TikTok’s first real (or should we say, reel) competitor has finally entered the chat. Instagram Reels is the social giant’s latest offering and, much like its predecessors Stories and Live, could completely change the game for vertical video content shared online. With a potential TikTok ban looming in the US, brands are wondering what the deal is with Reels, and which channel to invest their time and money into. To help you make the best decision, we’re walking you through everything we know about Instagram Reels so far.
When it comes down to it, the mechanics of Reels and TikTok are very similar. You can film, upload, and edit short video clips with sounds and filters and share them with each channel’s massive audience. From the “For You” page to the Reels “Explore” page, there’s no shortage of ways for content to be discovered. But, as Instagram’s own Robby Stein puts it: “No two products are exactly the same...The focus has been on how to make this a unique format for us.” So marketers have found themselves asking: how is Instagram Reels different from TikTok and what does that mean for brands?
Ultimately, it’s all about your target demographic. Each channel has its own distinct culture and audience that will dictate the trends, tone, and direction of the content. Instagram currently has over 1 billion active monthly users, but TikTok is close behind at 800 million, making them both valuable platforms for marketing. If you’re looking to capture Gen Z, the 16-24 age group makes up approximately 40% of TikTok’s audience and 30% of Instagram’s, but Instagram is 34% millennial compared to 24% of TikTokkers. Keep in mind that these groups don’t necessarily have the same preferences for types of content and how they consume it.
Another important factor to note is that each channel has its own licensing agreements for music. Soundbites are a key component of the entire short-form video genre, and Instagram Reels opens brands up to a library of popular songs you can’t access anywhere else. Conversely, TikTok has skyrocketed the popularity of so many tracks that might not otherwise have cemented into our daily lives, and it would be remiss to write it off.
First things first: go to the Instagram camera and select “Reels” (it’s in the same spot where you’d find the “Live” option). Next, you can shoot multiple clips to cut together, record one continuous shot, or upload pre-filmed content directly from your gallery. Press and hold the capture button to record each clip and pay attention to the progress indicator for how much time you have left (Reels are 15 seconds long). Every time you stop and start the camera before the limit is up, you’re recording a new clip that will be added into a single Reel.
Now for the fun part. For editing, all of the tools live on on the left side of the screen, and these can be leveraged any time in the process to make the final result more creative and entertaining. These tools include:
You’ll be taken to a “share” screen when your reel is complete. Here you can save the draft to your camera roll, tag other accounts, add a caption or hashtag, and change the cover image. When you’re ready to share, you can choose to add the reel to your feed or to Stories. It will also live in a special Reels tab on your profile similar to IGTV. It’s that easy! You can find Instagram’s full guide here.
If you’re still not sure where to start, an easy way to test the waters is to simply upload the same content on both Instagram and TikTok and monitor performance. If you find discrepancies in results between channels, assess where they’re coming from and adjust the approach accordingly. Remember, Instagram is known as a hub for carefully curated imagery, while TikTok definitely skews toward the raw and spontaneous. It remains to be seen whether or not the aesthetic of the latter will translate onto the former, or if new trends will emerge that further separate and solidify the need for both channels. What’s most important is brands double down and make the effort in this first stage of the new feature to really explore its potential. And, of course, track those metrics to engage and grow your audience, wherever they are.