In tech circles, imitation is not the best form of flattery.
For those who remember the PC versus Mac battle from many years ago, the real paradigm shift for Apple occurred when they stopped being a “personal computer” and became a status symbol instead. The Mac was sleeker, cooler…and more expensive.
In the automotive world, Tesla is not leading the way with electric cars because they copy lesser brands. Anyone who has enabled “ludicrous” mode to accelerate quickly knows this is an unusual company.
What works is sheer innovative, attention-grabbing features, and doing something so new and useful that everyone notices.
As we all know, TikTok is commanding all of the social media attention because the app appeals to a younger demographic, many of whom are tired of the same old boring Google searches and who were raised on Netflix. For Gen-Z, it’s now used routinely as a search tool, for finding a job, and learning how to change the oil in your car.
Recently, Instagram tried to jump on the bandwagon, announcing a major change to their interface that would make videos much more obvious and even the primary focus. They have since back-tracked on those plans, perhaps because the Kardashians were not happy with the changes.
I use both apps and like them, and find that you can always find the features that appeal to you most. I’m a photo enthusiast, and I’m always amazed at the wondrous feeds I discover on Instagram. There’s a photographer I used to know when I did some mentoring at a local college; scanning through some of her more experimental photos is mesmerizing. On TikTok, I gravitate to the instructional videos and the ones where smart people explain complex subjects.
It’s a worrisome trend, though, when one app starts to imitate another. Instagram already has a massive following, so the move to start cribbing the video feed features from TikTok and making short clips more prominent in the interface seems like a clear path to failure.
For one thing, TikTok has figured out the best way to keep us hooked. The algorithm is constantly monitoring everything we do. When you pause and watch an instructional video just a bit longer than some other clip, it means you have fed the monster and now the monster knows what to feed you. You don’t even have to like or share anything. A recent study found it is the most popular app of the year so far.
Doing a “copy-paste” of the TikTok algorithm won’t work. Instead, Instagram has to figure out how to make the photo-centric feed even more innovative and appealing to a younger audience, the ones who are more willing to try new features.
While some of us are happy using Google for our searches, Gen-Z might gravitate to new features that help them find new products, make new connections, or discover new recipes and travel ideas. Instagram already does that well, now the company needs to figure out how to enhance the experience and make it even more viable.
Video is one option, but TokTok is already owning that space.
Imitation won’t work. Tesla and Apple didn’t become the defining brands of our age because they copied what other firms were doing. They didn’t make minor improvements to the products we already use.
The eyeballs will look in your direction only when you innovate.
Hear that, Instagram?