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Reels, likely won't cut it

March 22, 2021


Reels, likely won't cut it

Why Reels Won't work! And Social Media audience flow! 

Last November, Instagram added a new feature, called Reels. It’s a hit back at the viral social media platform TikTok, which was all over the news in 2020. It was one of the most downloaded apps. Viral TikTok dances and challenges dominated news cycles during the spring lockdowns. Gen Z seemed to ditch older platforms in favor of the new platform. The US government even tried to ban it. Gen Z laughed and kept on dancing and challenging each other, earning themselves the nickname “the TikTok generation.”

Reels is nothing new for Facebook-owned Instagram. The social media platform has a history of cloning competitors’ features. Snapchat is its most infamous victim. Instagram introduced “stories,” temporary photo or video posts that disappear after 24 hours. That was Snapchat’s signature feature—disappearing messages. Snapchat is still around, but it’s growth has been limited by the dominance of Instagram.

Clearly, Facebook was aiming to do the same with Reels. It wasn’t the only platform struggling to catch up. All this begs the question though: how can we be sure we’re effectively using social media in 2021? We need to understand it to use it. And that means understanding how our audiences are using each platform.

Out with the Old, in with the New?

Gen Z is coming of age, so it isn’t surprising that they’re “jumping ship” for newer, cooler social media platforms. This isn’t exactly a new trend, and it’s one we can expect to continue in the future.

Social media platforms usually hit critical mass as they’re adopted by younger users. They become part and parcel of “youth culture,” a way of delivering content in a new and exciting format. As a platform gets more popular, it draws in users from older demographics. That, in turn, tends to lessen the “cool” factor of the platform. That then turns the initial youthful user base away. They leave, often flocking to the next “latest greatest” platform.

In the early 2000s, MySpace was the place to be. Then along came Facebook. It was initially limited to people who were in college. It then expanded to include younger users. As time went on, the user base opened up more and more. Today, Facebook is seen as a place where “old people” hang out and shout at each other in all-caps or yell at Wal-Mart.

Facebook’s share of younger users has been declining for a few years now. Twitter never quite gained mass popularity. But here too, younger users are defecting from the platform or skipping it altogether.

Instagram was the next “big one.” It became popular in the early 2010s, before being sold to Facebook. Hot on its heels came Snapchat, which threatened to end Instagram’s reign.

Today, TikTok is the platform of choice for younger people. We can see it as a threat to Instagram’s supremacy among the younger set. But there’s already a sense that Instagram may be passe with this crowd. Of course, TikTok’s newfound popularity has made it a magnet for new users of all age brackets. And it’s attracting its fair share of brands too. In the future, it too will likely be passe, and younger users will move on to yet another platform.

Why Reels Won’t Work

Instagram’s Reels is pretty much a clone of TikTok’s features. But there’s a good chance it’s not going to work like Facebook’s cloning of Snapchat did. Why?

So far, Reels hasn’t been able to encourage users to make new, high-quality content. Instead, users are hitting TikTok first. They’re then migrating that same content to Reels a little later.

This isn’t an unusual social media strategy. But Facebook has taken steps to try to stop users from reuploading TikTok videos. That will likely be the final nail in the coffin for Reels. Younger users are reluctant to spend time creating quality content for two platforms. If they have to choose, they’re going with TikTok and TikTok alone.

Why would they choose TikTok over Instagram, which has a far larger user base? For these users, it’s about the opportunity to be involved in something new. TikTok has a smaller user base. That means people can achieve viral fame with more ease, versus trying to play Instagram’s formula. More than that, they’re reaching their own peers, which creates a sense of community. Memes, viral dances, and more have made TikTok the cultural touchstone for today’s youth. Whereas Millennials checked Facebook, Gen Z is checking in on TikTok to stay connected with their friends.

Why Do Young People Migrate?

Established platforms like Facebook and Instagram have enormous user bases. That can make it incredibly difficult to reach anyone. Many people feel like they’re “shouting into the void.” Facebook has been worse lately, hiding notifications and making it more difficult to keep track of groups and pages. Newsfeed updates may push through important posts only after the fact. That means people are seeing your post about your sale after it’s over.

The big user base isn’t the only problem here. The algorithms behind most of these platforms favour ads, which makes it a problem to reach anyone without spending money. More and more, platforms like Facebook are “pay to play.” If you want to get any attention, you need to invest in ads.

This lends to the perception that these platforms are part of “the establishment” and overly corporatized. Younger users look for a way to connect and express themselves authentically. They favour platforms that let them do that—without paying for ads.

That means younger people look beyond established platforms. It’s too tough to get the message out, too tough to find each other and connect. TikTok and other platforms before it become places where teens and twenty-somethings can connect and hang out, without being policed by older people or corporations.

We should also keep in mind that TikTok wasn’t the only platform in the running for Gen Z’s attention. Often, there are many platforms that younger people are adopting and exploring. Only some hit critical mass and become “the” place to be.

Algorithms Are Still King

As much as Gen Z eschews the corporatized, big-user base of Facebook and Instagram, TikTok is still run by algorithms. TikTok’s algorithm is one that’s exceptionally good at targeting. That means users see more of what they like and less of what they don’t.

Reels has yet to catch up on that, and a lack of original content hurts it more. Older platforms become places where content from newer platforms migrates once it hits critical mass.

On all platforms, algorithms still determine what content is seen and what isn’t. Understanding and playing those algorithms is often the key to getting the word out.

Do We Need to Be on TikTok?

If you’re marketing to Gen Z, then yes, you need to be on TikTok. While TikTok has been a non-corporate space, it will increasingly become corporatized as brands add it to their marketing mix. Ads will likely become a source of income. In fact, TikTok already has guidelines and best practices for advertisers.

If you’re not interested in targeting Gen Z alone, then TikTok may not be the right place for you.

Even if it is the right place, you might want to keep your ear to the ground about the next big platform. As noted, TikTok wasn’t the only platform in the running for the name of “the” place to be, and it’s far from the last. New platforms will continue to emerge in the coming years.

And, as TikTok’s user base becomes more diverse, it’s likely that younger users will move on. Gen Z will stick with TikTok for a while yet. But there will likely be another couple of platforms that rise to the surface in the coming years. And it’s almost certain that when they’re old enough, Generation Alpha will drive us away from TikTok to some other platform.

So, what do we need to understand in 2021? Social media is changing, just as it always has. New platforms will rise up, and older platforms will scramble to keep up. Across all of them, and across all audiences, algorithms will be key. Understanding those algorithms—how they work, how to leverage them, and how they’re changing—will be the key to your social media success.

Above all, though, you need to understand your audience, what they want, and why they’re on any social media platform. Understanding that will help you craft content they want to see, that resonates with them.

So start with the why!


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