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TikTok seemed to come out of nowhere as a top social media channel in 2020. What began as an amusing video app for lip dubs and dance moves has become a massive digital landscape of fitness tutorials, outfits-of-the-day, vlogging, crafting, before-and-after shots, and so much more.
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But long before TikTok influencers took the digital world by storm, Instagram was the indisputable top channel for creators. And while IG use also rose in 2020, it didn’t even come close to the accelerated growth of TikTok.
In many ways, Instagram remains the “place to be” for creators looking to make content creation a full-time career. However, TikTok shows signs of being a major contender as the leading channel for aspiring influencers.
“As of January 2021, TikTok had been downloaded over 2.6 billion times worldwide. It experienced meteoric growth in 2020 when the global pandemic took over the world and many of us were forced to stay indoors due to lockdowns. In the first quarter of 2020, it was downloaded a whopping 315 million times across Apple and Android phones, making it the most downloaded app in the world.”– Digital Agency Network, 2021
Instagram is four years older than TikTok which, in social media years, can feel like a century. In that period, Instagram reinvented social posting, online community, engagement, and influencer marketing many times over.
The main differences between these two platforms are:
But there are many subtle differences between TikTok and Instagram when it comes to algorithms, audiences, engagement, and social commerce.
Instagram offers all types of visual posts and focuses its aesthetic on the “grid” style. This format impacts a user’s profile, as well as how posts display on the Explore page.
Similarly, Instagram’s algorithms favor the user’s historical activity on the app by feeding certain posts in such a way that users see more than one post at a time. For example, if a person prefers images with certain themes, subjects, hashtags, etc., then Instagram will show more of that same type of content in the person’s Feed and Explore pages.
By contrast, TikTok recommends content it thinks a person would like one video at a time. People can toggle between Following and For You. Following showcases only videos from those accounts a user follows, while the For You page shows videos from a mix of follow and non-followed accounts.
The app offers an entirely different experience in this approach, and as a result, users tend to give and receive more full views. Showing one video at a time encourages full views instead of partial ones, thereby increasing impressions.
TikTok’s audio library and editing/filtering features are also more advanced than they are on Instagram. That’s why TikTok favors non-professional videographers.
When it comes to age and demographics, Instagram appeals to a much broader audience. It is the preferred channel of most Millennials and older Gen Z-ers.
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TikTok, however, remains the leading social platform for teens and young adults. The app’s demographics mirror its primary creator base, which is the youngest creator category online today.
Image via eMarketer
Another key difference between Instagram and TikTok (as it relates to demographics) is that Facebook owns and manages Instagram. As a result, cross-platform promotion between these two apps is seamless, thus opening the door to reach older Millennials and Baby Boomers on Facebook.
While TikTok has come a long way on social commerce in the last year and a half, it is still beta testing most of its ecommerce features. That said, TikTok is a vibrant influencer ecosystem with improved link sharing so that shoppers can take action on sponsored posts.
Instagram remains the leading social commerce platform today. Among its many social commerce features are in-app shopping, premium pay-per-click advertising, IG Story swipe-ups, and branded AR filters.
Instagram is the clear frontrunner in influencer marketing, and that is due in large part to its tenure and social commerce prowess.
That said, TikTok is a fast-growing creator network with the most engagement options on social media. Unlike most social channels, TikTok offers more than standard likes, comments, and shares. Creators promote a host of sharing options, including (but not limited to):
These engagement features make it easier for influencers and brands to get user-generated content (UGC) on their sponsored posts. TikTok’s UGC potential makes it a great option for increasing brand awareness and nurturing audiences.
Because Instagram is a larger platform containing millions of users with 1,000 or more followers, creators must work harder to grow their audiences. It is more common to see IG influencers with professional photography and videography skills.
TikTok is a channel that requires significantly less professional experience but more originality from its creators. Successful influencers practice and refine their skills with the app’s video shooting and editing features. And while it’s possible to upload one’s own videos to TikTok, most popular creators focus on being highly proficient with shooting within the app from their smartphone.
When uploading premade videos, most creators integrate their own audio selections. Unless you are recording your own audio, shooting IG Reels, Stories, and IGTVs from a smartphone may not be the best choice.
By contrast, TikTok maintains its own, massive audio library, complete with soundbytes, famous comedy sketches, top hits, and original tracks. Creators can select their audio on the fly and publish final videos in minutes – all from their smartphone.
In fact, it is almost impossible to be successful on TikTok without knowing how to find and deploy audio.
For those that want to shoot and edit their vertically-formatted videos on professional software, Instagram is the better choice. Polished content tends to perform better and fit the overall IG tone.
But for creators that prefer an exclusively “homemade” video style, TikTok is a much better fit. Many of the app’s video editing features and filters enhance the raw style, but there are plenty of high-performing TikTokers who shoot all or most of their videos without any touch ups.
Because top engagement options on TikTok work best on the latest videos, influencers tend to be more in tune with stitches, duets, and challenges that are most recent.
Instagram engagements fluctuate slightly less based on the latest user trends. And while this offers brand-creator collaborations more opportunities to be “timeless,” it can also feel less exciting to younger consumers.
By and large, TikTok influencers are not professional videographers. But they nearly always possess an intimate knowledge of the app’s features. Thanks to TikTok’s usability, it doesn’t take very long to feel comfortable with the app. And for those creators who are serious, they can produce professional-looking content without ever having to leave TikTok.
Instagram does have some editing and filtering options for videos, but not nearly as many. Creators wanting a wide selection of editing/filtering tools must use their own video editing software.
At present, it is much easier to gain high follower counts on TikTok than it is on Instagram.
There are currently millions of macro influencers on Instagram, with 30 times that many nano and micro influencers. This massive selection allows brands to be picky in the creators they partner with, as well as narrow their audiences based on specific interests and values.
Image via Mediakix
By contrast, TikTok has a remarkably low number of macro influencers. But due to its fast growth, these numbers are changing dramatically every year.
Image via Mediakix
With a much smaller batch of TikTok influencers to choose from, brands can enjoy greater attention from audiences during creator campaigns. But there is a trade-off in that some industries can’t target certain niche audiences.
TikTok influencers are guiding social media user expectations in 2021 and beyond. If the app’s meteoric rise wasn’t enough, the copycat launches of Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts demonstrate that TikTok is on the cutting edge of social media content.
By recruiting these creators, your brand still has time to capture entire audiences while TikTok influencer marketing remains a largely untapped frontier. Thanks to TikTok’s amazing engagement features, your influencer campaigns will enjoy incredible reach and large volumes of user-generated content.
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