That social media has engulfed devices and minds across the world is no big news. But the numbers have spiked since we were all thrown into chaos a couple of years ago. Research shows an upward trend during the pandemic with a double digit rate of 10.1% over the past 12 months.

The forecast is for nearly two-thirds of the world’s population to be on social media sometime during 2022. The reach and power is now indisputable. The breakdown of which social media platforms are most used reveals an interesting leaderboard with Meta platforms topping out the list.

At first glance, TikTok’s position is incongruent with the hype it generates in the media. But it’s coming fast with the number of people selecting the platform jumping by over 70% in the last three months. That stat is reinforced by research that shows TikTok was the most downloaded app last year which has triggered serious growth in their ad reach. This marries up with evidence that the platform’s ad reach grew by 60 million users in the last 90 days. That brings it to a whopping 885 million people at the start of this year. For those factoring Gen Z into their marketing equation, that number doesn’t include users under 18… and no prizes for guessing where their eyeballs are.

Speaking of which, where should you be spending your marketing dollars? 

That’s not so straightforward as it turns out.

Buttoned down, mainstream brands with strong, clear brand integrity and an established look and feel are right at home on Instagram. It may have started out as a photosharing app, but “Insta”  now has the capacity to link storefronts to the feed so you can integrate your e-commerce platform and strategies. With 130 million users tapping on shopping posts every month and being able to ‘Add to Cart’ in three clicks from the post, it’s compelling commercial evidence of Instagram’s power. It’s also got live streaming, offering customers the chance to interact directly with the brand and buy immediately, together with an ‘Explore’ tab where 60% of users learn about new products. Instagram is comfortable for these brands because it’s a known quantity where all the effort that has gone into the brand isn’t thrown out the window. 

Sounds great, right? The downside is that Instagram is a bit… well, yesterday. Not the domain of the younger market anymore. That Instagram have been following in the tech footsteps of other platforms like Snapchat (developing their own version of Stories, AR selfie filters and Nametag) and TikTok (with Reels and Remix a carbon copy of the Chinese platform) tends to suggest that they’ve fallen behind and are playing catchup to remain relevant. And all that isn’t lost on Gen Z, where a gold mine of future dollars is buried.

Gen Z is all about tech. They were the first-gen born into it and don’t know anything but a world that revolves around social media. Sometimes referred to as ‘Social Justice Warriors’, they’re a skeptical bunch and don’t care much for data privacy. They’ll even tweak the algorithms by faking their interests and blocking ads. Check out Kat’s viral TikTok where she shows you how to “train the algorithm like it’s a dog”. 

So what do they like so much about TikTok? First up, the feed is freeform and fast. It’s for them and them only. Or at least, it feels that way thanks to an algorithm that picks stuff the viewer will like and will quickly adapt to what you tap and what you swipe, dishing up more of the same in dazzlingly fast time. No waiting means the “I want it now” generation is satisfied all the time. And for creators, easy editing tools means you can shoot, cut and upload in one place in no time. 

But the most noticeable difference with TikTok and its cool army of followers is that the content is inclusive, authentic, raw and seemingly unscripted. Authenticity with Gen Z is absolutely paramount. And that’s what makes it hard for the mainstream brands on Instagram and their well-rehearsed Influencers to do the switch without falling flat on their face. Not many are able to do this well. But there are some. Language learning platform, Duolingo, has nearly 2 million followers and building thanks to a unique strategy featuring “Duo” a sassy big green owl that riffs off trending audio clips and hams it up to the likes of Taylor Swift’s “Please don’t be in love with someone else” to counter those who are using Google Translate. And if you forget a Duolingo lesson, expect to cop a little flak from Duo… but it’s all in good fun. It’s super raw and very real. And most importantly, it’s working.  

However, it does take a shift in thinking and will depend on your brand position and your strategy. The other thing is that platform v platform stats don’t necessarily show that Instagram is dead just yet. Having said that, short term sales conversions don’t always tell the whole story and it could be argued that the great strength of TikTok is how it’s piling viewers, and young influential ones at that, at the top of the funnel. How they fall through the funnel is the big question and it will be interesting to see how the platforms jostle for position with brands over time.