Juicy headlines and stories are any website’s dream. They attract eyeballs, drive engagement, boost traffic and increase ad revenue. And one of the year’s juiciest headlines was the supposed death of Facebook and its parent company Meta. We will admit that it was hard to turn away from the slow-motion plane crash of The Zuck burning through billions of dollars in his all-out quest to conquer the metaverse. Zuckerberg proudly posting a “virtual selfie” with graphics that looked more akin to 2006’s Nintendo Wii than the result of billions only added to the fire. And Meta’s stock price falling off a cliff led to countless stories about its imminent demise.
The problem with all those juicy headlines is that the party must keep going. Write a story that gets lots of traffic, and your editor will expect more of the same. Now, some journalists are eying Instagram as the next social media giant to fall. With both Facebook and Instagram owned by Meta, the shift in focus to the latter seems natural. And more stories are starting to populate our news feed about Instagram sharing the same fate as Facebook. But is there any truth to it? Let’s go beyond the clickbait and look at the current state of Instagram.
THE REPORTS OF MY DEATH HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED
Article after article declares that Instagram is either one update away from becoming irrelevant or already dead with catchy headlines to match those bold statements. Medium takes a much “softer” stance with its article “Instagram Will Be Dead in 5 Years.” Even the Washington Post couldn’t resist getting in on the bashing with its report declaring Instagram doesn’t care if users don’t like its changes and is heading for oblivion. Doomsday headlines and stories about the demise of Instagram are spreading faster than the latest extremely annoying trend on TikTok.
Much of this negative coverage boom was caused by the backlash to Instagram’s recent clumsy attempt to mimic its biggest competitor TikTok. An explosion of Reels from accounts people didn’t follow suddenly flooded their feeds as Instagram hoped to boost engagement and copy TikTok’s success with short-form videos. But users weren’t having it, and the changes were received about as well as Kayne West at a bar mitzvah. A “Make Instagram Instagram Again” petition was started on Change.org to bring attention to user dissatisfaction. And the queens of Instagram, Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, spoke out against the changes and pleaded with Instagram to stop trying to be TikTok. Even less plasticky and heard from elder sister Kourtney got in on the action. It might sound like a bad “TMZ” episode, but the Kardashian-Jenner clan has 686 million Instagram followers between them. The outcry worked to an extent as Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri explained that the platform will be more video based in the future but that its current form wasn’t good. The scale of the changes was rolled back as Instagram retooled its approach.
Digging deeper into these stories, it is easy to notice they tend to latch onto a couple of statistics and recent negative trends and back them up with lots of “personal insights” (otherwise known as feelings). The Medium article is a perfect example, with the author stating that she uses Instagram less and is bored with it. She then cites Instagram Reels’ engagement vs. TikTok’s, Meta’s flatlined quarterly revenue and the Change.org petition. With that array of metrics and insight, she can somehow declare that Instagram won’t exist in five years. That might make for a great read, but it is like your friends leaving you for dead after you stub your toe on a hiking trip.
SIZE ABSOLUTELY MATTERS
One of the most significant flaws in the “Instagram-is-about-to-die” logic is that it ignores its sheer size. According to a CNBC article, Instagram surpassed 2 billion monthly users in 2021. That is a big number and double that of TikTok. In the fourth quarter of 2021, Instagram was the most downloaded app in the world. Yes, it slipped to second place in 2022, but that is still a good place to be. That size gives it survivability, as it would have to shed many users before going the way of the dodo. To help put it in perspective, even if all the 323,268 disgruntled souls that signed the Change.org petition mentioned previously left Instagram, it would only make a .0001% difference in its daily users.
Much is also made of Meta’s (Instagram’s parent company) financial slide in citing its supposed demise. But again, some perspective is needed. Yes, the trend is downward instead of rocketing up as in years past. Meta’s Q3 revenue was down 4% year-over-year, amounting to $27.2 billion, according to Statista. And its stock valuation woes are well-known, with a gigantic 66% YTD drop in value. Even with all that, Meta is still the eighth-largest corporation in the world by market capitalization as of August 2022. There is still plenty of “bleeding” to be done, and it is far from dead. Now, if we could just get Zuckerberg to stop lighting gigantic piles of metaverse money on fire.
BUT WHAT ABOUT TIKTOK?
Reading the constant barrage of stories about Facebook and now Instagram being on death’s door is almost enough to make any brand delete those apps. And TikTok’s strong and rapid growth might make one deduce that it is the only social platform worth being on. The reality is more nuanced than some might lead you to believe. The bulk of TikTok’s massive growth came during the height of the pandemic as many turned to the app for the entertainment that was lacking in the real world. Things are beginning to change now that the world is (hopefully) starting to enter a post-pandemic era.
TikTok is starting to show signs of slowing down for the first time ever. According to a Digital Information World article, TikTok’s year-to-year user growth for 2022 was 10%. That is still strong but down significantly from 87% in 2020. There is also the curious case of the massive 41% year-to-year decrease in followers crossing the one-million follower mark. And it recently lopped $2 billion of its advertising revenue forecast for this year. Now, this isn’t enough for us to write a clickbait article on the death of TikTok. Its fundamentals are still strong, but its growth may be returning to reality as it reaches critical mass and other social platforms create new ways to counter it.
WHICH DEMOGRAPHICS MATTER?
Saying that the “kids” love TikTok might instantly date you, but there is some truth to it. According to an in-depth look at social media in 2022 by HypeAuditor, 66% of TikTok users are under 24. Of that group, 26% are under 17. The same analysis also found that 46% of Instagram users are between 24-35 years old, with only 6% under 17. TikTok does indeed skew younger than Instagram, with a significant demographic of teenagers using it.
The age difference might not be surprising, but marketers must pay attention to it. Yes, there is a ton of buzz currently around TikTok. But using TikTok just because it is the darling of social media doesn’t make sense. It depends upon the products you are marketing and the demographics that buy them. As the demo skews older, Instagram has a significant advantage over TikTok, and the reverse is also true.
NANO VS. MICRO VS. MACRO
Another interesting finding of the HypeAuditor analysis is the difference between nano-, micro- and macro-influencers on TikTok and Instagram. HypeAuditor defines nano-influencers as having 1,000-5,000 followers, micro-influencers as having 5,000-20,000 followers and macro-influencers with 100,000-1 million followers. TikTok has significantly more nano-influencers than Instagram (50.5% versus 39.4%). But the most notable difference between both is that while there are more nano-influencers on TikTok, they don’t have the highest engagement rate. On TikTok, mega-influencers (those with followings over 1 million) deliver the most engagement by over 3%. The opposite is true on Instagram, with nano-influencers having the highest engagement rate.
This is another critical consideration for marketers. As explained in our influencer marketing FAQ, the size of the influencer matters. Mega-influencers and celebrities do offer significant reach for more general products. But smaller influencers well-regarded in their niches are seen as more knowledgeable, trustworthy and authentic. They are product experts that often do a better job at guiding purchasing decisions than mega-influencers at a much lower cost. And according to the statistics from HypeAuditor, they perform better on Instagram than on TikTok.
MARKETERS LOVE INSTAGRAM
Influencer marketing continues to grow as advertising moves from television to digital, e-commerce platforms keep rising in prominence, and ad-blocking software and privacy features shift marketing budgets toward influencers. According to HypeAuditor, influencer marketing is expected to grow to $22.2 billion by 2025, with a compound annual growth rate of 12.6%. That same study cites Instagram as the most popular social media channel for influencer marketing, with 68% of marketing specialists considering it essential for their campaigns.
Instagram continues to roll out features to make life easier for influencers and brands. Link stickers are now available in Instagram Stories for all accounts, not just those with 10,000-plus followers or verified accounts. Links in Stories are also available, allowing any size account to share a link to a product or brand, and are trackable. Both are a major help to smaller companies and micro-influencers. Instagram also rolled out its Professional Dashboard to help support creators. Yes, not everyone on Instagram is an influencer. But the fact that marketing teams love it and the continued growth of the size of influencer marketing helps give Instagram staying power.
IT’S NOT ALL SMILES AND SUNSHINE
Not everything is rosy with Instagram, as TikTok continues to crush it in engagement. According to an article from Social Insider, TikTok had an average engagement rate of 7.1% in August of 2022 compared to Instagram’s 1.65% during the same period. TikTok videos get 44% more comments than Instagram Reels. And the number of TikToks posted is double that of Instagram. Globally, the average user spends 52 minutes on TikTok, while those on Instagram spend 28 minutes on the app daily.
There are some surprising statistics when looking deeper into that article, however. Instagram currently has roughly double the number of followers of TikTok in the United States (138 vs. 67 million). Also, when comparing accounts of the same size, Reels on Instagram will have a greater chance of a higher watch rate than on TikTok. This is because Instagram’s current algorithm favors smaller accounts with more engaged followers. On TikTok, an account’s size correlates directly to its watch rate. The more followers an account has, the more its TikToks are viewed.
THE CLONE WARS
One reason some cite for Instagram’s imminent demise is a lack of innovation from its parent company Meta. Yes, it is true that Zuckerberg usually either buys a competitor or copies its features. But it is a tactic that has worked in the past. Snapchat was seen as a serious competitor until Instagram copied it with Instagram Stories. Now, Snapchat doesn’t even rank in the top 10 in size. And, of course, Instagram Reels is “inspired” by TikTok and designed to compete directly with it.
At the end of 2022, Instagram announced two new features to supposedly allow users to keep up with their “real-world” friends. Some say the features are in response to the backlash against the massive influx of random Reels algorithmically stuffed into users’ feeds earlier this year. But it doesn’t take much detective work to deduce they are thinly-veiled attempts to copy others. Instagram Notes allows users to communicate with their Close Friends list and mutual followers they select with a note of up to 60 characters or emojis. The Notes appear at the top of friends’ inboxes for 24 hours, and the feature is a slight variation of Twitter.
Instagram is also currently testing Candid, where friends share Stories that are only visible to others who share their own Candids. If it sounds familiar to growing Gen Z favorite BeReal, that is because it is almost identical. These latest copycat features continue to show a lack of innovation and are concerning. Instagram’s strategy seems to be constantly catching up to its competitors instead of leading them with innovative new features and technology.
THE GREAT UNKNOWN
While Instagram’s cloning tactics have worked in the past, they may backfire with TikTok. One reason is the rapid growth and sheer size of TikTok. Snapchat, Twitter and especially BeReal are relatively small and don’t even break into the top ten largest social media platforms. It is pretty simple to mimic their features to stunt their growth and keep users on Instagram. But TikTok is right behind Instagram in overall size, meaning Instagram is late to the party to keep it from growing. And if Instagram keeps cloning TikTok and pushing Reels, users may not see the point in keeping both apps and jump ship. And you can guess where they will go if they get more engagement on TikTok.
Another reason that Instagram may lose the clone wars is that it is fundamentally different from TikTok. Instagram is built on a social component with people wanting to connect with friends and follow other accounts they are interested in. TikTok is for entertainment, with users not necessarily caring if the content comes from random people as long as it is entertaining. When Instagram tried to mimic TikTok and shove a bunch of random Reels into users’ feeds from accounts they don’t follow, the backlash was immediate and negative. Instagram users don’t want to see their feeds flooded with random Reels. It didn’t help that the algorithm was horrible in deducing what Reels to suggest adding to the randomness. Instagram backed off and scaled down the amount of Reels but still seems committed to the TikTok cloning concept.
Currently, there are no statistics that support Instagram massively alienated its user base, causing a mass exodus with its TikTok clone flub. But the great unknown is that social media sites are susceptible to momentum. Just as growth can rocket upward, it can also go quickly in the reverse direction. And that abandonment rate usually snowballs and gathers momentum as more people leave the app or stop using it. So is Instagram having its MySpace moment where a fresher and more innovative competitor outmaneuvers it? Or is it merely the media piling on a topic in search of traffic? That remains to be seen.
SO WHAT’S THE REALITY?
The reality is that Instagram isn’t dead or going anywhere anytime soon. Yes, engagement is down, but that is true of all social media platforms as they come off the sugar high of the pandemic. And Meta is experimenting with ways to fight against TikTok and boost engagement that possibly may alienate some users. But its sheer size in users and revenue give it a long way to fall. Instagram’s unique demographics, penetration into the U.S. market, and micro-influencer performance also help separate it from TikTok. Instagram might not have the buzz or the massive growth it once had, and it may have some strategic challenges. But it is far from dead in the near term and is still a viable platform for marketers in 2023.
However, a solid social media strategy is more critical than ever as engagement continues to slide on all forms of social media. And Instagram should only be one component of it. At Kahn Media, we are social media experts skilled in crafting strategies that deliver results and revenue. We can also work with the right influencers to amplify any social media efforts, product launches or brand awareness campaigns. And we can do all of it at a cost that is usually below hiring your own in-house team. Contact us today to see what we can do for your brand.