TikTok said it best when they commented on Instagram’s announcement of their latest feature, Reels.

It’s no secret that Instagram has been evolving its space to be an “all-in-one” platform for its users. Yet, more often than not, this evolution toward a one-stop-shop has come in the form of some cheeky copycat features from other trending platforms. Let’s flash back to 2015 when Snapchat released its AR filters, then to one year later when Instagram announced its Stories feature — a native alternative to Snapchat.

Hopping on as a fast follower can be a pretty clever approach — why not take a look around you at what is performing best and apply lessons from it? It can save you time and a pretty penny in the process, and theoretically there isn’t as much onboarding needed on the user’s end. As marketers, we may identify with this example of optimization (albeit loosely). Yet as good brand stewards, it should also have us wondering if Instagram might be hopping on trends at the cost of its original value to its long-established audience.

UNIQUE TO UNRULY

Instagram had previously been a simplistic lifestyle platform. It was marked by users sharing basic 1:1 frames of a handful of Skittles, or an oversaturated selfie, into a single chronological feed. It has since evolved into a complex web of engagement-based content feeds and social nuance, comprised of long-form videos (IGTV), AR filters (IG Stories) and even a place to buy clothes and furniture (IG Shopping). We are all for adaptation (shout-out Gregor Mendel), and our personal feeds are certainly grateful for the elevated, less-cringe visual standard.

See totally cringe 2014/15 visual standard above.

Yet the question for Instagram now is, what makes their platform unique, aside from its massive reach? Imitation is not innovation. And in this case, Instagram’s TikTok imitation doesn’t fuse with Instagram’s core identity: a photo-sharing platform. No longer as cut-and-dry as the old days, Instagram has become a crowded combination of Snapchat, YouTube, Amazon and now TikTok.

Perhaps the push to adopt competitors’ unique features stems from the rising importance of Gen Z content and format expectations. TikTok has been labeled as the ultimate Gen Z platform. Its features perfectly capture the creativity, humor and immersive experience younger audiences have come to expect when online. The young love for TikTok has even caused a bit of a content migration, where top-performing videos have found a way to mosey on over to other channels, too. It calls to mind the old social media adage:

“What starts on Reddit will cross to Twitter, find its way to Instagram, then move to Facebook to die.”

— Everyone, ever

TAKING AN UNFILTERED LOOK

To the untrained eye, Instagram Reels might seem like the perfect solution for duplicating TikTok’s most attractive features. Assuming they do it well.

So, let’s discuss.

Check marks:

  • Reels has immersive-style video utilizing music and quick edits for incredibly digestible content
  • Familiarity with short-format videos allows troves of influencers to adopt Reels’ features quicker than the average Instagrammer

Growing pains:

  • Influencers and brands alike are already struggling to produce additive rather than derivative content
  • Reels dimensions do not match in-feed specs for standard Instagram videos, causing cutoffs and unflattering cropping
  • Unlike TikTok’s “For You” page, Reels lacks an easy-to-find content hub

REELING IT ALL BACK IN

What works well on TikTok is not guaranteed to do the same on Instagram. While Instagram had success integrating tried-and-tested formats to its platform in the past, Instagram’s core photo-sharing identity is feeling like a long-lost friend.

What might Instagram’s ultimate purpose be? Is it better to be everything to everyone, or to be the best at one unique thing to a highly engaged audience?

No hate for Golden Corral, but if we had our pick, we’d rather go to the specialty restaurant.