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Instagram releases ‘Reels’ to compete with TikTok amidst data use controversy

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely at least heard of Instagram. As a business owner, you may have even considered setting up an Instagram account for your business.

The photo and video sharing social media application has been dominating pop culture since shortly after its initial release in 2010. In two short years, Instagram had grown to approximately 27 million users by March 2012 and was purchased by Facebook in April 2012 for $1 billion in cash and stock.

The app has continued to grow, adding new features throughout the years to remain relevant in the ever changing social media landscape. The newest of these features is Instagram ‘Reels’.

Reels is an update to the existing Instagram app (meaning it does not require the installation of a new application) which allows users in 50 countries to watch, create and share 15-second videos shot on their cellphones, often set to music or a vocal track.

Does this concept sound familiar? If you have any Generation Z-ers in your life you’ve likely heard of TikTok, a Chinese app with over 800 million worldwide users and an almost identical concept.

TikTok has been under fire for reportedly providing user data to the Chinese government, causing India to ban the app and other countries, like the U.S. and Australia to consider following suit.

Given TikTok’s extremely large user share, it is not surprising that Instagram (owned by US-based Facebook) has chosen to announce their similar new feature, Reels, at the height of the controversy.

To have a look at Reels for yourself, open the Instagram app and tap to enter the Explore page (use the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen). At the time of this article, you can access Reels by clicking on the large featured Reels video in the middle of your screen. As Reels becomes more common, there will likely be a feed button added to the top of the explore page near the existing IGTV and Shop buttons.

Once you’re viewing the Reels feed, you can simply swipe upwards to scroll through your video feed. Reels uses an algorithm to show you a mix of videos by users you follow, “Featured” videos, videos local to your area, and suggested videos based on the type of accounts or people that you follow.

Below the caption on each video will be a linked song or audio track. By clicking on this audio you can see a list of other videos using the same file. You’ll also see the option to create your own video using the same audio.

To create your first Reels video, go to the same place you’d normally go to add to your Instagram Story (go to the home page and click on the camera icon in the top left corner). Then at the bottom of the screen, choose the option for ‘Reels’.

On the left side of the screen you’ll see options to add an audio file, speed up or slow down the recording, add filters or use the self timer function. You’ll want to choose these options before you record.

To record a video, hold down the button in the bottom centre of the screen and release it when you want the video to stop. You can do one long continuous clip, or a series of shorter clips.

In terms of what you can expect for your business… If you are already an active Instagram user for your business page it may be a good idea to familiarise yourself with and prepare yourself for using Reels. There is a massive opportunity here to showcase the personality behind your brand through Reels. While TikTok’s audience is primarily aged 16-25, causing many brands targeting more mature audiences to hesitate on getting involved, Instagram’s audience is a much broader spread, including a good share of users in their early and mid 50s.

Depending on your business, you may want to create different types of content on Reels. Some ideas might include…

  • A tour of your office/work space
  • A tutorial or how-to involving your product or industry
  • Create or participate in a “challenge”
  • Show your products being created/packaged

To get an idea for potential Reels content, have a browse through the Reels feed at some of the other videos. You’ll be amazed at the creativity used and the endless possibilities!

The success of Instagram Reels remains to be decided, but based on the success of other Instagram (and/or Facebook) products throughout the past decade, we can expect big things with this latest release.

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