Instagram’s Epic Comeback: How It’s Beating TikTok at Its Own Game!

TikTok once posed a significant threat, captivating the younger teen and Gen Z audience. Instagram, closely associated with millennial culture—think avocado toast, emoji-filled captions, and the pressure to portray a curated and idyllic life—appeared destined to fade into obscurity along with skinny jeans.

TikTok
TikTok

In 2021, Meta executives were alarmed by internal data revealing Instagram's waning popularity among teens. They launched a hefty marketing campaign to win them back. A year later, The Atlantic boldly declared “Instagram Is Over,” seemingly sealing its fate. When The Atlantic makes such a proclamation, you better believe it's serious; they're known for their thorough fact-checking.

However, Instagram has defied expectations and is making a remarkable comeback. Sensor Tower reports a 20% increase in Instagram downloads in 2023 compared to the previous year, surpassing TikTok's modest 4% .

Not only did Instagram outpace TikTok in growth, but it also surpassed it in sheer volume of app downloads in 2023: Instagram saw 767 million downloads, while TikTok trailed with 733 million. (However, TikTok still boasts higher user engagement numbers.)

What's behind Instagram's resurgence? EMarketer suggests a couple of factors. First, the launch of Threads, a competitor linked to Instagram accounts, likely drove some curious users back to Instagram. Threads experienced a stellar debut in July, with over 100 million downloads in the first week. While initial interest waned, it surged again by December 2023, becoming the most downloaded app in the App Store.

Secondly, Instagram's Reels feature has gained traction. Although it struggled upon its 2020 launch, Reels content has become more captivating, with a shift towards original videos rather than recycled TikTok content.

As Reels improved, Instagram's traditional feed evolved, featuring fewer friend posts and more suggested content and Reels. Some creators expressed dissatisfaction with these changes, including high-profile figures like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner. Instagram's head, Adam Mosseri, explained that the emphasis on Reels and Stories reflects user activity patterns.

Instagram's recent success seems driven less by and more by its massive user base. While other platforms like BeReal and Clubhouse offered innovative experiences, Instagram's recent features like Stories and Reels borrowed heavily from competitors.

Meanwhile, TikTok, once Instagram's primary competitor, is facing challenges. Data cited in a recent Wall Street Journal report indicates a 9% decline in TikTok's monthly active users aged 18-24 from 2022 to 2023.

TikTok's user base is aging, with a Pew survey revealing a significant increase in users over 30. This demographic shift, coupled with complaints about TikTok's emphasis on shopping and increased ad presence, has contributed to its perceived decline.

Amidst these developments, concerns about 's impact on , particularly among young people, have sparked legislative action. Some advocate for restricting social media access to older teens or limiting phone use altogether, presenting a potential challenge to platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

As Instagram regains ground from TikTok, it faces a new adversary: the allure of a screen-free life.

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