How to choose between Instagram’s ‘Reels’ and TikTok

With the Facebook-owned platform copying the format from the upstart video-sharing app, here’s how brands should think about the difference between the two products.


As the saying goes, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” And, Facebook tends to flatter (or copy) quiet a number of features from its competitors.

The tech company’s latest form of flattery is with the Reels feature for Instagram, a “clone” of the incredibly popular app, TikTok.

So how do the two compare?

What they’ve both got:

  • Both apps/features are free to use.
  • Both have the ability to create short videos with editing and enhancement features (e.g., overlaying videos with copyrighted music or sounds, and adding special effects).
    • Reels essentially mimicked this from TikTok.
  • Instagram leads in overall downloads, but TikTok leads in new user downloads

How they differ:

  • One is a standalone app (TikTok); one is a feature within a platform (Instagram’s Reels).
  • The usability and experience of Reels pales in comparison to TikTok.

TikTok’s built-in lead

If you’re a TikToker, you’re one of 800 million monthly active users and part of the sixth largest social media platform. The platform is the No.1 downloaded app of 2020.

The features:

  • Video uploading. Obviously, TikTok has a video uploading feature that allows users to upload their own videos to the app. It’s easy and intuitive.
  • Video editing, filters, and effects. There are so many options, and it’s incredibly easy to navigate. It’s designed for people just to use the app, not to have to use tons of production equipment.
  • Social sharing. Amazingly done and allows you to share very easily, add in links to other social media platforms in a user’s profile, or just download on your phone.
  • Likes and comments. Standard.
  • Duets. A very fun collaboration tool which allows you to add on to another creator’s story (maybe a “chain” of characters) or react to another video (Chef Gordon Ramsay reacting to people’s cooking might be my new personal favorite).

Younger audiences dominate this platform and as it gains in popularity, other generations are following suit. This is a growing app despite warnings of security and threats to shut it down completely in the U.S.


Comparatively, Instagram—part of Facebook—is the 5th largest social media platform. It also boasts 1 billion active monthly users.

When scrolling through your home feed or Explore page, you’ll be able to tell which posts are Reels clips by the iconic “clapboard” in the bottom-left corner. If you browse Reels, you’ll see that there are many posts from creators who originally created a video via TikTok and are simply reposting it to Instagram.

The features:

  • Video uploading. Reels allows you to do this as well, but it’s less intuitive (TikTok’s is labeled and says “upload”).
  • Video editing, filters, and effects. It’s basic and limited. Seems like a slightly elevated version of Instagram’s “Stories.” It’s also a bit difficult to navigate.
  • Social sharing. There aren’t easy sharing buttons, you just have to hope that you somehow get seen on the “Explore” page. Though you do have the ability to share a Reels video to your own Story as a way of amplifying.
  • Likes and comments. Standard.
  • No duets. Probably one of the most fun features of TikTok –and one of the one things Instagram didn’t nab.


Reels is a less impressive version of TikTok and one that won’t get you the same interaction you could find on the TikTok platform.

With that said, if you’re creating videos for one, why not test/tweak/post on the other? We’re seeing TikTokers do this just to make sure they’re being seen by as many eyes as possible. But, if you want an easy editing and video creating experience—TikTok is still where it’s at.

Laura Bedrossian is vice president of social strategy for Hot Paper Lantern.


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