Reels has yet to take over the market for ByteDance's TikTok giant. (Jakub Porzycki / NurPhoto via Getty Images) NurPhoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images
No one has been able to successfully imitate TikTok. Not even the best of social media copycats; Instagram, the thief – or opportunist, as you see it – of trends. Gone are the days when unseating Snapchat and its stories or Flickr and its photos was a piece of cake for the Silicon Valley social network. Because when you play against China, you have to know that the Asian giant always has an ace up its sleeve. It has been shown to Apple with Huawei and Amazon with Alibaba . The key is perhaps more romantic and less entrepreneurial: it is not enough to imitate, you have to fall in love.
TikTok was not only the most downloaded application of 2020 – with more than 2.5 billion worldwide – it is also the most used among young people and adolescents and is expected to reach 1.2 billion users this year . Chinese success has plenty of reasons to celebrate, although it is not alone in the market. The direct competition of the Chinese application is owned by Instagram – which has more than 1 billion users – and is called Reels. He appeared in August 2020 to do what had already worked for him on several occasions: imitate the competition and break it. But TikTok is not just any competition and the centennials , its target market, are not just any generation.
The generational dilemma
In the ring of ByteDance – TikTok parent – and Facebook – Instagram parent – there is no truce. This perhaps Reels knows very well, which arrived almost four years later on the market for short videos and infinite scrolling . Less than five months after its launch, the director of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, confessed to The Verge site that Reels had not produced the expected results . "TikTok is ahead," he assured.
"If what Instagram was trying to do with Reels was to snatch audience share from Generation Z from TikTok, for now it is failing," says David Álvarez, social media analyst and consultant. Ana Aldea, a network specialist and digital analyst, agrees. “Until now, Instagram had been able to overtake the other applications of its competition because it also competed in the same target group. That no longer happens on TikTok, since its audience is minors and teenagers while Instagram is home to the majority of millennials. ”
The age range of most Instagram users is 25 to 34 years old , according to Data Reportal and Statista , followed by users from 18 to 24 years old and in third place by adults from 35 to 44 years old. Meanwhile, TikTok is home to users between 13 and 18 years old, followed by young people between 20 and 24 years old. “Right now the problem is that the majority of TikTok users, like teenagers and pre-teens, are neither on Facebook nor on Instagram, so why are they going to stop using TikTok if what Reels offers them is the same ? ”, Asks Álvarez. And the target audience is just one of the reasons. There are others that may not be so obvious, but they are crucial.
The community of tiktokers
The figures do not lie if they are interpreted with due context. A study by The Influencer Marketing Factory analyzed 60 active profiles ranging from 20,000 to 50 million followers on both TikTok and Reels to compare their overall performance and engagement type across both platforms. Although the sample is very small and therefore not conclusive, the study yields interesting results.
If it is about views by number of followers, Reels has a higher viewing rate with 144% compared to TikTok, with 24% . "The reach Reels can provide is amazing, but it misses the key component that TikTok has succeeded with: the community," warns Alessandro Bogliari, co-founder of The Influencer Marketing Factory and co-author of the study. It is no secret that TikTok, unlike almost all other networks, is one of the few social platforms where content is usually sold as more authentic; the "what will they say" is not in this network. "TikTok users have absolutely no shame in calling someone for copying someone else's trend or video," the study stresses. The lack of shame creates a greater tendency and more naturalness; something that is precisely missing in networks like Instagram in which most users portray a perfect and utopian life .
The secret to success or the Achilles heel – depending on how you look at it – is this: Reels is web-based, while TikTok is content-oriented. The success of the Chinese app has so far shown that "content of interest" is stronger and more effective for users than "content from acquaintances." On Reels, users primarily see content posted by their family, friends, and anyone related in some way to the people they know. This is verified by the study. Across the analyzed accounts, the average total views on Reels reached more than 1.2 million, slightly more than the average TikTok views, with 1.19 million. "Reels seem to want to increase views for those users who are using this new feature, but the same content has fewer likes and comments compared to the same creators who also posted on TikTok," suggests Bogliari.
And it is that views matter less than other interactions such as comments, shares and "likes" and that is where TikTok triumphs, since its users see a large amount of content from people they do not know, but based on their interest and the previous videos with which have interacted. Therefore, the study found that among the same TikTok and Reels accounts analyzed, in those of the Chinese application there are more than 231,000 “likes” and 2,141 average comments, while in Reels there are more than 110,000 “likes” and 811 comments. “On TikTok, users are giving genuine compliments and advice to strangers unlike other social media platforms. This again ties in with the importance of the community on TikTok that users seem to understand and universally abide by, ”says Bogliari.
Will Instagram meet its goal of unseating TikTok? The experts consulted agree that it is still too early to answer that question. Facebook is a tech giant and it won't give up that easy. But TikTok is a phenomenon that has come before and has covered its back to enter the western market. Because beating the titans of Silicon Valley is no easy task; Snapchat and Flickr know it well.
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