In early August 2020, Instagram launched a new feature that has an eerie similarity to TikTok: Instagram Reels. Now that users have had some time to settle into it, let’s dig into the differences — and similarities — between Instagram Reels and TikTok, all while learning how to use each to your social media marketing advantage.

First Thing First: All About Instagram Reels

In the biggest social media release of the year, Instagram dropped Reels in 50 countries this August, one of which was the United States. They launched the feature in India nearly a month prior; since then, the average time users in India spend on the platform increased by 3.5%. Based on the rate that American users are uploading reels since its release, you can imagine that this trend might sustain itself internationally.

So what exactly are Instagram Reels? In short:

  • They’re 15-second videos where users can add audio (like songs, for example). Almost half of the platform’s uploaded videos are 15 seconds or less, which may account for this decision.
  • You can cross-post Reels videos to your story or feed, but that’s not where they live. You can find them on the Explore page, specifically in the Reels tab. And if you’re mindlessly scrolling through Reels, don’t hold your breath for the end — the ongoing videos will lure you in forever.
  • If you want to see a particular account holder’s Reels, visit their profile. You’ll see a separate tab just for Reels videos, and it’s next to the IGTV tab.
  • Users who want to record a Reels video can set up the timer to record themselves. There are also filters available, just like on regular posts or stories.
  • Reels was made with audio in mind. Because of Instagram’s partnership with multiple music labels, you can pick a song right from the library without fretting over copyright infringement (the same can’t be said for regular feed videos or even IGTV). Using recycled audio that’s been uploaded onto the platform is safe, too.

Why Did Instagram Choose the Explore Page for Reels?

The fact that Instagram Reels live on the platform’s Explore page shouldn’t surprise you. A solid 50% of all users browse the explore page on a monthly basis. That equates to 200 million accounts viewing content on the Explore page every day. With the introduction of Reels, these metrics have the potential to increase even further.

The cool thing about the Explore page is that it’s basically a free-for-all for social media marketers. You’re not restricted to your followers, and you can market yourself to thousands of viewers every time you upload a new slice of content. The new Reels feed only emphasizes the Explore page’s impact for brands big and small.

How to Use Instagram Reels in 5 Steps

Fortunately, using Instagram Reels isn’t like learning a new language. The platform built their newest feature into the existing sitemap, making it simpler to navigate — even if you’re a Reels newbie. Here are 5 steps to posting:

  1. On your mobile device, log onto Instagram. Press the camera icon in the top left corner, the same destination for posting stories.
  2. Swipe from stories to Reels.
  3. Press “Get Started” if you’ve never used Reels before. Otherwise, head to the next step.
  4. Choose the music or audio you want to accompany your video, adjust the play speed (ranging from .3x–3x the speed) and add effects or filters — if that’s your thing. If you want, use the timer button to record yourself for a specified amount of time (up to 15 seconds). Otherwise, you can just hit the record icon, which looks like a clapper board.
  5. Once you’re done filming, retake the video or upload it straight to the Explore page. You may want to cross-promote the video to your stories or feed for better engagement.
IG Reels effects screen
Instagram Reels Screen

Instagram Reels VS TikTok: Comparing and Contrasting

When you take features, best practices and marketing goals into consideration, Instagram Reels and TikTok have some pretty stark differences and similarities.

How they’re the same:

  • Both platforms prefer mobile devices.
  • Each one plays videos up to 15 seconds long.
  • You can implement audio clips on both, whether they be from songs or recycled audio.
  • Both serve the purpose of education and/or entertainment.
  • When used with a marketing lens, both improve brand awareness and customer loyalty.
  • Instagram and TikTok both cater to people ages 18–24.

How they’re different:

  • Reels uses a separate feed on Instagram, which lives within the Explore page. On TikTok, there’s only one feed.
  • Both are up to 15 seconds long, but you can actually clip together TikTok clips until the total reaches 60 seconds.
  • Instagram Reels doesn’t have a feature like TikTok’s duet.
  • TikTok has its own world of hashtags, some of the most popular being #fyp, #trending and #tiktokcomedy.
  • TikTok is growing at a faster rate than Instagram (in fact, it’s growing faster than any social media network out there).
  • Teens are more into TikTok while older millennials are more into Instagram.
tik tok screen
TikTok Screen

TikTok Is In the News, But Instagram Is Keeping Up

With new features like Reels and updated story options, Instagram is doing its part to stay relevant in a changing landscape. All the while, TikTok is hitting newsstands on a regular basis — first with the possibility of a US ban and then with the Oracle acquisition. In the meantime, this healthy competition will keep social media marketers busier than ever.