No One Knows What to Do With Reels Yet
Instagram’s highly-anticipated answer to TikTok, Reels, has arrived, right in the middle of intense privacy discussions about the Chinese-owned app. In theory, there’s no better time to launch your competing TikTok feature than when a lot of people are scared of TikTok—or of losing it. But so far, Reels has failed to impress. Starting with the fact that I can’t even find it.
While making Reels is pretty self-explanatory—the option appears in the same window you use to post Instagram Stories—viewing videos other people made is like navigating a maze. Unlike IGTV, Instagram shopping, or your profile, there is no static button you can click to be taken to the Reels page. You have to go find one on the Instagram Explore page and start scrolling from there. Once you’ve finally made it, it operates pretty much the same as TikTok: scroll up, and be greeted with a new video at random every single time.
Not only is the interface familiar from TikTok—the content is as well. This feature is so clearly based on the popular app that, naturally, the only video ideas people have so far come up with are trends they already saw on its competitor: Chinese street style, using the snapping effect to clean up a room, the Taylor Swift “Love Story” dance, etc. Some people have straight up downloaded videos from TikTok and reuploaded them as Reels—you can even see the TikTok logo still on them!
Reels, in short, is exactly like TikTok, but without the things that make TikTok so fun.
Scrolling through it this morning I almost exclusively saw the same verified users one after another: The Bachelorette’s Hannah Brown, fitness guru Blogilates, influencer Courtney Quinn. Even unverified users who make it on my feed have a ton of followers on Instagram already. And the rest are brands. Reels is basically a glossy magazine.
Which is okay if that’s what you want. But that’s the beauty of TikTok: If you’re frequently watching videos from high-profile users and brands, it will keep serving you more of that. But if that’s not your thing and you keep scrolling, TikTok quickly starts catering to whatever it is you’re gravitating towards. You can see a viral video one minute, and a new video from someone with just 30 followers the next, and they’re likely both just as good. But despite the fact that I keep scrolling past fitness and diet influencers on Reels, lo and behold, I’m met with another one just a few minutes later, and I’ve yet to be served a video from someone who doesn’t already have a large following.
Instagram may work these kinks out over time. As more people start making Reels, more content from everyday users will infiltrate the verified mass. I was skeptical of Instagram Stories at first, and now they’ve totally won me over from Snapchat. And there’s something to be said for having everything in one app, versus navigating to find all my favorite creators on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, etc. But right now, Reels is not the discovery tool that TikTok is. I’m not going to stumble upon any hidden gems—no dancing llamas, no mysterious user named @mooptopia. Reels is for a very generic person who isn’t interested in much of anything … if they can even find it.