Remember when TikTok was all the rage in India? The Chinese-made app had garnered over 200 million users in the country by mid-2020 before it was banned by the Centre in the wake of Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh. And just like that, Indians lost a major source of pastime, especially when the outer world was closed due to Covid. However, this did not last long, as to fill that market gap left by TikTok, Instagram launched its short-video service Reels a few days later. Hence, those in India did not end up missing TikTok. However, it seems that those abroad are missing Instagram, rather its initial essence as an app you go “to see cute pictures of my friends”, as reality TV and social media star Kylie Jenner put it.
Instagram inside arch-rival’s territory
Since the launch of reels, Instagram has made several changes that make it look more like its arch-rival TikTok, one of the most used social media apps especially popular among teens and young adults. There has been a major push for reels, which can be quite evident if you just go through your feed, and there is a promotion for the TikTok-style remix feature. Also, these are full-screen reels, similar to TikTok videos.
All this might have to do with changed users’ preferences. Responding to Jenner’s call of “make Instagram Instagram again”, the platform’s CEO Adam Mosseri said, “if you look at what people share on Instagram, that’s shifting more and more to videos over time.” Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg, chief of Instagram’s parent Meta, had earlier commented that “Reels make up about 20% of the time spent on Instagram”.
Although these changes might not prick Indians that much as we no longer have the TikTok experience, there are others that do. Apart from a push for reels, Instagram also whips out a very algorithmic feed. Hence, if you just want to see cute pictures of your friends, just like Jenner, the chances are you might have to go through a lot of influencer content before reaching there. Then there is the ‘recommendation’ feature. Also borrowed from TikTok’s Discover feature, it makes you see posts in your feed from accounts you do not follow. Speaking on the recommendations feature, the Instagram chief said that the “idea to find the content you don’t even know exists”. All this has made finding pictures of friends and family difficult, which typically was its essence initially. Instead, what you get is a mish-mash of random influencer reels, even screenshots of tweets, and stories, another feature it borrowed from another social media app, Snapchat.
Popularity of short-form videos
It is not just Instagram that has got inspired by TikTok. Around when Instagram launched reels, YouTube came up with Shorts. Its maker Google has said that as many as 1.5 billion people watch shorts every month. Another image-sharing app Pinterest also launched Watch on the same concept. Even Instagram parent Meta has the short-video feature. Not just these, Netflix too has come up with Fast Laughs, which are short videos made from the content on the platform.
Despite such a major push towards short videos by all major social media platforms, TikTok still seems to be the winner here. According to the data by Similarweb, users spend 1 hour 27 minutes per day on TikTok, 1 hour 21 minutes on YouTube shorts and 41 minutes on Reels. The Chinese major is also projected to do well regarding the advertisers’ revenue also.
Despite falling behind TikTok, Instagram seems to have all the reason behind going after the short video format. The former’s success is just one reason. Another might be to cater to the younger audience, among whom the Chinese app is extremely popular. This can be a major cause for Facebook, as it is increasingly becoming obsolete for younger audiences, as the company’s internal data revealed in 2020.
Whatever the cause, it appears Instagram’s all-out attempt to remain relevant with time has not got down well with some of the platform’s biggest names. And Jenner and her sister Kim Kardashian, who also echoed the same sentiments, mean business. Just take Snapchat. Just a single tweet by Jenner in 2018 wiped $1.3 billion of Snapchat’s market cap. “Does anyone use snapchat anymore?” she had asked then. A double-edged sword for Instagram, it seems.