Credit: Emma Bentley on TikTok

The growing popularity of social video platforms like TikTok has prompted more publishers and social channels to beef up their video offering. 

Some news organisations were quick to jump on the bandwagon and those who did so early on are now basking in the glory of their success.

For instance, after heavily investing in in-house social video production, News UK has reported a seven-figure incremental revenue stream. The Washington Post, which was among the first major legacy newspapers to create a dedicated TikTok channel, now has more than half a million followers. The Guardian’s Fake or for Real series on Instagram Stories, created in 2016 amid the 'fake news' phenomenon, is still going strong, helping the publisher attract younger audiences.

The rise of Instagram as a news source

Most people who use social media for news choose Facebook, although Twitter is well-known for breaking stories. That may soon change as Instagram is expected to overtake Twitter as a news source, especially among the 18-24s.

Social media industry commentator Matt Navarra believes this is down to factors such as Twitter’s poor ad targeting and Instagram’s appeal to a wider audience, as well as the rising popularity of video content. 

"There is a threat to Twitter’s dominance of news," he says.

"Video content continues to grow year-on-year, and Facebook and Instagram are pretty good at rolling out their innovative features." 

Reels vs TikTok

Instagram’s latest social video feature Reels has launched last week amidst uncertainty surrounding the future of TikTok because of ban threats and talks of acquisition by Microsoft.

However, Emma Bentley, BBC camera journalist and TikTok creator, does not think there is much comparison between the two.

"TikTok is miles ahead, it’s so much easier to use and much sleeker,” she says.

According to Navarra, one of Reel’s advantages is its ability to tap into the pool of Instagram’s existing users but the app also risks becoming overcrowded new features.

Another big portion of TikTok’s success that Reels may struggle to compete with is its democratic algorithm: TikTok first tests a new video on a small slice of users and if they engage with the content by, for example, watching it in full or sharing, the video then gets distributed more widely.

"Reels will ultimately be successful and more successful than maybe some are giving it credit for but that success will come at least 18-to-24 months down the line," says Navarra.

Reels is part of an ongoing trend to cater for the growing demand of short-form video, with other platforms such as Triller and Byte (a successor to Vine) trying to get their share of the market. Google-owned YouTube is also decreasing its minimum length for monetisation from ten-to-eight minutes, so Navarra predicts "more short-form video in 2021." 

Although this trend is here to stay for the foreseeable future, the platforms we use and consume it on may change. Navarra predicts a rise of TikTok clones in the next couple of years, which may become successful by appealing to different audiences or coming up with new features.

Show me the money  

So the popularity of social video is expected to grow but the real question is whether it is viable as a revenue stream. Many publishers are still recovering from the Facebook-driven push into video that has caused huge revenue and job losses, especially in the US, and may not be keen to dive head-first into the TikTok craze.

Although uncertain whether social video will be profitable overall, Navarra points out that branded video content, for the likes of Business Insider and BuzzFeed, has been an important revenue driver.

"Publications should be looking for any and all revenue stream opportunities to find the thing that is going to really click with people," he says, adding that the video features and monetisation options launched by Instagram and Facebook show that they are geared towards video content, both short and long. 

But Bentley does not think that social video will kill the proverbial radio star, nor written or TV news content.

"Some people will perhaps migrate from articles to videos but there still is going to be people who want to get news in a more traditional way."

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