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How Reels is Different from TikTok


Pretty selections, funny videos, experts and outfit changes, mood and atmosphere — we watch all of it in short videos on Instagram and TikTok. It seems the formats are the same, but in fact there are important differences, in both the perception and creation of such content. So, here we discuss the similarities and differences between Reels and TikTok, how to prepare a video and how to decide if it should be on Instagram Reels or on TikTok.

What is Instagram Reels?

Reels are short (up to 1 minute) videos on Instagram, launched by the platform in 2020. Instagram currently puts a great focus on the promotion of Reels: the algorithm promotes such posts and shows them to users, who don’t follow you, via the separate Reels tab and the Explore tab for searching. We also discussed Reels in detail in this article. Using Reels on Instagram now allows higher-quality development of video content, to be used not only in Stories, but also in the format of individual posts without format distortion or cropping. Major bloggers and content creators actively use Reels to talk to their followers on a wide variety of topics: from everyday life aesthetics, makeup and fashion to sexual education and career growth.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a mobile app and platform for quick short videos, originating from China. Why not a social network? We’ll discuss it a bit further. The platform’s history began in 2014–2016 as Musical.ly and Douyin apps (by ByteDance Ltd.) that allowed making short videos with music, and continued with entering the world market in 2017–2018 under TikTok brand (the Chinese version is still called Douyin). That was the time when the merger with Musical.ly app was completed. In 2020–2022 TikTok is still one of the world’s most popular apps. TikTok today is distinguished by the special content perception and style. TikTok creators often don’t have large audience on other platforms, but that doesn’t prevent them from reaching far and becoming famous on TikTok.

study by Neuro-Insight marketing company, carried out in July 2021, shows that content and ads on TikTok cause 44% more emotional response and 15% more engagement from users than on other social media. This is supported by the trend towards sincerity and trust to content creators, in which TikTok is specifically distinguished from other platforms.

How Reels is similar to TikTok?

Many people consider Reels a copy of TikTok, and there’s a reason for it — they have much in common, indeed. After TikTok was launched, many platforms try to implement the quick short video format for their users by adding a section for it. Besides Instagram, short vertical videos were introduced on VK (Clips), YouTube (Shorts) and even Yandex.Zen that was originally designed for long-reads. Let’s elaborate on the main similarities between Reels and TikTok

  1. Format: Quick short vertical videos.
  2. Editing system: You can shoot a video in the app or load your own video, add a music track, text and effects.
  3. Music library: The app has its own music database that may be used officially
  4. Importance for the platform: Both Instagram and TikTok actively promote the quick video format.
  5. Content consumption: The feed recommends more and more videos, so users may get stuck in and spend on watching more time than they planned to.
  6. New authors: In the both apps, the recommended feed suggests videos from authors outside your subscription list.
  7. Joint videos: On TikTok you can make a video reaction using the Duet feature, so the original will be shown next to your video; Instagram is testing a similar feature called Remix and has already launched joint posts in its standard format.

Appearance of Reels and the Explore tab

How is Reels different from TikTok?

Of course, there also are differences between Instagram Reels and TikTok. Let us look at them in detail, because these are the points that help to define which of the two platforms better serves the purpose of promoting your brand or blog.

Community or content: As we mentioned in the beginning, TikTok is not quite social media in the conventional sense, and this is the main difference between Instagram and TikTok. Instagram is a social network built on people and their relations and personal connections: for Instagram algorithms it’s much more important who you’re friends with and who you follow, rather then what you watch, while TikTok is an app based on your interests: what’s more important to it, is what topic you would view through and share, rather than how far your network reaches.

Video length: Reels currently allows loading videos up to 1 minute in length, while on TikTok, after the 2021 updates, you can load videos up to 10 minutes.

Trends: Trending sounds and challenges appear first on TikTok, as this platform is more open to experiments, and only after a while creators bring those to Instagram Reels. This is the reason why Reels seems to be a bit behind its competitor in terms of trending videos.

Content style: For many years creators and content makers on Instagram are tailored to creating high-quality visual content at a level comparable to glossy magazines, while TikTok can make popular very different videos, both neatly produced and set against a typical kitchen wall background. This is the reason why you should be prepared to the fact that Instagram users are used to more aesthetic videos, so they judge the Reels based on the image quality in particular. Of course, this is a general pattern and there are exceptions to it but you should keep that in mind anyway.

Audience and stereotypes: Users are also different between TikTok and Instagram. On YouTube and Instagram authors and followers are getting older, while TikTok is receiving authors of a wide variety of ages, with younger content creators being most active. The stereotype that TikTok is mostly used by children is gradually blotting out.

Editing tools: TikTok has video creation functionality that has no equivalents on Instagram yet: for example, Stitch, used to add other people’s videos to yours own; adding an audio track to your prepared video; and comment replies using video, which help interact with your followers.

Headers and text: You can add a text up to 2200 characters in length under Reels, just as for normal image post, while the description for a TikTok video is limited to 100 characters. On Reels you can expand the description and read the whole text; and TikTok shows the full description right away, partially hiding the video.

Content channels: Both Reels and TikTok share the same way of switching to the next video — swipe up; however, the apps’ internal channels where you find quick videos are different. The TikTok’s main feed is the ‘For you’ page, and there is also a separate feed only with those you follow, plus an additional tab for trends sorted by hashtag. Reels, as opposed to TikTok, has only a single feed, which gathers content from authors who you may not even follow. Clips from the creators you follow are shown in the regular feed among other Instagram posts.

Different (for now) recommendation system: TikTok algorithms in 2021 are aimed at finding out what you’re interested in and showing mainly similar content, while Instagram shows you those who are similar to your friends, favorite bloggers and celebrities. This is due to the platforms’ difference in orientation: TikTok is more content-oriented and Instagram is more focused on social connections. That is why TikTok evaluates what type of content you engage with and for how long, as well as the account settings (your native language and set location). Owing to the TikTok аlgorithm, it is much easier for content to go viral and reach farther than in Reels if viewers engage well with it, viewing through, saving and sharing with other users. 

Topics and communities: On TikTok, in contrast to Reels, there is a wide variety of narrowly focused communities, bound by interests in specialized fields: geeks, role-playing games, book lovers, aesthetes, online subcultures, such as cottagecore, goblincore, etc.


TikTok’s video analytics tab, recommended feed and Discover section

How to make videos for Reels 

If you decided to prepare clips for Instagram Reels, remember the importance of quality shooting, lighting and shot composition. Focus on a special aesthetic, mood and video processing, in which case you’ll be able to compete with other authors in the Reels section and attract new followers’ attention. Reels is now only beginning to see the use of trending sounds and music in its own remakes of trends, however that can also help diversify and promote your Reels formats.

So, use music from the Instagram library, consider picking fonts and color correction presets in third-party apps to make your video more atmospheric and stylish.

How to prepare clips for TikTok

When making videos for TikTok, choose your main topic to cover on your account, and try to explore different aspects of it. Be open and honest with your audience, as having people want to view your video through is much more important than whether you have a budget for the operator. In order to make users interested, you can introduce an intrigue, make a video based on unexpected and interesting questions, shoot your own versions of trends with another ending. By the way, speaking of trends — don’t be afraid to use them and also to remake videos to popular sounds, tagging the original audio track – thus you’ll be discovered by more viewers.

Also, when preparing content for TikTok, try to create a readily recognizable image for yourself, so that people would remember and easily recognize you and your style when they see you again in your new clips on their recommended or subscription feed.

How to decide if a video should be on TikTok or Reels?

So, how should you choose whether to post your video on TikTok or Instagram Reels? There are several key points to guide you.

  1. Your target audience. Determine who your videos are targeted to, who you want to attract. Then try to find out where people are used to consume content and watch short videos, which platform they use most frequently for it? Maybe, it’s already at this stage that you clearly realize what the best platform for you material is, TikTok or Reels, but if not, the next step will help you.
  2. You as the creator. Think of which platform attracts you personally more, where you spend time and where you feel more confident, on TikTok or Instagram? The easier it will be for you to create, the more regularly you would do that, meaning the platform’s algorithms will work to promote you.

Despite the differences, both TikTok and Reels today help to promote much more actively and to find approach to the audience in the format of quick and engaging videos. It may be a great chance for you or your brand to come out, so it only remains to take it right!


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