November 11, 2021Published by: Jonny Atter

Reels vs TikTok – which performs best?

Earlier this year, Instagram revealed plans to lean more into video – moving away from its photo-sharing roots to capitalise on the type of content that has made TikTok and YouTube so successful. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Instagram Reels is now heavily influenced by the format and layout of TikTok, sporting a very similar look and feel.

But when it comes to creating and sharing video content, which one should you use? We took a closer look to find out which delivers the biggest return on views and engagement.

Different functionality

In our research, we focused on views and engagement, but it’s important to note that both platforms offer slightly different functionality when it comes to producing videos. TikTok used to be the clear winner for user experience, but Instagram has caught up and is much easier to use than before, meaning there’s now little difference between the two.

Over the course of a few months, we tested uploading the same videos to Instagram Reels and TikTok to see which performed better. Caption copy (TikTok has a 150 character limit vs. Instagram’s 2.2k) and hashtags were slightly varied between the two platforms, but the videos were identical.

The outcome?

I posted a video about a niche topic – a 1960s refuse system in London’s Barbican housing estate – on both platforms. The video was successful on both social networks, but TikTok had the clear edge. To date, the video has had 100k+ TikTok views versus 3.7k+ on Instagram, which shows the strength of TikTok’s powerful, personalised algorithm. Both videos were exactly the same; the only difference was a slightly longer caption and a few more hashtags on Reels.

The results:

Top 5 learnings

TikTok was a clear winner for this particular video, but what did we find out overall from the tests? Which platform delivers more return for input?

Here are our top five Reels vs. TikTok learnings:

  1. On average, Reels offers a higher and more consistent amount of views per video than TikTok.
  2. It’s easier to ‘go viral’ on TikTok. If a user manages to hit the sweet spot on the platform, the post blows Reels out of the water – attracting exponentially more views, comments and likes.
  3. TikToks have their moment more than once. In other words: a post can go ‘viral’, not have any interaction for a while, and then later be discovered again. The lesson here? Never delete a TikTok. It might get another lease of life later down the line.
  4. If a TikTok performs well, it continues to gain momentum for a number of days, even weeks. This is contrary to Reels, which tends to attract engagement for a shorter period of time – generally the first hour or two after posting, before tailing off over the next three days.
  5. When both TikToks and Reels perform well, they both generate fast follower growth.

Ultimately, there’s no hard and fast ‘winner’ between TikTok and Reels. The choice of which to use will come down to your objective for the video: a post focused on a quick ‘sell’ or brand PR might have its ‘viral’ moment on TikTok, but a slow and steady stream of Reels might do the job when it comes to long-term brand awareness and loyalty.

More insights

If you’re looking for more insights on these platforms, we’ll be launching our annual Instagram Brands 100 report later this month with latest learnings from TikTok, too. 

Interested in learning more about our social insights and audit capabilities? Get in touch by emailing hello@battenhall.com and find out how we help brands analyse social performance and strategy, online conversations, audiences and lots more.

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