Youtube, Facebook or Twitter?


Which is the most valuable social media channel in terms of user-generated content?

Firms like to engage with customers these days and social media strategy seems to be key in the success of customer involvement. They want to receive comments, likes, tweets, and review vlogs. This gives firms the option to co-create value with customers, but what many are not aware of is the differences in such content across the three major social media.

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Smith et al. (2012) tried to determine what aspects of user-generated content (UGC) would be different across Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. They collected data from two retailers (Lululemon and American Apparel) on the three social media. The main research question evolved around the differences in UGC on six dimensions, which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

Promotion self-representation
The authors found support for the fact that self-representation actually occurred more often on Youtube compared to Facebook and Twitter. They attribute this finding to the fact that Youtube actually promotes users to be the main character in videos with their “Broadcast Yourself” slogan.

Brand centrality
Brand centrality was found to occur in the highest degrees on Twitter and the lowest degrees on Youtube. Twitter is designed differently where posts have limited word count, thus, the brand centrality is likely to be higher. Youtube highlights the individual self where brands are often only a detail of a video.

Marketer-directed communication
The authors only found partial proof for the fact that marketer-directed UGC would be less likely on Youtube compared to Facebook and Twitter. The first case, Lululemon, indeed showed the lowest market-directed communication for Youtube but American Apparel did not support this hypothesis. Marketer-directed UGC was thought to be lower on Youtube because consumers need to put more effort into that platform (time, resources, technical skill) than in Facebook or Twitter.

Response to online marketer action
Evidence was found for Youtube to have the lowest UGC in response to online marketer action. Again, this difference is attributed to Youtube being a more complex social media.

Factually informative about the brand
Although the authors hypothesized that brand-related factual information in UGC would be equal across the three social media, it was only found that Youtube and Twitter were close. Facebook scored significantly lower on factual information. This difference could have to do with the different levels of actions that firms undertake on social media. For example, American Apparel does not respond to consumer inquiries meaning that other consumers may provide non-factual information.

Brand sentiment
Sentiment in brand-related UGC was also expected to be similar across Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. Unfortunately, no support was found for this hypothesis. For both firms, sentiment differed across the three platforms and each company had their own particular pattern in this difference. The authors could only conclude that brand sentiment differs per site but that this difference was not predictable.


This paper provides some primary insights concerning the usage of social media by companies that want customers to generate content. The main difference is that Youtube’s videos or comments are less likely to primarily focus on the brand, thus, will not respond as much to marketer action. This does not mean that companies should not invest in Youtube, as this platform might be more useful for other information such as the association with other brands. Twitter is most distinctive from Youtube where brand centrality tends to be higher and tweets can be rather critical. Facebook was found to lie somewhere in between. Companies need to take these differences into consideration when analysing the user-generated content.

A criticism of the paper is the rather limited data, which was collected. The paper only compared two companies in a similar type of industry. Furthermore, the targeted customer segment may also show different types of behavior on social media and this was not included in the study. Lastly, as mentioned in the discussion, the user may perceive their audience on social media in certain ways, which could influence the decision on the type of content to upload.

  • Smith, A. N., Fischer, E., & Yongjian, C. (2012). How does brand-related user-generated content differ across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter?. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 26(2), 102-113.

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