Instagram’s attempt to copy TikTok with ‘Reels’ isn’t going well

(Hypebot) — TikTok has quickly found success with its short-form video format, and YouTube shorts are finding large audiences, but Instagram doesn’t seem to have the same luck.

Notice of Tech Dirt’s Mike Masnick

For many years we have written about the myth which is still believed by many, including many policy makers and journalists that big companies always win by simply copying smaller, more innovative companies, and simply snatching the market from them. While there is a little examples of what is happening, it is much, much more common so that big companies fail when they do. We have given examples of this time and time again and again and again and again and again, going back many years.

There are many reasons for these failures, starting with the fact that the initial innovator usually has a much better tacit understanding of why their products succeed and spread, and that’s usually a lot more than you can see on the surface. Imitators imitate the cult cargo style. They copy what they can see, but they don’t really understand the more hidden aspects that really make a product or service successful.

Witness this recent Wall Street Journal story showing that Instagram’s somewhat aggressive moves to turn its service into a TikTok clone are reaching an embarrassing level.

Instagram users cumulatively spend 17.6 million hours per day watching Reels, less than a tenth of the 197.8 million hours TikTok users spend on that platform each day, according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal that summarizes internal Meta research.

The document, titled “Creators x Reels State of the Union 2022,” was released internally in August. He said Reels engagement had plummeted – down 13.6% in the previous four weeks – and “most Reels users have zero engagement.”

One reason is that Instagram has struggled to recruit people to create content. About 11 million creators are on the platform in the United States, but only about 2.3 million of them, or 20.7%, post on the platform each month, according to the document.

Ouch. The article also quotes a successful TikTok creator who has posted videos on pretty much every other popular service these days and found that those short videos just don’t work on Instagram.

This spring, Mr. Purifoy posted the same video on TikTok, YouTube Shorts, Snapchat’s Spotlight and Instagram Reels. The video received millions of views on all platforms except Instagram. There, there were less than 100,000.

“No one is going to create original content for Instagram,” Purifoy said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The article also highlights Instagram’s desperate moves, including promising to pay creators $1 billion by the end of this year to try to bribe people to create original content for Reels. But, of course, we’ve also seen this play out as well as many creators.

Sure, some are happy to take the free money, but we’ve seen how these programs don’t last, and creators who rely on these funds end up getting screwed. Because in a year or two, we’ll see the inevitable story of how Instagram cuts those payouts, followed by stories of “influencers” who thought they made it through those programs who are now struggling to make a living. This is the life cycle of social media.

But this very rarely turns the copier/follower into a leader in space.

It’s no secret that Meta has struggled to stay relevant over the past few years. Its main product, Facebook, has been feeling old and stuffy for a while. And while Instagram was the safety net that kept the company growing as a whole, everyone realized that TikTok was the new trend. Now, of course, a few years ago the same was true for Snap, and Meta managed to co-opt Snap’s vanishing concept of “stories” into Facebook and (even more so) Instagram. But, I wonder if it made the company arrogant that it could do the same with TikTok as well.

Of course, none of this is over. The world continues to move and I imagine Instagram will continue to adapt whether you like it or not. And maybe that will lead to real adoption. Or maybe the political operatives of Meta will manage to convince Congress to ban Tiktok.

But, overall, it looks like we have yet another example of how simple narrative for example “Facebook is dominant and no one can ever beat them” is not necessarily true.

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