In a blog post this July, Instagram quietly announced an expansion of its app’s ‘remix’ feature, allowing users to remix public photos and welcoming a series of new templates, all designed to make video content, including popular reaction videos, easier for newbie creators.
The rollout included a controversial caveat, however: all new videos uploaded to Instagram would now automatically become Reels. For many users who had previously chosen to shun or ignore the Reels feature, this announcement created a mixture of confusion and frustration.
Yet, Meta’s motives in shifting its focus towards video content are clear. Since its launch in 2016, TikTok’s popularity has boomed. Capitalising on our collective desire to feel togetherness, TikTok’s features – such as duet and react – made it the perfect antidote to lockdown living. While the overall usership of Meta’s products dwarf that of TikTok, TikTok’s popularity among Gen Z has fuelled its rapid growth. According to IPA Touchpoints data, the platform has a weekly reach among 15-24s of 47%, behind Instagram (73%) but ahead of longer-standing channels like Twitter (35%) and commercial radio (34%).
When Meta launched Instagram Reels in 2020 – with the feature debuting on Facebook the following year – analysts widely described it as a ‘TikTok copycat’ – a charge Mark Zuckerberg did not explicitly deny. Indeed, Meta is not the only social media company looking to adapt in the face of its Chinese competitor, with Twitter recently trialling a ‘For You’ page which eagle-eyed users were quick to point out looked suspiciously like a typical TikTok feed.
So, is Instagram foolish in shaking up its central premise and, if so, will this prompt a user backlash? In shifting its focus even further towards video content, Meta clearly has its reasons. In April, Zuckerberg revealed that 20% of the time its 2 billion plus monthly users were on the platform, they were engaging with Reels content.
Of course, such a dramatic shift will not be universally popular. the7stars’ Lightbox Lowdown found that while 16-24s narrowly supported the changes by a 41-37% margin, those aged 25-34 were opposed, by 40-30%. Perhaps more troublingly for Meta, just short of one-in-ten of those surveyed said they had recently considered deleting their Instagram account as a result of the changes.
However, it’s worth remembering that comparable product changes in the past have provoked similar ill feelings. The launch of Instagram Stories in 2016 was maligned initially as a Snapchat clone. While its introduction prompted much noise from the community, users soon grew to accept and even enjoy the feature, with Stories now as familiar a part of Instagram as food pics or beach selfies.
For brands for whom influencer marketing is pivotal, the Instagram changes could provide an opportunity as much as a challenge. Advertiser content originally created for TikTok can be seamlessly transitioned to Reels, potentially allowing brands to tap into Instagram’s larger monthly audience without the need to produce bespoke content. Should Reels eventually come to be accepted by Instagram’s broad user group – as Stories were half a decade earlier – this would open the door for a more age-diverse audience to become attuned to brand-led video content.
Such an acceptance is far from certain but, if past platform changes are anything to go by, much of the initial noise will soon quieten down. And however long Instagram’s lead over TikTok lasts, one thing is clear: video content is here to stay.