TikTok, the social media platform taking over the world, has a new rival in the form of Instagram Reels. Going head-to-head against TikTok has divided content creators, but can the two platforms co-exist?
So what’s Instagram Reels?
In July 2020, Instagram rolled out its new Reels feature to users in India, with other parts of the world receiving the update the following month. Reels allows users to create videos up to 15 seconds long using filters, text and (most importantly) other people’s audio. Sound familiar? Reels has been touted by critics as a “TikTok competitor”, using a lot of the same features such as short-form videos and choosing popular songs to add to your content.
On paper, it sounds like the perfect time to launch Instagram Reels. US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to ban TikTok, suggesting the app handles user data poorly and risks seeing US citizens’ information falling into the hands of China’s government. If TikTok were to be banned, users would have a few places to go. One option is Byte, a creation from the people behind now-defunct video platform Vine. Another is Instagram Reels, which has a more advantageous position; many of TikTok’s users are already on Instagram.
How are people reacting to Instagram Reels?
Instagram’s newest feature has been met with a mixed reception from creators. Some are seeing the benefits of sharing their content on two similar platforms, especially those who spend hours writing, filming and editing videos. For these creators, repurposing their content for Reels (whether it’s posting the same video across both channels or editing it to fit Reels’ 15-second max length) means their video will reach even more people.
On the other hand, not everyone is sold on Reels. 75% of TikTok creators said they wouldn’t move to Instagram Reels, citing similarities to TikTok as their main reason for not jumping ship. It takes a lot to get someone to change their primary platform, and when you consider TikTok’s runaway success and continued growth, the hesitation is understandable.
It’s understandable why people may be hesitant to leave TikTok for Instagram Reels. The latter lacks many features of the former, most notably the For You page which delivers videos based on what the app thinks you like. If you watch a lot of cat videos, your For You Page will populate itself with even more cat videos. In contrast, Reels are mainly served via your own feed and the Explore page, which only shows a handful of (sometimes seemingly random) Reels mixed in with other content.
This takes us to another reason people aren’t resonating with Reels; it makes the Instagram app feel bloated. What was once a photo and video sharing platform now has Stories for spontaneous updates, IGTV for long-form videos, an expanded messaging service and now Reels for short-form videos. If users are spending ages curating amazing feeds and keeping Stories updated, will they also want to share Reels on a regular basis? Will they fit with their other content?
One of the most interesting developments with the launch of Instagram Reels has been creators uploading their TikTok videos directly to Reels. TikTok’s clever idea to put their logo and people’s usernames on downloaded videos means even when someone’s watching the video on Reels, it keeps their mind on TikTok. On the flip side, it means a lot of audio from TikTok can now be used on Instagram Reels; if the former falls out of fashion, the latter can easily pick things up.
How have brands started using Instagram Reels, and how does it compare to TikTok?
The 15-second limit for Reels may be a lot less than TikTok’s 60-second limit, but that doesn’t mean brands are struggling to make the most of the platform. Netflix’s comedy account, Netflix Is A Joke, uploads snippets of stand-up performances from the likes of Pete Davidson and Dave Chappelle. The channel already uploads longer stand-up segments to IGTV, and Reels contrasts that by focusing on a single joke by a comic.
Using Instagram Reels is a great tactic for Netflix to entice people towards IGTV, followed by watching the full comedy show on Netflix. Their Instagram presence is also far larger than their TikTok presence; Netflix only has a single TikTok account, but on Instagram it’s divided into various specialist accounts based on region or type of content.
Some brands are creating different videos for each platform, but with a similar style. Gymshark have been killing it on TikTok for a while, regularly racking up hundreds of thousands of views on videos. Their style involves showcasing the athletic prowess of their influencers and offering fitness tips without heavily branding their videos. It’s easy to figure out the influencers are wearing Gymshark athletic wear, but as a viewer you’re not bombarded with calls to action asking you to buy anything.
Their Instagram Reels presence has a similar vibe – athletic people doing unbelievable things or showing their silly side. While some of the videos were originally on TikTok, some have been made exclusively for Reels. It’s a move that’s paying off for Gymshark; so far, every single Reel they’ve posted has been viewed over a million times!
@gymsharkIt’s been one year since this video went viral 😱 @ginascarangella_ ##gymshark ##calisthenics ##foryou♬ Party Girl – StaySolidRocky
Meanwhile, some brands know that Instagram Reels lends itself well to their existing TikTok content. RuPaul’s Drag Race, the award-winning drag queen TV show, found quick success after joining TikTok. Their posts include behind-the-scenes footage and TikTok challenges, but one of their biggest successes is uploading iconic moments from the show. The moment when guest judge Nicki Minaj told contestant Heidi N Closet she hates her hair has been used in over 800 other videos, combining the quotability of the show with TikTok users wanting to create their own content.
With their Instagram Reels presence, RuPaul’s Drag Race are hoping to emulate the same success. So far all of their videos have been viewed over a million times, but the uploaded audio (including the famous “Miss Vanjie” line) has not been reused much by fans. Perhaps it’s a sign of where Instagram Reels will differ – audiences will love viewing these 15-second clips but won’t be as interested in creating their own content like with TikTok.
@rupaulsdragraceNicki Minaj’s guest judge critiques for Heidi, Jackie, and Widow…👑 What do you think of her advice? ##rpdr ##dragrace ##omg ##nickiminaj ##drag♬ original sound – rupaulsdragrace
Should I use it?
The answer depends on how you use Instagram. If you’ve got a solid user base and regular engagement, then there’s no harm in using it. Your audience is already there, and it’s another way to sell your brand. As we’ve seen with Gymshark and RuPaul’s Drag Race, some brands are getting a lot of views on their Reels.
If Instagram is a big part of your social media strategy, it’s a no-brainer to use it. The key is to figure out how to balance your feed, Stories, IGTV and Reels. How they differ, and more importantly, how do they complement each other? You may use Reels for your lighthearted content, which would show a more human and less polished version of your brand. If that sits alongside professional-looking IGTV videos and a consistent curated feed, it showcases your multifaceted brand.
If you already have a million channels to manage, or if you don’t have a decent Instagram presence, you may want to give it a miss. For some marketers it’ll be an exciting new feature, but for many it’ll be another thing that flies under the radar.
Do I need to choose between TikTok and Instagram Reels?
Not at all. Like how some brands use Snapchat and Instagram Stories differently, you can make TikTok and Instagram Reels separate entities. Despite the similarities in style, the two platforms offer some noticeable differences such as video length. There’s a good chance your audience will be different on both platforms, too.
On the face of it, Instagram Reels may feel like a carbon copy of TikTok. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it or share the same content over the two channels. If you have the time to invest in both channels (or at least adapt content), there’s no harm in trying to make them work. For instance, think of TikTok as a standalone platform and Reels as a supplement to your main Instagram content. Both can be an integral part to your strategy.
Your decision to use Instagram Reels comes down to a few things. Do you have the time to use it? Does it seem like a better option than TikTok? Do you already have a solid Instagram presence? If the answer to all of these is “yes”, it’s worth trying. Who knows – it might be your next big success!