Are they copying… again!
TikTok has taken the world by storm since its inception a mere 5 years ago. It might not seem like such a long time, but in a world where things happen instantly and people can shoot to stardom overnight, it’s been ages. TikTok has survived its share of strife, from originally being banned in India, to facing ban threats in the USA which caused many creators to start looking for alternate platforms, to being banned in Pakistan… twice. The app has very quickly and rightfully taken up its place in the upper echelons of social media. As one would expect, the competing platforms wouldn’t and didn’t rest on their laurels.
Why is TikTok unique
In a very simplified definition, TikTok is short-form videos consumed primarily on a smartphone. That definition though doesn’t even scratch the surface of why the platform is so successful. This app is mostly used by the Gen Z generation that has mostly grown up not knowing a reality without smartphones and social media. TikTok content is predominantly quick to view and highly entertaining, though young people have used it to send political and social messages. The complete focus on video content, with possibly some writing on the video, increases the ease and speed with which content can be digested. As with other platforms, content is viewed on your feed, but the content you see is not just cultivated according to your “friends” or who you are “following”. The recommendation algorithm more closely resembles Netflix than any other social media platform.
TikTok also invested time into monetizing the app for creators. All of these are contributing factors to why TikTok became so popular so fast and also why the established social media platforms took note and started competing at TikTok’s level.
Others catch up
Nothing is new for long and when a new trend (or platform) becomes popular, it will undoubtedly get copied as well. This has been true for the audio trends that hit platforms this year and it is just as true for TikTok. Instagram, owned by Facebook, already has a Reel feature that is almost an exact copy of TikTok’s medium – short videos that take over your screen. In July Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, stated that Instagram is “no longer a photo-sharing app” – a strong statement for an app that had its focus on photo-sharing as its defining feature. He clarified the statement by also tweeting that Instagram was leaning in to video but that they are not abandoning photos.
Facebook copying other apps is not a new strategy for them and the question has even been asked if Facebook’s success is built on these decisions to copying competitors. With potentially a much bigger budget for innovation and expansion, and a well-established user base (it remains the most-used social media platform worldwide) it stands to reason that Facebook is in a prime spot to take good ideas and make them explode on its platform. The most popular example of this is probably Facebook Stories, a great copy of Snapchat optimized for Facebook’s platforms after Facebook had tried to buy the platform with disappearing stories.
Now Facebook strikes again as it starts to test its Reel feature in Facebook. For now, it will only be available in the USA. Facebook is also capitalizing on the interoperability with Instagram and Reels created there can be shared to Facebook. The social media giant recognizing the different types of audiences on the two platforms, though, and want Reels to be optimized for these differences.
Should copying cause concern?
We should not be worried that social media platforms are all just becoming copies of each other. While Facebook may have copied the short-form videos made popular by TikTok, it is not another TikTok. Nor is TikTok trying to compete with Facebook as another iteration of it. These apps have their own following of people that prefer one over the other for various reasons. Competition and even the copying of features spearheaded by other apps is the birthplace of invention and providing users with the features they need to stay connected. What’s more, short-form videos have emerged as a major marketing and communications preference, so whether Facebook copied a popularized version of it or not, it would simply be silly for them not to tap into that media format.
Facebook has been confronted over these copying activities to the point that Zuckerberg had to appear in an antitrust hearing where he was questioned about the boxing out of competitors and its abuse of market power. In the same hearing, Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram is characterized as an attempt to avoid competing with the platform to Facebook’s detriment. Zuckerberg, of course, did not agree with this characterization.
Regardless of our own opinions on this matter, apps like TikTok, Snapchat, and Clubhouse have all proven that even if other big platforms do copy their ideas and features, these apps are here to stay and provide different and new ways of expressing oneself, it can even become a platform to create a career on.