Instagram launched Reels, it’s competing product to the massively popular TikTok, on Wednesday — letting users edit together 15-second video clips alongside music and dozens of camera effects. But does it stand a chance?
Creators and experts say it’s complicated.
Facebook targets TikTok
Instagram launched Reels at seemingly the perfect time. TikTok is currently facing heat in the U.S. over security concerns and its connection to China. President Trump also threatened to ban the app in the country last week if it didn’t make a deal with an American seller by a September deadline (Microsoft is reportedly in talks to buy the app). After the news last week, creators started livestreaming their goodbyes to TikTok, while also promoting their other social media accounts.
Enter Instagram Reels.
“The timing happens to be coincidental in some ways,” said Vishal Shah, Instagram’s head of product, about the launch of Reels in a press conference Wednesday. “The pitch for new creators is that Reels is a way for you to get discovered. It’s a way to find a global audience.”
The Wall Street Journal reported in July that Instagram was paying TikTok creators to try out Reels, as the rivalry between the two apps intensified.
Reels is not Instagram’s first attempt at competing with TikTok, which is the world’s fastest-growing app with over 2 billion downloads. Instagram shut down the Lasso app last month after it failed to lure an audience over to the standalone, spin-off app. What we know today as Instagram Stories used to be the signature feature of Snapchat — where the idea of disappearing photos and videos was first popularized.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, has been known to scoop up rivals via pricey acquisitions and introduce products that essentially clone competitors — a method of business CEO Mark Zuckerberg came under fire for during last week’s Big Tech antitrust hearing in Congress.
Scrolling through Instagram Reels Wednesday, Digital Trends found that many of the sound bites used on featured Reels posts first gained viral status on TikTok — like a remix of Taylor Swift’s “Love Song” and Saintjhn’s “Roses”.
Counting on creators
TikTok creator Brenten Szekely told his 493,000 followers last week that Reels was “literally TikTok.”
“It’s basically TikTok,” he said in a video. “But it’s going to be on Instagram, which will be more user-friendly. So, go follow my Instagram and get ready because August 5th, it’s going to be dope.”
Noah Carter (@NoahGlennCarter) who has 1.1 million followers on TikTok made a Reels tutorial on the app with the caption “You’re welcome.” Before his first Reels post on Wednesday, Carter hadn’t made an Instagram post since November.
Lauren Brown (@RaggedyRoyal) has hundreds of thousands of followers across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, but told Digital Trends that most of her growth has come from TikTok — which she attributes to its “favorable” algorithms and the coveted “For You” page. She plans to try Reels, but doesn’t believe it will entirely replace TikTok, at least not yet.
“I do not believe that many creators will shift toward Instagram, at least not immediately,” Brown told Digital Trends. “However, there is opportunity for Reels to become popular if it is user friendly since TikTok transitions and effects take time to master.”
For Efeti Egun (@agbodoll7), Reels will essentially act as a Plan B if TikTok ultimately gets banned in the U.S.
“I don’t think TikTok has anything to really worry about, I’m definitely going to try out the Reels feature and see how it goes,” she told Digital Trends. “I think it’s kind of just a copy of TikTok. I felt like I could be more of myself on TikTok, Instagram isn’t the same vibe.”
In a statement to Digital Trends, a Facebook spokesperson acknowledged that TikTok “has harnessed real consumer behavior, and done amazing things.”
“TikTok is doing big things in this format, as have apps and features like Snap, YouTube, and others,” said a Facebook company spokesperson. “Reels has the Instagram touch – it’s simple and easy-to-use and is built based on feedback we’ve been hearing from our community.”
Too soon to tell?
Jade Sherman, a partner at A3 Artist Agency, which represents digital talent, said Reels is “developing ecosystem” and creators who make the jump sooner may see the quickest rewards.
“All creators, whether they first started on TikTok or have been posting content on YouTube for 10-plus years, should be testing out Reels,” said Sherman. “[…] whoever adapts to the product in the beginning, will see quicker growth on the platform.”
Sherman added that she believes Reels will be Instagram’s focus for the rest of this year as more creators look for ways to grow their audiences and brand.
The only downside experts and talent managers see in Reels is that it is just another app creators will have to keep tabs on and manage. In the influencing industry, as it stands now, creators are encouraged to be present on all forms of social media, not just the one where they see the most engagement. Perhaps the biggest upside to Reels opposed to TikTok, is that Instagram has been around for a lot longer — and users seem to prefer its dependability over other trendy social apps that have come and gone.
“Reels has the power to compete with TikTok because Instagram has the name recognition and trust already backing the product,” said Sherman.
But according to Mae Karwowski, founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Obviously, it is too early to tell what the response to Reels will be.
“It’s hard to say if communities are going to be as engaged with Reels as they are with TikTok,” she said in an email. “In the influencer space, we’re working on creating strategies that include Reels with Instagram influencers and gauging interest from these creators as well as brands.”
Like anything fresh on the social media scene, it will take time to understand just how notable Reels will be with creators. But one thing remains clear: Don’t expect a large-scale exodus from TikTok any time soon.
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