What is Instagram Reels? Everything you need to know about the new TikTok inspired feature

IGNITE - 04 December 2019

Instagram’s latest creation Reels is a new video feature which is eerily reminiscent a carbon copy of TikTok, making it yet another addition to the app that was heavily influenced by one of their main competitors. So, we hear you ask – what is Instagram Reels? 

The social media giant’s latest feature lets users create clips that are up to 15 seconds long, customisable with music, video speed, timed captions and ghost overlays. Posting options include users’ public story, Close Friends story or directly into their friends DMs. Following the existing Story format, content is only available for 24 hours before it expires – unless it’s saved to a Highlight, then it can be viewed after this time via the user’s profile. If used similarly to TikTok, the Chinese app that recently surpassed 1.5 billion downloads, we can expect comedic skits and entertaining video content to work its way onto our feeds. 

Currently being trialled in Brazil, the performance of the trial will dictate if Reels is rolled out worldwide. Brazil was chosen as the trial location as TikTok has less popularity there compared to other parts of the globe, so they’ll be looking to see if the concept of short skit-like video content manages to catch on in places TikTok hasn’t already conquered. Interestingly, this same tactic was chosen when introducing Stories as a trial in countries that weren’t overly invested in Snapchat – which served Instagram well, with Stories now being a well-loved feature of the app.

Instagram’s strategy to adapt and encompass the best features of its competitors shows no signs of slowing soon. Originally starting with their launch of Stories and filters, directly copying Snapchat’s core USPs, it was an audacious business move that consequently caused Snapchat’s growth to halt for 3+ years. Then, rivalled by YouTube (where users could view longer and more polished content as opposed to Instagram Stories’ short and instant uploads), Instagram introduced IGTV in mid-2018, with a huge launch campaign featuring well-known creators from around the world. Each addition of these features has prevented any other app from having something that Instagram can’t offer, making Instagram the go-to app for all your social media needs.

When discussing the new Reels feature and the logic behind it, Instagram’s Director of Product Management Robby Stein made the key point of ‘your friends are already on Instagram’ – highlighting how the app is leveraging its popularity and existing audience to then introduce any new features/upgrades that have already proven successful with competitors. Though a bold move in terms of the blatant plagiarism, the strategy is actually incredibly safe – controversial updates for a brand as large as Instagram are risky, and backlash from their audience is a genuine concern (*cough* non-chronological algorithms…). This method allows others to try and fail, or try and succeed – and if the latter, Instagram takes their learnings and adds it to their own offering. Basically, anything any other app can do, Instagram can do betteror if not better, good enough – with the added bonus of having your existing network and presence on the Instagram platform, making it easier for the user to have all their favourite features in one place. Instagram’s ongoing monopolisation of the social media landscape threatens any new apps on the scene, as even those who manage to gain traction in the highly competitive industry, once they reach a certain level of visibility and virality, their USP could be Instagram’s latest target.

The introduction of this fun, engaging feature comes at a time when the app has been actively working on shedding its previous reputation offeeding into social pressures. Recent changes include removing likes to encourage a focus on content over popularity and even deleting certain face filters that received criticism for promoting plastic surgery. It’s evident that Instagram is trying to step away from the photoshopped and unrealistic content that used to dominate the space, and step into being a more light-hearted and enjoyable social platform.

We’re intrigued to see how the Instagram Reels trial goes, and if this shiny new feature will be making its way to our screens in Australia in the near future. What do you think – would you use Instagram Reels? Could this feature upgrade potentially take the wind out of TikTok’s sails?

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