As Instagram reveals plans to pivot towards immersive video and sound syncing, AU Editorial Director Sarah Macrae unpacks the cultural impact of TikTok and explains what brands can learn from copycat features and the “birthplace of culture”.

It’s pretty wild to think that TikTok only launched in Australia in 2019. In just three years, it’s made more of a dent in the zeitgeist than most brands do in a decade.  

Stats from our Digital 2022 Australia Report show that Australian users now spend more time on TikTok than they do on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram. But, whether you have the app or not, you can’t avoid its influence. 

From feta pasta and salmon rice bowls to #BookTok and No Bones Day or phrases such as ‘Tell me without telling me’ and ‘living rent free in my head,’ TikTok is the undisputed birthplace of culture right now. All these trends – many of which people learnt about away from the app – started on TikTok or were amplified to viral status thanks to the platform.

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg conceded that Meta faces an “unprecedented level of competition” from TikTok and barely a week goes by without a headline about platforms pivoting towards short-form videos and in-app editing features that TikTok has pioneered. 

The state of (video) play on the platforms

In May, Instagram’s Adam Mosseri announced that the app would be testing a new immersive in-feed viewing experience for photos and videos, making them full-screen like we’re used to seeing on TikTok. 

Last week, Meta followed up with more updates to Instagram Reels, which rolled out in 2020 as the platform’s short-form video offering. Users can now make 90-second Reels and utilise Templates that make content creation quicker, removing the need to manually edit each clip to sync with an audio track. Popular interactive features from Stories (such as polls, quizzes and emoji sliders) will be available to use on Reels too. 

On the Facebook front, Reels is getting Sound Sync, which will allow users to auto sync audio with footage as they do on TikTok, and the ability to add voiceover to videos.

Last month, Google announced that it will be rolling out YouTube Shorts – its 15-60 second video feature – globally. It also announced a Green Screen tool that allows creators to use up to 60 seconds of any YouTube or YouTube Shorts video as the background for their Shorts video. This is similar to TikTok’s Green Screen Duet feature, which launched in May last year. 

Twitter has also rolled out a TikTok-esque update to its Explore page featuring a ‘For you’ vertical feed prioritising video content and serving tweets tailored to people’s noted interests. The Trending section still exists, but the new addition has drawn parallels to TikTok’s famous For You page.

So, what does this imitation game mean for brands?

  1. We can’t ignore TikTok’s impact on culture. Even if it’s not part of your channel plan or your brand doesn’t have a presence on the platform, it pays to use TikTok as a vibe check and cultural barometer when looking for consumer insights.
  2. Despite crossovers in UX and functions, different social platforms still attract different audiences and serve different purposes, so it’s important to identify the role of channels and create original content that’s tailored to each platform and adds value. Instagram has publicly said it prioritises original content so don’t simply repurpose TikToks everywhere!
  3. Work with the platforms. They want their new updates to be successful so test new features and executions when they launch and the algorithm will likely reward you. If you take one thing away from this, it’s that all platforms are prioritising short-form video right now in a bid to emulate TikTok’s success, so make sure that’s a big part of your social media strategy moving forward. 

Keen to learn more about TikTok? Check out some case studies of our client work:

Sarah Macrae is the Editorial Director at We Are Social (Sydney). We Are Social works with TikTok, but all views expressed are the author’s own.