- Instagram rolled out its new short-form video feature Reels this month, and both influencers and marketers have begun testing out the TikTok look-alike.
- Business Insider spoke with creators, marketers, and brands to understand how the influencer industry is reacting to the launch.
- While TikTok-first creators tended to be unimpressed, Instagram influencers said they were experimenting with the feature and saw potential, especially for brand deals.
- Instagram doesn’t necessarily have to steal TikTok creators for Reels to become a success.
- “I believe it will slow down the move for Instagram influencers who felt compelled to move to TikTok — these tended to be the late entries into a market anyway,” said Timothy Armoo, the CEO of influencer-marketing agency Fanbytes.
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When Instagram rolled out its new short-form video feature, Reels, in the US earlier this month, creators and influencer marketers were keen to give it a try.
“Part of the social-media game is you have to try all the apps and find what works for you and your audience,” said Courtney Quinn, a fashion and lifestyle influencer with 753,000 Instagram followers.
The timing was opportune for a Reels launch on August 5. Instagram’s biggest competitor in the short-form video category, TikTok, was making headlines after President Trump issued an executive order to force a sale of its US operations. And with hundreds of millions of existing users and established relationships with content creators, Instagram seemed better positioned than most to launch a TikTok competitor.
Reels has drawn some early skepticism — The New York Times called the feature a “dud” — and some creators and marketers told Business Insider they had found the 15-second video platform difficult to track down in the app, hard to monetize, and in some cases, disliked by their followers. TikTok creators, in particular, didn’t express much enthusiasm for the copycat product.
But other influencer industry insiders said they thought the naysayers were missing the point.
Reels doesn’t necessarily need to steal TikTok creators to be successful. It just has to appeal to Instagram-first creators and become a worthwhile (and money-making) feature for them to use — similar to how the Snapchat-copying “Stories” format worked starting in 2016. Snapchat is still around, but Stories have become a central part of Instagram and surpassed Snapchat in usage.
“I believe it will slow down the move for Instagram influencers who felt compelled to move to TikTok — these tended to be the late entries into a market anyway,” said Timothy Armoo, the CEO of influencer-marketing agency Fanbytes.
For instance, the fashion blogger Carly Heitlinger (224,000 Instagram followers) doesn’t post content on TikTok, but started posting Reels on the day the feature was released. Her first few Reels were “outfit inspirations” and examples of ways she styles her clothes.
And brands love Instagram, which could mean big paychecks for influencers if Reels catches on.
“Brands are really comfortable with the Instagram platform,” said Dave Rosner, the EVP and head of marketing at talent management and entertainment studio Collab Inc. “I think when you look at the launch of new social platforms, which is happening on a fairly regular basis it feels like these days, the fact that brands don’t have to do the research and understand that this is a platform that they’ve already worked with is a big positive for Reels.”
Some TikTok-focused creators and marketers are dipping their toes into Reels
The TikTok-first creators Business Insider spoke with tended to be wary of Reels.
“It’s just a TikTok copycat,” said Isabella Avila, an influencer with around 8 million TikTok followers who was given early access to Reels. “I think a lot of people the first couple days were confused because it would just pop up on your feed normally.”
“If TikTok goes away, I could see Instagram Reels doing well,” she added.
Fanbytes recently asked 46 TikTok creators what they thought about Reels. 75% of them said they would not be making the move to Reels, while 20% said Reels will reduce their content creation on TikTok. The vast majority of respondents who said they planned to reduce their efforts on TikTok were all influencers who had originally started on Instagram.
TikTok might also still have an advantage with the music industry, where it has come to dominate the charts.
The music-marketing agency Songfluencer told Business Insider that it had run a few tests on Reels and found the app to be a step down from TikTok when it came to paid song integrations — a common form of influencer monetization on TikTok.
“If I want to search for a song on Reels and see all of the Reels that have been posted under that song, there’s not a dashboard that I can find where I can do that,” said John Cloherty, the company’s owner. “The actual platform is causing promotional friction.”
“I do feel like they rolled it out at an opportune time given the current geopolitical climate,” he added. “Instagram-heavy influencers are really adopting the platform.”
But some TikTokers were open to Reels.
Ariana Lee, a TikTok influencer with over 11 million followers, was also given early access to Reels, and she said with the political climate around TikTok, she’s looking to branch out to other platforms. She said Reels gives her the ability to work with the short-form video format that she’s familiar with on TikTok, and so far, she’s enjoyed the feature.
Instagram-first creators have found Reels to be promising
For creators who built their careers on Instagram, the new feature is a new way to share content and expand their portfolio.
“I really love that Reels is a little bit more straightforward and simplistic,” said Mary Lawless Lee (948,000 Instagram followers). She said she tried out TikTok, but felt that Reels has been a better fit for her as a content creator.
“It’s not based around the music that’s trending or a trending video that you’re replicating,” she said. “Whereas TikTok is kind of based on trends, and everyone’s kind of doing the same thing.”
Lee also noted that Instagram’s editing features, such as the video alignment tool and the filters, have been very user-friendly and pair nicely with her Instagram’s brand and aesthetics. She does hope to see updates to the in-app editing features, like more options for text-timing and placement, as well as better capabilities for moving around video clips.
Chriselle Lim, a fashion and lifestyle Instagram influencer with over 1 million followers and 2 million on TikTok, said her Reels have had high reach and engagement so far and allow her the ability to share a bit more of her personal, unpolished, and playful side.
“I think Reels is going to perform very well,” she said.
Some brands are including Reels in their campaign asks
Some brands have shown interest in testing out Reels for influencer marketing.
“I’ve seen brands have been really excited about it,” Lee said. “We had a couple of brands reach out with the idea of creating Reels. It is really nice because with Reels you have the option for it to live on the grid, so it can function with the same capabilities of a grid static post, but have even higher engagement.”
The talent-management firm Whalar Stars said its clients had already begun working on brand campaigns that include posting content to Reels.
Other managers who spoke with Business Insider said it was too soon to know if brands would make Reels a priority beyond test budgets, but that Instagram is in a good position to capture spend should the platform take off.
Idalia Salsamendi, a business strategist for creators and luxury brands, said she sees Reels as an opportunity to incorporate more lighthearted and playful content on Instagram, which she said had become very “polished,” especially in the fashion and lifestyle industries.
The bottom line, according to Brian Mandler of digital agency The Network Effect: “We’re in the middle of this short-form content evolution and revolution.”
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