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Is Instagram’s New ‘Reels’ A Genuine Threat To TikTok?


What are ‘Reels’?

Back in November last year Instagram started testing the latest clone from a rival app, with TikTok this time firmly in its sights. ‘Reels’ let you make 15-second video clips set to music, which might sound familiar, and initially the plan was to share them to Stories.

Brazil was chosen as the first country to launch it in and the new feature went under the name ‘Cenas’, starting the process of gaining valuable feedback from users what works for them, and didn’t doesn’t. A process that has been ongoing until the recent announcement of the program’s expansion. 

Why Brazil?

Brazil is one of the main testing countries for most of the US-based social media companies due to the popularity of both Twitter and Instagram amongst the population. For Instagram this was key, and tied in with an established creator community, it made it for the perfect market to go to first. Brazil has an estimated 82 million Instagram users, though TikTok is pressing them heavily and Brazil is seen as a key market for them. According to *Statista there were 10.9m downloads in January alone, double that of the previous month. 

Expanding to new markets and making changes

Instagram has taken much of the feedback on board during its test phase and made changes accordingly. Originally Reels were only meant to be shared within Stories, but the community wanted to share them with followers and friends in a more permanent way, and be able to expand their broadcast abilities more broadly if desired.

Also they wanted a specific place in which they could easily compile Reels and watch other peoples. So for this next phase they have moved the feature to a dedicated space in users Profiles and in Explore. 

These features and how it works have been nicely summarised in this video..


Phase two takes place in Germany and France as the social media giant looks to the European market, one where sports are particularly important (and profitable) to them.

So is it a genuine threat to TikTok?

Whenever Instagram (and Facebook generally) takes on a direct competitor by cloning pretty much all of its key features, there is always cause for concern. By all accounts it is very much a simplified version of TikTok but with additional releases to come that will no doubt take on their competitors most popular features very soon. 

Though there have been some false starts, you only have to look at Snapchat and how much the launch of Instagram Stories impacted them in 2016. Surpassing their use in record time and stunting their own growth for much of the following three years.

There is a one main difference between the two platforms though, and that is how the algorithms work within them. 

On TikTok you see most of the content on the ‘For You’ tab and the content shown is based on your behaviour rather than who you follow. This provides the opportunity for any piece of content by anyone to ‘go viral’, but one of the frustrations we have heard from creators/brands is the lack of reliability on what will work and when.

Instagram has that reliability and this is understood by those who use it. Some TikTok users even post calls-to-action at the end of their videos saying things like “get more videos like this on my Instagram feed”. 

At the end of the day the key decider will be where the brand money ends up, whether that be via advertising or influencer marketing. This will take longer to play out due to the recent pausing of social media ad spend by the likes of Ford, Unilever, Coca-Cola and many more in recent days.

How will sports react?

Of course it is easier to test out a new feature on a platform they know, e.g. Instagram, than it is to go into the unknown and start from scratch. This may mean that some pause for thought before going ahead on TikTok, seeing if Reels gives them what they want (reach and new followers).

In the end they will go where the fans are, and especially young fans, as they look for new new audiences and markets. Will it mean the end for TikTok? No! But it’s phenomenal recent growth may flatten when Reels becomes available to all… whenever that might be.

If you’d like to talk to us about your TikTok strategy, get in touch with us via our Contacts Page.