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Last week, I posted a poll on my twitter as a thought exercise for the following question: What does a world look like without TikTok?
It’s been on the minds of marketers, creators, and brands alike.
In a span of weeks where many of its top Gen Z creators have been feuding and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has mentioned that the United States is considering banning TikTok (Ben Thompson has an excellent piece on Stratechery going over the context of the TikTok war here) — there is certainly some anxiety about that world.
But as the legality of a ban remains in question, stars are scrambling. Its star creators — many of whom are topping Billboard and Spotify charts, teasing reality TV projects, and signing on to talent agencies — are wondering how their distribution will size up with other platforms.
Brands similarly may have reason to worry — the NBA, Washington Post, and Chipotle are one of just many brands building distribution networks on TikTok that may have to axe that funnel entirely in the face of more competitive algorithms elsewhere.
But back to my question above — the Twitter poll ended up getting close to 500+ votes with the following results — a resounding victory for Instagram.
I decided it might be fun to explore the case for each — rather than take the focus-group approach the way I normally would when evaluating a business opportunity (i.e. how many Gen Z users are on each platform, how many are on TikTok, trends in Gen Z consumption etc.), I decided to create a fun scoring system of my own, compromised of totally arbitrary metrics:
- CC Score — Content Creation Friction Score: How easy is it to create a video just like TikTok? With text, music, and effects? (1–5)
- DB Score — Distribution Friction Score: How easy is it to build a distribution that’s not reliant on a follower graph? (1–5)
- EC Score — Ease of Consumption Score: How likely are consumers going to use this platform to follow the same type of content? (1–5)
- MN Score — Monetization Score: How likely are creators to monetize of this platform? (1–5)
- QS Score — Quick Ship Score: How likely is the company going to be able to ship and meet the needs of consumer fans of TikTok? (1–5)
- CD Score — Charli D’Amelio Score: This is a bonus one — with Charli D’Amelio being a star attraction on TikTok (~ 72 million followers) — how likely is it that she will amass a similar following on a new platform? (1–5)
The only caveat is that it doesn’t matter how well known they are now (assume they all become equally well-known in this new world) — it’s a hypothetical after all.
Now, let’s get started!
Instagram is, of course, the leading candidate in the poll and for good reason — as a mobile and visual first platform with market dominance, it’s easy to imagine that they would take over the TikTok audience. They are currently preparing a TikTok type competitor called Reels, that is meant to be a content studio of sorts — a bit more refined than the standard Instagram story. But is this enough to make a 1:1 transition?
- CC Score: While creating content on Instagram is easy and will likely be a bit easier with the Reels rollout — there is still an incredible amount of complexity to meet the needs of a standard TikTok. TikTok is binary — 15 or 60 second video — with Instagram, you can have photos, videos, stories, standard feeds, different points of creation etc. the simplicity of an off-the-cuff dance video is lost in the sheer optionality of content creation here. Stories integrate music well and Reels might be a step above — let us stay optimistic. CC Score: 3.
- DB Score: Tiktok is famous for its virality, discovery, and the relative ease with which a nobody can amass millions of views — this is partly due to the fact that the “For You” feed is not based on a follower graph of sorts — you regularly get a combination of videos from people you know and don’t know. Instagram’s primary feed is still follower-based — stories are almost entirely follower based. Explore is a step in the right direction but still lacks the agility of a TikTok feed. DB Score: 2.5.
- EC Score: How likely are you to keep scrolling on Instagram for hours on end? This is where I think Instagram does have a similarity to TikTok — it owns the emotional trigger game. It’s easy to swipe through stories, photos, and the arbitrary feed while staying in-app. Let’s go high here. EC Score: 4.
- MN Score: Monetization is a tricky topic. On one hand, you can monetize directly from consumers (i.e. shopping posts, instagram checkout) — on the other, influencers can make thousands for brand promotions. As an unwritten rule, let’s say you can be paid about $10.00 for every 1,000 followers you have per post, once you hit the 100,000 threshold. Given that — it absolutely pays to be on IG. MN Score: 4.5.
- QS Score: This is honestly a hard one to speculate, with the assumption just being that a bigger company will likely be able to ship slower or need to do multiple small user rollouts before reaching its entire audience. It took them more than a year to roll out stories after that feature gained popularity on Snapchat. Not a knock against them — just virtue of being a big company. QS Score: 2.5.
- CD Score: This is luckily an easy one to answer — she’s already on Instagram and has a cool 23.7 million followers. Can only imagine that number will rise if TikTok ever goes down. CD Score: 4.5.
If TikTok is seen as the pre-eminent art studio, think about Youtube as a museum. Whereas TikTok might have rough cuts and bloopers regularly making their way into the standard feed, Youtube has the ability to source and share full-length cinematic presentations. But does that mean it wins the war here?
- CC Score: Similar to Instagram, Youtube has its own creation tool called Creator Studio. But the name is a bit of a misnomer — it doesn’t give you the same option for effects/music as TikTok does — if anything, it’s an easier way to upload videos you’ve created elsewhere and then manage and distribute them across Youtube. What happens if you search “Best way to create a video on Youtube?” — Adobe Spark comes up as the first option. Boo! CC Score: 1.
- DB Score: Give Youtube this — the sensitivity of its algorithm is incredible. A good video on TikTok may get millions of views. A good video on Youtube could get close to billions. (Cue Sean Parker: “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”) — It doesn’t always matter if you market often or have built a large channel subscription following — make good content, Youtube will reward you. DB Score: 4.5.
- EC Score: This is tricky since Youtube doesn’t really have a limited length for videos — it’s not likely that you’ll be scrolling through hour long documentaries — and the rabbit hole could definitely pull down your volume of videos per hour of consumption. EC Score: 2.
- MN Score: An average Youtube influencer with 1 million subscribers can make up to $57,200. Chalk that one up for this product. MN Score: 4.5.
- QS Score: Similar to IG, Youtube being a Google property is the detriment here. Can’t imagine them shipping fast and often. QS Score: 1.5.
- CD Score: Also an easy one to answer as she has a profile here. 5.63 million subscribers but only nine videos (compared to 304 on Instagram) — Youtube will have to take a hit here. CD Score: 3.
Byte is likely the one most people are unfamiliar with — it’s a short-form video hosting service where users can create 6-second looping videos a la Vine. It was founded by Dom Hofmann (co-founder of Vine) and has been referred to often as a direct competitor to TikTok. But is it though?
- CC Score: This is where Byte really beats out the others in potential — the app allows you to make videos, add music, add text, and explore one or two effects with relative ease. The timing is still short and effects are a bit sparse — but nothing that Byte couldn’t build on top of. As far as I can see here, strong chance to rebuild TikTok’s creation tools. CC Score: 3.5.
- DB Score: If you thought the creator tools were similar to Tiktok, the feed seems virtually similar — two options for seeing videos: Your Mix and Following with the use of hashtags.. so basically the same structure TikTok. DB Score: 4.
- EC Score: Short-form full-screen videos that you can scroll on one screen for hours on end. Sigh. EC Score: 4.
- MN Score: This is where it gets a bit fuzzy — Byte has plans to roll out a pooled monetization program for selective creators — but unfortunately, there are no famous creators and no baseline yet similar to IG and YT. One can also only wonder if pooled monetization is attractive to creators — but we’ll give them credit for thinking of something. MN Score: 2.
- QS Score: Byte became a number 1 app on July 8 and immediately started posting about new features they were planning to ship on July 9. That is some incredible public commitment and speed that you will likely not see from a Youtube or Instagram any time soon. QS Score: 4.
- CD Score: There’s no evidence that Charli has an account here — most Byte accounts appear to be fan accounts — also an area where Byte could definitely lose out (much higher incentive to move to Youtube/Instagram where she has a set audience) — but of course, one never knows. CD Score: 1.5.
So there you have it — Instagram still wins, but there are definitely some areas where other platforms have an advantage. I look forward to seeing how Byte responds to the rise in its interest and whether Dom Hoffman has a playbook from growing Vine that will mold into what they’ve learned from TikTok — but for the time being, it doesn’t look like TikTok is going anywhere.
I’m currently a growth marketer at Livongo based out of the Bay Area and enjoy sharing insights around growth, careers, and personal anecdotes. I also like meaningless controversies (check out ranking of the best fast food fries) and spending my days finding the best Super burrito in San Francisco. All opinions are my own. Get in touch here or via @kushaanshah on Twitter.