Posted on: 23.02.2023

TikTok vs Instagram, who’s the Reel loser?

From around 2012 to 2017, Instagram was the cool kid on the block. The hipster younger brother to Facebook. But let’s face it, any platform that your mum is also on just isn’t that cool anymore.

Then along came TikTok and fast forward to 2023, it’s not just Gen Z that the newer platform has in a chokehold. It took the crown of the fastest-growing social media channel in 2022, and its usage across older demographics is spreading with over 67% of its users over the age of 20.

I’m pretty sure I lost two full years to TikTok over the pandemic. Those bite-sized clips of dogs reacting to scary movies, makeup hacks and celebrity controversy commentaries meant that an hour episode of Ozark on Netflix felt like a lifetime to my reduced attention span.

And funny videos aren’t just where TikTok ends – its ability to sell should not be overestimated. The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has over 42 billion views alone in the last three years.

Views for #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt – Last 3 Years. Source: TikTok.

Insider Intelligence reports that Gen Zs already use TikTok more than Instagram, which only adds more pressure to Meta’s Instagram to compete for eyeballs. 

No one asked for this 

In a bid to keep up, Instagram (along with other long-standing platforms like YouTube and Snapchat) added features similar to TikTok and other rising platforms like Shop and Reels. In other words, copying.

Fight Club Work GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY


Naturally, these introductions came with a new timeline that looks unfamiliar to the once photo-based feed, and an uninvited new algorithm to match. 

With weirdly cropped timelines to accommodate Reels, users also saw a huge proportion of ‘suggested posts’ from accounts they didn’t follow (as is the case on TikTok’s For You page). Naturally, this meant that you saw less from the accounts you were actually following, if at all. And if your post wasn’t a Reel? Don’t even bother. IGTV is deceased, so non-portrait or long-form video is a big no-no.

It was also really hard to predict how long a post would be shown on the feed, not keeping to the same 48 hour shelf life we’d previously seen. As you might recall, users had a LOT to say about this.

All this overlap in platform features made for poor user experience in 2022. Everyone was affected, from the normal user – (ever find yourself scrolling through Instagram Reels, to realise that the last 6 videos you’ve watched you saw the day before on TikTok? That’s when you know it’s time to get outside for some fresh air) – to influencers and social brand managers. 

Suddenly, popular accounts found their posts were no longer being shown to the followers they had cultivated over years. For better or worse, TikTok provides marketers with a level playing field when it comes to reach, regardless of popularity. Instagram attempted to take on some of that undiscriminating attitude, but ended up royally irritating people in the process.

The platforms in 2023

It seems like for the last couple of years, the Instagram algorithm has been led by its own egotistical motivations to compete with TikTok, not what consumers actually want out of the app. Looking at you Adam Mosseri. 

Meta’s share of global digital ad spending peaked in 2021, but is tipped to fall by around 3% this year. TikTok’s shares are still increasing, with the platform still experiencing its Hot Girl Summer in 2023. But will people lose interest soon and go back to their roots on Instagram? 

Instagram’s CEO Adam Messouri recently dealt with the Uno Reverse Card, announcing that the focus will be going back to photos this year. Perhaps it’s Instagram bosses realising that their copycat strategy isn’t working. Despite the push on Reels, Battenhall’s analysis of 100 brands on Instagram found that it’s actually carousels generating the highest engagement levels of any post format.

With revenue as the platform’s ultimate focus, they’ll do whatever they can to keep usage and engagement levels up. At the moment Instagram’s algorithm is supposedly moving away from TikTok, but there’s nothing to say that it won’t pivot again. And we as both consumers and marketers will just be expected to keep up if we want our content seen. 

What gigantic companies like Instagram fail to remember in the chase for the biggest slice of the pie, is why users downloaded the app to begin with. Instagram was once a breath of fresh air that served a distinct purpose, but that has since been muddied by its melting into other platforms.

But if all socials behave as clones of one another, how can one be crowned superior to the other? And let’s not forget about the new kids on the Gen Z social app scene; BeReal, Gas, Clubhouse and others. Whilst they don’t pose a huge threat to the social giants now, it’s likely that at least one of these will end 2023 stronger than they started out.


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