TikTok vs Instagram for Small Businesses in 2023: In-Depth Comparison

As a small business owner, identifying the right social media platforms to connect with your audience can be challenging. Two of the biggest contenders are TikTok and Instagram. They seem similar on the surface – built for sharing video and image content with followers. But when you dig deeper, there are key differences between these apps that impact marketing success.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll compare TikTok vs Instagram to help small business owners determine the better platform to meet their goals in 2023.

An Overview of Key Differences

Before diving into specifics, here is a high-level overview of how TikTok and Instagram differ:

  • Content focus: TikTok centers around entertainment through short videos. Instagram accommodates video but still prioritizes polished photos.
  • Content style: TikTok favors fun, humorous, viral content. Instagram leans into aspirational, lifestyle content.
  • Audience: TikTok skews younger, reaching teenagers and 20-somethings. Instagram has an older range, attracting primarily Millennials and Gen Z.
  • Features: TikTok makes video creation incredibly easy. Instagram provides more ecommerce features like shoppable posts.
  • Algorithm: TikTok’s For You feed learns your interests rapidly. Instagram relies more on accounts you choose to follow.

Let’s explore some of these key differences in more depth.

Unique Content Formats Attract Different Audiences

One major difference between the two platforms comes down to video versus photos.

TikTok focuses exclusively on short videos. The maximum length is 10 minutes, but most videos are under a minute long. This ephemeral content is designed to be consumed quickly and provide entertainment. Videos run the gamut from dance trends to comedy skits and everything in between.

In comparison, Instagram still centers heavily around photos with its legendary filters and editing capabilities. However, you can also share video content up to 15 minutes long in Stories, Reels, and the main feed. The expectation for visual quality is much higher than fast and fun TikTok videos.

Both apps offer entertainment and inspiration, but in very different formats tailored to what their distinct core audiences respond to.

According to Oberlo‘s 2023 report, 43% of TikTok‘s users are aged 10-19 and 29% are 20-29 years old. This makes TikTok’s audience predominantly Gen Zers and younger Millennials.

Comparatively, a 2022 report found that 62% of adult Instagram users are aged 18-29 years old. The platform has broader appeal to reach Millennial and Gen Z users effectively.

Connecting authentically with these unique user bases should inform content strategies on each platform. For example, a retailer selling teen fashion may find TikTok has better audience alignment than Instagram for their brand.

The Impact of Algorithms on Discovery

Algorithms also create a major divergence between the two apps when it comes to discovery and reach.

TikTok’s main For You feed uses an algorithm that learns individual users’ interests rapidly to recommend a never-ending stream of relevant, engaging video content. Creators can grow huge followings seemingly overnight thanks to this algorithmic amplification. Short-form videos that gain traction through TikTok’s algorithm also have massive potential to go viral across the internet.

Instagram’s algorithm works very differently. It shows you posts primarily from accounts you choose to follow, with some recommended content sprinkled in based on your interactions. So growth relies heavily on finding your niche community within the platform ecosystem. The discoverability factor is much more limited compared to TikTok’s endless For You feed.

For small businesses, these distinct algorithms impact marketing strategies. On TikTok, good content has a better chance of getting discovered organically and reaching new demographics. Instagram requires carefully building your niche community and leveraging strategies like influencer partnerships or paid ads to expand reach.

Opportunities for Small Businesses on Each Platform

Taking into account audience, content, and algorithm differences, what opportunities does each platform offer for small business marketing?

TikTok’s Strengths

  • Viral potential: The right TikTok video campaign can explode in popularity rapidly thanks to the For You page algorithm. This makes the platform fantastic for raising brand awareness.
  • Trend integration: Tapping into trending dances, memes, hashtags, or music provides a chance to increase relevance with the highly-engaged Gen Z user base.
  • Ad targeting: TikTok’s self-serve advertising platform enables small businesses to target ads using interests, behaviors, demographics, and more to reach the right audiences.
  • Authentic engagement: TikTok users appreciate discovering brands that entertain them and participate actively in community conversations.

Instagram’s Strengths

  • Visual branding: Instagram is ideal for presenting brand identity and products in aesthetically pleasing photos and videos that align with your desired style.
  • Influencer marketing: Collaborating with relevant Instagram influencers provides the opportunity to get your brand in front of their engaged, targeted followers.
  • Lead generation: Instagram’s shoppable posts, links in profiles and posts, and lead ad capabilities make it easy to drive conversions from social engagement.
  • Valuable data: Detailed analytics insights help optimize content and measure ROI on campaigns and ads. The platform provides more data than TikTok currently.

Consider your goals, ideal audience, capacity for content creation, and existing community to determine if TikTok or Instagram (or even both!) will be most valuable for your marketing efforts in 2023. The platforms can complement each other, so don’t count either one out too quickly.

Early Indications for Social Commerce Trends

Finally, it’s worth comparing how TikTok and Instagram are evolving to facilitate social commerce – a major priority for both platforms.

Instagram has been building its social commerce features for years, now offering business profiles, shoppable posts, product tags, Instagram Shop, live shopping capabilities, and more. These tools make it seamless for followers to discover and purchase products featured by brands and influencers.

TikTok trails significantly behind Instagram in terms of social commerce capabilities. However, TikTok began testing TikTok Shopping in 2021 as a pilot ecommerce program. Brands can tag products in their TikTok videos which viewers can then purchase directly through in-app shopping tabs. TikTok also partnered with Shopify to bring more small business merchants onto the platform.

Early indications show that Instagram still dominates as the platform of choice for influencer marketing and social commerce. But TikTok’s moves into ecommerce represent an effort to compete in this profitable arena. Especially as TikTok continues to chip away at younger Millennial and Gen Z audiences, the platform‘s commerce capabilities will be key to watch.

For small businesses debating if they should prioritize TikTok or Instagram in 2023, closely monitor how each one evolves as a social shopping destination over this year.

Which Platform Is Right for Your Business?

Determining the better strategic fit between TikTok and Instagram requires an honest assessment of your business’s goals, target audience, content skills, and resources.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. But this in-depth comparison should provide helpful context on how these two social media titans differ. Now you can make a more informed decision on where to focus your efforts in 2023 as a small business owner.