Has Instgram’s Push To Unseat TikTok Backfired?


Spurred on by the isolation caused by the pandemic, TikTok has become the most downloaded app in the world. With over 3.5 Billion downloads, the app is making Meta rethink its social media platforms.

If any app were to unseat TikTok, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine that Instagram — the second most downloaded app in the US — might be in a position to do that. To start competing directly with TikTok, Meta entered Instagram into the short form video market in August 2020 with Reels. 

Reels allowed IG users to create 15-second videos to share with their social media following.

The Rise of Instagram’s Reels

After Reels’ initial launch, metrics were looking promising. Instagram had a large budget for its fledgling new feature, and users were adopting it quickly. Analysts monitoring the rollout of Reels saw several indications of early success:

  • Money – Reel’s fund to pay content creators is five times the size of TikTok’s ($1 Billion vs. $200 Million). The large fund gave content creators a massive incentive to come onto and stay on the platform.
  • Data – Meta already has in-depth information on their users’ interests, backgrounds, and likings, so they have a leg-up in their ability to build effective algorithms to improve user engagement.
  • Traction – Reels quickly accounted for over 20% of the time users spend on Instagram 

Instagram Hits an Unexpected Roadblock 

As forces were beginning to swell for Instagram, the social media app was hit by a roadblock from an unexpected place.

Its users.

In its strong push for short video content, Instagram discovered they’d unknowingly left their core content creators and users in the dust. 


Instagram was created for and built a community around sharing photos, not videos. So when Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, shared a video in May of this year saying, “We’re moving Instagram to a place where video is a bigger part of the home experience” Instagram’s power users who love the platform for its photography content got worried.

Instagram then tested out a complete redesign of their home page that pushes users to view video and Reels content over photos.

Unlike TikTok, which focuses solely on video content, Instagram’s focus has always been on pictures, not videos. Many of Instagram’s core users felt betrayed and one major influencer even started a petition against the redesign and Instagram’s push for short video content.

The petition, created by Tati Bruening to “Make Instagram Instagram Again”, went viral on July 22nd, 2022. It was supported and reposted by many of Instagram’s largest accounts, including Kylie Jenner, who is the second largest account on the platform with over 360 million followers.

The petition gained so much traction that the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, came out with a statement on July 26th, 2022 to address the community’s concerns. 

He addressed Instagram’s focus on video saying, “If you look at what people share on Instagram, that’s shifting more and more to videos over time, even if we changed nothing”. 

As for Instagram’s future plans, he commented   “Lean into that shift [to video] while continuing to support photos”. 

As it stands now, the petition has over 275,000 signatures on change.org and is on track to be one of the most signed petitions in the site’s history.

The Future of Reels

Although Meta has poured millions into creating a future where Reels dethrones TikTok, the future is becoming murkier and murkier. 

Still, their mission to build up Reels carries on. Mosseri remained steady in his plan to evolve Instagram because “The world is changing quickly, and we all have to go along with it”. 

Reels has experienced a rapid series of updates in the past few months. Though, the old adage that any press is good press holds true for Meta’s current situation. In today’s world, where brand perception is everything, Meta has a golden opportunity to respond and show it cares about its user.

What happens next will be a huge indicator of Meta’s brand mentality. 

Meta has made it clear that they want a future where Instagram is a place for videos and photos, but their user base has taken a strong initial stance against that strategy. 

Will Meta be able to judo flip this negative press into a positive spin for the continued rollout of Reels and pursue its competition with TikTok for short-form video dominance or will this backlash stop Reels’ in its tracks?

We’ll have to see whether the petition picks up steam in the coming weeks, how other big influencers respond and whether it has any affect on follower numbers.

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