Digital Publishing Platforms Top Stories
5 mins read

Instagram adds new features for publishers. Watch out TikTok.

Instagram has rolled out a new Stories format called Reels in Brazil. It lets users record 15-second videos, adjust their speed, set them to music, or borrow audio from other users’ videos. 

Additional features include the ability to add timed captions and ghost overlays for transitions. Users can post these videos to their Stories, or share it to a new “Top Reels” section in the Explore tab, where it has the chance of going viral. 

All of which make it nearly identical to TikTok.

A demo of Instagram’s Reel feature:

The 1B+ userbase strike on TikTok

Reels is Instagram parent Facebook’s second attempt to lure the well over half a billion TikTok users worldwide. The social media giant had launched the TikTok clone, Lasso, last year. But the app has failed to generate much traction. Reels, however, appears to have a better shot at success because being integrated with Instagram, it is not starting from scratch like Lasso. It will already have a ready user base of over 1B.

For publishers too, it can be a better bet for the future. They are already seeing increasing engagement on Instagram. Some are also using it to grow subscribers and distribute branded content

According to Hubspot’s 2019 Instagram Engagement Report, the platform’s growth rate has surpassed that of Facebook and Snapchat. The top 50 brands on Instagram now have the same audience size as the top 50 brands on Facebook, but the majority of user engagement happens on Instagram

Here are some Instagram stats for publishers: 

Source: Instagram Engagement Report

“Potentially opening a new class of creators”

With Reels, publishers will have another tool in their arsenals to aid brand building and revenue generation. It is just one of several features offered by Instagram. In comparison, TikTok can only be used to create and share short videos.

Josh Constine, Editor-At-Large at TechCrunch says, “While TikTok is primarily a feed broadcasting app, Instagram can work Reels into its Close Friends and Direct messaging features, potentially opening a new class of creators—shy ones who only want to share with people they trust not to make fun of them.”

The focus has been on how to make this a unique format for us. The key to that divergence? Your friends are already all on Instagram. I think that’s only true of Instagram.

Robby Stein, Director of Product Management at Instagram

Instagram is also trying to work more closely with publishers, especially with emerging media publishers, to help them find success on the platform. In September, the company launched an account dedicated to encouraging creators to publish more and longer content.

A proven strategy

Further, while TikTok has seen meteoric growth, and has publishers like Hearst, NBC News and The Washington Post on it, others like CNN, BuzzFeed and The New York Times have not taken the plunge yet. That could be because it is associated with short funny videos that may not be in alignment with many news publishers’ brands.

While media companies have gravitated to new platforms quickly in the past, some have stayed away from TikTok. Publishers like CNN and BuzzFeed which are active on other social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat don’t have verified accounts on TikTok. A BuzzFeed spokesperson said the company is still looking into TikTok as a potential platform for entertainment content. 

Kerry Flynn, Platforms Reporter at Digiday

There is a high likelihood of the situation being different with Reels when it is released globally. Instagram has not yet commented on when it plans to roll it out in other countries. It has used this strategy before—when it copied Snapchat’s stories feature, the company focused on markets where Snapchat wasn’t big. 

Brazil serves as a suitable launchpad for Reels. The country has a “big Instagram population, a deeply musical culture and a thriving creator community,” Robby Stein, Director of Product at Instagram, told TechCrunch. And TikTok is not big there, as it is, for example, in India, where it’s growth has eclipsed Instagram.

An Instagram spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company is simply excited to test the feature in Brazil for now, and “incorporate learnings and feedback from the community as [it] goes.” 

When it does release Reels worldwide, Instagram can cross-promote the new feature to its users, and that can put a brake on TikTok’s growth like it happened with Snapchat earlier.

Instagram has an established audience of over a billion monthly active users so by offering another highly engaging content format to compete with TikTok, Instagram is looking to further secure its place as the most engaging platform for brands. 

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO at Socialbakers

“500M Instagram users already open Stories and Explore each month”

TikTok’s monetization potential is also not clear yet. “Publishers have been known to jump onto hot new platforms. But the question, as always, is how many resources they can afford to put toward an experimental platform, especially one like TikTok that doesn’t yet have a clear monetization path,” reported Flynn earlier this year. 

The situation has not changed much since then. While TikTok has been working on advertising options, they are lagging and need to up their game fast.

Most publishers that are experimenting with TikTok at present are looking at it as a way to connect with younger audiences. “For TikTok, right now it’s more about long-term audience development and one day, maybe, monetization. We want to figure out what this audience is interested in and how we can extend this understanding onto other platforms where we do have ROI,” says Sheel Shah, VP at Hearst Magazines.

Constine comments, “Instead of having to monetize later somehow, Instagram can immediately start making money from Reels since it already shows ads in Stories and the Explore tab. The feature is sure to get plenty of exposure, as 500M Instagram users already open Stories and Explore each month.” 

According to Ben-Itzhak, “Given TikTok’s appeal with the younger demographic, Instagram Reels could pose a much more real threat to the platform’s ambitions when it comes to advertising revenue than Lasso ever could.

“Instagram has a much better chance of successfully monetizing the TikTok-esque format of short video clips set to music than TikTok does itself.”