Exploring Instagram Reels for marketers: Not just a TikTok clone?

Emma Worth is senior creative social strategist at Ralph Creative, a creative agency with offices in London, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Introducing Instagram Reels; a new way of creating fun and engaging video content from Instagram Stories, distributed directly to your feed. So, what’s all the fuss about? Is it just a TikTok clone? Is it another example of owner Facebook aiming to take out the competition in the same way it introduced Stories as an alternative to Snapchat?

Well, yes and no. Instagram Reels has been in development for some time (since being trialled in Brazil late last year) and launched earlier this month in 50 countries, including the UK and US.

Yes, it would be naïve to think that the Facebook/Instagram empire doesn’t want to claim all eyeballs on its own apps, and the company is very comfortable with adapting to new social media trends to keep on top of the game.

But Reels is innovative and offers a number of benefits over TikTok (outside of the current situation regarding Trump’s hope of banning TikTok in the US). And for brands and influencers looking to engage with consumers and fans, there are some clear wins for Reels.

Firstly, the simple, user-friendly video editing interface enables brands, marketers and influencers to share short-form video content as quickly as they can with static content such as photography. You don’t really need *hours* of training to understand how to build and edit videos within Reels, unlike competitor TikTok which as a video editing app is far less user friendly and much more intricate for first timers especially.

And again, from a usability perspective, there are no restrictive caption limits, which makes adding important details far easier – for things like recipes, travel blogging, or stockist details. With TikTok, creators often have to use the comments section to tag on extra details or explanations which can make the uploading process far lengthier.

Similarly, there’s also the ability to tag an almost infinite number of other handles, including brands and creators, most of whom are most likely to already be on Instagram. All handles in captions are clickable making profiles easy to reach with a touch of a button, so there’s no need to pull people across to Instagram like there would be on other apps like TikTok.

Finally, in terms of editing, Instagram seems to currently have one up on TikTok when it comes to its huge music library. Recently brands were stripped of their rights to use popular tracks from artists on TikTok and now can only choose from a smaller library of stock music. Boring! Instagram still enables brands to choose licensed music to put over their videos, making for a much more engaging and fun viewing experience.

However, it’s most likely the environment – and the potential of Reels ’reach – which provide the biggest bonus over TikTok. Already we’re seeing richer, higher quality content from brands and creators on Reels, content which serves a deeper purpose than being made purely for the “lolz”. TikTok content, generally speaking, is pretty random, whereas the content we’ve seen on Reels feels more wholesome and in line with creators’ own content which they’ve already built up and perfected on their pages.

Instagram have also made finding content that suits you easier. And if your Reel is featured in Explore, you’ll receive a notification. These Featured Reels are a selection of public Reels chosen by Instagram to help you discover original content which the company state “will hope to entertain and inspire you”. Lovely stuff!

The Instagram audience, too, is an attractive one (in many senses) to brands. Gen Z-ers and Millennials – with their bigger disposable incomes – are more comfortable with Instagram; they already use it. And brands have the opportunity to see even greater reach to these desirable consumers with Reels over Instagram’s traditional feed.

In addition, influencers have been quick to jump to Reels. Some are continuing with TikTok too, but others – like Jessica Alba – have switched completely, giving a huge boost to the format. Indeed, British Vogue has already published an article on the top Reels influencers to follow – a huge seal of approval from the fashion and lifestyle publishing institution.

Let’s not forget too, that although TikTok has claimed all the headlines over the past few months, Instagram’s audience is still bigger. And the introduction of Reels has the potential to push it higher still, with many consumers feeling more comfortable with the format.

When Andy Warhol predicted that in the future everyone would have 15 minutes of fame, maybe he should have said 15 seconds.

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