WSJ report: Instagram’s Reels is reeling in hardly anybody

Instagram Reels is going over about as well as an HR training video among Insta’s audience, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

In a roughly 2,000-word story, the WSJ’s Salvador Rodriguez, Meghan Bobrowsky and Jeff Horwitz cited an internal research document from Instagram’s parent firm Meta showing dismal uptake of Reels, the short-form video format launched in August of 2020 to counter TikTok.

“Instagram users cumulatively are spending 17.6 million hours a day watching Reels, less than one-tenth of the 197.8 million hours TikTok users spend each day on that platform,” they wrote.

That internal document (“Creators x Reels State of the Union 2022,” published in August) further indicated that Reels engagement had tumbled by 13.6% in the last four weeks, assessing that “most Reels users have no engagement whatsoever.”

And the document’s unnamed authors found that despite such Facebook efforts to promote original Reels as a $1 billion fund to pay creators, almost a third of the Reels posted so far were re-runs that had been created elsewhere and identified as such with a watermark or border.

TikTok was the usual source of those copied clips. That short-form-video app continues to be an engagement magnet despite concerns over its Chinese ownership and possible data collection that led the Trump administration to try to ban the app outright.

AppAnnie statistics that MoffettNathanson shared in a June research note illustrate the problem: That mobile-app research shop found that in 2021, TikTok users spent an average of 307 hours a year in the app — more than half again as much as Facebook, with 193 hours, and three times that of Instagram, with 92 hours. MoffettNathanson’s conclusion: “TikTok is big and a force to be reckoned with.”

Facebook pushed back at the WSJ report, with a spokesperson calling those numbers “outdated and, in some cases, incorrect” and adding in an email that numbers for Reels engagement and reactions were up month-over-month and that Instagram was working to down-rank recycled Reels and recommend originals.

The spokesperson did not provide more specific data points, though.

Brett Sappington, a vice president at the research firm Interpret, wrote in an email that his firm’s New Media Measure study found a greater degree of audience overlap, with 65% of weekly TikTok users reporting in a May 2022 survey saying they also used Instagram weekly, while 45% of weekly Instagram users said they also used TikTok weekly.

Sappington’s advice: “Users must have a reason to come to Reels to see things that they can’t watch elsewhere. Growing viewership then feeds the cycle, with new users creating and adding new content themselves.”

Another analyst made a similar point about Reels.

“It is basically TikTok Lite, so no wonder people, particularly younger folks who are already well acquainted with TikTok, gravitate to the real deal instead of Meta’s copycat service,” emailed Tammy Parker, principal analyst for global telecom consumer services at GlobalData.

“Just jamming random Reels videos into people’s Instagram feeds is not a recipe for success, and steering users to Reels and away from Instagram Stories and the main news feed is also not paying off, given that Meta has admitted those older features still generate revenue more efficiently than Reels,” she wrote. “Instagram should begin purposefully featuring videos from up-and-coming creators who are delivering especially unique content that is created for Reels and cannot be found on TikTok.”