Фото Jakub Porzycki / NurPhoto via Getty Images
While TikTok is on the verge of being blocked in the US, Instagram is trying to win back its audience. Mark Zuckerberg’s social network has launched the Reels feature to help it compete with the Chinese platform for the attention of buzzers
This summer, the life of 17-year-old Aidan Williams seemed to be on standby. He was faced with many questions: How will his senior year at Columbus, Ohio be? Will the sports season take place? And perhaps most importantly, his thoughts are now: Should he focus more on Instagram instead of TikTok now? The fact is that over the past year, a teenage athlete, publishing videos about his life on TikTok, has collected an audience of 1.9 million subscribers. His first viral video, which has been viewed 118,700 times since it was published in June, pokes fun at baseball fans — not Aidan himself. Now Instagram is expanding its short video platform, Reels, in an effort to attract TikTok users. Like many others, Aidan is now baffled as to how best to approach Reels, which has been available in the US and 50 more countries since August 5.
“All week I have been carefully thinking about how I can get the largest audience on Instagram,” says Aidan. “I think subscribers will love the related Reels videos the most so that they want to watch the next ones,” he describes the concept “To be continued…” adapted for social networks.
Thanks to Aidan and thousands of other influencers, TikTok has become a true internet phenomenon. According to Sensor Tower, an agency that conducts marketing research on the mobile software market, the service application has already been downloaded 700 million times in 2020. Over the past year, many content creators have come to the platform, who record videos of dancing, sports activities, skits and monologues about their own lives. This situation is very troubling for Instagram, once the main online platform for influencers. The service’s audience is still larger – perhaps as much as 10 times and reaches 1 billion users – but the public is increasingly looking towards TikTok.
In a recent study by the investment bank Cowen, it was found that Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 scroll through TikTok for an average of 58 minutes every day, a third more than Instagram. The numbers would have been even more impressive if Cowen had been included in the sample of users under the age of 18, because TikTok was originally popular among them.
But Instagram is desperate to shift the audience’s attention from TikTok to itself, and hopes to do just that with a new format, Reels. This is the largest platform update in four years since the launch of the “Stories” format, a direct competitor to the same feature on Snapchat. For both Instagram and its parent company Facebook, the new Reels feature kicked off at just the right time. Despite the fact that TikTok is now insanely popular, its future is very vague, as US President Donald Trump threatens to ban the platform in America if the service is not bought by some American company.
Due to the real prospect of a ban, many Tiktokers took notice of Instagram even before the Reels feature was introduced. They began to link to Instagram in their profiles en masse and encourage audiences to follow their accounts there.
“With Reels, we hope to inspire and find a new generation of content creators,” said Robbie Stein, Instagram’s director of product management, who led the development of the new feature. “For us, Reels is the new entertainment page on Instagram.”
With Reels, Instagram users can create 15-second videos. This is noticeably less than the 60 seconds offered on TikTok, but Stein says the video length may increase in the future. When shooting, you can use filters with special effects, as well as overlay songs from the licensed library of the service or your own audio tracks on the video. There is a timer function to control the length of the video and the ability to change the playback speed.
Individual entries in the new format will appear on the user’s page at the bottom under the profile picture – in the same place where saved “stories” are usually located. In addition, Reels videos can be published as regular posts that appear in the photo grid on your personal page and in the feed of your followers.
TikTok owes its incredible success in part to the Recommended page, which is shown to the user the first thing they do when they launch the app. The page content is selected by a special algorithm based on what the user liked and which videos he watched the longest. Instagram works differently: the first page is a feed of updates from the people the user follows.
Instagram has its own “Recommendations” section, and it works in a similar way to the “Recommended” page on TikTok. Instagram will now display Reels videos at the top of the Recommendations section. Some will be selected by algorithms depending on what you liked and what you watched, and the rest will be hosted by a team of live platform employees. In theory, placing Reels in the recommendation section will allow users to find videos from content creators they haven’t yet subscribed to, while giving them a sense of discovery and surprise, which is how TikTok has found success with young people.
Instagram has been working on Reels for over a year, with an initial launch last November in Brazil, before being available in France, Germany and India. Moreover, in India, the new product turned out to be extremely popular after the ban on TikTok by local authorities.
American influencers are still wary and curious about Reels. “I’d be willing to give it a try, but I want to wait and see what other content creators do,” said Katie Florence, 24, from Orlando, Florida. She has amassed an audience of 1 million TikTok subscribers with her comedy scenes, in which her heart, brain and “ladies’ parts” (her own wording) are presented as characters constantly arguing about how to act in different situations. “I’m sure there will be a lot of interesting things,” the girl has no doubts.
The most important component that Reels does not yet have is monetization tools. Instagram introduced several new features this year, including ads in the long IGTV video section (influencers get a share of ad revenue) and Instagram Shopping for direct sales through in-store stores (where you can sell branded items like your brand’s hoodies to followers). Beyond that, Instagram has long allowed influencers to post sponsored posts that they get paid to as brand ambassadors. But if Instagram really wants to get the favor of Tiktokers, then it will have to find ways for them to make money from Reels videos, most likely through sponsored content.
Probably, nothing shows the seriousness of the confrontation between TikTok and Instagram, like their financial arms race, which became known last week. The Wall Street Journal first announced that Instagram will financially reward influencers who publish Reels videos. TikTok’s response was not long in coming: the service announced the establishment of a $ 2 billion fund, from which content creators will be paid money over three years. The Chinese platform’s vision seems to be more ambitious than Instagram’s plans to directly fund individual internet stars. “We don’t write checks for content right and left,” Stein stresses. “In some specific cases, we will cover reasonable costs of content production.”
Which marketplace can offer the higher income will be the deciding factor for celebrities like Michael Le. The 20-year-old Los Angeles-based influencer shoots dance videos and is the most watched user of TikTok with 35.7 million followers.
“I didn’t even think about Reels. I found out about it only a few days ago, – Le shrugs. – I heard that this thing took off in India due to the TikTok ban. But maybe I’m confusing something. “
Translated by Anton Bundin