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Big Instagram and TikTok changes mean you’ll see longer videos, fewer friends

Move to allow longer videos means the apps might show you more ads

The TikTok effect could lead to more videos from influencers in social apps like Instagram. (Hollie Adams/Bloomberg News)
3 min

Your social media apps like TikTok and Instagram will look more and more alike as the companies behind them add longer and bigger videos to turn content into cash.

TikTok is giving users the option to film and share up to three minutes of video — much more time than its original 60-second limit — in a move it says will allow for better storytelling and more entertainment. The announcement comes after the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, said in a video posted on Twitter earlier this week that Instagram will start showing recommended, full-screen videos on users’ feeds alongside photos and videos from people they know. Instagram, owned by Facebook, already shows recommended photos in feeds, and the platform allows for both 15- and 30-second video reels as well as longer live videos, which can last up to four hours but which viewers must watch in real time.

For the hundreds of millions of users on Instagram and TikTok, longer and more frequent videos mean more time watching, but also potentially more ads and sponsored content that you may not want to sit through. On Instagram, you may also have less control over what you see in your feed — plenty of the videos you’re served will be from accounts you don’t follow. And longer TikTok videos may change the rapid-fire rhythm the app became known for.

The moves are reflective of large social media companies adding and emulating features that have become popular with consumers and worked well for their competitors. When this week’s changes take effect, Instagram will look more like TikTok, and TikTok more like YouTube. Instagram already took steps to add favorite features from other platforms when it debuted Snapchat-like stories in 2016. Twitter and Facebook both rolled out audio chatrooms earlier this year after audio app Clubhouse became popular during the pandemic.

But this app-melding doesn’t always pay off. Many Twitter users, for instance, opt for threading tweets together rather than taking advantage of the extended character limit the company rolled out in 2017. Instead, people with a lot to say may find themselves on a blogging or newsletter site like Substack — or good old Facebook.

Facebook, Instagram will let you hide ‘likes.’ If you want.

As for Instagram, Mosseri said the move to expand video formats on the platform was because he no longer viewed Instagram as a square photo-sharing app. He said that competition from TikTok and YouTube is fueling the increased focus on video.

TikTok has exploded to the top of the social media game with short-form videos, a modern interface and a scary-good algorithm. In May, it topped Sensor Tower’s top worldwide apps list with more than 80 million downloads. Instagram racked up just 11 million, in comparison.

Meanwhile, Instagram stories are full of content dragged and dropped from TikTok. To keep up, Instagram has to convince its audience — and its advertisers — that its videos are worth some extra time on the app.

“Let’s be honest, there is some really serious competition right now. TikTok is huge, YouTube is even bigger and there’s lots of other upstarts as well,” Mosseri said in the video. “So people are looking to Instagram to be entertained, there’s stiff competition and there’s more to do and we have to embrace that.”

He added that video is driving “an immense amount of growth online for all the major platforms right now and it’s one that I think we need to lean into more.”

Instagram owner Facebook has been facing antitrust lawsuits on allegations that the social media giant is a monopoly. But a Washington federal judge on Monday handed Facebook a major victory in its battle against government regulators, dismissing two antitrust lawsuits.

Longer, more prominent video content is undoubtedly a good thing for content creators and social media advertisers. But will users stick around for longer video content on TikTok and more frequent video interruptions on Instagram?

Instagram and TikTok declined to comment when asked how longer videos would contribute to their monetization goals.

For Melissa Henderson of Rochester, N.Y., who uses both TikTok and Instagram, the advantages of longer videos aren’t so clear. Short-form videos were a fun thing to browse on TikTok, not something Henderson wanted to see everywhere, said the 21-year-old.

“I love consuming content on [TikTok and YouTube], but I like to separate the media I indulge in,” Henderson said. “Like, ‘Oh, my cousin graduated, I want to go see the photo on Instagram.’ ”

TikTok made a name for itself on short, easy-to-watch clips. And Instagram’s static photos of carefully arranged charcuterie spreads and perfectly flicked eyeliner made it both a punchline and a relaxing place to scroll.

“It’s kind of taking away the voice of smaller creatives on the platform,” said Henderson. “Photos have been universally known as the way we share our hobbies, and Instagram is the main platform for that. It’s becoming a platform we don’t want.”