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3 reasons why Instagram Reels is failing to compete with TikTok

Instagram Reels appears to be failing to catch up to TikTok — that is, according to a recent report published by The Wall Street Journal. The report included an internal document, which contained a summary of “internal Meta research.”

How far is Instagram Reels behind? Well, according to the report, Instagram users spent 17.6 million hours watching Reels compared to 198.7 million hours on TikTok. WSJ even reported that Reels engagement was down 13.6% over the last four weeks. Meta disputes the numbers, but it’s clear Reels is having a hard time keeping up with TikTok.

Screenshots of full-screen posts on Instagram.

Famous people hate Instagram’s pivot to video

It can be difficult for any platform’s features to succeed if said features aren’t backed by the biggest influencers of them all: celebrities. In fact, a recent celebrity-fueled backlash against IG was specifically due to IG’s new pivot to video. There’s been a fair share of disapproval around the changes, and chief among the haters have been celebrities with huge social media followings.

That recent backlash, which occurred in late July, included reply tweets to an explainer video posted by Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri, in which he tried to explain recent changes to the app and IG’s pivot to video. Quite a few of the reply tweets that were critical of IG’s pivot to video came from well-known celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and from other, lesser-known-but-still-influential blue check Twitter accounts.

we don’t wanna make videos Adam lol

— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) July 26, 2022

Overall, the criticisms voiced were centered around not wanting Instagram to be like TikTok, users wanting to see more of their friends and other loved ones’ posts in their feeds, and users not wanting to see videos from people they don’t know and/or Suggested Posts.

Celebrities are a big driving force in social media and people tend to flock toward where their loved ones and favorite famous people are. And if celebrities aren’t as interested in Reels as they are in TikTok videos, then Reels is in trouble.

Instagram is in a bind with reposted content

Two smartphones showing a TikTok video before and after captions are added.

Another reason Instagram Reels isn’t doing so hot? Instagram kind of bungled its own push for original content with its policy of downranking videos that contain reposted content from other platforms. Instagram introduced this new policy as early as April, in an attempt to prop up people creating videos specifically for the Reels platform.

Mosseri announced the policy in a tweet then and it was described as “ranking for originality.” Essentially, this means that original content on IG would be valued more than content that was reposted from other apps, which would result in reposted content getting less attention than original content. Ostensibly, this was supposed to encourage more original content to be produced on IG and discourage users from reposting TikTok videos.

But there are two problems with this approach. First off, it doesn’t seem to be working. According to The Wall Street Journal’s report, Reels videos that contain reposted content from other apps “continue to proliferate.” And that internal document also indicated that “nearly one-third of Reels videos are created on another platform, usually TikTok, and include a watermark or border identifying them as such.” So it appears that downranking didn’t seem to fix the problem of reposted TikTok videos packaged as Reels content.

More than that, even if it did work, limiting the most viral content on the internet from your platform isn’t a great way of getting people to use it. If Instagram Reels is supposed to be used, shielding its users from the fact that TikTok exists just isn’t a great approach.

Instagram doesn’t understand its place

The biggest issue that Reels faces is the fact that Instagram’s push for more original content and its pivot to video is a misguided attempt to compete with TikTok. TikTok and YouTube are already seen as established avenues for creators to build audiences and for developing careers in creating video content.

Instagram is clearly trying to become yet another avenue for those creators, but the problem is that users overall don’t see Instagram that way. The public perception of Instagram is that it basically functions as a digital scrapbook that also allows us to keep up with our loved ones. Instagram started as a photo-based platform, and that’s primarily how it’s seen today.

Someone holding an iPhone. The screen shows a full-screen Instagram post.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

While there are IG creators willing to create original content for Reels, it seems unreasonable to expect established creators of other platforms to create wholly original videos for IG, when they’ve already created content for those other apps. Why commit to such an increase in workload if they’re already successful elsewhere? Duplicating the functionality of TikTok with Reels isn’t going to cut it.

If Instagram wants to make a pivot to video and have discoverability truly take off, it needs to bring something new to the table that’s fun for creators to play with.

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Anita George
Anita has been a technology reporter since 2013 and currently writes for the Computing section at Digital Trends. She began…
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