Are Reels the Real Thing?

Much like Vine before it, TikTok exploded onto the social media landscape – with an estimated 500 million users across the globe today. Naturally, a slice of that pie is up for grabs and Facebook jumped in with Instagram Reels in August (though some were seeing a different, earlier version all the way back in 2019). Now that we’re a month in, how is Reels performing, and is there a future in Instagram’s ‘definitely not a copy’ copy.

One month later

Initial reactions were less than stellar. Reels lacked TikTok’s expansive and highly user-friendly editing functionalities and was missing the algorithm that somehow shows you exactly what you want to see, instead having new Reels available on the Explore page. The main takeaway was to continue using Stories to reach audiences, instead of digging into Reels.

One month has passed and Instagram is testing new functionalities to try and bridge the gap. India has seen a new Reels tab added to its main screen last week, which would help new Reels be discoverable and make it easier for people to jump onto trends and challenges in the same way as TikTok does. Some users are also seeing a ‘Suggested Reels’ area in their main feed. The main strategy seems to be getting Reels into more users hands and finding ways to encourage them to create Reels content. It makes sense: why would anyone spend making something when there isn’t a massive audience for the content?

Reel talk

In future, Instagram is looking to highlight the best Reels content through its new listing of the top Reels trends.

Dubbed the monthly Reels Trend Report, it takes a deeper look at the most popular trends on Reels each month. Naturally, TikTok already does this, but it is just one more way to make it easier for users to prefer using Instagram to not leave the platform if they want to create short video content. It worked with Stories, which replicated Snapchat with initially lukewarm reception and has gone on to become an integral part of the platform. This was a long process, but Instagram seems ready to repeat the past with Reels – especially with the current murky situation around TikTok.

Is the future of TikTok certain?

The short answer is… no, not really. At least, it will likely be affected by a political climate that is far more complex than a simple social media tool needs to be affected by, but hey, here we are. The most significant development is the potential removal from the United States on September 20th, where either TikTok developer ByteDance sheds its US operations and is taken over by a different company (say, Microsoft), or the social media platform is pulled entirely. The US accounts for 80 million of TikTok’s users – a significant 16% of its audience. A drop in users might result in a migration to Instagram, especially if Reels expands its functionality and discoverability enough to rival TikTok.

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