Facebook is apparently considering another option to ratchet up the pressure on TikTok, this time by enabling Instagram users who are posting Reels to also enable those Reels clips to be viewable on Facebook, with the potential of being shown in both the News Feed and in Facebook Watch.
As you can see in this screenshot, posted by Alessandro Paluzzi, Instagram is testing a new option which would enable Reels to be 'recommended' within Facebook News Feeds, in addition to within Instagram itself.
That could point to new Reels promotion opportunities on Facebook, significantly boosting your potential audience reach. Imagine a Reels highlight panel within the News Feed, or a dedicated Reels listing within Facebook Watch. There's not much to go on as yet, but it could be another way to boost Reels exposure, providing more opportunities for creators, which may help Facebook lure more of them across from TikTok itself.
Which, interestingly, Facebook could come under more pressure itself for as a result of the latest legal action in the US.
Earlier this week, the FTC filed a new lawsuit which states that Facebook has, over time, "engaged in a systematic strategy to eliminate threats to its monopoly". The suit claims that Facebook's moves to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp are key examples of this in action, but Facebook has also sought to quell opposition from Snapchat, TikTok and others, through various means.
Which Facebook has denied, saying that its acquisition strategy has been driven by mutually beneficial growth opportunities. But given its actions, it's difficult to argue that Facebook doesn't utilize its scale to blunt the momentum of competing apps.
Reels itself illustrates this - Instagram recently launched Reels, which it has acknowledged came as a result of TikTok's rising popularity.
Instagram first launched Reels in India, less than a week after the Indian Government announced a ban on TikTok due to its Chinese ownership. At that time, TikTok had over 200 million users in India, and Facebook took the opportunity, through Reels, to snap up as many of those orphaned users as it could, before expanding Reels more broadly.
It'd be difficult to argue that this effort was not intended to negate TikTok's growth - but is that anti-competitive, or is it just logical business practice? Users are showing more interest in a new function, which Facebook can also provide. Why wouldn't it add the same?
This is one of the key questions that'll be at the core of the new investigation, which will raise examine not only Facebook's strategic approach, but how it uses its market power to heap pressure on competing apps.
Facebook currently serves more than 3.2 billion monthly active users across its family of apps, which is well beyond the reach of any other platform. In fact, YouTube is the only other social app, outside of China's WeChat, to have more than a billion users.
Using its massive scale, Facebook, through tools like Reels, is able to introduce copycat functionalities to a lot more people, in a lot more regions, and essentially beat out these smaller players through reach and exposure. Why would people bother to download a new app, and start a whole new network of their family and friends, if they can use the same tools in the apps they already have profiles and presences on?
This is the same approach Facebook took combat the rise of Snapchat, focusing on Snapchat's Stories functionality, which it also replicated on Instagram.
That came after Snap rejected a takeover offer from Facebook, as detailed by Forbes:
"When Spiegel showed up with his cofounder Bobby Murphy, who serves as Snapchat's chief technology officer, Zuckerberg had a specific agenda ready. He tried to draw out the partners' vision for Snapchat - and he described Facebook's new product, Poke, a mobile app for sharing photos and making them disappear. It would debut in a matter of days. And in case there was any nuance missed, Zuckerberg would soon change the large sign outside its Silicon Valley campus from its iconic thumbs-up "like" symbol to the Poke icon. Remembers Spiegel: “It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you.’”
That 'crush you' quote is what this latest lawsuit will need to examine. Is Facebook a monopolistic entity determined to crush all competitors, or is it operating within normal competitive bounds, in working to maintain its market share?
Definitely, in Snapchat's case, that effort had an impact. Following the release of Instagram Stories in August 2016, Snapchat's growth momentum slowed, and even receded in early 2018 as the app sought to re-establish its footing. That's not entirely attributable to the rise of Instagram Stories, but the two trends do correlate.
Now Facebook appears to be following the same playbook with Reels, and by making them available on Facebook, as well as Instagram, that could introduce Reels to a much larger audience, with a view to quelling TikTok's growth by stopping Facebook users from drifting.
Is this an example of anti-competitive behavior? Of Facebook looking to 'crush a competitor through scale?
Essentially, the core question is whether Facebook is being targeted with this new legal action because it's now growing too big, and regulators are growing concerned. Or is the company actually utilizing anti-competitive tactics, and restricting market innovation and opportunity as a result.
There's a lot to consider, and no one seems to know which way it will go. But going on this test, Facebook doesn't appear to be changing up its strategy as yet.