TikTok vs. Instagram - Battle of the Giants

Published on 1st of December 2020

Back in 2019, social media was abuzz in reaction to Zuckerberg’s underestimating the threat of TikTok. In a dramatic turn of events, there was an audio leak of the Facebook CEO describing TikTok as nothing more than the Explore Tab on Instagram.

The fact is that the two have little in common, save for presenting new information to users. And Zuckerberg’s comment probably would have slipped away quietly if it didn’t raise a much bigger question.

What’s the future of Facebook’s suite of apps in the face of TikTok?

Let’s find out.

What Do the Numbers Say?

Come March 2020 and TikTok installs spiked to 115.2 million and made it the most downloaded app in the category. A year earlier, Instagram was averaging just above 111 million downloads a quarter.

Tellingly, Walmart, Chipotle, Gymshark, and a host of other brands shifted their marketing efforts to TikTok, and for good reason. The platform is a ripe playground for Gen Zers, who have proved challenging for many companies to market to.

But with TikTok For Business’s Sponsored Hashtag Challenges, companies may have ready access into Gen Z hearts and minds. It just so happens that companies have also become more comfortable in using TikTok for influencer marketing.

In Pursuit of Followers

With close to 2 billion downloads globally, there’s no disputing that Instagram has a bigger audience. But not by much, as TikTok reached a major milestone of 1.5 billion downloads in November 2019. TikTok is also a tremendous growth story besides.

For the first quarter of 2020, TikTok users doubled year on year. And it’s interesting that in March of 2020 we saw a major torrent of TikTok content on Instagram.

As you can imagine, this encouraged a great number of Instagram influencers to set up TikTok accounts as well. Now, it’s logical to assume that endorsement opportunities are the main reason for this.

But that necessarily all influencers, who by nature are in constant pursuit of new and innovative ways to entertain followers. And TikTok as a platform has the power to deliver that on a platter.

Moreover, unlike most other platforms TikTok makes it easy for users to download and repost content. This enabled a lot of TikTokers to share their videos on Instagram, and not just stunts and lip-synching bravados.

TikTok vs. Instagram - Features

Both social media platforms offer DMs and Livestream, but Livestream on TikTok is not available to all users. And since there is no long-form video on TikTok, this doesn’t seem to bother the platform’s users. Shorter videos actually help with video completion rates.

TikTok supports virtual currency and Instagram doesn’t, even though both apps have well-established shopping options. For some reason, there are no tagged videos or photos on TikTok. And while there isn’t an equivalent Stories feature on TikTok, posting on TikTok is like having one big continuous story that’s always there.

The biggest difference between the two is perhaps in User Shared Soundclips. Having struck deals with top music production and licensing companies, TikTok allows you to have your own take on all of the hit songs. Of course, that’s the original appeal of TikTok.

As for in-feed ads, AR, and verified creators, both apps support. But the AR algorithm is arguably more accurate and realistic on TikTok.

Both platforms keep follower count, likes, hashtags, and user comments. And TikTok may be making better use of hashtags in light of all the challenges and user-generated content.


It’s worth stressing that a third-party study revealed that close to 90% of marketers considered Instagram the go-to place for influencer marketing. But keep in mind that this was a 2019 study.

Still, Instagram is owned by a giant with much greater resources than the parent company of TikTok. And Instagram’s $20 billion ad revenue demonstrates the extent of influencer marketing happening on the platform.

In terms of demographics, both platforms attract roughly users of the same age groups. Yes, Gen Z is present on both platforms and you can market to this group on Instagram. However, user locations are different.

Only about 12% of Instagram users are in the US and that’s the biggest representation. As opposed to TikTok, where most of the users are in Brazil and India. US users are only about 3% of all TikTok users, good enough for third place.

Gender distribution is also different. With about 56% of male representation on TikTok, the platform appears to attract more men. In contrast, 65% of Instagram users are female.

What do these numbers tell us?

It’s safe to say that the more even gender distribution on TikTok may make it more attractive to some marketers.

Be that as it may, TikTok is quickly turning into a social media powerhouse. And you wouldn’t be wrong to believe that more power users will turn their attention to TikTok, which may potentially affect Instagram’s billion-dollar influencer marketing business.

Riding on the Shoulders of Titans

TikTok is probably the first app to seriously threaten Instagram’s market dominance. TikTok is here to stay, it seems.

Even then, TikTok still has a long way to go before it reaches Instagram’s status as a mature platform. For now, you shouldn’t think twice about blazing your own trail on TikTok. There is a lot of room for aspiring influencers to grow and prosper.