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Instagram’s copycat strategy is beating TikTok as a possible ban looms


When Instagram releases a new feature that is a direct copy of another app, its users fear the worst.

In a 2022 essay for Digital Trends, writer Cristina Alexander lamented the “TikTok-ification of Instagram” because it “takes away the type of content people love most about the platform: photos from friends and family, as well as content based on their interests.”

“And it’s something I’m just about fed up with,” Alexander wrote.

But the doomsaying rarely lasts forever. Alexander joins the ranks of Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, and a whole host of regular users — including myself — who have fallen into the cycle of hating it when Instagram makes a copycat change and then, after a few months, come around to it. 

Like it or hate it, Instagram’s copycat strategy works — and its dedication to stealing features from other apps is helping to fuel its ability to overtake TikTok

Think of Instagram like Kirby in Super Smash Bros. He’s a formidable foe on his own, but it’s using his Copy Ability by swallowing his enemies and using their own powers against them that makes him so powerful. Instead of finding and using power ups or prioritizing his abilities, Kirby uses his enemies as his own, personal power ups. Instagram — and other Meta-owned apps — swallow their enemies, take on their features, and use them to win. Instagram used this strategy to remove Snapchat from its list of significant competitors, and TikTok is next.

For the first time since 2020, Instagram overtook TikTok in new app downloads in 2023, according to data from market intelligence firm Sensor Tower reported by the Financial Times, making it the most downloaded app in the world. In 2023, Instagram downloads grew 20 percent in comparison to TikTok’s 4 percent.

This comes after Instagram launched Reels, a TikTok-esque feature that was originally panned by its user base but has now become a mainstay on the app. And it might be the inclusion of Reels that has helped launch the platform back to the top.

“Instagram has outperformed TikTok in adoption over the past few years, driven by the popularity of its Reels feature along with legacy social media features and functions,” Abraham Yousef, a senior insights manager at Sensor Tower, told the Financial Times.

Instagram’s successful copycat strategy might be the reason it is succeeding, but TikTok is facing a battle at all fronts.

President Joe Biden said that if Congress passes the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” — which would ban TikTok and all other apps based in China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran from U.S. app stores — he’ll sign it into law. Lawmakers argue that TikTok user data for U.S. citizens could be accessed by the Chinese state, but TikTok has consistently denied that claim.

The legislative push to ban TikTok led to multiple congressional hearings and, just last week, the app encouraged all of its U.S. users to call their representatives to “stop a TikTok shutdown.” It comes two years after it was reported that Meta paid a Republican consulting firm to create public distrust around TikTok.

All the while, TikTok is becoming increasingly less fun and more focused on ecommerce. With the emergence of TikTok shop, it feels like every other video on the For You Page is a promoted or sponsored post. The TikTok experience is changing, and it might not be for the better. 

Just because fewer people are downloading the app, and many more are complaining about their experience on it, doesn’t mean TikTok is fully failing, though. The app has higher engagement than its rivals, with users spending an average of 95 minutes on TikTok in comparison to 62 minutes on Instagram, 30 minutes on X, and 19 minutes on Snapchat, according to the Financial Times report.

We’ll have to wait and see what a TikTok ban will look like, but one thing is certain — even if the app isn’t banned in the U.S., the fight for users won’t be over.





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