Instagram will no longer try to be like TikTok…is that a free pass for the Chinese giant?

Carlos Pemau

13 September 2022

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It’s probably the most celebrated news of the summer among artists and content creators: Instagram will give up its strategy of becoming TikTok’s carbon copy. The news came just a week after photographer Tati Bruening (@illumitati on Instagram) published a post calling for “Instagram to be Instagram again”, which went viral like wildfire, to the point that it was shared by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner.  

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In the last two years, the emergence of TikTok, whose discovery algorithm is considered to be its great competitive advantage, has led Meta to dust off its manual of confrontation with competitors and decide, just like they did in the Snapchat versus Instagram Stories war, to start showing users a much greater proportion of content from accounts they do not follow, giving them priority over their friends’ posts. Similarly, it has prioritised video content over images, a change that, in the eyes of many users, means giving up their main hallmark. 

In this context, in which Instagram seems to have gotten its users’ message and will now back down in its attempts to try to be (so much) like Tiktok, what conclusions can we draw for developing a TikTok strategy in the medium term?

New communication codes 

TikTok’s user base is still predominantly young, and they are demonstrating that their consumption preferences for content, information, and commercial products are a far cry from the offerings of most “traditional” social networks. Prabhakar Raghavan, Director of Knowledge and Information Organisation at Google, put it this way in a series of conferences: “According to our study, about 40% of young people don’t use Google Maps or search on Search when looking for a place to eat, but instead use TikTok or Instagram”.

Does that mean we are witnessing the birth of a new global information hub? The types of content we consume on TikTok have continued to expand and diversify. From those viral dances that distracted us during lockdown, to the #TitkokMadeMeBuyIt trend, ASMR, specialised thematic content, and even witnessing the launch of Rosalía’s latest album live, TikTok hasn’t stopped moving forward, even if it is sometimes difficult to see where it’s headed. 

Thus, as content creators, we’ve been learning along the way, developing new strategies and adapting to TikTok’s new codes: opting for native content, avoiding formalisms and pre-produced content, and above all, focusing on entertaining the end user

But how will the relationship between brands and TikTok users continue to evolve in the medium term, considering the constant diversification of formats and content?

Audiences of today and tomorrow

Considering that TikTok is already one of the main information search engines among young people, perhaps it’s not unreasonable to imagine that it could develop a greater mix of functionalities that we now associate with other digital tools. 

Proof of this is Tiktok Music, a brand that has recently been registered by Bytedance in the United States and which, with many unknowns still to be resolved, could become a direct competitor to Spotify. It could also be envisaged as a live audio and video streaming platform, bringing a social component into the digital music and audio universe. 

Or perhaps Tiktok could take the lead as the platform that democratises augmented reality, beyond the “funny” effects we can now find by scrolling through our “for you” page. 

The possibilities are endless, but, in short: what would happen if new tools allowed us to use TikTok in order to meet our everyday needs, but from a totally different perspective to the platforms we currently know and use?

It’s worth imagining how the bulk of TikTok’s OG audience (those whose main social media has been TikTok since they first started using the Internet) will behave in the future, once they reach adulthood. Considering their preferences in terms of content and information consumption, which will inevitably be influenced by TikTok’s codes and language, what will their digital needs be?

Will they still want to buy from traditional digital marketplaces, or will they demand a digital figure that indexes their needs, taking on a more passive role when it comes to purchasing goods and services? Will they expect content to be mostly user-generated (UGC), or will they still tolerate “professional”, curated content? Will they demand to consume journalistic information also through an algorithm that takes into account their ideology, interests, and concerns in order to offer them only content that falls within their parameters? Or will they end up fleeing personal bubbles in search of diverse sources of information to confront their ideas with different ones?

Of course, none of us have the answers to these questions right now, but it is interesting to imagine how our future audiences will interact digitally so that we can adapt to them and deliver a native and desirable message. However, what does seem to be clear is that TikTok’s discovery algorithm will continue to be its main hallmark, and therefore both brands and creators will need to adapt their content strategies so that their content is entertaining and, somehow, keeps users glued to their smartphone screens for as long as possible.