Instagram is attempting to make a power move that it hopes can lure creators away from the popular app by rolling out a direct competitor; a new feature it calls Reels.  The feature launched on both iOS and Android in more than 50 countries yesterday, including the U.S., Japan, UK, and Australia.

Reels is incredibly similar to TikTok, in that it lets users create short-form videos set to a musical backdrop, where it can then be shared with friends and followers and discovered by browsing the app. Many see this as an opportunity for Instagram to attract new users to the platform, and also an attempt to increase the amount of time people spend in the app.

instagram reels image

The new Reels feature allows users to record up to 15-second videos and add popular music to the content, including options to apply a multitude of unique filters and effects. Additionally, creators looking to leverage Instagram Reels as a means to build a following may be in luck. The platform has completely revamped its Explore page, creating a specific landing spot for Reels right at the top of the screen. Users can vertically scroll through the content on Explore page, again, in a very similar fashion to the “For You Page” on TikTok.

“Reels is another way for creators to showcase their content within Instagram, as did IGTV for long-form content and IG Stories,” says Ray Ligaya, the Head of Talent Relations here at Viral Nation.

Users will have the option to make their content either public or private, so creators looking to become the next big thing on the next big social platform have the opportunity to create a public profile that allows their content to be widely discovered across the platform. For those who simply want to share their videos with friends and family, Reels that users create under private accounts will only post to a person’s Feed and Stories.

 

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For those wary of adapting to a new app, in essence, there’s no need to fret. These features reside entirely within the existing Instagram app. There is no new app. It would appear that Instagram (or Facebook, rather) is looking to position itself as a complete video entertainment platform, likely keeping a watchful eye on the rapid rise of Reels’ obvious direct competitor, TikTok.

The timing behind the release couldn’t be any more opportunistic for Facebook, as TikTok has faced intense scrutiny as of late. As we touched on in the introduction, the unveiling of Instagram’s Reels comes at a time when fears of TikTok’s future in the U.S. have spiked. The Trump administration had recently threatened to ban TikTok nationwide, even stating to do so as early as last Saturday. This threatened ban was the result of months of criticizing the platform’s ties to China, where ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is based.

The timing is also interesting in another sense, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress last week, where he was and pressed alongside other major tech CEOs in regards to anti-competitive practices. What’s makes this release interesting is that the Reels feature seems to greatly emulate TikTok in a number of ways, and  Zuckerberg in particular was questioned about copying rivals during his Congressional appearance.

“It would be a direct competitor to TikTok,” say Ligaya. “There’s alos been news on Facebook brinign inn TikTokers on contracts to pay to post on Reels. It’s kind of similar to what they did with IGTV. Facebook wants to provide something of value for creators to make long-form content on the Instagram platform. Something to compete with the YouTube’s of the world, per se. Facebook did something similar when Snapchat came out. Facebook ended up releasing FB/IG Stories.”

screenshots of instagram reels options

Aside from it’s evident similarities to TikTok, it’s clear that Reels has been designed with entertainment in mind. That focus is made obvious in the redesign of Instagram’s Explore page. With over 50 percent of MAU’s using Instagram’s Explore page every month, it makes sense that Instagram decided to create a dedicated hub for its Reels feature.

The biggest difference in Reels’ compared to TikTok is that Reels ties into the overarching Instagram ecosystem. As stated by Ligaya, Reels is another way for creators to showcase their content within Instagram, the keyword being within. Users can send Reels to their family and friends directly within Instagram and they can use the Instagram-specific AR filters and tools on their content— all of which are actions would like your userbase to take as part of an existing and growing network.

“Ultimately, creators and general users of the major social media platforms would not want to familiarize themselves on a completely different social media platform,” states Ligaya, “They wouldn’t want to have to start from scratch. This is where Instagram Reels being integrated seamlessly on the Instagram app can really come into play. It’s likely part of the reason that Facebook Lasso wasn’t as successful; Facebook created Lasso to compete with TikTok, and as of last month, they plan on shutting Lasso down. Integrating this feature into the main ecosystem of Instagram seems to be a sign that Facebook has learned from its past failures.”

Outside of this new Reels feature, TikTok and Instagram have more in common than meets the eye. At their core, they are communities for established and growing groups of creators. Though it’s unclear exactly how long Facebook has been preparing Reels for this August launch, the timing is more than convenient in lieu of TikTok’s recent turmoil. However, when asked about the timing behind the release of the Reels feature, Instagram’s head of product Vishal Shah told reporters in a call that the timing of the release of Reels’ is simply “coincidental,” and that the company “has been working on the new feature for a long time.”

Only time will tell if Reels can catch on in the way that TikTok did when it became the most downloaded app over the last two years. Or, will Reels meets the same fate as other copycat concepts like Lasso, and find itself in the graveyard of forgotten apps. Again, only time will tell.

 

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