Since launching in 2010, Instagram has established itself as the image-sharing platform, filled with carefully curated content, showcasing the very best moments of its 1.2 billion + active monthly users.
However, Instagram wants to adapt, or rather needs to, in order to compete with TikTok. Fading are the days when social media users want to consume the unrelatable and unachievable lifestyles of their peers.
Instagram has a solution! The platform now wants its user base to see Instagram as an entertainment platform – like TikTok. How I hear you ask? Well, it begins with Reels! Instagram has invested in the development of its TikTok competitor product through a constant flow of feature updates and the format’s organic reach incentive, and it appears to be paying off. According to Meta 45% of Instagram accounts now interact with a Reel at least once a week.
However, what will the future of the platform look like as Instagram looks to further replicate the user experience found across TikTok?
- What are Instagram Reels?
- What to expect from the full-screen feed update
- Important feature updates to Reels
- Will Instagram be successful in shifting to an entertainment platform
What are Instagram Reels and How Do They Work?
According to Instagram, Reels have become the platform’s fastest-growing feature worldwide. Meta launched Reels across Instagram in 2020 in response to TikTok. Reels aimed to compete with TikTok’s rapidly growing userbase, which resulted in TikTok becoming one of the most downloaded social media apps globally.
TikTok paved the way for short-form video, which has become the leading format across social. So, of course, Instagram used this opportunity to release a replica product they knew would be a hit with users!
Instagram Reels has brought a breath of fresh air to creativity across the platform. Users are reducing the output of image content, in favour of short and entertaining clips that resonate with audiences beyond just their typical followers. Everyday users, brands and creators have all embraced the format, so much so that Meta announced during its Q1 2022 earnings call, that Reels now make up more than 20% of time spent on Instagram.
How Is Instagram’s Full-Screen Feed Shaping The Future Of The Platform?
To highlight the importance of Reels, Instagram started testing an immersive full-screen feed layout that leverages the entire screen when scrolling through the main feed. The update allows users to swipe through their feed rather than scroll – replicating TikTok’s feed mechanic. This test essentially combined various formats under one feed flow, allowing the Instagram algorithm to be far more effective at determining an individual’s content preference.
Along with the full-screen aspect, the engagement functions e.g. likes, shares etc were anchored at the bottom of all content, which was the norm for all in-feed formats apart from Reels. Therefore, Reels that previously had engagement functions placed vertically on user screens were then aligned with other formats on the platform. This was an important move, as differing positions of key engagement buttons confused users and increased the risk of users not engaging with content.
So why is Instagram testing a full-screen feed? Well, the update consolidates video and image content. There is less contrast when swiping between content formats, which results in a more seamless viewing experience that brings video front and centre of the app experience!
However, the updates to Reels don’t end there! A host of features, tools and tests have occurred this year alone, showing Meta to invest big with short-form video!
Recent Instagram Reels Updates
To continue Instagram’s transformation into an entertainment platform, Instagram is rapidly developing new features and functionalities for Reels. Some recent updates this year include:
Instagram has started suggesting Reels content within Story placements to help encourage visibility and engagement. The Story placement showcases four Reels suggestions based on a user’s content preference, deciphered by the Instagram algorithm, which takes users straight to the Reels feed.
This test aims to increase the time users spend watching Reels, whilst allowing for more accurate content suggestions based on how users interact.
Instagram is also working on a Reels template option, enabling users to easily replicate trending formats and styles, encouraging more users to create Reels and not just consume passively.
Users are beginning to spot a “use as template” prompt within the Reels feed, once clicked various time stamps are shown, making it easy for users to input their own content to match the cadence of the creator’s original content.
Instagram is developing a new programme that asks creators to enable advertisers to put ad overlays on their Reels, leading to content monetisation opportunities for creators.
The challenge for Instagram is ensuring Reels content doesn’t become saturated with ads which would halt the growth of the format. Instagram needs to retain talented creators and incentivise them to create video content through new monetisation options, whilst not damaging the viewing experience for everyday users.
Removal Of In-Stream Ads
Instagram has shut down the separate IGTV app and removed in-stream video ads. Instagram as a result will be looking to enhance creator monetisation through Sticker ads for Reels, among other options in development. The end of in-stream video placements marks the sign of Instagram moving away from multiple video placements and consolidating all content and advertising placements in a singular stream.
Reels Length increase
Meta has increased the duration of Reels from 60 to 90 seconds. The new feature, which has been rolled out to all users, allows users more time to express their creativity and a chance to add more engaging elements to content. With TikTok expanding its time limit from 3-10 minutes, no doubt this won’t be the last Reels length increase we will see.
Reels Engagement Stickers
New stickers have been announced for Reels, these Stickers include polls, quizzes, and an emoji slider. The popular Story engagement triggers are being brought to Reels to encourage new ways of interaction through the short-form video format.
These engagement functions have the potential to grow the creator’s relationship with their followers, increasing the opportunity for more active and favourable engagements. This in turn alerts the algorithm to more favourable content performance indicators, maximising the reach of content to relevant audiences.
Meta has collaborated with the audio platform SoundSync to provide greater audio options/ideas for creators. The platform allows users to automatically sync their video clips with the beat from a song, which is a popular style used on both TikTok and Instagram. Aesthetic content is still king across Reels, so this move will help creators fine-tune their content to fit the platform’s top-performing content.
Updates to Reels Creation Tools
Meta is expanding the creative capabilities of Reels across Instagram and Facebook. Instagram is now prompting users to a new “Remix for photos” option when posting static imagery.
Essentially, this new option allows users to create Reels based on feed posrs that can be downloaded into clips. However, users have the ability to turn off the option, if they don’t want other users utilising content in clips.
Furthermore, Instagram is also enabling users to remix any video on the app – although not a new update, it does feed into Instagram’s plans of creating new engagement options across the app.
The Future of Instagram Reels
Meta has invested a lot of time and money to enhance the user experience of Reels, attempting to increase engagement and ease of Reels creation. Arguably, this has been successful so far as the usage of the format continues to increase.
Reels, compared to TikTok, provide a different opportunity for brands. As much as Instagram wishes to replicate TikTok’s short-form video offerings, it won’t be able to! Why? Well, TikTok has established authenticity and a relaxed content style that thrives on being unfiltered. The same can’t be said for Instagram. The platform has long been known for favouring aesthetic, overly-polished content.
Instagram will no doubt continue to replicate TikTok elements, but the fundamentals of consumer habits and perceptions across the platform are hard to change.
For example, popular Reels content is often an aesthetic snapshot of a user’s week, but across TikTok, that same user might post a face-to-camera shot talking about a reactive moment in their life. TikTok can be an instant video, but Reels is always going to be content that takes a little more thought. This is because users are accustomed to Instagram being a picture-perfect representation of their life, and there is still pressure to post content that aligns with this!
Furthermore, it could be argued that Instagram is developing too many features and overcomplicating the platform. Which is an issue that has plagued Facebook, resulting in a user experience that is no longer intuitive, causing users to get lost in various features that take away from the core function of connecting with friends and family!
However, in Instagram’s case, the multitude of new video features and feed layout changes could be crucial for simplifying the user experience. The new feed layout provides a more enjoyable experience for the user, which can lead to an increased time spent within the app through content consolidation.
Therefore, Reels stand as an important element in shifting Instagram beyond just an image-sharing platform. But, for Instagram to compete with TikTok, it will take more than just Reels to get users comfortable posting true-to-life content, which is the platform’s biggest hurdle in shifting to an entertainment platform.