mind, my hope is that next time you’re deciding which social platforms to leverage for an upcoming project or campaign, you may think outside the box about social media and look at the non-traditional, yet intrinsically social, platforms at your disposal.
In the world of social media, trends, features, and even platforms can seemingly become a phenomenon overnight. One night, you go to bed after scrolling your Instagram feed, and the next morning you wake up to a brand new, intriguing yet unfamiliar app called TikTok. It doesn't take long for this app to surpass all others as the most downloaded app of all time with over 1 billion active users across the world. Flash forward to the present day where Instagram - and almost every other popular social platform, for that matter - are scrambling to keep up with this new app. So, what makes TikTok so attractive, and can Instagram compete with their look-a-like competitive feature, IG Reels? Well, let’s dive in! Why is short-form video so popular all of the sudden? Before we talk about Reels and TikTok, let’s first address why the short-form video nature of both platforms caught on so quickly. For a long while, social media marketers have strategized their content around the fact that the attention span of our followers is short- and we mean short. According to Facebook, marketers only have 0.25 seconds to capture a user’s attention before they keep scrolling. With that in mind, snackable video content became the name of the game for brands and content creators and opened the door to a scrappier style of content - especially for brands who had typically seen video content as an expensive, high-production-value ordeal. The lower production value required for a high-performing Reels or TikTok video was key for brands. That, paired with the fact that these platforms became widely popular during a pandemic when creative teams were developing content out of their own homes. Additionally, it opened up a new door for brands and content creators to turn out quick-hit, entertaining content. What’s the difference between Reels and TikTok? Now that we’ve covered why short-form video content is so popular across both Reels and TikTok, let’s discuss the key differences between these platforms that have affected how they’ve been adopted by social users. Reels TikTok The Takeaway The User Experience To navigate to Reels, users must first open the Instagram app, where they will be shown their regular feed from accounts they follow. Then, they will select the Reels icon from the bottom menu to start viewing Reels in a TikTok-esque feed of content that’s been curated for the user by Instagram’s algorithm. When a user opens the TikTok app, they are immediately shown a curated feed of TikToks the platform’s algorithm has chosen - AKA the “FYP” (for you page). The full screen and vertical swipe feed create a frictionless user experience that makes it as easy as possible to enjoy the app. TikTok’s unique user experience puts short-form video content curated just for you at the center stage, creating a seamless and simple way to enjoy content. On the other hand, Reels is only a feature of Instagram among many others. Music & Video Editing Tools Due to copyright concerns, Instagram business accounts only have access to Reels’ library of royalty-free tracks, while content creators have access to a larger library full of popular copyrighted music. While Reels does offer video editing tools, they can be tricky to navigate and their filters and effects are not very extensive. Music and sound are the cornerstones of a TikTok video, and the app has nailed this feature with its extensive library of music and user-generated sounds available to content creators and brands alike. On top of that, TikTok’s video editing features are user-friendly, and they offer a wide variety of filters and video effects. TikTok is the clear winner when it comes to music and video editing tools given their extensive music and sound library and editing capabilities. Platform Purpose Instagram, home of Reels, is a network-oriented app, where users are used to seeing content from people they are familiar with and have chosen to follow. However, in the Reels section of the app, it takes on a content-oriented approach, serving users content from people they don’t know. At its core, TikTok is a content-oriented app. It normalized the experience of seeing content from people you don’t know in your feed based on your usage history and learned preference. While both platforms' short-form video features are content-oriented, Instagram is known for being a network-oriented app. Instagram has offered a similar user experience through their “Explore” page since 2012, so this balance between content and network orientation is something they’ve been teetering for a while. The Algorithm Instagram has been less transparent about the Reels algorithm, however, it has provided a few best practices for success. For example, Instagram recommends that Reels content is entertaining, fun, and inspiring, uses the app’s creative editing tools, and leverages the music or sounds provided. Instagram has also shared that content that is visibly recycled from other apps (e.g. contains a TikTok watermark) will also be deprioritized by the algorithm. Beyond all of the features listed above, TikTok’s arguably largest advantage is its algorithm. The platform’s parent company, ByteDance, has been very transparent about the large investment they made to design the app’s algorithm that picks up on users' personalized interests in record time, contributing to the effortless and enjoyable nature of consuming content on the app. Overall, TikTok’s algorithm is the first of its kind and unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the social space, which ultimately contributes to its success. We don’t know as much about Instagram’s Reels algorithm, but we can assume it attempts to mimic the TikTok experience while staying true to the app and attempting to keep Reels content unique. How Brands Can Be Successful on Reels and TikTok To be successful on Reels and TikTok, brand content shouldn’t feel like brand content. Brands need to get scrappy and creative to grab user’s attention and not stand out like a sore thumb among the style of content shared by individual creators. With that in mind, both Reels and TikTok require a unique content strategy within the brand’s larger social strategy. However, that inevitably requires extra time and effort. To decide which of these platforms to begin focusing your efforts on, ask yourself these two questions: Which platform is your audience on currently? Which one can you commit to doing consistently? While there are many benefits of TikTok as discussed above in our comparison of the two platforms, many brands have already established themselves and have grown a following on Instagram, and therefore beginning to utilize Reels has a low barrier to entry. While cross-posting between the two platforms is an option we’ve seen numerous brands take, a carefully thought out strategy for each channel your brand has a presence on is more important than simply having content out there. When it comes to a brand’s social presence, quality is always preferred over quantity. The social world is ever-evolving - and at the end of the day, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to which platform is best - the answer is unique to your brand’s priorities and your team’s bandwidth to thoughtfully manage the channels on which your brand appears.