The UK’s biggest retailers kicked off their eagerly anticipated TV ad campaigns in November, but which social media platform holds the key to engaged audiences? And how can brands ensure they’re maximising the reach of their TV adverts with a sturdy social strategy to boot?

Social media analytics firm, Socialbakers, analysed 10 of the most-talked-about Christmas adverts of 2016, including John Lewis, M&S and Sainsbury’s, to identify the platform that works hardest for brands, and which brands are using social best.

Facebook tops YouTube

The results revealed that Facebook wins hands down over YouTube, Instagram and Twitter in the battle of eyeballs and engagement. The large majority (90%) of all interactions, and 60% of all views of Christmas TV adverts on social were via Facebook, while just under 40% of views were on YouTube, proving Facebook is where audiences head to watch and share the content they love.

The research also found that great Christmas content can buck the trend of pay to play on Facebook. The top three performing brands in terms of both views and interactions, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, relied solely on organic reach.

However, brands competing with the big guns are using paid to their advantage. While Boots, Aldi and Tesco are not the biggest names in the Christmas ad space, by boosting the right content they beat Sainsbury’s for total interactions and views on Facebook.

John Lewis, M&S and Waitrose dominate on social

John Lewis’ Christmas advert not only sets itself apart on the box, it also leads the pack across every social media platform in driving interactions and views, as 69% of all interactions with Christmas TV ads on social were with the John Lewis Christmas advert in November.

The retailer’s reliance on its Christmas TV advert to boost social media engagement is clear, with the advert accounting for 79% of all interactions throughout the entire year. Likewise, the advert drove 77% of all Twitter interactions and 79% or the brand’s YouTube views for the year.

Facebook shelf-life: two days for Christmas adverts

For all brands, the first two days of a video being live generated the lion’s share of interactions on Facebook before dropping significantly, according to the research. Meanwhile, content on YouTube continues to drive views throughout the month following the launch, demonstrating how YouTube maintains its position as the go-to video platform for users to discover video content.

Even the biggest brands can’t rely on a single video to maintain momentum forever, and it’s vital to have a content plan to follow up the initial hero piece. John Lewis, which achieved the highest levels of interaction and views on Facebook, waited 10 days before following up with a video montage of dogs bouncing along to the video, which resulted in a second spike of 26,931 interactions.

In contrast, Aldi and Boots have been far more consistent in posting follow-up content that has maintained momentum and driven high levels of engagement with their audience. For example, Aldi used the John Lewis ad launch to its advantage, creating a comedic skit of #KevinTheCarrot reacting to the advert which drove 63,257 interactions and almost 2 million views. Meanwhile, Boots has continued to seed stories of those working on Christmas day, which have prompted spikes in interactions throughout November.

Moses Velasco, chief strategist at Socialbakers, discusses what marketers can do to maximise the impact of their Christmas campaigns on social:

  1. Spread cheer with something fun - whether it's festive sweaters (a la Gourmet Burger Kitchen in 2015), Christmas quiz's or a twelve days of Christmas countdown giveaway – build on the initial interest in your video campaign with content that continues to engage your audience
  2. Use influential hashtags as opposed to creating custom ones. Word of mouth travels faster on social than through traditional channels and by picking popular hashtags brands can make sure that their message reaches more people and taps into popular trends
  3. Spend wisely – put your budget behind content that’s proven to have an impact and if, like John Lewis, you know your content will do well organically, hold off from spending budget unnecessarily