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Reeling in short-form video

Have you heard of ‘Reels’? In August 2020, the summer of cancelled plans, Instagram bucked the trend and announced its latest addition, Instagram Reels.

The company summed up Reels as “a new way to create and discover short, entertaining videos on Instagram”. Hang on a second… haven’t we heard that somewhere before?

If you’re in regular contact with Generation Z, or involved with B2C marketing, you probably know a fair bit about TikTok, and this description of Reels will sound very familiar. TikTok describes itself as “the leading destination for short-from mobile video”, and has become the social media platform of choice for today’s teens to early-20-year-olds (and the brands that target this audience).

Of course, Reels and TikTok probably seem old hat to those of us who remember Vine! This short-form video app encouraged creative video sharing and was initially a huge hit, but soon competitors such as Instagram video and Snapchat were piling on the pressure. Vine didn’t adapt and innovate fast enough to keep justifying investment, and the platform closed in 2016.

So, what is the difference between TikTok and Reels? And what does the introduction of Reels to Instagram mean for B2B marketing communications? Isn’t it just TikTok in another guise? And isn’t TikTok just videos of mad dancing and parkour anyway?

Having won multiple awards for our social media work, we were keen to investigate the potential for our clients to utilise TikTok for their B2B marcomms. Our findings are explored in some detail in this article. As a quick summary, we determined (at the time of writing) that there were very few B2B brands utilising TikTok effectively, which we put down to a combination of the creative and budgetary challenge of developing bespoke content, and an audience demographic that didn’t quite fit the B2B environment.

For some social media you can get away with repurposing content across multiple platforms, but for TikTok, this simply won’t cut it. The platform’s users are accustomed to videos of a certain format and style that is intrinsic to TikTok, and any content that doesn’t follow that style will be rejected as misplaced and inauthentic. And of course, creating native content costs money.

In today’s complex social and digital environment, many B2B brands have decided to concentrate their focus (and budgets) on more traditional B2B social media platforms: Twitter and LinkedIn (and in some cases, Facebook and Instagram too), as these are considered to be where the B2B audience is most likely to be found. Few have chosen short-form video platforms such as TikTok.

So does that mean Instagram Reels too is less relevant in B2B? Interestingly, the factors that have made TikTok hard to financially justify in B2B may well be where Reels has its advantage. Instagram Reels is new functionality to an existing platform, meaning that brands with an established audience on Instagram (or with an agreed strategy in place to grow this audience) have a short cut: it’s possible to begin developing short-form videos, potentially using the TikTok style to engage a wider (and often younger) audience, without having to crack a new platform. Adopting a more frivolous style may feel counterintuitive to some B2B brands. However, as Generation Z adopt increasingly senior positions within B2B organisations with the buying power to match, for some industries it makes sense to begin investigating the potential of Instagram Reels.

Does this even matter? We believe so. Ignore social media innovation at your own risk. With the work environment changing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, reaching audiences in their own homes, on personal devices, at all times of the day and night has never been so important.

If you need a better understanding of social media innovation, get in touch with Rachel Arquati for a frank discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of expanding into new platforms.

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