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As Instagram Reels arrives, is the clock tick-tocking for TikTok?

The video-sharing site TikTok might be the social media service of the moment, but its growth currently looks in danger of being neutered within the next few weeks. The Trump administration has considered barring US firms from trading with TikTok, potentially resulting in a global ban.

Given how heavily many UK businesses advertise on social media apps offered through American-owned app stores, it’s convenient that Facebook has just launched a TikTok rival: Instagram Reels.

How did we get here?

TikTok was first launched – then under the name of Douyin – in China by the Beijing-based company ByteDance in 2016. The service reached overseas markets as TikTok in 2017 and has since soared in popularity around the world, amassing an estimated 800 million active users.

However, the app’s Chinese links have disquieted the White House, which fears that data from TikTok’s 100 million active users in the US could be handed over to the Chinese government, despite TikTok’s insistence to the contrary. This has left Reels’ emergence looking particularly timely.   

What is Instagram Reels?

Like TikTok, Instagram Reels allows users to make and share 15-second videos set to music. Reels is also available in 50 countries, including the US and the UK. So far, it might sound a lot like Lasso – another Facebook-introduced tool that directly took the challenge to TikTok.

However, Lasso was strictly available a standalone app, a likely factor behind its failure shortly after launching in 2018. In contrast, Reels is deeply integrated into Instagram itself, a well-established and popular platform – especially among influencers who might have felt strongly tempted by TikTok. 

For example, clips made in Reels can be posted to Instagram’s Explore feed as well as a dedicated Reels tab on the user’s Instagram profile. Reels users also have a larger library of music at their disposal than their TikTok counterparts, helping to quash one notable bugbear of using that app.

What are the implications for marketers?

Companies can advertise on TikTok, at least for now. Though those adverts are typically interspersed through the feed on TikTok’s For You page, TikTok has said that, if the US-enforced ban indeed comes into effect, it will refund any planned ad campaigns it is no longer able to fulfil. 

Meanwhile, some advertisers have reported that they are mulling transitioning their activities to other apps. However, if those advertisers are eyeing Instagram Reels, there is one big fly in the ointment: right now, the service currently doesn’t allow any advertising.

That’s unlikely to remain the case if Reels takes off. After all, Facebook does run ads on Instagram Stories, a feature which itself replicated functionality of Snapchat, another of Facebook’s social media rivals. Besides, there is a subtle but vital difference between “advertising” and “marketing”.

While running paid ads on Reels is technically a no-go for now, becoming an early adopter of Reels could help your business to educate itself about the tool’s worth for marketing purposes.  Over time, your Reels activities could form a valuable part of a broader social media marketing campaign.

As Instagram axes its Boomerang and Hyperlapse apps, how should brands react?
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