How Instagram regained its momentum

by MMC
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TikTok was an existential threat and had captured the audience of young teens and Gen Z. Instagram was so closely associated with the millennial aesthetic – avocado toast, emoji captions, pressure to show a sanitized, rosy view of his life – that he seemed destined to go down (in the cool) with the millennial ship with the skinny jeans.

In 2021, The New York Times reported that Meta executives were panicking over internal data showing Instagram was losing favor with teens and were pouring money into a marketing campaign to lure them back. A year later, The Atlantic declared: “Instagram is over.“It seemed like the nail was in the coffin. When The Atlantic says you’re not cool, believe me, you’re not cool. They have fact checkers.

Sensor Tower shows that Instagram downloads grew 20% in 2023 compared to 2022, in contrast to TikTok’s 4% year-over-year growth.

Instagram beat TikTok not only in terms of growth, but also in terms of volume of app downloads in 2023: Instagram had 767 million while TikTok had 733 million. (TikTok, however, still beats Instagram in user engagement).

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

Topics enjoyed surprising success. It had a record debut in July when over 100 million people downloaded it in the first week (thanks to Instagram incentivizing users to do so). Many of those early curious quit, and for a while in late summer the app seemed like a tumbleweed. But by December 2023, it was the most downloaded app in the App Store (it finally launched in Europe that month). Your mileage may vary on how optimistic you are about Threads continuing to be a fun or useful platform, but clearly something is working.

The second thing for Instagram that seems to work is Reels. When Reels launched in 2020, it wasn’t an immediate success. A an internal report showed that Instagram was struggling to get creators to post, despite the fact that they allegedly offered cash incentives to high profile creators and also had low engagement from users. Worse yet, many videos were simple snippets from Tiktok, watermark and all.

But whether by hook or carrot, Reels content is suddenly more compelling. In fact, I’ve recently been enjoying Reels on TikTok, something I never would have predicted just six months ago. The key? I’m seeing more original videos and less reheated TikTok leftovers.

As Reels has improved, the traditional Instagram feed has changed. The feed now features fewer posts from friends and offers more suggested posts and Reels. Some creators aren’t happy with the changes, even Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner publicly complained about the new emphasis on Reels content. Instagram Manager Adam Mosseri said ‘grid photos’ had been minimized because users are most active in Stories, DMs, and Reels. This seems to be a bit of a chicken and egg situation: users are more interested in Stories and Reels because their friends aren’t posting to the feed, but people aren’t posting to the feed either news because they know no one sees it. .

This is a slightly frustrating aspect of Instagram’s recent success: it suggests that Instagram has dominated not because of innovation or creative new features, but because of the power of its user base. massive. What I find exciting about technology and new apps is that they can give us a fun new way to communicate and play. Innovative new apps like BeReal and Clubhouse were fun, even if they eventually ran out of steam. Instagram Stories is a copy of Snapchat and Reels is a copy of TikTok. Instagram hasn’t had a truly innovative new feature since the Valencia filter. (Yes, Instagram tested a BeReal cloneAnd TikTok too). But I digress.

At the same time, TikTok, which was once Instagram’s main existential crisis (well, probably still is), is teetering. According to data cited in a recent Wall Street Journal Reportthe number of TikTok monthly active users aged 18 to 24 actually decreased by 9% between 2022 and 2023. Ouch.

Twenty-somethings spend less time on the app because, well, life gets in the way. TikTok boomed during the pandemic, when many people were stuck at home and looking for entertainment and connection. In my reporting, the most common thing I hear from a creator regarding when and why they started posting on TikTok is that they got bored during lockdown. The world is different now, and some of those high schoolers whose screen time went crazy in 2020 are spending their days differently.

TikTok is also getting older — a recent Pew survey revealed surprising news that the app once known for being primarily aimed at teens is now popular with people over (gasp) 30.

According to Bench, there are actually fewer young people on TikTok right now than there were on Instagram in 2014. Nearly 40% of TikTok users are between the ages of 30 and 40. In 2014, this same age group (which we try not to call middle-aged) only made up about 20% of Instagram users. Even crazier, according to BenchAccording to the survey, people aged 35 to 49 are more likely to upload videos than people aged 18 to 34. And, perhaps most damning, TikTok’s 30-49 demographic is actually growing faster than the 18-34 cohort.

You’d think the wider age range on TikTok would mean even worse news for Instagram. But somehow, that’s not the case. Maybe it’s because TikTok is becoming less cool.

Another complaint I’ve heard from many people, and with which I greatly sympathize, is that TikTok’s focus on shopping has made the app less fun. TikTok Store launched in fall 2023, and almost instantly the app seemed noticeably more ad-filled.

For our purposes here, let’s leave aside the question of a Ban on TikTok. A bill has passed the House of Representatives that would force ByteDance to sell TikTok to a US buyer or effectively ban it. It’s unclear what will happen if and when this bill reaches the Senate. Obviously, eliminating its competition would be good for Instagram, but overall, I’m not sure Congress is ready to go all the way when it comes to regulating social media apps. Meta.

Meta is currently engaged in a different type of fight against legislation and regulations regarding the potential of its activities. harm to young people, particularly in matters of mental health. There is new momentum around the idea of ​​restricting social media to older teens, and even limiting teens’ access to phones. Schools are mobilizing and establishing no-phone policies in high schools. Yondr, a company that makes device lock pouches originally intended for comedy clubs and concerts, now sells its products to high schools, and with great success – according to the Boston Globe, at least 50 schools in Massachusetts, use Yondr bags.

It’s possible that, now that Instagram has managed to overtake TikTok, it will have to face the final boss: competing against real life and without screens.

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