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Instagram Reels vs. TikTok: What Content Marketers Need to Know

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When Instagram launched Reels in 2020, one question arose for many marketers and content creators: Which platform should I use?

Despite the many similarities between the two platforms and the obvious fact that Instagram developed Reels to compete directly with TikTok, there are notable differences to consider. Today, we’re taking a look at the functionality of each platform, analyzing the ways they differ, and making a recommendation for which platform to prioritize in your own content strategy.

First, the differences.

Differences Between Instagram Reels and TikTok

Instagram Reels and TikTok may be built with the same end-goal in mind—short-form video content creation and consumption—but they’re not identical. Here are a few of the key differences to consider as you evaluate both options for your brand.

1. Video Length

Video length is the first difference you may notice when you begin making a video on the two platforms. TikTok’s maximum video length is 60 seconds, while Reels maxes out at 30 seconds. This may not seem like a critical difference, but it does affect the flow of content on each platform. Reels often have a slightly more focused scope and faster pace than TikTok videos, simply because creators have half the time available. On TikTok, creators can dive slightly deeper into their topics or create more complex stories.

While this difference alone is unlikely to push you directly to one platform over the other, it’s important to know the limitations before you begin planning your content. This difference also means that you can’t post the exact same content on both platforms if it’s longer than 30 seconds. To transfer a 60-second TikTok to Reels, you’ll have to cut down the video to fit into the 30-second timeframe.

2. Access to Music/Sounds

The second key difference is creators’ access to music or sounds to enhance their videos. As you probably know if you’ve spent any time on either platform, audio is a major part of the experience. On Reels, however, many accounts (especially business accounts) are currently locked out of the Instagram music library, meaning that they can’t access the audio files to add to the video. Additionally, when you save a Reel to your photo library, the audio is left out. [Note: With Instagram, you can only save your own Reels, while on TikTok you can save anyone’s video if they’ve enabled that setting.]

For a platform that relies so heavily on audio to capitalize on trends and add another dimension to the video experience, Reels is lagging behind TikTok in this arena. Instagram is hoping to increase this functionality soon, but for now, TikTok is the better option for access to sound clips.

3. Demographics

Next, it’s important that we acknowledge that the demographics of the two platforms are slightly different.

According to SproutSocial, here is the age breakdown for Instagram’s audience:

  • 75% of 18- to 24-year-olds use Instagram
  • 57% of 25- to 30-year-olds use Instagram
  • 47% of 30- to 49-year-olds use Instagram
  • 23% of 50- to 64-year-olds use Instagram
  • 8% of 65+ year-olds use Instagram

As you can see, the highest adoption rate applies to the 18-24 age range, but older groups also use Instagram in large numbers. While we don’t have the same breakdown for TikTok, it’s likely that TikTok’s data would skew slightly younger. Its user base is largely made up of Gen Z and Millennials, although there are definitely users in older generations.

The takeaway here? If your audience is primarily made up of consumers in Gen X or above, you may want to focus more on Reels than TikTok. If your audience is primarily made up of Gen Z or Millennials, either platform is likely to work well.

4. Paid Ads

As of right now, Instagram doesn’t have an option to place a paid ad through Reels. The workaround is hiring a content creator to film branded content that serves the same function as an ad, but you’re still relying on that person’s network to reach your audience rather than capitalizing on sponsored placements that align with your target keywords or demographics.

On TikTok, however, there are sponsored content options. If you’re considering making branded content that you promote on one of these two platforms, TikTok is likely the winner.

5. Monetization

Finally, a difference that is unlikely to affect brand accounts but is important nonetheless: TikTok allows its most popular creators to monetize their content, while Reels doesn’t. The TikTok Creator Fund allows users who are part of the fund to earn money in correlation with their content’s views. While there have been critiques about the fund not adequately compensating creators, it still beats Reels, which doesn’t currently have any monetization option.

So, should I focus on Reels or TikTok for my brand’s content?

With all the above information in mind, our recommendation is simple: Make content for both platforms, and assess for yourself which one seems to be better over time.

Why? Well, for one thing, it’s too early to tell whether one platform will be the clear winner over time. For example, when Instagram came out with Stories and became a direct competitor for Snapchat, it took time for loyal Snapchat users to adopt Instagram’s copycat feature. The same process may happen here over time, but it’s too soon to know for sure.

Beyond that, your content might not be equally successful on the two platforms. Even if you post the exact same content in both places, it’s possible that one will excel over the other.

For example, TikTok’s algorithm may help your TikTok video go viral, or Instagram’s algorithm may feature your content on the “Explore” page. Or, you might quickly develop an audience on one platform over the other. You may also find that your target audience skews heavily towards one of the two platforms, indicating that you should probably prioritize that platform, too.

Consider too that you likely already have a following on Instagram, which may help the success of your Reels content. However, this is a double-edged sword because you may already have a content strategy for Instagram, too.

Since TikTok is a newer platform—and exists separately from anywhere else you post content—you may have more creative freedom to try something new and experiment with the look and feel of your content. On Instagram, if you’ve already been posting to the main feed and to Stories, you’ve established a look and feel that your audience may expect to see continue in your Reels content. This has the potential to stifle your creativity on Reels.

Finally, by creating content on both platforms, you can still pick one to focus on down the line (if you want). But, instead of putting all your eggs in one basket right at the start, by trying both, you’ll get a feel for how your brand aligns with each platform and which one is best for you and your audience. You’ll be able to make an informed decision rather than an impulse decision.

Beyond these recommendations, we’ll all just have to wait and see what happens over time. Who knows which platform will win in the end, but for now, both have promise. Try them out and let us know what you find!