Can Facebook’s Instagram Reels Rival TikTok?

Reports of a Facebook-created competitor to the über popular app TikTok began to surface in late 2019, when Instagram started testing a new feature that looked very much like it.

What began as testing in just Brazil in November 2019 grew to test markets in France and Germany in June 2020, India in July, and now this month, the TikTok competitor called Reels will be rolled out in the United States.

Just like many of the other features you’ve probably become accustomed to using, Reels will live inside of Instagram’s Stories feature and will allow ‘Grammers to record and edit short-form videos set to audio and music soundtracks (sound familiar?).

This isn’t the first time that Facebook has tried to compete with the wildly popular (especially among Gen Z) TikTok. In 2018, the company developed an app called Lasso. Heard of it? Probably not—it was not a success. But Zuckerberg’s Facebook is putting a lot of weight into this new effort, taking its mission seriously enough even to offer popular TikTok users money to join its new service. TikTok, for its part, recently announced a $200 million fund to assists its creators to “realize additional earnings that help reward the care and dedication they put into creatively connecting with an audience that’s inspired by their ideas,” according to a statement from the platform. In a blog post, TikTok’s CEO Kevin Mayer, sounding rightfully ticked off, wrote: “Facebook is even launching another copycat product, Reels (tied to Instagram), after their other copycat Lasso failed quickly. But let’s focus our energies on fair and open competition in service of our consumers, rather than maligning attacks by our competitor—namely Facebook—disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the US.” Ouch.

Whether Facebook’s Reels can compete will be determined soon, and we’ll have to keep an eye on whether the new competitor can actually draw TikTok’s Gen Z audience away (or maybe it’ll be like TikTok for us old millennials).

Or, there’s a chance it might not have to.

We’ve all known about TikTok’s ties to China—many users blissfully ignoring that possibly murky tie in favor of the platform’s addictively fun premise, especially during a pandemic when much of our lives are lived online. But the powers that be aren’t so easy to let that slide, and there’s a lot going on that could result in TikTok’s being banned altogether. We’ll have to wait and see if that actually happens—I think it’s unlikely, given recent reports that Microsoft is interested in buying the app, and the Beijing-based tech company ByteDance, current owner of the platform, recently released a statement that said TikTok in the United States isn’t “planning on going anywhere.” I find this news to be mostly a political sideshow, but the possibility that valuable information is being leaked is real, and it’s worth noting that India has already banned TikTok, and Australia is considering it. For the most part, that doesn’t stop users from logging on to TikTok or Zoom, which is also at the center of similar controversy. If you want to delve further into the details of how the United States could successfully ban the app, this recent article from CNET is pretty comprehensive.

Which brings me to my main purpose for this article, though I guess you wouldn’t know it by its title: If you needed one, do you have an exit plan for TikTok, or any of your social media apps, for that matter? I don’t know how much of our industry has amassed a large following on TikTok, but I know many of you use it. Whether it’s part of a larger social media strategy or just for fun, for some, it’s become a pretty steady part of their digital presence, and that matters. Imagine a retailer has seen some success on an app like TikTok, reaching a new audience that they didn’t before have access to. What if that all just goes away?

That’s why diversification is important, and early adoption is important too. You can focus most of your resources on the social media platforms that work best for your person or your business, yes, but if social media is really a key to your brand’s success, then you need due diligence to make sure you have a backup plan.

Logic would dictate that if you have a successful presence on one platform, you could probably earn one on another. Instagram influencers, for example, have been able to refer their audiences to TikTok, in many cases at least. So if Instagram were to one day disappear (that would be a game changer for the influencer sector, wouldn’t it?), these users’ audiences would know where else they could find them.

Most of the users who would be reading this article won’t have a follower count in the hundreds of thousands or millions. But they might still have followers that mean a lot to their business, and, sure, they could just head to your website or visit your store, but that misses the whole point of social media. It’s used for connection, a peek behind the curtain. It’s an extension of what we are, and it has become so highly valued in our society.

So should you give Instagram Reels a shot? Undoubtedly. Remember when Instagram Stories came out, and people thought it was a cheap copy of Snapchat? How many of you actively use Snapchat now, when Instagram Stories is so convenient? The fact that Reels will also be contained within Instagram Stories makes it pretty intuitive, and it’s not a huge leap to adopt. I think it has the potential to be pretty popular. Whether it’s going to reach a diverse enough audience for your business is the question.

We won’t know until we know, but let this just be a reminder to check in with your audience from time to time, let them know you’re active on other platforms, if you are, and if you’re not, consider doing so.

(Image via Instagram)

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