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Will Instagram Reels Overtake TikTok?

4 MINUTE READ | August 7, 2020

Will Instagram Reels Overtake TikTok?

Just in time for TikTok’s emergency sale, Instagram Reels is finally here, releasing in 50+ countries this week, including the US. Reels allows users to record and edit 15-second multi-clip videos with audio, effects, and a variety of creative tools. Users can then share their Reels with followers directly in Instagram’s feed, and/or by posting via Reels, the video (if your profile is public) is made widely available through the Instagram Explore page.

Reels in Instagram Explore tout the ability for “anyone to become a creator on Instagram” and reach new audiences on a global stage. I spent a few hours with the feature on Wednesday. It was a bit confusing to navigate but exciting nonetheless.

It’s no secret that Instagram Reels emulates TikTok, and even some of the videos I was served from creators yesterday were directly from TikTok, or copies of TikTok trends, dances, and musical tunes. It’s clear the new trend in social is short-form video paired with catchy music, and platforms are doing whatever they can to attract (and retain) users. YouTube is expected to release “Shorts” by the end of the year, and Snapchat, just last week, announced new musical capabilities for users. 

TikTok rivals flourish: Triller and other new, short-form social video platforms are experiencing a boost in user sign-ups as the drama unfolds around TikTok

Right now, TikTok is the clear leader of this pack, boasting 100 million users and serving as the digital stomping grounds of viral stars. TikTok also recently announced that it would be releasing its algorithm code and have called other networks to do the same. The move comes as a response to the security and privacy concerns within the app, hoping the transparency will instill faith in users. According to PMG’s social director, Carly Carson, “one of TikTok’s greatest strengths is the accuracy of the algorithm. Instagram currently can’t compete here, so it will be interesting to see if Instagram learns from the code release, or if TikTok changes course.”

Despite being in the same “category,” Instagram Reels is different from TikTok in a variety of ways. For starters, Instagram Reels are only 15-seconds, pushing users back to the creative possibilities of Vine back in the day. (This format, of course, fits nicely within current video ad specs across the digital industry, likely making paid ad opportunities available in just a matter of time.) TikTok videos, however, can be up to 15-seconds or stitched together to reach 60-seconds, enabling longer forms of short-form content. In other words, videos featuring comedic storytelling, pranks, or home video clips can be more easily shared on TikTok. In contrast, Instagram Reels are somewhat limited to dances, rapid outfit changes, and other short forms of creative expression and entertainment. 

Another stark difference between the two is via content discoverability and accessibility. TikTok is a standalone app, whereas Instagram Reels is a capability within a parent app that’s quickly redefining itself in other areas, including new shopping capabilities, video stories, and static posts. To view Reels, a user must navigate to the Explore page, stumble upon one in the Instagram feed, or visit a user’s page directly. 

Related: Instagram user content is shifting gears, causing the app to transform into an information and news-sharing powerhouse

TikTok’s popularity stems from two things — 1) the ability to elevate creators who don’t have a following (via the algorithm), and 2) creating defined subcultures around interests and forms of expression (via the culture). Instagram is traditionally used for filtered, polished photos, supporting an “image” or personal brand for millions of people. 

TikTok content, on the other hand, is best known for its silliness and how different freedom of expressions eventually make their way into defined subcultures (beauty TikTok, cooking TikTok, fitness TikTok, and more). Brands are encouraged to “make TikToks” when building TikTok ads, while the aesthetic of Instagram ads has become the industry creative standard, and fit nicely within the polished experience of Instagram. 

That’s for consumers to decide, but I believe it boils down to a couple of things:

  1. Does Instagram Reels boost organic content reach and discoverability for creators, justifying the switch away from TikTok? 

  2. How easily will consumers find and use Reels within the Instagram platform?

  3. As a user, how fast will the algorithm pick up on your interests and serve video content accordingly? 

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Ultimately, it looks like Instagram is betting on the virality of the short-form video trend, not on the internet culture being developed within the TikTok app that boosted its popularity in the first place. Will this strategy work? We’ll have to wait and see.


Posted by Abby Long

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