For a little while now, TikTok has been a social media force of nature. Generation Z, young millennials, and just about everyone else have been flocking to the platform to see what the hype is about. Viral TikTok dances, challenges, and a whole bunch of other fun, light-hearted content has come from the platform thanks to its powerful, and easy-to-use content creation tools. TikTok’s rapid rise has been helped by the global pandemic, with people in many parts of the world locked in and looking for something that will keep them entertained. All of this has caught the attention of marketers, as they scramble to understand the platform and grab a share of its highly engaged audience’s attention. But where’s the competition? What happened to Instagram? Surely Facebook Inc. has something up its sleeve? Enter Instagram Reels, a feature being added to the well-known platform, that is conspicuously similar to TikTok. Will it be enough to ensure Facebook Inc. continues to dominate the social media landscape or is it too late to the party?
While we have not had the pleasure of using Reels yet, it’s been a hot topic in social media news since its initial test roll-out in Brazil. Since then, we have also seen it roll out in France, Germany, and most recently, India. Facebook Inc.’s choice to introduce Instagram reels in that last country is a particularly interesting one. With tensions high between India and China right now, many Chinese products and services have been banned in India, TikTok among them. India isn’t alone here either. The social platform has had to exit the Hong Kong market, altogether citing privacy concerns, where citizens were worried data collected by TikTok would ultimately be used by the Chinese government against them. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has also publicly warned of a TikTok ban Stateside. It’s long been predicted that this generation’s arms race would be a technological one, we’re now seeing that play out with 5G networks and data (which is why social media companies are on the frontlines). Facebook Inc. has been facing political controversy as well over its handling of political tweets. This has led to walkouts and resignations at Facebook HQ, big brands boycotting their platforms, and disgruntled users looking for alternatives. The reality of whether users will stay on TikTok, or migrate to Instagram Reels, could come down to which platform is available to them where they live, or which one aligns with their values and ideals better.
The tactic that Facebook Inc. is using with Reels is not new either. Remember Vine, the six-second video platform? It effectively launched the careers of some of today’s best-known content creators, and probably paved the way for a platform like TikTok to exist. Facebook managed to counter the success of Vine, by introducing video to Instagram (remember when Instagram was JUST images?). The cleverest part of this was, rather than six second videos, they introduced more advertising-friendly video lengths. Instagram videos still exist, while Vine is long gone. The same happened with Snapchat, where Facebook rushed to emulate many of its competitor’s features on Instagram, slowing the up-start contender’s growth.
Will we see the same with TikTok? I believe it’s less likely. For starters, TikTok has been courting advertisers from the get-go, working closely with them to ensure there are viable options available for them to make their brand visible on the platform as seen in the current campaign, “Don’t make ads, make TikToks”. Second, TikTok has been successful in reaching places where Instagram is a relative unknown. Take rural Pakistan, for example. There are farmers creating TikToks of their daily lives with huge fanbases, but none of this content (or the people making it) are on Instagram.
Then there’s the concern of data security. Experts have taken deep dives into TikTok and found that the platform collects worrying amounts of data about the individuals that use it. However, there is nothing unusual about this on social media. This is how they manage to remain free to use. The data they collect is used to create better advertising services, which can then be sold to advertisers. Advertisers are paying to get access to the data, but we’re paying to harness the power of it all. This is precisely why your phone will start showing you ads for things you were talking about last night. It wasn’t “listening,” there’s just so much data about you that these advanced platforms know you better than you know yourself. Reports have shown that users are willing to give up a certain amount of privacy in exchange for free services. Besides, it’s not as if Facebook Inc. is free of controversy in this space (Cambridge Analytica, anyone?).
So will Facebook Inc. come in with Instagram Reels and crush TikTok the way it’s done with past competitors? Or is TikTok just the right thing, at the right time? The reality is probably somewhere in between. With a growing group of disgruntled users and advertisers eager for alternatives combined with an inability to reach specific markets, it remains to be seen if Facebook Inc. can remain as dominant as it has been in the past. At the same time, political complications may prevent others from ever using TikTok. In any case, we welcome the possibility of there being more options for consumers and advertisers alike.
Written by Moe Khan
Moe Khan is the Head of Social Media at Cosmopole and works on strategy across the agency portfolio. Prior to Cosmopole he has worked on award-winning social media campaigns at TBWA, J. Walter Thompson, and Action Global Communications for some of the world’s best-known brands.