Instagram Millennials & TikTok Millennials Are Not The Same

“I feel like I’ve learned more about myself by watching TikTok than I ever did in therapy — no joke."

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The difference between people who use Instagram and those who love TikTok.
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If you’re a millennial who loves TikTok, then you know the pain of explaining a viral video to someone who doesn’t use the app. Or worse — receiving said video from them in the form of an Instagram Reel six months later. On the flip side, if you’re more of an Instagram girly, you’re probably bewildered by your 32-year-old bestie who says things you don’t understand, like “Don’t bother me. I need enrichment time in my enclosure.” In other words: There is a glaring divide between these two experiences.

For millennials who are happy to stick with the classics, i.e. Instagram, it’s often because they view TikTok as the wild west of social media — and one that’s meant for Gen Z and younger. “My students use TikTok so I feel like I’m way too old for it,” says Paige, a 34-year-old teacher. “I think of it as dancing and prank videos, and I honestly don’t even know how to use it.”

In a lot of ways, it’s an interest, or lack thereof, in keeping up with the times that sets TikTok millennials and Instagram millennials apart. “People know how to use Instagram and they're used to it, so some prefer to stick with what they know,” says Dr. Carolina Estevez, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist with Infinite Recovery in Austin, Texas. Others can’t be bothered to download yet another social media platform, or they simply don’t care about what’s happening online.

There is peace and serenity to be found in the world of Instagram squares, letting trends pass you by, and in keeping your screen time to a minimum. But of the billion monthly active users on TikTok, 16.4% of them are in their 30s — and there’s a reason for that. Like Instagram, TikTok has its fair share of fashion inspo, dog videos, and cat memes, but it’s also a go-to for breaking news, therapy and wellness tips, think pieces on feminism and politics, and more.

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“I use TikTok as a modern-day search engine,” Adama, 36, tells Bustle. “It’s visual, which I respond to better and I can find the information I’m looking for, like a recipe, a lot quicker.” For TikTok-loving millennials, an even bigger draw is the magic of the For You Page. “My FYP is a gorgeously curated place for me to not only explore, but relax and laugh,” she adds.

When your FYP gets it right and that algorithm is algorithming, TikTok feels like it’s speaking directly to your soul. According to Estevez, the way people share their true thoughts and feelings on TikTok can be very healing for viewers, and it can create a deep sense of community that’s hard to find on other forms of social media. Until you’ve seen a TikTok that perfectly describes your niche phobia, inner thought, or childhood memory, have you even truly lived?

“I feel like I’ve learned more about myself by watching TikTok than I ever did in therapy — no joke,” says Jillian, 29. “My algorithm figured out I was going through a breakup, and so much of the content that showed up for me was comforting and healing. It made me feel less alone to see other people going through the same thing, and a lot more equipped to cope with that loss.”

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Not only do TikTok millennials and Instagram millennials have different preferences, but they’re also exposed to different things. And that’s where you might be able to argue that the former is a little more up-to-date than the latter. “The TikTok challenges, audios, and general trends go by in a snap,” Estevez says. “Millennials on TikTok get to enjoy and understand these humorous things in real-time before the jokes make their way to Instagram Reels.”

It isn’t the end of the world, of course, to go through life without the latest internet memes knocking around in your head. But it does create a divide between the millennials who stay in the know on TikTok and their counterparts who have never related to Rat Girl summer or danced around their apartment belting the girl dinner song. These folks have their finger on the pulse for fashion trends, like tomato girls and the wrong shoe theory. They know the lingo, like what a W is. And they might even learn a dance move or two.

While you can certainly scroll on Instagram and watch Reels for hours, there’s something about the extra fast-paced nature of TikTok that appeals to a certain kind of personality. According to Estevez, some folks are into video instead of images and short-form content that comes at you fast, while others find that completely overwhelming. It’s why Instagram friends will never understand someone’s passion for TikTok — and vice versa. And that’s OK.


Dr. Carolina Estevez, Psy.D, clinical psychologist with Infinite Recovery

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