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How Businesses Should Use Instagram Reels and TikTok

Hope Horner
Hope Horner
CEO and founder at Lemonlight

It is important for businesses to understand the differences between Instagram Reels and TikTok.

Vine might be history, but its legacy hasn't faded. The social site introduced the excitement and splash of mini videos to an eager audience. Now, that video-loving audience has discovered TikTok — and is on the cusp of deciding Instagram Reels' fate.

Brands thirsty to conquer the social media scene with fresh content might have already toyed with TikTok. If so, they would be wise to test Reels, too. After all, TikTok's U.S. destiny remains in question despite its remarkable popularity and more than 2 billion app downloads. That means Reels has the potential to appeal to countless users if TikTok is indeed banned.

For now, though, both TikTok and Reels are reinventing what it means to push out messaging in 2020 and beyond. However, the platforms are hardly identical. TikTok allows 60-second videos, whereas Reels caps content at 15 seconds. TikTok’s main following is Generation Z, in comparison to Instagram’s more diverse audience of users from several generational cohorts. Let’s not forget that TikTik offers branding possibilities unavailable on Reels — although that could change after Facebook’s team analyzes its new product during its infancy.

Where the TikTok-Reels connection begins and ends

In other words, companies should experiment with both mediums — but not necessarily create crossover content. For example, a video that plays well with TikTok followers might not fit the established tone of a business's Instagram page. Consequently, the video might seem out of alignment. On TikTok, brands can deviate if they don't have an established presence. On Instagram, they don't have the same leeway.

Another reason to create novel content for each platform is the difference in audiences. With TikTok skewing so much younger, users' preferred messaging might not resonate with older millennials or Generation X users viewing the same video on Reels. Yet one thing's clear: Brands interested in reaching younger buyers ignore one or both platforms at great risk.

Data shows that video watching behaviors have continued to blossom. YouTube reports users watch more than 500 million hours of video daily, and many marketers believe that retro home-movie style content will only continue to become part of the fabric of the public’s viewing and streaming culture.

Developing powerful, personalized Reels content

Has your company toyed with the idea of plunging into Reels? Consider implementing a few processes to ensure that you get the biggest bang for your online digital marketing buck. Simultaneously, curb your appetite for replicating TikTok because the mediums vary widely.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Align Reels with your existing Instagram brand strategy. Your Reels should have a similar look and feel to the posts and stories on your Instagram page. Although it's fine to deviate a bit, don't go so far away from your core branding that viewers feel like they’re watching videos from a different company. Otherwise, they might be turned off by your content or sense that it’s just a regurgitation of a TikTok challenge.

This isn’t to say that you can’t fine-tune or revitalize a former TikTok video for use on Reels, particularly if it performed well. It's highly efficient to be able to reuse content as a digital marketer. Just proceed with caution.

One way to reinvent a TikTok video is to ensure it resonates with your Instagram audience by switching up the music or choosing different frames or elements. You might also want to adjust the video using Reels' integrated augmented reality options or remove AR overlays you used on the TikTok version.

2. Explore your Instagram followers’ preferences. It's worth investing time in social listening to discover what your Instagram audience engages with in terms of content across the platform. Do a little digging and watch your most engaged users’ Reels. Find out which Reels they appreciate by tracking them and their preferred hashtags. Also, look into the influencers they follow and see whether influencer video content could help you with your digital messaging.

Ideally, you want to deliver a similar Reels experience to the ones your target avatars want. Again, don't just assume that your TikTok video that resonated with Generation Z on one platform will perform equally as well on Reels. Just because a user identifies with a specific age group doesn't mean the user’s behavior should be consistent across two very different platforms.

3. Become a fly on your competitors' (social) walls. If you're not following your competitors closely on both TikTok and Instagram, now is the time to start. Watch what works and jot down what doesn’t. Do this with any industry disruptors and keep a document of ideas, dos, and don’ts.

One thing you're bound to notice is that the brands winning in the Reels department aren't taking themselves too seriously or overtly selling. Instead, they're showing off quirkier sides of their business, such as the behind-the-scenes processes to make a unique product. Consider ways to follow suit and use TikTok’s fast-paced, jumpy clips and transitions as inspiration for your 15-second, attention-grabbing masterpieces — without worrying that they have to be master quality.

4. Test-drive viral video content. Reels is a new commodity for digital marketing teams, so it's a perfect vehicle to run some A/B split tests. Try out all sorts of content and see what happens. You’ll learn tons about your audiences' preferences and potentially hit buzzworthy paydirt as a nice side effect.

What should you test? Anything from video length and thumbnails to video titles and on-screen copy can reveal tons about your users and what excites them most. Of course, you'll want to be careful not to change too much between video A and video B. For instance, if you're going to swap video titles, make sure the difference is easy to track (think all capitals versus all lowercase lettering).

5. Put creativity on display. Now isn't the time to avoid being innovative (and maybe more than a little bit outside the box). Reels has given all companies a rare opening to test-drive video on their Instagram pages in fresh, fun ways. That's also an opportunity for you to showcase a different side to your business while still remaining on trend and on brand.

To be sure, taking calculated risks on social media platforms might put you outside your comfort zone. The key is to relax. After studying videos that are doing well for you on TikTok — or other organizations on either TikTok or Reels — you should have enough information to formulate your own video concepts. A good rule of thumb is to make your videos as uncomplicated as possible. Often, it's the simplest videos that stand out the most and make users laugh and click.

Leading the way into uncharted Reels waters

We're at the initial phase, or the jumping-off point, for Reels. It's impossible to tell at this juncture whether Reels or TikTok will wind up the frontrunner in the space. When Instagram launched its Stories, it slowly overcame Snapchat's stories. The same could certainly hold true for Reels versus TikTok, especially because Instagram already has that strong presence.

Regardless, you have the chance to embrace both platforms. Just make sure that you treat them as cousins, not identical twins. Oh, and don't forget to say a silent "thank you" to their forebearer: the late, great Vine that started all the hubbub.

Image Credit: grinvalds/Getty Images
Hope Horner
Hope Horner
business.com Member
Hope Horner is CEO and founder of Lemonlight, a video production company that produces and distributes branded video content at scale. Hope is a three-time entrepreneur who has been featured in Inc., KABC, Extra, and other publications highlighting her successes in the Silicon Beach community over the past decade.