Instagram Reels vs. TikTok: What To Use When, and Why

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Carolyn Howell

Last Updated: Nov 08, 2023

TikTok 101

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In the Instagram Reels vs. TikTok contest, which format performs better? How are reels and TikTok videos the same? Let’s see how one stacks up against the other.

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Differences Between TikTok and Instagram

Before we go into the TikTok vs. Instagram Reels debate, we need to understand the differences between TikTok and Instagram.

TikTok began its impressive journey as a short-format video-sharing app. Users performed lip-syncing up-syncs or dance choreographies and posted the videos on the platform. On the other hand, Instagram was, first and foremost, a photo-sharing platform. Instagram allows users to create their personal digital photo exhibit.

Eventually, the two platforms did, TikTok updated the platform to allow users to create TikToks using photos. And Instagram matched TikTok’s popular short-form video content format by introducing Reels.

Another major Reels vs. TikTok difference is their algorithms. The TikTok recommendation algorithm is infamous for its uncanny matchmaking ability. Many say TikTok is addictive because of its constantly personalized For You feed. Users can always expect to see content they’ll enjoy when browsing their feeds. TikTok’s algorithm prioritizes user interests over the popularity of a video or its creator. 

In contrast, Instagram’s algorithm favors popular as well as sponsored content. Users often get exposed to content from pages they follow, tons of “Suggested for you” and sponsored content. But Instagram curates feed content based on how popular the creator you page is in terms of their number of followers or how popular the content is.

On TikTok, creators and brands have better odds of reaching their target audiences if they create content that aligns with their interests. They don’t have to compete for a spot on feeds against viral videos or pages with a massive following. On Instagram, newcomers, niche creators and brands have a tougher time establishing a strong presence. This is because more established profiles hog the spotlight.

A woman films a man while he dances for a TikTok video.

Is Reels TikTok? How Are They the Same?

Is Reels TikTok? Both Reels and TikToks are short-form videos. Users can put together and edit multiple videos, photos, or a combination of both. You can add music, effects, filters, text, and stickers. You can adjust the video speed and volume and split or cut the video. Reels and TikTok videos also both play in a vertical orientation, in 1080 x 1920 pixels or 9:16 aspect ratio.

Instagram has also copied TikTok’s Duet feature with Remixes. Like Duet, Remixes allows users to “attach” their video to another, creating a side-by-side film.

Reels vs. TikTok: How Are They Different?

Reels and TikToks have more differences than similarities. Let’s break them down.

The Sound Library

TikTok definitely offers better and more tools for video creation than Instagram via its Reels feature. One of TikTok’s biggest edge over Reels is its extensive library of music and sounds.

TikTok’s Commercial Music Library (CML) is a unique music resource housing over one million songs and sounds pre-cleared for commercial use. This means creators and brands can use any sound from the library absolutely free. You don’t have to worry about music licensing and royalties to use these sounds for commercial purposes. The Music Library also gives emerging artists a platform to showcase their talent and monetize their output.

While Instagram allows users to add music to the Reels tab, its music catalog is limited. However, Reels has also started to feature audio tracks from both new and popular artists.

Video Length

Another glaring difference between TikTok videos and Reels is video length. On TikTok, creators can create/post videos between 15 seconds and 10 minutes in length. On Instagram, the maximum length for Reels is 90 seconds. If you have a longer Instagram video, you can share it as a regular post instead.

Various Editing Tools

Mostly because videos are TikTok’s raison d’etre, the platform offers more and better editing tools.

Instagram Reels can go head-to-head with TikTok when it comes to the wide selection of visual effects and filters available to users. However, the quality of TikTok effects is superior to Reels effects. Reels also offer sound effects and voiceovers. But the following tools are available only on TikTok:

  • Text posts. TikTok now allows users to create clips with text only.
  • Video templates. Choose a themed template for minimal editing and quicker video creation. 
  • Captions. Add auto-generated captions for improved accessibility. 
  • Stickers. Select from tons of fun stickers and emojis to make your video more fun. 
  • Overlay. Add an image or another video as an overlay. 
  • Crop. Crop your video to remove certain elements. 
  • Rotate. Rotate your video to achieve your desired effect. 
  • Stitch. When a user enables the Stitch feature, others can use any part of the video to stitch with theirs.

A close-up shot shows a man holding a DSLR camera.

How To Make Reels vs. How To Make TikToks

Let’s look at the video-creation process involved when making Reels and TikToks.

How to make an Instagram Reel:

  1. Tap the Create button, then swap left to find the Reels option. 
  2. Start recording your Reel or upload a video or photos from your gallery. 
  3. You can create a series of clips by recording shorter clips one after the other or uploading additional clips. Take note that your Reel can only be up to 90 seconds long. 
  4. Use the creative editing tools on the left side of the screen to make your Reel more engaging. 
  5. You can edit each clip separately if your Reel contains a series of clips. 
  6. You can download your Reel before posting or save it as a draft. 
  7. When you post your Reels, it will appear on Instagram’s main Reels page. You can also share it to the main feed or enable recommending on Facebook.

How to make a TikTok video:

  1. Tap the Create button and select your preferred video duration or upload from your gallery. You may also have the option to create a text post. 
  2. If you’re creating a new video, you can immediately apply your desired effects or do it later. Videos can be as short as 15 seconds or up to 10 minutes long. 
  3. You can combine multiple videos, create a photo slideshow, or use both videos and photos together. 
  4. Use the creative editing tools on the right side of the screen. 
  5. You can edit each of the clips in your video. 
  6. You can download your TikTok before posting or save it as a draft. 
  7. When you post your TikTok, you can also share it on Facebook, WhatsApp, or Messenger.

A group of friends laugh at a video they’re watching on a laptop.

TikTok vs. Reels: Which Is Better?

When TikTok first entered the international social media scene, it had the advantage of novelty. It offered fast, mobile entertainment and fun, creative tools that appealed to younger audiences. However, developing a recommendation algorithm that prioritized user interests above all else proved TikTok’s winning move.

After other platforms followed suit and offered their versions of the short-format video, TikTok still stayed ahead of the curve. While all other networks prioritized profiles with the highest number of followers and their content, TikTok remained an equal-opportunity platform.

TikTok videos are also more authentic because of its content-led and interest-based algorithm. Creators and brands are more focused on delivering genuine value to their fans. This is the surest way of getting on their For You feeds.

Between TikTok and Reels, TikTok is the better option in more ways than one. You’ll get access to better tools and features. You have a better chance of making the algorithm work in your favor. You have better chances of reaching users who will appreciate your offer.

On TikTok, short, snappy, and authentic videos rule. On Instagram, Reels are only one of the platform’s features. On TikTok, anybody can be an overnight sensation; your video can achieve viral status in the blink of an eye. On Instagram, the popularity of your Reel still depends on your overall popularity among IG users.

A man takes photos with his DSLR camera while attending a workshop.

Grow Faster on TikTok

In the TikTok vs. Instagram Reels contest, TikTok wins hands down. TikTok offers top-drawer features and tools as a space dedicated to video sharing. It also has the most advanced algorithm among all other social media platforms.

The highly engaging videos and intuitive recommendation algorithm make TikTok wildly popular among social network users. And if you’re a creator or brand struggling to reach your target audience on other platforms, TikTok is the best option.

Take advantage of the full suite of content and video marketing and tools at your fingertips. Create videos that align with your intended audiences’ interests and needs. Use a TikTok SEO strategy that informs the algorithm of who your content is for. And you’ll have the best odds of landing on the For You feeds of genuinely interested viewers.

The right eyes on your content means you’ll easily gain followers and receive consistently high engagement. Building a serious social media network and presence is easier on TikTok. You’ll always have a fighting chance against more popular videos or pages. You only need to focus on matching your content to your community’s preferences to experience rewarding growth.

Looking at the Instagram Reels vs. TikTok differences is further proof that the latter is the best place to grow your brand. And you can accelerate your growth further when you sign up for a High Social plan. Double your AI-powered, audience-targeting precision with High Social’s advanced, proprietary AI technology. Get the added AI advantage to deliver your content to the For You feeds of viewers who are most likely to become engaged fans. Start growing your TikTok today!

TikTok 101