Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth surpassed $100 billion for the first time on Thursday after the company released its TikTok competitor, Reels.
Optimism in Facebook Inc. hit record levels following the release of the new Instagram feature which comes as TikTok faces a possible ban in the U.S. as the Trump administration cracks down on China.
Zuckerberg, 36, joins fellow tech colossi Jeff Besoz, founder and CEO of Amazon, and Bill Gates of Microsoft, as the only people in the world who currently have centibillionaire status (worth over $100bn), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The CEO co-founded Facebook from his Harvard dorm room in 2004, and still owns a 13% stake in the company while holding the position of the company’s chairman and controlling shareholder.
Stock in Facebook Inc. climbed by 6.5 per cent on Thursday, the day after it launched Reels on Instagram. The company itself is currently valued at roughly $720 billion.
The founders of America’s largest tech firms have seen huge levels of wealth accumulation this year during the coronavirus pandemic, which has driven more people than ever online.
Despite the U.S. economy contracting at a record rate, Zuckerberg has seen his wealth increase by $22 billion this year. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, has gained more than $75 billion.
The country’s largest American tech companies – Facebook Inc, Apple, Amazon.com Inc., Alphabet and Microsoft Corp. – currently have market valuations equivalent to around 30% of U.S. gross domestic product – nearly double the levels in 2018.
The new Instagram Reels feature will let users record and edit 15-second videos with audio, and will let users add visual effects. Users will be able to share Reels with followers in Instagram in a dedicated section called Reels in Explore, or in the Story feature where posts disappear after 24 hours.
The Reels option will be available in the Instagram app. The company has been testing Reels in Brazil since November and in France, Germany and India since earlier this summer.
Facebook has a long tradition of cloning competitive services. The Instagram ‘Story’ feature, which lets people share photos and videos that expire in 24 hours, is similar to Snapchat. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced tough questioning about the company’s habit of copying rivals before a congressional hearing on July 29.
Facebook earlier launched a TikTok knockoff called Lasso in 2018, but closed that down in July. It also tried services similar to Snapchat called Slingshot and Poke before Instagram Stories caught on. But those were separate apps – it might have more success with a feature built into Instagram.
In fact, copying Snapchat’s features was successful for Instagram in part because Snapchat was difficult to figure out for new users.
They were already comfortable with Instagram. But TikTok is very easy to use – easier than Instagram – and part of its appeal is that you’re able to sit back and scroll endlessly with just swipes, without the need to follow anyone or post anything.
Even with the success of Stories, Snapchat remains popular with younger people, though the Instagram feature has likely limited its growth. Snapchat has more daily users than Twitter.
For Reels to succeed, Facebook will have to lure video creators away from TikTok. This might be easier to do with Reels since many creators are already on Instagram.
In response to published reports that Instagram is paying TikTok influencers to join Reels, Instagram said in a statement that the company ‘have a long history of reaching out to emerging creators and working to break new stars on Instagram.’
‘As with previous products, we remain committed to investing in both our creators and their overall experience, and in certain cases, we may help cover production costs for their creative ideas,’ the company said.
TikTok, in turn, launched a $200 million ‘creator fund’ in July that it says will grow to over $1 billion in the U.S. in the next three years and more than double that globally, to pay video creators for their material.
TikTok, however, is under fire, possibly opening an opportunity for Facebook.
Microsoft is in talks to buy part of TikTok in what would be a forced sale, following threats from President Donald Trump to ban the Chinese-owned video app, which claims 100 million U.S. users and hundreds of millions globally.
Experts think Facebook has an opportunity to lure in young users with Reels, but its success is not guaranteed.
‘Social media users, especially younger users, tend to use social platforms for different things,’ said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson.
This means Snapchat to message friends privately, Facebook to keep up with school groups or check up on parents and grandparents, Instagram to follow their passions and TikTok for entertainment.
‘Instagram has put a lot of effort into developing Reels and making it attractive to TikTok users and the creators who work on the app, but I’m not sure it can replace TikTok,’ Williamson added.
‘Even if TikTok were to be banned in the U.S. (which I think is unlikely to happen), users would find a way to keep using it. They are incredibly loyal and protective of TikTok.’
Since early July, some TikTok users have been posting videos urging viewers to follow them to other platforms like Instagram, reflecting the threat of a TikTok ban.
Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO at the influencer marketing agency Takumi, said the creators she works with have been sad, angry and upset about the threat of a ban. Still, they’re ‘pragmatic,’ she said, and the smart ones were already active on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
Reels is debuting in over 50 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Japan, Australia and others, as well as officially launching in the test countries – Brazil, France, Germany and India.
Instagram has more than a billion users worldwide.