Billy Boulia & Dana Rozansky|Aug 7, 2020

With social media continuing to evolve and have even more daily engaged users during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that this heightened activity brings about new social platforms and capabilities. TikTok was founded in 2012 by Beijing-based technology company ByteDance, and at the time, no one knew what to make of it. How was it different from Twitter’s Vine? Why a new platform just to make short videos of lip syncing to songs and monologues? 

Well, everyone was wrong. The app slowly grew in popularity and recently exploded with daily active users as part of the digital pandemic craze:

  • There are currently over 1.5 billion users in more than 150 countries
  • It is one of the world’s most downloaded apps in 2020 thus far
  • 185 billion monthly views of content
  • The average US user spends over 71 minutes on the app per day

However, most recently the app has been involved in controversies. The government announced that they were considering banning the app because it potentially posed a national security threat. TikTok denied these accusations and claimed that this monitoring of users was actually “a feature designed to identify repetitive, spammy behavior” and not a purposeful invasion of privacy. Due to this, TikTok is now considering creating a new management board and establishing its headquarters outside of China. 

And now the tides are changing yet again for TikTok and the short form video social media space…enter Facebook’s giant: Instagram. 

Instagram Reels: The Newest Kid on the Block

On August 5, 2020 Instagram launched its newest offering in its arsenal of creative and social capabilities for its users: Reels. 

Prior to the launch, rbb received a sneak peek of the new offering and a chance to test the waters before it went live to Instagram’s +1 billion monthly active users. After diving into this new feature, it became increasingly clear that Instagram is looking to directly compete with TikTok’s capabilities while leveraging the massive reach that Facebook has to offer.

TikTok turned into a viral sensation because of its quick, catchy videos, trending audio, and interactive tools and effects…all prevalent features of Instagram’s Reels. Similar to TikTok, Instagram Reels features 15-second videos where users can add audio, adjust speed, set effects, add text, and more. Not only is Reels’ functionality nearly identical to that of TikTok, but the interface is almost an exact replica as well. Due to this, there will be a minimal learning curve in users adopting this new feature.

So how does Reels work? It’s simple: go to the Stories section and select ‘Reels’ instead of ‘Story’ or ‘Live’ at the bottom of the screen. Once there, upload existing content, film new content, add sound, and more. From there, either save a draft and revisit later, or publish.

Reels vs TikTok: The Opportunity & Difference

The real difference between TikTok and Instagram’s Reels lies in its reach, audience and distribution. TikTok essentially has one option for publishing, whereas Instagram users have several options for publishing Reels:

  • Stories: where it will live for 24 hours
  • Reels Tab: which lives directly next to users’ feed tabs (similar to IGTV)
  • Feed: optimizing for maximum exposure

One of the greatest opportunities with Reels lies in its discoverability for content creators and brands. Instagram revealed that its Explore page will now be populated with Reels content, taking up nearly half of its real estate on the page. The takeaway? The more Reels you post, the better chance you have of your content being discovered by potential new followers and fans.

Reels vs TikTok: The Takeaway

So the next question becomes, so what? Why is this relevant for your brand? If your goal is to deliver engaging content to younger consumers and your brand enjoys thinking outside the box in terms of social creative, then the rbb Digital Team is here to help you navigate these new and exciting waters:

  • First-Mover Advantage:  As Reels (and TikTok) are both social media platforms on their growth trajectories, advertiser (organic and paid) competition is still limited. Reels even more so since it’s only available from an organic social perspective for now. If your brands are less risk averse and like taking advantage of new opportunities that will inevitably explode in popularity, now is the time to take that leap. 
  • Creative & Social Strategy Unite: Content discoverability on most social media platforms is key to success. Obtaining this key is where the challenge lies. Creating discoverable and dare I say, “viral” content for TikTok or Reels is simple with the right equation:
    • First 2 seconds = most engaging and lasting impression
    • Relevant hashtags = discoverability
    • Trending audio clips = igniting relevant usage with the audience


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