Despite multiple articles and reports insisting that TikTok is the younger, hotter, Gen Z favorite social app, Instagram is still seeing more engagement and interaction. 

For instance, according to Sensor Tower estimated, Instagram downloads increased by 20% in 2023 compared to the previous year, compared to TikTok seeing just 4% growth over the same period, with daily-active-user growth also plateauing. 

The explanation is simple; Instagram’s short-video product, reels, is pretty much just as good as TikTok at this point.

In addition, unlike TikTok, Instagram has been careful, as of recent, to not shove unpopular features like shoppable videos in users’ faces. Currently every other scroll on TikTok seems to be a bombardment of advertisements. 

Unlike TikTok, Instagram provides enough content diversity to tick all the boxes. For example, somebody who might not necessarily be a fan of reels could still be a fan of the main feed, which is the photo sharing, and then stories and chat, which are legacy social media features and now iconic to the platform. 

TikTok is still lacking in features that most social media users deem a necessity such as creating group DM chats. Users also tend to share more Reels via Instagram DM than TikTok users send via TikTok chat. 

To support this point, I recently came across a humorous TikTok where a woman was explaining that if her friends or family admit to watching her TikTok (confessing either in person or via a comment on one of her videos) it completely cringes her out. In other words, she posts to TikTok for the digital community alone and not to develop personal relationships or friendships. 

99% of comments on the viral video were in agreement. This demonstrates how TikTok isn’t necessarily a ‘social’ app in the traditional sense but more of an entertainment app. While this may attract views, likes and comments, it prevents use of sharing tools unlike Instagram. 

These statistics are impressive from Instagram when we consider that not so long ago, it seemed like Instagram’s relevance was fading.

Where TikTok was the hot, young Gen Z, Instagram seemed so closely associated with the millennial aesthetic — avocado toast, emoji captions, the pressure to show off a sanitized and rosy view of one’s life — that it seemed destined to go down (in coolness) with the millennial ship along with skinny jeans.

But against all odds, Instagram has clearly staged its comeback.

EMarketer suggests a few reasons for Instagram’s success last year. One reason is Threads, the newly launched Twitter competitor, which requires an Instagram account and may have prompted some people who were curious about Threads to redownload Instagram.

The second thing for Instagram that seems to be working is Reels. When the feature launched in 2020, it wasn’t an immediate success. An internal Business Insider report showed that Instagram was having trouble getting creators to actually post, despite having reportedly offered cash incentives to high-profile creators, and that it had low engagement from users, too. Even worse, lots of the videos were straight-up rips from TikTok, watermark and all.

This is a slightly frustrating part of Instagram’s recent success: It suggests that Instagram has dominated not because of innovation or creative new features but because of the sheer might of its massive user base.

In addition, TikTok simply isn;t as hot and young anymore because, for an app, it isn’t that young anymore. Data cited in a recent Wall Street Journal report indicates TikTok’s monthly active users between 18 and 24 actually decreased by about 9% from 2022 to 2023. Ouch.

Twentysomethings are spending less time on the app because, well, life gets in the way. TikTok surged during the pandemic when many people were stuck at home and looking for entertainment and connection. 

You’d think the broader age range on TikTok would mean even worse news for Instagram. But somehow, it isn’t. Maybe it’s that TikTok is getting less cool.

It’s possible that Instagram has managed to claw its way back past TikTok. 

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