YouTube, not content with reaching more people aged 18-49 than any major cable network, is stepping up its attempts to engage its users with a rash of new features designed to improve the social experience on the channel. The first new toy YouTube is set to introduce is a feature called “Reels,” which will essentially function in the same way “stories” do on Snapchat. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea – aping Snapchat for social-sharing concepts – even if YouTube is a little late to the party. A New York Times’ article from earlier this month classed Snapchat’s stock value above Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Netflix. And since the app has 150 million users a day and is gaining ground with users over thirty-five, the relative latecomer to the social-media stage might be proving a rival for the established entities, like YouTube and Facebook.
The reels feature will differentiate itself from how stories function, though how long individual reels will last and how many people subscribed and active on YouTube will use them remains to be seen. (They will likely last longer than a Snapchat story, however.)
Furthermore, YouTube is also planning a “Community” tab, that NBA star Kevin Durant teased a few days ago. Its aim is to “let creators engage with followers through text, video, and photos.”
That seems to be the key to YouTube’s new paradigm: engagement. Whether you’re searching for NBA highlights or you’re curious about finding business loans for women in your area, every social-media platform is looking not only to grab your attention but to retain your presence on their site. That’s why Facebook has taken the initiative to introduce Facebook Live. And it’s one reason why Twitter has expanded their character limit, and why YouTube is currently taking the steps to expand their empire into the realm currently occupied by Snapchat. The more diverse the social media platform, the higher the likelihood of retaining an audience.
Funny enough, in a study from 2015, Facebook was head and shoulders above their competitors – especially Snapchat – in retaining visitors. After a ninety-day period, ninety-eight percent of people who had downloaded the Facebook app still used it at the end of that time frame. However, less than a third of those who had downloaded Snapchat still used the app at the end of ninety days.
So is YouTube making a wise decision in opting for Snapchat-style reels, or are they better served to continue with projects like YouTube Red, and creating original content in the same way that Netflix and Hulu do?
In the end, the reel might play the role of splitting the difference between Snapchat’s quickly-fading stories, and the hard-boiled (by comparison) content that Netflix and other streaming services offer. Ideally, YouTube would like the reel to feature as a more accessible alternative to the process of uploading a full video to the site. And anything that allows more videos to be uploaded by more people would seemingly be a good thing for YouTube.