Report Claims ‘Most Reels Users Have No Engagement Whatsoever’

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An Iphone screen displaying the icons for TikTok and Instagram apps

Instagram users have not sunk their teeth into Instagram’s TikTok-like Reels as much as Meta has wanted them to, according to reported internal documents.
Photo: Koshiro K (Shutterstock)

Instagram looks a lot more like TikTok as of late, but that radical metamorphosis and new focus on short-form video hasn’t translated into TikTok’s ludicrous viewership numbers.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that it had seen copies of internal research documents titled “Creators x Reels State of the Union 2022” which was released in August. That report apparently said that Instagram users are not spending much time watching these short-form videos, and even worse, “most Reels users have no engagement whatsoever.”

The Journals reported that users are spending less than 17.6 million hours a day getting their fix of Reels. Meanwhile, TikTok users spend 197.8 million hours on the short-form video centric platform, 10 times as much as those watching on Meta’s apps.

And the company is reportedly putting a big part of the blame on its lack of content creators and influencers making use of Reels. Of the 11 million users named creators on Instagram in the U.S., just 2.3 million post each month, according to the Journal citing internal documents.

The report also noted a third of all Reels were originally created on other sites, especially TikTok, and they still bear the other app’s watermark. And still, even though the platform has paid Reels creators a total of $120 million so far, that’s far shy of their planned total payouts of $1 billion by the end of this year, though that number may also not account for payouts to Facebook content creators.

In response to Gizmodo’s request for comment, a Meta spokesperson wrote:

“This story uses outdated and, in some cases, incorrect data to paint a false picture of our progress on Reels. We still have work to do, but creators and businesses are seeing promising results and our monetization growth is faster than we expected as more people are watching, creating and connecting through Reels than ever before.”

We reached back to Meta to ask which data points shown by the Journal’s report were inaccurate and if they had more up-to-date information to share. The spokesperson said they were unable to share new data, but continued to add that reported total hour viewership data was “not global data, and is outdated. It’s not reflective of growth trends, and is a moment-in-time snapshot blown out of proportion.” The spokesperson similarly painted other data points inaccurate or misleading.

It seems nobody can knock the TikTok app’s dominance. Recent reports out of Meta show that platforms like Facebook are often used for reposting links for content found originally on TikTok. A good portion of the most-viewed content on Facebook were old clips of memes nobody under a certain age cares much about. Not only are apps like Instagram and Facebook struggling to get content creators to set up shop, they have a problem with their users clicking links that will take them off-platform and straight into the arms of their biggest rival apps.

Instagram’s Chief Operating Officer Justin Osofsky told the paper that they were seeing “good promise in the rollout of reels” but they still know they have work to do. Reels makes up more than half of the content seen in private messages, Osofsky told the Journal.

Meta jammed Reels into both Facebook and Instagram over the past few months, and the rollout hasn’t exactly been smooth. Some users were none too happy about the social platforms’ attempts at copying TikTok. One viral campaign and its accompanying meme complaining about platform changes were shared millions of times and even got pickup from the likes of Kylie Jenner. Meta temporarily stalled any new updates while it investigated why their community was so damn upset. At the end of August, Meta announced it would be revising its Reels rollout to give users back some control over what they see in their feed.

Adam Mosseri, Meta’s head of Instagram, said in a video that the company had gone too far, too quickly into video but insisted “we still believe video is a long-term important trend.”

Meta lost out on quite a lot of money after the likes of Apple changed its privacy policy to curb its app’s ability to target users with ads. Still, Meta platforms do extremely well with their ads, even with setbacks. Instagram itself made approximately $21 billion in revenue in 2021, according analytics firm Bernstein Research.

Meta itself recently reported a decline in revenue, and with how popular TikTok has become, of course Meta thinks the only way forward is to bite off a piece of the ByteDance-owned social media app. And for as much heat as it’s already taken, Meta’s set itself on this path, come hell or high water. Short form video is the future, and it doesn’t matter which app Instagram needs to copy in order to give itself staying power and continue financing Meta’s foray into “The Metaverse.”



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