TikTok vs. Reels is one of the great rivalries of our time, similar to Coke vs. Pepsi or BetaMax vs. VHS or Pants vs. Culottes.
You might be considering investing in Instagram Reels or Tiktok and wondering if you need to do both or just need to focus on one. But it’s so hard to decide which side to side when nobody can agree which is better for engagement rates.
Some in the world of social media marketing believe that TikTok videos get more action because the TikTok algorithm is “better”; others claim that reels are getting more exposure because the format of Instagram is constantly being pushed out to everyone.
On the one hand, TikTok’s For You page (#fyp) is very much tailored to the interests of users. On the other hand, the Instagram Reels Explore Page is a melting pot of content. Is it better to reach a specific, targeted audience … or show your great video in as many eyeballs as possible?
We decided to find out which format got the most engagement by doing what we do best here at the Hootsuite Social Media Lab: putting it to the test.
In this experiment, I posted the exact same content on Reels and TikTok and measured its performance over the course of the week.
Here is what happened.
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Hypothesis: Reels perform better than TikToks
There are some subtle differences between Instagram Reels and TikTok, but both apps serve essentially the same purpose: They allow users to quickly create, edit, and share short video content. Both Reels and TikTok offer users a variety of fun filters and effects, as well as the ability to add music and sound effects.
But even though both offer the same basic functionality, we want to find out if one cultivates more engagement than the other … because nobody really seems to know.
Even Hootsuite’s in-house experts are torn! Eileen Kwok, Social Marketing Coordinator here at Hootsuite, has chosen Reels as a more powerful platform: “The competition on TikTok is high right now,” she says.
Brayden Cohen, Social Marketing Specialist, took a more nuanced view of the situation. “When a brand has little or no followers, I think it’s a lot harder for their reels to go viral,” he says. “At TikTok, however, I don’t think your brand needs to have a large following in order for your TikTok to explode and go viral.”
However, every good experiment needs a hypothesis (say hello to my science teacher in ninth grade!), So we’ll only pick one side here.
Let’s say … roles. Rolls will likely work better. After all, Instagram wants us to get into Reels so much that they will do whatever it takes to make my content go viral … maybe! Hopefully!
I decided to create and post five short videos that were as identical as possible per platform.
It is important that I freshly created each video in the platform: They were not posted again. So there are some subtle differences between each – how I couldn’t find a cool pulsating TikTok filter on Instagram Reels – but they’re as close as possible.
Oh, and one other distinction. On Instagram, you can post your reel to both your main feed and your Reels tab, so that’s what I did. It just felt right.
♬ Guys – Lizzo
I’ve avoided subtitles and hashtags on both platforms in case that might skew the results one way or another. It was all about the video content. It’s time for my director’s vision to shine!
♬ I’m so hungry – Karter Zaher
However, there was an issue with even reading between platforms: I have around 1,600 followers on my Instagram account and zero on my TikTok account because I just signed up for this experiment. (Very brave of Hootsuite to allow a Millennial to get involved in a TikTok-based project like this one.)
This extreme discrepancy seemed to skew engagement quite a bit, so I decided to open a new Instagram account to make sure the pitch was nice and even. It would be a pure battle of the algorithms!
Which platform would dare to push my content to the masses, even though I seemed completely friendless and uninteresting to everyone? And would Hootsuite stop me in the middle of this experiment and replace me with a cool 20-year-old? Only time would tell!
There is no frosting: TikTok blew reels out of the water.
I was expecting the reels I posted on my Burner account to show less engagement than if I shared them with the followers on my real account, but I was stunned that they basically didn’t reach anyone.
I assumed that reels would be pushed to non-followers and that I would get at least a few views even if I had not received any likes or comments.
After all, the Reels button is at the very bottom center of the Instagram home screen, and when I tap on it, I’m fed up with a nonsense parade of content from accounts I’ve never heard of. I see a guy trying to walk down the stairs with the hot tub filter on; I see cute tweens dancing; I see an Indian bride showing off her makeup. Who are these people and how did they get into my phone … but more importantly, how do I get none of this promotion with my own top notch content ?!
It is humbling to share these numbers, but science is all about transparency and truth. My Instagram Reels each have a maximum of two views. TWO.
Meanwhile on TikTok the exactly the same content practically made me a star.
I mean, I’m not Charli D’Amelio. But I’m still very impressed that my account, which had no followers at the beginning of this experiment, managed to rally 450 views per video. I even got a few likes from strangers … and a follow!
What do the results mean?
From this very scientific and grueling experiment my conclusion is: TikTok is far better at bringing content out into the world than reels… at least if you have a small (or nonexistent) audience at the beginning.
If you want to get reach with your content and build an audience from the ground up, TikTok is probably your best bet.
However, this experiment didn’t test how much engagement reels get when you have an existing audience.
Would posting reels from an account with followers have Instagram rank my content higher in its algorithm? Perhaps my followers would have commented, liked or shared my content themselves?
But until I upgrade my TikTok followers from their current status (some kind of stranger) to something that rivals my Instagram account audience, we’ll never know how to really compare them.
While I’m patiently waiting to get TikTok popular, why not give this experiment a try for yourself? It’s pretty low stakes and little overhead, and you will quickly find out what best fits your brand and social media strategy. And if you want to follow me on this … well, that’s a win for everyone.
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