It’s a social media battle we’ve seen played out again and again. A plucky upstart, in this case, TikTok, introduces a new service to the world. In response, juggernauts like Facebook scramble to either buy the new technology or bury it by rolling out similar capabilities with their legacy products.
So as TikTok became a staple for younger crowds and the entrepreneurs trying to connect with them, it was unsurprising when Instagram rolled out Reels. After all, TikTok had an exceptional engagement rate and was managing to enter the zeitgeist.
“TikTok’s popularity exploded in 2020, becoming the most downloaded app of the year with 850 million downloads,” explains Jesse Sumrak.
“However, TikTok serves a primarily younger demographic, whereas Instagram serves a broader age range. Noticing the opportunity, Instagram jumped on the scene to (again) give its users a one-stop social network for every piece of content they’d like to consume. Ever. IGTV combats YouTube by allowing users to post episode-length videos, and Stories battles Snapchat by letting users publish 24-hour accessible photos and videos. Now, Instagram has added Reels to provide short content that doesn’t have the tiny shelf life of Stories.”
The first iteration of Reels felt pretty much like what it was—an attempt to copy something good without veering into the territory of patent infringement. In other words, Reels started out toothless and hardly dealt a knockout blow in its effort to become a TikTok replacement.
But now that Reels has had an opportunity to refine its offerings, it’s sleeker and more powerful. TikTok, aware of the increased threat, is striving to correspondingly improve their own offerings. Reels has lured many users back to the Facebook ecosystem, as its videos perform almost as well as TikTok’s when average views are compared. Perhaps due to its pioneer status or the fact that it is designed to be more disruptive than Reels, TikTok still enjoys a much higher average engagement per video.
The whole situation has a heightened sense of urgency because short-form video is such a crucial format. With short runtimes and punchy messaging, these videos cut through the clutter and get noticed. More importantly, their lean-and-mean size energizes audiences and prompts engagement more than almost any other format.
In other words, if you want to connect with audiences via video, short-form should be part of your strategy.
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Evaluating Reels vs TikTok
So who is winning the battle? More importantly, which platform should you use for your business? As is typically the case, you’ll find that both platforms provide distinct benefits, share similar characteristics, and have unique limitations.
Let’s start by looking at a few factors that make these adversaries similar:
- They’re the Preeminent Short-Form Video Creation Platforms: TikTok and Reels both are set up to allow you to edit videos using each platform’s tools. You can also choose sound effects, voiceover, or a musical track to accompany the video. The audio element is far from an afterthought, as the most popular videos on both platforms have reached their status largely due to the strategic addition of songs.
- They Have an Ecommerce Component: Both platforms allow you to share products and introduce a way for interested users to progress to purchase. TikTok collaborates with Shopify in order to make this functionality possible, while Reels leverages Instagram’s ecommerce capabilities.
- They Provide an Engaging Way to Discover Videos: Just as Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms allow you to scroll down through a feed and find new content, these short-form video platforms provide a stream of videos. You just scroll your way along and hope you stumble upon the next diamond in the rough.
How TikTok and Reels Can Help Your Business
Now let’s consider some of the key differences between TikTok and Reels. Whether or not these factors are positive or negative depends on your business efforts. That’s why it’s important to already have an idea of your strategies and objectives before comparing the 2 platforms. Here are some key factors to consider:
Who are you trying to reach? This is a valid question because the platforms have different demographics. As you might expect, TikTok has a younger audience. According to Statista, nearly half of all the platform’s users are under the age of 30, with 25% under the age of 20. And only 11% are age 50 or above. Clearly, this is the platform on the cutting edge of what the youth market values.
Reels, on the other hand, has a more diverse user base. Research shows that teenagers make up a smaller segment of users, while nearly half of users fall between the ages of 25 and 44. And let’s not forget to give a shout out to the 2.3% of Reels users who are age 65 or above.
If you want to connect with Generation Z, TikTok is undoubtedly your preferred platform. It presents a captive audience that is ripe for organic brand building. But when you’re targeting a more mature audience with higher purchasing capabilities, Reels is an ideal choice.
There’s a substantial difference between these platforms’ interfaces. TikTok has a rougher design, with few bells and even fewer whistles. Given the audience that most often interacts with TikTok, it’s not surprising that usability and richness of design aren’t top priorities.
Reels, on the other hand, shows its Instagram pedigree with great design and more intuitive features. If you’re a digital native, these elements won’t play much of a role in your decision. But for digital immigrants who rely on the accessibility of technology, Reels is the clear winner.
TikTok videos are known for their brilliant use of music. Songs go viral, careers are launched, and new sounds are created every day on this frenetic platform.
Any video created on TikTok uses audio. You can record a voiceover, use sounds that you’ve created, or access the incredible music/sound library offered by the platform. You’ll find that the options within the library are essentially endless. Whether it’s copyrighted music or a hilarious sound effect created by a fellow TikTok user, you have a wide range of options.
Reels takes a different approach, as the protection of copyrights is more important to the Facebook family of brands. So instead of TikTok’s extensive database, you get a moderately sized library of royalty-free music in your videos. You also have the option of uploading your own voiceover or sounds.
Incorporating Other Videos
If you want to add other users’ videos into your own creation, TikTok is likely your only option. Using Stitch, Duet, or one of the other collaborative tools, you can incorporate an existing video into your own. This also goes the other way, as users are able to include your videos in their creations. Many businesses leverage this fact as a way to engage on a whole new level with their audience.
Reels make it difficult to merge other users’ videos with your own unless you have robust video editing software and know-how. This is yet another area where Reels is caught in an awkward position due to the dueling desires guarding against the misuse of content, while also trying to keep up with TikTok’s popular features.
Communication with Users
Reels has a caption limit that exceeds 2,000 characters, so you’re able to share crucial details or expand on a story within that space. TikTok, on the other hand, limits your captions to 100 characters. If you feel that your video is best supported by a robust caption, Reels is your best option. If you’re going for a leaner approach, TikTok will suit you just fine.
TikTok has a wide range of effects and filters to make your videos look better. Creators on the platform often use these tools for comedic effect, so the end goal isn’t necessarily to present a polished product. Remember, this is a raw and sometimes sloppy platform that caters to younger audiences.
Reels has effects and filters as well, but they’re the same features as Instagram Stories. While the options are more limited on Reels, they look more polished. If you want to project professionalism in your video, Reels is a better way to create it.
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Reels vs TikTok: The Verdict
Is Reels the official TikTok replacement? Or is TikTok still the king of the hill? There’s no doubt that TikTok is the best platform when it comes to creating content that capitalizes on the short-form craze. With its brash style and design, it matches its target demographic perfectly.
But we certainly aren’t suggesting that Reels doesn’t have a place in your video strategies. For example, if you have a short-form video that you want to protect from imitation or mockery, you should use Reels because it will prevent other users from merging your video with their own content.
If your target audience is older, Reels could be your better option. Likewise, if you already have a strong following on Instagram, you can leverage that with your Reels content.
Many marketers use both platforms in tandem, as their distinct personalities and audiences allow for more impactful targeting. So let’s put down the swords and just let these 2 platforms coexist. As long as your content is original, and above all else entertaining, it can find a welcome home on both Reels and TikTok.
To get powerful insights that can help you connect with the fast-growing TikTok audience, check out our TikTok ads masterclass.
Gerardo Perez founder of “Marketing&” a TikTok digital agency, will show you how to create your first high-converting ad from start to finish, even if you’re a total beginner. Plus, you’ll see why reposting winning Facebook & Instagram ads on TikTok doesn’t work and what Gerardo recommends you should do instead.