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  • James Creech

What are Instagram Reels, and What Do They Mean for TikTok?

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

Instagram grabbed headlines this week with the announcement of Reels, a new short-form video feature aimed at its newest rival: TikTok.

How Instagram Reels work

The new format allows creators to record 15-second videos with access to editing tools, music overlays, and visual effects. Reels can be shared privately with friends or publicly: in the creator’s feed, grid, stories, and in a new section of the Explore tab.

The dedicated Reels section in the Explore tab lets users easily scroll through popular Reels from Instagram accounts they don’t yet follow, giving creators a chance to be discovered by a wider audience. Reels play as looping videos, allowing them to easily rack up high view counts given the short-form, snackable nature of the content.

What data is available for Instagram Reels?

Analytics for Reels seem to be limited to basic public metrics such as views, likes, and comments at the moment. It’s possible that Instagram will add more reporting data for Reels in the future, especially for Creator and Business accounts, which already have access to more robust private analytics for Stories and IGTV videos. TikTok, by comparison, offers creators more metrics, including views, likes, comments, shares, watchtime, traffic sources, and an audience overview.

What do Instagram Reels mean for creators?

Like any new creative format, Reels offer another way for creators to express themselves and share engaging content with their audience. The 15-second video length for Reels may be a limitation relative to TikTok’s 60-second format, but Instagram seems to be banking on user’s preference to watch extremely short, snackable videos on loop (a la Vine) or scroll through a never-ending feed of popular clips.

We recommend creators experiment with Reels to see if they like the format and can create fun content their audience will enjoy. Reels won’t be a good fit for everyone, but for short-form video influencers that are already creating content for TikTok and similar apps, Reels are a natural extension of your content distribution strategy.

What do Instagram Reels mean for TikTok?

All of this comes while TikTok’s fate hangs in the balance. President Trump signed an executive order to ban the popular social media app in the U.S., citing national security concerns. Whether or not he has the authority to do so, or if such a move will result in an outright ban remains to be seen. But it is likely his executive order will make it very difficult for TikTok to operate within the U.S. and allow similar services, so called “TikTok clones” like Byte and Triller, to gain traction.

TikTok’s Chinese parent company Bytedance has repeatedly claimed that it does not share user data with any foreign government, including China, but that hasn’t done much to alleviate policymakers’ concerns about the app. Meanwhile, TikTok is exploring an acquisition by a U.S. company, with Microsoft appearing as the frontrunner. It’s unclear whether a change in ownership will satisfy President Trump or what additional regulatory hurdles may lie ahead. Congress, for example, seems to be increasingly worried about the far-reaching power of American tech giants, particularly Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google, all of which testified in a six-hour antitrust hearing last week.

As a result, Instagram Reels comes at an especially bad time for TikTok and poses yet another threat to the company’s survival. Facebook and Instagram have a history of copying popular features from other social platforms, from live streaming and long-form video to Stories, which have now become the primary way users share content on Instagram.

We predict that TikTok will be able to overcome these political hurdles, but it’s going to face a much more competitive landscape going forward. While TikTok has been distracted by these regulatory and PR challenges, Byte and Triller have had more time to grow, not to mention a lot of free press. And Instagram, which already has a massive user base and more monetization options for creators, is now in a good position with Reels to prevent influencers and audiences from defecting to other social platforms, much like they did with Snapchat after the launch of IG Stories.

Ultimately, Reels is yet another signal of Instagram’s continued push into video and its ruthless approach to competition. IGTV hasn’t been the runaway success Instagram was hoping for, serving more as an outlet for premium content publishers and traditional media companies than the platform’s native creator community. Audiences seem to prefer the casual content offered via Stories and timeline posts, so Reels presents an opportunity for Instagram to play more heavily in the UGC video space, which delivers even more time on site and better monetization.

What do you think of the new Reels feature? Are you enjoying the content or finding that Instagram feels more bloated as they continue to add more features to the app? Do you think Instagram Reels is a TikTok killer? Let us know in the comments below!


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