TikTok cannot replace Instagram Reels just yet. Here’s why.

  • Big Technology is a newsletter about tech and society by a freelance journalist Alex Kantrowitz. Get the latest tech news and scoops – delivered daily to your inbox.
  • Even though Reels is an inferior product to TikTok, it has some advantages that keep people on board.
  • Instagram still has double the number of TikTok users and TikTok growth has slowed.

When Joy Ridenhour, a junior communications student at NYU, returned home to Virginia for winter vacation this year, she heard familiar music coming from her parents’ phones. “I was like, huh, it’s interesting that they’re watching TikTok,” she said. “But then I realized they weren’t using TikTok, they had discovered Instagram Reels.”

TikTok is giving Facebook an “unprecedented” fight, as Mark Zuckerberg conceded last week, but the battle will be fiercer than many imagine. Despite the narrative that Facebook is baked, the company is already cutting off TikTok’s growth by providing its imitator – Reels – to people like Ridenhour’s parents, who may have been late adopters of TikTok, but likely won’t be. not now.

Reels may still be a substandard product, but they have several benefits that don’t quite line up with stories about Facebook’s demise. Here are some key factors to consider when evaluating the fight between the two social giants, relayed with as much nuance as possible:

Instagram’s 2 billion users vs TikTok 1 billion

TikTok hit 1 billion monthly users last fall – a major feat – but Instagram reportedly hit 2 billion monthly users a few months later. To maintain its rapid growth, TikTok needs to win over people like Ridenhour’s parents, who likely won’t see any reason to download an app that’s essentially the same as Reels. “They were never interested in TikTok,” Ridenhour said. There are 1 billion people in this camp.

That said, Instagram Reels could be a gateway drug for younger users, who might find TikTok after experimenting with Reels. Ridenhour’s 14-year-old brother, for example, started using Reels, then downloaded TikTok, and now prefers it to Instagram.

Facebook cash reserves

Screenshot of Hallie Barber's text

Influencers say they make more money per video on Reels than on TikTok.

Hailie Barbier

When a social media company with tens of billions in cash reserves is spooked by a competitor, it usually tries to spend that competitor into oblivion. And that’s exactly what’s happening with Facebook and TikTok. This summer, Facebook said it would spend $1 billion on creators, firing TikTok, which disappointed creators with its own fund. Social media platforms are only as good as the people creating content for their users, and Facebook may be able to buy an edge over TikTok.

The Indian Factor

Chart explaining global installs of TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram.

After the Indian government banned TikTok in 2020, the growth of app downloads slowed significantly.

Senior Tower

India was TikTok’s biggest market before the Indian government banned it in June 2020. Without India, TikTok’s download growth has slowed. In 2020, more than 911 million people worldwide have installed TikTok, according to Sensor Tower. But TikTok downloads fell to 670 million in 2021, down 26%. Instagram, over the same period, saw an increase of 8% (all data from January 1 to November 22). TikTok doesn’t seem likely to return to India anytime soon, a blow. “There have been several attempts to rekindle TikTok’s ambition,” Venkat Ananth, an Indian tech journalist told The Signal. “This boat has sailed.”

TikTok, however, continues to download Instagram, and people spend more time on TikTok than on Instagram. “Users spent about 1.6 times longer on TikTok than Instagram in 4Q21,” said Sensor Tower Insights analyst Dennis Yeh. As Zuckerberg said, the challenge is unprecedented.

The Facebook advertising platform

Ad buyers routinely take the path of least resistance, so they will continue to spend money with Facebook. The company can’t track people as well as it once could, but it’s still a proven product that advertisers love, and TikTok will struggle to win over its customers. “I rarely get primary inquiries about spending on TikTok or Snapchat; it’s always Facebook and Instagram,” said Peter Stringer, a social media ad buyer.

At the end of the line

Line chart showing global TikTok and Instagram downloads by month.

Still, TikTok consistently beats Instagram’s download numbers.


TikTok is the most popular app in the world. It consistently beats Instagram’s download numbers in the US and around the world. TikTok, as Ritholtz Wealth’s Josh Brown said on ‘Big Technology Podcast this week is Facebook’s most serious competition since MySpace. That said, Reels has a lot to rely on, and you can bet he’ll use those resources to stave off a quiet death.

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