Yesterday, TikTok officially launched TikTok Notes for “limited testing” in Australia and Canada. This new photo-centric app encourages users to share their moments through photo posts.

Sound familiar? Indeed, TikTok Notes is TikTok’s answer to Instagram. But can TikTok succeed in this space? It comes at a precarious time for the app, when we’re seeing TikTok usage begin to plateau while Reels usage increases. This is exacerbated by TikTok’s uncertain future in the US as creators scurry to diversify their presence on alternative platforms.

TikTok Notes Doesn’t Apparently Solve An Unmet Need

Could TikTok Notes end up being dead on arrival? TikTok users haven’t exactly been clamoring for yet another new photo app. It begs the question of what unmet need TikTok Notes is solving for. Launching a new app is tough by itself. When it’s an app that presumably copies one of the most popular apps on the market, it’s near impossible.

Still, what TikTok has on its side is its vast user base. If it can compel and mobilize its 170 million-plus users to at least try TikTok Notes, then that’s a strong first step. But what happens after users try it matters the most to its success or failure.

Having An Instagram (And Meta) Alternative Drives Interest In TikTok Notes

In an overnight poll, we asked Forrester’s ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community what they thought about TikTok Notes. About 400 online adults across Canada, the US, and the UK responded to the poll. We found that:

  • Of those respondents who use TikTok, there is a virtual 50/50 split on interest in downloading and trying TikTok Notes when/if it becomes fully available.
  • Those who use TikTok and have no interest in TikTok Notes are more apt to indicate that Instagram is their photo-sharing platform of choice.
  • Conversely, those who use TikTok and are interested in trying TikTok Notes strongly indicate they’re hopeful that TikTok Notes could become an Instagram alternative for them.
  • Similarly, those who use TikTok and plan to try TikTok Notes indicate that they would like to purge all Meta apps from their lives. (The inverse is true for users of TikTok who don’t plan to try TikTok Notes.)

The Possibility Of A US TikTok Ban Is A Key Headwind Against TikTok Notes

As the US Senate gets closer to addressing a bill that could force a divestiture or ban of TikTok, the app’s users are increasingly wary of putting more eggs into the ByteDance basket. While we found that TikTok users were split on their interest in trying out TikTok Notes, both cohorts agree en masse that the potential of a TikTok ban in the US makes them hesitant to try TikTok Notes.

Outside of TikTok, other ByteDance apps haven’t successfully penetrated the US market. Lemon8 showed a bit of promise, but less than 1% of US online youths (ages 12–17) now use the app at least weekly, according to Forrester’s Youth Survey, 2023.

A Sea Of Social Media Sameness Creates A Differentiation Dilemma

The copycat phenomenon runs rampant across social media platforms, and when done right, these copycats pay off: When Instagram copied Snapchat with its Stories feature, it eventually became more popular than Instagram’s main feed. But copying a similar stories feature didn’t work out when Twitter did the same, with the platform eventually sunsetting the feature in August of 2021.

When social media features all start to become ubiquitous, what differentiates one social media platform from another narrows. It comes down to community, user experience, and, yes, algorithms. As one of Forrester’s ConsumerVoices community members said to us, “Choice and competition are good.” I’ll add that innovation is also something that’s good — and particularly important right now, as social media fatigue sets in.

Forrester clients: Let’s chat more about this via a Forrester guidance session.