Instagram is trying out another way to refine its Reels recommendations, with some users now able to add topics to their Reels uploads, in order to better categorize their clips.

Instagram Reels add topics

As you can see in this image, posted by user Jacki Pitkow (and shared by Matt Navarra), the new ‘Topics’ option aims to help you reach other users ‘who share your interests’.

That could provide another way for Instagram to showcase your content to a more engaged, interested audience, which could help to boost your Reels performance, and help you connect with more people who are interested in your brand/content.

It could also help Instagram refine its Reels recommendation systems, which is a key focus for the app at present.

Instagram, of course, really wants you to watch more Reels, which is why you’re constantly seeing Reels inserted into every element of the app.

I mean, it has scaled this back a little bit, after users got annoyed by its initial Reels flood. But even so, with Reels already taking up 20% of all time spent in the app, and rising, Instagram is very keen to show users more Reels content, based increasingly on AI recommendations, as a means to maximize engagement and fend off competition for attention from TikTok.

But as Instagram Chief Adam Mosseri notes, it hasn’t worked out its recommendations engine just yet:

“When you discover something in your feed that you didn’t follow before, there should be a high bar — you should be delighted to see it. And I don’t think that’s happening enough right now.”

‘Delighted’ is indeed a high bar, especially for an app like Instagram, which, thus far, has required explicit user input to define their home feed. Now, Instagram’s trying to go the TikTok route, but whether it can actually do it will come down to two key questions:

  1. Can Instagram actually create an algorithmic recommendations system that’s on par with TikTok, which is increasingly good at identifying user interests, and re-aligning its ‘For You’ around them in real time?
  2. Do Instagram users actually want that?

The first comes down to how well IG can identify objects and elements in each video, then align them to user interests. TikTok’s system is very good at entity detection, which, really, is the secret sauce of the app.

But the second is likely a bigger challenge – while people might end up spending more time watching Reels, because Instagram is wedging them into every gap and free space that it can find in the app, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re enjoying them.

There are likely two camps here – one would be the people who refuse to download TikTok, and who like Reels because, to them, it’s a fresh, fast take on video trends. The other would be people who do use TikTok, and who largely don’t like seeing Instagram become more and more like the short-form video app.

The Venn diagram of these groups will likely define Instagram’s success either way, though it does make sense that, if it can get its recommendations right, that could help facilitate more Reels take-up.

Which is why it’s looking for more markers, more indicators, more signals that it can use to refine its recommendation algorithms to make Reels the most compelling TikTok alternative that it can be.

While at the same time, you can bet that Meta’s army of lobbyists are bending ears in Washington, calling for more regulatory action to be taken against the Chinese-owned app.

On balance, I don’t think that Instagram can catch TikTok in this respect – but if TikTok were suddenly out of the picture, it could become the best alternative to take its place

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