Instagram is a social network for sharing photos and videos that intensely focuses on content creation.
The company, which is based in San Francisco, California, was founded in October 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.
Two years into starting the business, Facebook paid $1 billion to purchase Instagram. In 2016, just four years after its purchase, the business started raking in an annual revenue of $1.8 billion—almost twice the purchasing amount. Most importantly, it has allowed Facebook to fend off one of its potentially biggest competitors.
Initially, the platform’s relentless focus on surfacing the most visually appealing pictures in a simple manner, coupled with the necessary editing tool, led to its prominence. Instagram became one of the first platforms that enabled creators to make a living based on content they create.
Instagram has since amassed 2.27 billion accounts as of 2022, half of whom come from the Asia-Pacific region. Despite being over a decade old, it continues to grow like gangbusters. For refence, it finished 2021 with around 1.9 billion registered members.
Moreover, like other social media platforms, Instagram also generates a significant chunk of its profits through advertisements. The platform now boasts two million advertisers.
While Meta does not concretely reveal Instagram’s exact revenue, it is estimated that Instagram’s annual turnover has reached around $47 billion. A huge chunk of this can be attributed to Instagram’s advertising and shopping features.
Though Instagram users have been able to take advantage of the platform, regular usage has also bred certain downsides. Individuals tend to present their best (and oftentimes unrealistic) selves. This, in turn, has led to concerns related to body images, social anxiety, self-esteem, and depression—as supported by several studies. Nevertheless, despite these drawbacks, Instagram’s prominence cannot be negated.
In recent times, many of its long-time and most influential members, most notably Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, have voiced their frustrations with the platform’s focus towards short-form videos.
The methodology used to rank Instagram’s competitors is based on various data points. These metrics include revenue generated, the number of users, company size, and other relevant criteria.
This analysis, in order to ensure comparability, strictly looks at different free social media platforms that primarily offer visual and textual content.
Lastly, this analysis does not include indirect competitors of Instagram. Examples include search engines, Q&A sites, streaming services, traditional media companies, and other advertising businesses (ex. TV and newspaper).
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 12 competitors of Instagram.
Headquarters: Culver City, California, United States Founder(s): Zhang Yiming Year Founded: 2016
TikTok is a short-form video content app that leverages the simplicity of swiping up or down to view new content. After TikTok’s success with short-form content, Instagram quickly released Reels last August 2020.
The popular platform was initially launched in China in September 2016. However, it was only after two years that TikTok made its global debut (in August 2018).
TikTok’s global launch took place after it was merged with Musical.ly, a similar short-form content platform. ByteDance, TikTok’s mother company, shelled out between $800 million to $1 billion acquisition and rebranding of Musical.ly.
While Instagram surpassed 2 billion monthly active users in 2021, it has yet to confirm if all of its users use Reels and if not, what percentage of the total users do. On the other hand, TikTok focuses purely on short-form videos, which has enabled them to attract a billion monthly active users.
With TikTok being in the limelight, it was not spared from circulating controversies. For one, BBC reported last 2020 that TikTok was exerting much effort to remove a suicide clip that went viral on the platform. The clip appeared in the For You of many users, leading many eyes to take in this sensitive graphic material.
This case is not the only controversy that TikTok has faced, though. In fact, some countries, like India explicitly banned TikTok. There were also others that exerted efforts to regulate the app. The United States, for instance, tried to ban the app during the Trump administration. However, the prohibition did not take place as ByteDance was able to strike a deal to allow TikTok to operate with a database provider (Oracle) based in the US.
Despite the looming dissension, TikTok has still been able to rise. In fact, it became the most viewed website in 2021, even surpassing Google. With over 1,400 employees in the US, TikTok managed to earn nearly $4 billion in revenue in 2021.
The billions that ByteDance has invested in promoting the platform certainly have paid off thus far. It took less than 5 years for TikTok to reach the inaugural 1-billion user mark. The platform currently boasts nearly 1.4 billion members.
Headquarters: Menlo Park, California, United States Founder(s): Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes Year Founded: 2004
Facebook is a social media and social networking service that supports multiple ecosystems (communities, marketplaces, groups, pages) within its main platform.
Its $1 billion acquisition of Instagram was initially deemed a mistake. However, Facebook was able to leverage the popularity of its own platform to not only turn Instagram into one of the best acquisitions of all time but a significant part of its revenue mix.
What’s particularly impressive is Facebook’s sustained dominance. Although it certainly wasn’t the first social network, Facebook was still able to surpass its largest competitor, Myspace, in terms of popularity, back in 2008. It has since amassed a membership base of 2.934 billion monthly active users.
In 2021, approximately $60 billion of the total $117.9 billion revenue generated by Instagram’s parent company, Facebook (now Meta), came directly from the Facebook app. Back then, the app had around 2.85 billion active monthly users.
That same year, in October, Facebook rebranded to Meta. These changes show Meta’s goal to cover a wide range of metaverse technologies and go beyond its social media scope. Even before this move, Meta was already traversing through the AR & VR territories, offering products such as the Oculus Rift.
Nevertheless, Facebook is certainly no stranger to trouble as well. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, questions of its role in rising teen depression, indirectly facilitating the genocide in Myanmar, the promotion of misinformation, and many other issues have accompanied the company throughout its existence.
Headquarters: Santa Monica, California, United States Founder(s): Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, Reggie Brown Year Founded: 2011
Snapchat’s claim to fame became its disappearing messages, which created an avenue for its predominantly young user base to communicate in a safer manner. Two years into the business, Facebook reportedly wanted to purchase the burgeoning startup for $3 billion but the founders ultimately declined.
Instead, they continued to raise billions ($4.9 billion to this date) to build a viable competitor to Instagram. The two platforms would intersect again in 2016 when Instagram copied Snapchat’s Story feature, which severely hampered Snapchat’s growth and accelerated that of Instagram.
Despite competitive pressures, founder Spiegel and the rest of the team were able to take Snapchat public just a year later. Much like Instagram, Snapchat remains focused on the visual aspect of social.
For example, it offers augmented reality experiences via the Lens feature. And back in November 2020, it also introduced short-form videos under the Spotlight tab.
Snapchat currently boasts around 347 million daily active users. During 2021, Snapchat generated $4.117 billion in revenue—a 64.25 percent year-over-year increase versus 2020. Unfortunately, as a result of worsening economic developments, the company had to lay off a third of its workforce (around 2,000 people) back in June 2022.
Headquarters: San Bruno, California, United States Founder(s): Jawed Karim, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen Year Founded: 2005
Unlike other social media platforms, YouTube specializes in video content. In response to competitive pressure, YouTube has since added features like short-form videos (Shorts), the option to live stream, and the ability for accounts to post images and text.
The YouTube.com domain was purchased on Valentine’s Day of 2005. After a year, Google bought the streaming service for $1.65 billion in 2006. In 2007, a year after its purchase, Google opened YouTube to ads. It now also offers a premium subscription if you’re tired of seeing ads.
With over 132,000 employees servicing more than two billion active monthly users, YouTube boasts over a billion hours of videos being watched a day. In 2021, YouTube’s ads raked in $28.84 billion in annual revenue, which took up 11.2 percent of Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) total revenue.
YouTube reached a high of 10 billion downloads on Google Play Store alone, making it one of the most famous apps across the globe.
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, United States Founder(s): Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp Year Founded: 2009
Pinterest is an image-sharing social media service that prioritizes and promotes discovery by clustering “ideas” together. Unlike Instagram, Pinterest does not display content one by one; it presents content in catalogued groups called Pins.
It has utilized its visual focus to double down on commerce capabilities as well. For instance, it has unveiled features such as product tagging on Pins and a Pinterest API for Shopping. Previously, merchants were already able to set up their own shop on the platform.
Additionally, Pinterest has embraced the short-form video trend as well. Back in October 2021, it introduced a separate tab to display short videos.
As of 2022, Pinterest’s global monthly active users reached 433 million. This number is slightly down from the platform’s Covid-19 peak. Most of those users, namely 75+ percent, are female.
Pinterest, prior to going public in April 2019, was able to raise $1.5 billion in funding from dozens of investors. With more than 2,200 workers, it reached annual revenues of $2.58 billion in 2021 alone. Lastly, the app itself has been downloaded more than 500 million times.
The future, even with founder Ben Silbermann stepping down from his CEO role in 2022, certainly looks bright for Pinterest.
Headquarters: Menlo Park, California, United States Founder(s): Jan Koum, Brian Acton Year Founded: 2009
WhatsApp, with approximately 2 billion monthly active users, is the world’s most popular messaging app. It allows people to exchange of messages, photos, videos, and files.
The messaging app was formed by two former Yahoo employees. In 2014, Facebook (now Meta) bought WhatsApp for $19.3 billion while still keeping Jan Koum on board as the CEO. Kuom stayed with the company for a while before deciding to leave in 2018.
Though the messaging platform is now available for free, WhatsApp started with a $1 annual subscription fee. This fee was then dropped in 2016, making WhatsApp free for all users.
In 2018, WhatsApp launched its official WhatsApp Business App to cater to the needs of their commercial customers. This package started off as free, but later on, WhatsApp started offering paid solutions to their clientele.
Interestingly, WhatsApp has also added various social network-like features. In 2017, it followed Instagram in copying Snapchat’s Story feature, which it calls Status. Five years later, it added message reactions as well.
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, United States Founder(s): Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, Noah Glass Year Founded: 2006
Twitter is a social media platform that took limitations—a feature dreaded by other platforms—and turned it into their strong suit. It currently limits its tweets to 280 characters, a doubling from the 140 it allowed up until 2017.
Apart from the character limit, Twitter has also been instrumental in making hashtags a thing. In fact, its users were the ones who first proposed utilizing hashtags to aid the discoverability and assortment of content on the platform.
Twitter, which arose out of a podcasting company called Odeo and went public back in 2011, hasn’t been a stranger to trouble either. Right now, for instant, it remains in a takeover battle with Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
In 2021, Twitter was able to reach $1.57 billion worth of revenue. With over 8,000 employees, it reportedly boasts 238 million monetizable daily active users. The app has also garnered more than 1 billion installs.
Headquarters: Tortola, British Virgin Islands Founder(s): Pavel Durov, Nikolai Durov Year Founded: 2013
Telegram is a messaging app that capitalizes on allowing users to send messages, visuals, and files all while being end-to-end encrypted. Users can communicate with each other by text, audio, as well as video messages while engaging in topically-focused channels.
The Durov brothers created another social network called VKontakte, Russia’s local version of Facebook. However, they left it in 2014, claiming it had been taken over by the Russian government. Despite VK already being popular back then, Telegram now boasts 10 times the former’s monthly active user account.
When WhatsApp announced that it was going to share data with Facebook (a move that was later on reverted), Telegram became one of the top alternatives. With users scrambling to find an end-to-end encrypted messaging service, the app quickly catered to that market.
However, Telegram has experienced its fair share of troubles as well. For example, the app is known to ease communication among terrorist groups. Copyrighted material is also frequently shared among its users.
In spite of those issues, Telegram was able to accumulate up to $2.7 billion worth of funding. The app has over 700 million monthly active users and recently began to monetize its massive user base by adding premium features and subscriptions.
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, United States Founder(s): Steve Huffman, Alexis Ohanian, Aaron Swartz Year Founded: 2005
Reddit is a social news aggregator, content rating site, and discussion platform that encourages engagement with its Karma system. Unlike Instagram, it allows users to reward posts for good content and punish posts with bad content.
And unlike Instagram, Reddit has long been known as a text-based platform. That all changed in 2017 when the platform introduced video uploads. It had previously ditched its relationship with Imgur, which had hosted Reddit’s visual content before.
Reddit co-founder Huffman said that in the early days, Reddit was relying on tons of fake accounts to publish content. The “fake it till you make it” story was later on legitimized when the platform became valued at over $10 billion in 2021. 15 years prior, in 2006, Reddit had been acquired by publisher Condé Nast in a deal worth between $10 million to $20 million.
While Steve Huffman remains Reddit’s CEO to this date, his other founders were not there to see the upside through. Alexis Ohanian, the husband of tennis star Serena Williams, is now an investor while Swartz took his life back in 2013.
With around 700 employees, Reddit made $17 million in revenue from premium annual subscriptions in 2021. It also raked in an estimate of $439 million from advertisements.
Reddit thrives not just off its mobile apps but also on its website version. In May 2022, the platform gained approximately 1.7 billion visits.
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, California, United States Founder(s): Reid Hoffman, Jean-Luc Vaillant, Konstantin Guericke, Eric Ly, Allen Blue Year Founded: 2003
LinkedIn is undoubtedly the biggest social media platform for working professionals. The site is built for more than just content sharing as it stretches towards job seeking, job posting, and lead generation.
Despite being founded in 2002, LinkedIn took 4 years to reach its first month of profitability (in 2006). Since then, things further progressed in an upward trajectory as the platform saw a massive rise in its user base and expanded its presence internationally to rein in local competitors like Xing (based in Germany).
The founders, which included PayPal exec Reid Hoffman, took LinkedIn public back in 2011. While Facebook (now Meta) acquired Instagram, another tech giant bought out LinkedIn’s shares. In June 2016, Microsoft announced that it intended to purchase LinkedIn. With a price of $196 per share, the purchase price amounted to a total of $26.2 billion.
With over 19,000 employees, the company reached annual revenues of more than $10.28 billion in 2021. Over 850 million people from 200+ countries are registered on LinkedIn.
Headquarters: Paris, France Founder(s): Alexis Barreyat Year Founded: 2020
With its anti-social media approach and limit-maximizing feature, BeReal started making a name of its own. The platform encourages users to share one photo of themselves and their surroundings every day.
While the app allows users to document their daily experiences, it doesn’t end there. BeReal serves as a way for users to detox from mainstream social media without cutting themselves off completely. It does so by eliminating filters and followers. The platform is designed to be used for a short amount of time and was not created to be consumed for hours upon hours.
Started by a former GoPro employee, BeReal was able to reach a valuation of $600 million on the backbone of $30 million worth of funding its founders have raised thus far.
So far, BeReal has yet to rake in profits. The founders have refrained from putting on ads in an effort to continue growing its user base. According to various media outlets, the founders have been contemplating to introduce subscriptions instead.
The company has also kept its team simple with a workforce of around 125 employees. Nevertheless, the nimble team has still managed to amass a user base of 30 million people.
Headquarters: Singapore Founder(s): Jason Hu Year Founded: 2017
Likee is a short-video creation and sharing social media platform, with functions that are similar to TikTok. While most competitors, such as Triller, have fizzled out, the Singaporean app is known to be one of TikTok’s and Instagram’s rivals that are expected to last.
Feature-wise, Likee tries to set itself apart by offering sophisticated editing tools, for instance allowing users to change the background of a given video. In January 2022, the platform launched a subscription feature dubbed SuperFollow, which enables content creators to be compensated directly by their followers.
Despite criticism and controversies (e.g., the app being full of bots), Likee has remained popular, which is underscored by its 57.7 million monthly active users. However, this number is considerably lower than the 150 million users it attracted on a monthly basis during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
The decline in users is a result of the founder’s decision to reduce spending on user acquisition. The app is now trying to grow its base via word-of-mouth marketing and through the content on the platform itself.
Likee has a workforce of around 280 employees and an estimated annual revenue of $44.8 million. The app has already garnered more than 100 million downloads from the Google Play Store alone.