Social Media Technology

Reels vs. TikTok: What You Need to Know

Instagram's Reels is competing with TikTok for Generation Z's attention. Which platform will work best for your marketing efforts?

If your startup is marketing to young people, your marketing efforts might already be tapping TikTok. Does President Trump putting it in the crosshairs have you worried? Is it worth jumping ship to Instagram‘s new Reels? 

In response to Trump’s recent declaration that TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance are threats to national security and could be banned from the United States, Instagram rolled out a new feature called Reels. Like TikTok, Reels is a video platform on which you can create content in sync with music and share said content to the Instagram community at large. You can upload images and videos or create them right in the app, choose music to accompany them, and bam, you’ve got a Reel. While Reels borrows a lot of its functionality from TikTok, there are plenty of differences in its approach to creating and sharing media.

For the culture

Since Reels is new to the market, it hasn’t sculpted itself an identity yet. TikTok has its own trends, styles, dances, memes, even music. When a song popular on TikTok plays on the radio, every member of Gen Z in the car immediately recognizes it as such, and a lot of times the DJ does, too. Every Walmart trip comes with the frightening uncertainty that you may unknowingly be in the background of a teenager’s public dancing video, or worse: the subject of her viral prank. TikTok celebrities are household names. 

As of now, the content on Reels is mostly either a video ripped from TikTok itself, complete with the floating TikTok watermark, or an idea borrowed from the site altered to fit the social and technological parameters of Instagram. Until Reels finds its own personality, it will struggle to captivate TikTok’s legion of avid users. Twitter had some of the same issues in its infancy, and now it’s a crucial platform for entrepreneurs, established businesses and consumers alike.

User interface

Hand in hand with the cultural differences are the user interface ones. TikTok’s algorithm allows you to scroll its feed forever, perpetually finding videos interesting to you because the app knows what you like. It’s data mining, but the kind that shows you the exact amount of puppy videos you need. You can search users, sounds, and hashtags, but the main feed is intelligently equipped for content discovery. Reels, however, is tucked away in Instagram’s Stories section, which itself is separate from the main feed. You can search users and hashtags, but it searches for everything: pictures, videos, Reels, and IGTV (which is basically Reels but with different metadata). If Instagram wants Reels to carve space in the digital zeitgeist, they may consider giving Reels its own space within the app’s main feed.

So is Reels the new TikTok? Do you stay with the possibly sinking ship or leap to the less-than-airtight dinghy? There isn’t really a right answer. Reels is just not there yet in terms of user experience and marketability, but it has the potential to be a helpful tool if your audience knows where to find you. 

Our advice

You can circumvent the clunkiness of the Explore page by posting your Reels straight to your feed, or at least letting your followers know where they can see them. Adding hashtags will allow anyone who searches those key words and phrases to discover your Reels. Whether you adopt it for your business, or maybe just learn a new dance, Reels is worth seeing for yourself.

About the author

Sarah Fristoe

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  • Thanks Sarah, the only thing I would add is to do some homework on tik tok. I’m grateful the president at least tried to ban this app. I wish someone well liked and respected would speak up. This app is collecting so much data on us it’s really upsetting when you see. It also is created to boost likes at first to bump that serotonin rush that comes with seeing all those likes so it has our children hooked! I don’t scare easy, but this app is a privacy nightmare for all.
    With all due respect,