Short Video Race: Facebook, YouTube Gear Up To Challenge TikTok

A leaked internal memo from Facebook has revealed their plans to make the platform more like TikTok.

Tech News
4 min read

An internal memo from April that was sent out to Facebook employees by Meta Executive Tom Alison has shed light on the social media giant’s plans to take on TikTok.

These plans reportedly include significant changes to Facebook’s discovery and recommendation algorithm, greater integration of Instagram and Facebook, and a greater focus on reels.

Meanwhile, YouTube, which entered the short video race with its 'Shorts' feature has seen immense success in India. It is now reportedly looking to translate that to the US, where TikTok reigns supreme.


The Threat Posed by TikTok

The Facebook memo, obtained by The Verge, was sent out to employees by Tom Alison. In it, Alison outlined the goals to make changes to Facebook to put the platform in a stronger competitive position against TikTok.

This move, which parallels Facebook’s earlier strategies of adopting a ‘stories’ feature in response to the rapid growth of Snapchat, is an effort to establish the platform as a medium for discovering and consuming short-form content.

TikTok has become one of the fastest-growing social media platforms ever. With a reported user base of over 1 billion, the platform has changed the face of the online landscape with its focus on short-form content and unique recommendation algorithm.

It has grown into a strong competitor in the social media arena, challenging Facebook’s long-standing dominance. Meta had already acknowledged the rising popularity of short-form content when they introduced reels to Instagram.

Since then, the company has been keeping a keen eye on TikTok’s moves, worried that they were not doing enough to compete. In a discussion with CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year, Meta executives decided that it was time to give the Facebook feed an overhaul.

Data from Sensor Tower shows that TikTok was downloaded 20 percent more than Facebook and 21 percent more than Instagram. User data also indicates that the average user’s time spent on TikTok far exceeds their time spent on Facebook.

These statistics have certainly been a source of concern for Facebook, and it is now that the platform needs to adapt to the modern social media environment if it wants to compete.

A Facelift, New Recommendations System for FB

In an interview with The Verge, Alison stated that one of their main goals with this redesign was to build a ‘discovery engine’ which would help users discover content that suited them.

One of the main ways in which Facebook is planning to mimic TikTok is by increasing content recommendations from ‘unconnected sources’ i.e., from accounts not followed by the user.

At present, only 11 percent of the average Facebook feed comes from unconnected sources. The company plans to enhance their AI to increase the amount of content from these sources so that the user has access to a wider variety of content on their feed.

Facebook’s mobile app interface will be getting a major redesign. The main tab will feature a mix of Reels and Stories at the top, followed by posts curated by the discovery engine as the user scrolls down.

There will be increased integration between Instagram and Facebook, with content on the feed being pulled from both platforms. The user experience will be highly visual and video-centric. These are calculated moves with the end goal of offering a similar user experience to what TikTok’s ‘For You Page’ offers.

Alongside these changes, Facebook is looking to enable greater connectivity and interaction between users. The home page will feature more prominent prompts to share posts with friends, and a dedicated tab to view posts and content made by friends.

To further emphasise the social aspect, Facebook has made the bold decision to undo its 2011 decision to separate its chat feature from the main app.

Users’ Messenger inboxes will now be brought into the main app, with the messaging feature being accessible at the top right of the screen. Alison put great emphasis on these goals to make the platform more social, saying.


YouTube Looks To Translate India Success

The rise of TikTok has resulted in an explosion of short-form content all across the internet. YouTube has also cashed in on this phenomenon with its immensely popular YouTube Shorts feature.

The rapid growth of YouTube Shorts globally is largely attributed to its success in India. Many international content creators have over 80 percent of their audience based in India, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

YouTube shorts began to gain traction in India right around the time when TikTok was banned by the government. The timing was opportune for YouTube’s new short-form video offering.

TikTok’s Indian user base of over 200 million was left with few alternatives when the ban was enforced in June 2020. YouTube shorts proceeded to fill the void left by TikTok, and is currently the most popular medium for the consumption of short-form content.

YouTube has now reportedly set its sights on the US, where TikTok remains the most popular short-form video platform for users, creators, and advertisers alike. Data platform company Inmar Intelligence reports that American companies consider YouTube Shorts the second most lucrative market for advertising after TikTok.

Being unable to employ its usual monetisation system for short, portrait-mode videos, YouTube had created a $100 million fund to reward content creators on the platform for making original Shorts.

Though it may not act as a stable source of income for creators, it has aided thousands of them in getting their channels discovered and promoting their other socials. YouTube has also taken a page from TikTok’s book by adding filters, effects, and even a ‘green screen’ feature.

(With inputs from The Wall Street Journal and The Verge)

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