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When Instagram initially launched Reels in 2019, it appeared that they were attempting to compete with the ever-growing TikTok. And indeed, both platforms have very similar interfaces on the surface. But once you break it down, the two platforms offer very different experiences both for businesses and consumers.
While Reels and TikTok are both highly useful content creation platforms in their own right, choosing which one to focus on in your marketing efforts will depend on your goals, audience, and your brand.
Read on to find out more about the key differences between the two platforms, to help inform your decision on which to focus on in your business’s social media strategy.
With both platforms providing in-house content creation capabilities, before you get started it’s important to know the differences between the two, so you can properly use all of TikTok’s and Reels’ best features.
The first key difference is video length. On TikTok, videos can be up to 60 seconds in length. On Instagram Reels, videos can only be half of this, with a 30-second limit. So, depending on what content you have in mind, Reels’ upper limit might be a bit lower than you’d like. However, this 30-second window still allows plenty of time for creativity.
Instagram does not allow business profiles to use artists’ music tracks on their Reels. If you’re planning on using original audio, this may not be a deal-breaker, but it is worth considering.
Meanwhile, TikTok allows all users access to their Sound library. This includes artists’ music tracks, as well as original audio tracks created by other TikTok users. The Sound Library and the ease with which you can use other people’s audio (and they can use yours) means that it’s easy to participate in or start viral trends.
When you save an Instagram Reel to your camera roll, the video will save without music and a Reels watermark. TikTok videos save with both the music and the watermark. So, you are wanting to showcase your videos on other platforms, TikTok may be the better choice.
Instagram has revealed that they will not promote any reels that have a TikTok watermark on them, so transferring content from TikTok to Reels would be an unwise choice. This thinking likely plays a role in their removal of audio from Reels downloads, to stop users uploading Reels to TikTok.
While the two platforms’ editing options might appear very similar, there are a few important differences.
Filters: on Instagram, filters and video effects must be selected before you film each video clip. TikTok allows users to choose from their filters and effects after filming, allowing for easier and more versatile post-production touch-ups.
Voice effects: while you can record a voiceover on Reels, TikTok has the additional option to add special effects to your voiceover.
Interactive options: TikTok’s real unique selling point is its Duet and Stitch features. Both allow users to interact with others in their community, extending their reach and reacting creatively to viral videos.
Stitch enables users to trim and edit other users’ video clips into their own. TikTok calls it “a way to reinterpret and add to another user's content, building on their stories, tutorials, recipes, math lessons, and more”.
Duet allows users to react to other users’ videos in a split-screen format.
Now that you’re all set to create unique content on both TikTok and Reels, it’s worth thinking about how either platform enables you to reach your customers. Social media algorithms are never easy to pin down. Even when platforms give some insight into how their algorithms work, this is always subject to change and we can never be completely sure how they work. However, there are some things that we know factor into the success of a Reel versus a TikTok video.
For one, Reels is an extension of your main Instagram account. Algorithm aside, if your Reel goes viral, the video links back to your profile which will (hopefully) contain business links, e-commerce, and a feed full of brand information. More than this, Reels can be shared to your Instagram Stories or your main Instagram feed, allowing for more channels of exposure. So while you can have a link to your business’ website on your TikTok account, it may be easier to attract leads through Reels.
Having said that, it might be easier to go viral on TikTok. This is because TikTok does not factor in your number of followers or the performance of your previous videos when promoting your posts. Meanwhile, Instagram’s Explore page favors accounts with a larger following and better post performance. It can’t be said for certain whether this is true for Reels’ Explore page, but there are many examples of users going viral on TikTok without any previous success or a large following. Check out these tips for generating business leads through TikTok.
TikTok has revealed that its ‘For You’ page is customized to a user’s interests based on a few different factors. These include:
Their recommendation system then processes these factors, weighting them based on their value to a user. This means that the ‘For You’ page is highly tailored to individual users, potentially making it easier to reach customers who are interested in your business.
Instagram is less transparent when it comes to its algorithm. Aside from demoting content with TikTok watermarks, they also demote low-quality videos, such as those that are blurry due to low resolution.
They also select high-performing videos to be labeled as “Featured” on their Explore page. However, it’s unclear exactly how Instagram goes about selecting “Featured” videos - whether it is purely decided based on likes, or whether other factors like follower counts and video content also factor in.
So, both platforms offer a range of easy-to-use features for content creation, and both algorithms allow you to reach your target audience in different ways. However, there are a few crucial differences between TikTok and Reels’ potential for business marketing.
Instagram is increasingly moving towards e-commerce, recently introducing a ‘Shop’ tab to their homepage. Businesses can tag featured products in Reels, allowing viewers to learn more about products, or save them to view later.
Meanwhile, TikTok has linked up with Shopify, creating what they have called a ‘first-of-its-kind commerce partnership’. They will be testing new commerce features together in due course. So while Instagram has greater e-commerce options right now, TikTok may soon challenge this.
TikTok offers a range of paid adverts via ‘TikTok for Business’ including:
Reels currently does not offer paid advertising options. However, influencer marketing deals are a highly popular method of marketing through the platform, with Instagram influencer marketing being worth $1.7 billion as of 2019.
With all of this information in mind, your decision between the two platforms may boil down to the most important aspect of all marketing - your target audience. While both platforms offer similar types of content on the surface, this content is consumed by two very different audiences.
TikTok is well known for catering to Gen Z, with 26% of UK users being aged 18-24. The proportion of young users may be even higher than this, but most demographic studies do not consider users under the age of 18. Meanwhile, 25-34-year-olds are the largest audience on Instagram, closely followed by the 18-24-year-old age category. These handy infographics help to further break down the demographics of either app's users.
So, your decision on which platform to focus on may depend upon the core age group you are trying to target.
You likely associate Instagram with posts that are polished, fitting within an aesthetically pleasing and themed profile. In contrast, TikTok users tend to be less concerned with having a cohesive ‘look’ to their profile. Instead, the platform’s content tends to focus on the everyday reality of users’ life. With a wider variety of content on the platform, brands can assert their images. This means the platform has already attracted high-profile brands like The Washington Post and the NBA.
This isn’t to say that one is better than the other. Both types of content can be invaluable to business marketing, and the type which will best fit your brand is down to you. This is why it’s important to create a marketing strategy for your business, to help you decide which platforms are worth investing time in.
We hope that this guide has helped you learn the differences between Reels and TikTok, and work out which will better suit your business’ marketing strategy. There are so many ways to create unique content and reach your audience on either one, the best thing you can do is start experimenting and see what gets you results!
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