Analysis: US teens show favouritism toward TikTok over IG

TikTok has surpassed Instagram to rank number two in the hearts of teenagers in the United States, according to a report by Piper Sandler. In a Generation Z survey with more than 9,800 US teenagers, the firm found that Instagram fell from the number two spot to number three, with TikTok overtaking its spot. Meanwhile, Snapchat remains teenagers' favourite social media platform.

TikTok's strong growth in consumer preferences comes in spite of the geopolitical challenges it is facing. TikTok has had a turbulent time globally in recent months, with the president of the United States, Donald Trump, calling a ban on it in the country, citing data privacy reasons. Internationally, it also made headlines for recently exiting the Hong Kong market after the announcement of the national security law, and was banned in India at the end of June, along with 58 other Chinese apps.

Additionally, this increase in consumer preferences also comes despite Instagram's most recent attempt to place itself in direct competition with TikTok. Earlier in July, Instagram introduced its "Reels" function, which is an offering to create and discover short, entertaining videos on Instagram. Similar to TikTok, Reels allows users to create their own audio, as well as use various AR effects that they can use in the videos.  

TikTok's winning of hearts in US, also mirrors its growth in Asia. According to The Straits Times, which cited mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower, there was approximately 1.04 million new downloads in Singapore during the period between January and July this year. The article added that TikTok is most popular amongst young adults and teenagers, according to Crystal Abidin, a senior research fellow in Internet studies at Curtin University. 

In a conversation with Marketing, Charles Tidswell, vice-president of JAPAC at Socialbakers said although the company does not have immediate data if TikTok has surpassed Instagram in Asia, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it proves to be true given TikTok is gaining popularity because it appeals to people’s creativity and provides more of an exploration process.  However, Tidswell noted that it may not be entirely fair to compare TikTok to Instagram as TikTok slants more towards being an entertainment platform. "If there is a comparison, it should be with the likes of YouTube," according to him.

Moreover, Facebook and Tiktok run on seperate algorithms. While TikTok mainly uses an algorithm to recommend users content, Instagram relies more on what content users’ friends and followers have previously engaged with.  Tidswell added that TikTok is a powerful platform because of its power to help people find creativity. It is also very unstructured, and that gives them an advantage over the other social media platforms such as Instagram.

On the other hand, Jeffrey Lim, founder of social media agency 8traordinary, is of the view that it will take some time for TikTok to surpass Instagram in Asia. He pointed out that this may be due to the difference in target audience. "Instagram users account for Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X, while TikTok users are generally the Gen Z and Millennials," he said, adding that this will cause a gap between the two platforms. 

To get ahead of TikTok in this social media race, Lim said Instagram can look to creating more authentic and non-sponsored content on the platform. This comes as he witnessed an influx of sponsored content and ads on Instagram since the introduction of ads in 2013. While this could bring in a lot of ad dollars for the platform, Lim said it may not sit well with internet users these days, who seem to crave more authentic content. "Directly working with the brands or influencers to create more interesting or entertaining content might help sustain the users on the platform," Lim said, noting that Instagram's strategy is more about retention and engagement instead of user growth at this point.

Earlier in May, Lim told Marketing in a previous conversation that marketers and brands may be hesitant to get onboard TikTok as a platform as there are many factors to consider. These considerations range from price to the measurement of success of marketing efforts on TikTok. However, he said due to the clutter on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, it will not be surprising to see more marketers and brands exploring new platform such as TikTok to cut through the noises to reach their target audience in a more effective way. Trust and confidence on Facebook and Instagram are also eroding, he added. This may push marketers and brands to the TikTok platform instead.

Agreeing that TikTok has the potential to surpass Instagram in terms of the number of teenage users in Asia is Mina Sunico-Chin, managing partner of Hashtag Interactive. However, she added that she wouldn’t necessarily discount Instagram altogether. In the aspect of creating content, she said there is a higher barrier of entry for TikTok content production as it usually takes a lot more thought and effort, whether it is learning a dance or storyboarding/editing a video using its native tools. This can be a deterrent to some users, as compared to the lower barrier of content production on Instagram, where users just capture moments on stories or curate photos for their feeds.

Having said that, Sunico-Chin was also quick to note that there may still be an increase in number of users, as there are many passive users on all platforms as well. These are people who just go on the platform to consume content and ads, she explained.

In the competition faced by Instagram, Sunico-Chin said Instagram just has to continue with its improvements to the platform - improving its UX and adding new shareable features/filters and letting word-of-mouth do its work. "Users move to new platforms because they want to try new functions, filters, stickers and fun things like that. It’s easy to go viral when you can introduce something different - even if it’s not a totally new concept, for example, a new filter design." 

Additionally, Sunico-Chin noted that Asia has not yet seen the impact of Instagram's Reels just yet. "If you look historically, when Instagram launched Stories, that really impacted the growth of Snapchat [in Asia]. Snapchat definitely tried to make improvements to the platform, including upgrading its advertising options, but it could never really keep up with the robustness of Instagram," she added. 

In September, TikTok's owner, ByteDance, was reportedly priming Singapore as the main foothold for Asia as part of its global expansion, reported Bloomberg. ByteDance was seeking to spend "several billion dollars and add hundreds of jobs" over the next three years in Singapore, the report said, adding that the company is looking to potentially unveil a data centre in the city state too.

According to ByteDance's job referral site, it has more than 200 job openings in Singapore, ranging from data analytics and eCommerce, to UX, logistics, brand partnership, ad integrity and content. Over the last six months, the company has also been filling roles such as head of business marketing Southeast Asia, SMB product marketing lead, channel manager, chief of staff, amongst others a quick check by Marketing on LinkedIn found. These roles are largely based out of Singapore. 

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