John Lincoln

Instagram Reels VS TikTok: What to Know

Instagram Reels vs Tiktok

Big news: Instagram Reels just launched in the US. At first glance, it can seem like a TikTok swindle, but along with some stark similarities come some undeniable differences. Here’s a compare and contrast on Instagram Reels vs TikTok — as well as how to optimize each for your social media marketing moves.

Instagram Reels: What Is It & How Do You Use It?

Instagram Reels is the platform’s latest feature, which was introduced to the US market (as well as 49 other countries) on Wednesday, August 5th. Here are the main touchpoints for the all-new feature:

  • Instagram Reels are 15-second-long videos that use songs and recycled audio (sound familiar?). This likely has something to do with the fact that 45% of all the platform’s videos are 15 seconds or less, so this new feature caters to that.
  • Unlike regular video posts, Reels don’t show up on the feed (unless you specifically set them to do so, like IGTV previews). They’re not in the stories either. In fact, they share straight to the Explore page in a separate Reels channel.
  • When using mobile, you can find users’ posted Reels in a separate tab on their profile, next to the IGTV tab (if they have one).
  • You can film yourself and add filters to doll the video up.
  • Using music available through Reels for your videos means no threat of copyright infringement (Instagram has linked up with some major labels to streamline things). On the contrary, posting a video on your feed with music in the background without having proper usage rights or labeling could result in your video being taken down.

Clearly, Reels has a lot of features worth looking into.

Boosting the Power of the Explore Page

The Explore page is one of Instagram’s most popular spots. More than 200 million users view the explore page each day, with about half of all accounts using it each month. Because Instagram Reels live primarily on the Explore page, this is only going to boost its influencing power.

It’s not just the Explore page that benefits from this update. It’s good news for social media marketers, too. The basis of the Explore page is this: Once you get on it, anyone can see your post. Naturally, this means anyone can engage with and share your content. This ultimately boosts your visibility quicker.

I have a feeling that brands and influencers who hop on the Instagram Reels bandwagon sooner rather than later will spark up rather quickly. But that also means it’ll get saturated at some point, so competition will be stiff. Users who are already familiar with TikTok probably have the upper hand in this arena at the moment, as they know what kind of content people are looking for with these kinds of videos.

How to Make & Share Instagram Reels

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to maneuver Instagram’s latest buzzworthy feature:

1. Log onto your Instagram feed. Above the stories slide, click the camera icon in the top left corner (for reference, it’s the same place you’d go to post a story).

2. At the bottom, where it says story, swipe over to reels.

3. If this is your first time using the feature, you’ll see a note that said Get Started to begin creating your Instagram Reels.

4. You’ll land on this screen:

IG Reels main screen

Take a peek at the four buttons on the left. The top button is for music, where you can choose any song from the library (or any audio clip from existing Reels).

IG Reels music screen

The second button lets you adjust play speed.

Fast forward button IG reel

The third button is where you can add effects and filters.

Effects and filters screen IG reels

The fourth button serves as a timer. You can choose the length of your video in advance and get a head start to help you film yourself.

Timer screen for IG reels

If you want to film on the fly, you simply press and hold the clapper board icon for up to 15 seconds.

5. You can choose to retake the video or send it to the Explore page. You can also opt to highlight it in your feed if you want to cross-promote your video content.

How Instagram Reels Differs from TikTok (& How It’s the Same)

By now, you’ve noticed how much Instagram Reels resembles TikTok. I mean, you can’t deny the obvious. But they’re not 100% identical. Let’s dig through the details.



  • Both are optimized for the mobile app, with limited feature availability on desktop.
  • Both offer 15-second video clips.
  • Both include audio attachments from songs or previous videos’ audio recordings.


  • TikTok videos go to the TikTok feed (sounds duh, but stay with me here). Instagram Reels go to the Explore page, which is curated for optimum engagement and virality.
  • TikTok videos are 15 seconds long, but the platform recently changed the status quo to allow users to link four clips together. This means you can share consecutive videos up to a total of 60 seconds long. Reels isn’t there yet.
  • Instagram seems to be relying heavily on augmented reality, while TikTok primarily banks on the creativity of its users (and trust me, there’s a lot of creativity).
  • You can duet people on TikTok— which is wildly popular — but that feature hasn’t made it to Instagram Reels (yet).
  • It seems that TikTok has better browsing and feed curation capability than Instagram Reels. The newest option leaves you scrolling through a single Explore page curation, but it’s hard to personalize.

Best Practices

Main similarity: For both Instagram Reels and TikTok, you should be creative, humorous, informative, cinematic and/or downright talented.

Main difference: TikTok users implement hashtags that are unique to the platform (such as #foryou or #fyp). Instagram doesn’t utilize these specific hashtags.

Marketing Objectives


  • If you’re a brand or influencer, the primary goal is to gain awareness and keep your audience looped in on a regular basis. In most circumstances, neither of these platforms are tools for final conversions.
  • Both TikTok and Instagram rely heavily on the 18–24 age range.


  • Instagram still has a larger audience than TikTok, but TikTok is the fastest growing social media network ever.
  • TikTok skews more toward the under 18ers while Instagram is popular with millennials in their late 20s and 30s.
  • Instagram is optimized for advertising while TikTok focuses more on organic content creation.

Instagram Reels VS TikTok: Videos In Action

What do these videos look like in real time? Here are two TikTok samples that aren’t trendy dances to get you started:

Wolven is a sustainable fashion company with a popular TikTok to show off their goods.

This one is basically an indie short film created by a teenager in their own home.

Instagram Reels is still a fledgling, but content is already racking up. Here are a couple of examples:

Luxury brand Balmain posted their Reels video to their feed to increase viewership.

And a pigeon video in reverse, for your viewing pleasure…

As you can see, both of these platforms highlight lighthearted, entertaining content — but you’ll definitely find informative videos too. You just have to know where to look.

Timing Is Everything: Instagram Reels Comes After Wild TikTok News

Government officials in the US have been talking about banning certain social media apps over data privacy concerns, with TikTok being the primary target. The discussion ramped up in July, only a month before the release of Instagram Reels in the US and abroad.

Instagram’s timing is interesting, rolling out before the government takes any tangible steps for the ban. It’s possible they already had the update rollout scheduled, all news aside. It’s also possible they wanted to solidify their position as a TikTok alternative before any action went down, ultimately serving as a homebase for US TikTokers in case a ban occurs. Whether or not a ban actually will occur (or is even possible) is a whole different story, but the timing sure is interesting.

The possible ban isn’t the only TikTok news to hit the stands. The platform has spoken about a $2 billion fund to help popular creators monetize their influence within the TikTok sphere. I can’t speak as to whether Instagram was threatened by that, but it’s worth noting.

Instagram Reels Isn’t Alone: Other Noteworthy Features In the Update

TikTok clearly has a specialty, but it increasingly seems like Instagram is positioning itself as a hub for a variety of features. This Instagram Reels update accompanied other novelties on the platform, specifically in the world of stories.

The update offers updated typeface options, GIFs, shoutouts and toplists templates. Click Layout and you can create a collage of up to six photos in one frame. It also adds branding and paid partnership options for the regular user (something that used to be reserved for the Instagram elite).

Don’t See Instagram Reels? Try This

If you don’t see Instagram reels on your app just yet, don’t freak out. Sometimes, these major updates take time to roll out.

You can take action by

1) updating your phone’s software or

2) updating your Instagram app.

Doing one or both of these is likely to push you into the social media platform’s newest version. But if that doesn’t work, it may just be that the update hasn’t reached you yet. Considering Instagram has 1 billion active monthly users, it makes sense that things might be a bit delayed. Remain patient and the update will surely reach you in no time.

For Instagram, Reels is the Newest Brick In Their Empire. For TikTok, It’s Competition

Get this: In service of Instagram loyals who still wanted to see the funniest, most entertaining videos that TikTok has to offer, many Instagram/TikTok flip-flops curate TikTok videos on their Instagram stories for their followers to watch. It’s like enjoying the benefits of travel — good food, great scenery — without leaving home.

But now that Instagram Reels is in the house, we may see a shift happening. For marketers, it could mean putting more emphasis on their Instagram efforts. For TikTok diehards, it might not make a difference. But the point is this: The competition for 15-second videos is growing, one update at a time.

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John Lincoln is CEO of Ignite Visibility, one of the top digital marketing agencies in the nation. Ignite Visibility is a 4x  Inc. 5,000 company. Ignite Visibility offers a unique digital marketing program tied directly to ROI with a focus on using SEO, social media, paid media, CRO, email, Amazon and PR to achieve results. Outside of Ignite Visibility, Lincoln is a frequent speaker and author of the books “Digital Influencer” and “The Forecaster Method.” Lincoln is consistently named one of the top digital marketers in the industry and was the recipient of the coveted Search Engine Land “Search Marketer of The Year” award. Lincoln has taught digital marketing and Web Analytics at the University of California San Diego since 2010, has been named as one of San Diego’s most admired CEO’s and a top business leader under 40. Lincoln has also made “SEO: The Movie” and “Social Media Marketing: The Movie.” His business mission is to help others through digital marketing.

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