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Are Instagram Reels Just a Wannabe TikTok? Everything You Need to Know About IG’s Newest Feature

Millions of people, young and old and from anywhere across the globe, have used TikTok to create 15-60 second videos sharing their own dance moves, story times, cooking videos and more. And while I am not one of them, I have spent many, many hours scrolling and laughing. While I love watching TikToks, I was never really interested in making public videos – until recently.

Earlier this month, Instagram introduced Instagram Reels. Reels are short multi-clip videos with audio and effects, which can be filmed right in the Instagram app or uploaded from your camera roll. 

Sound familiar? It kind of is.

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A lot of people feel like Instagram Reels are just a wannabe TikTok:

The timing for the release of Reels was interesting – if not a little suspicious – given the news that TikTok could be banned in the United States soon. For someone like me who already uses Instagram and already has a small following on the app, I became interested in testing both platforms. While Reels and TikTok definitely have some things in common, there are some things about how short-form video works on Instagram that are a bit different. Here’s everything you need to know about Instagram Reels.

Editing

Much like TikTok, Reels can be edited or overlaid with a selection of licensed music or original audio, augmented reality filters that alter the displays on your front or back camera, sped-up motion, and decorated with stickers. And, that’s about all that’s similar between the two platforms. Yes, really. That’s it. 

Sharing Reels

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On Instagram, you have the option of creating a private Reel or a public one. Private Reels function the same way anything on a private IG account does, meaning that only your followers can see what you’ve posted, and your Reels can only be shared with people who already follow you. And if your Reel is private, people won't be able to use your original audio to create their own. 

Public Reels, on the other hand, get shared to the Explore page, where you can find the most popular Reels of the moment. When you use songs, hashtags or effects in your public Reels, they may show up on the page dedicated to the song, hashtag or effect. 

Some Reels on the Explore page are marked as “Featured,” which means that that Reel is a public Reel that the Instagram team hopes will inspire the viewer, sparking some form of creativity according to Instagram’s blog. If you share a public Reel, you could get featured and if you do, Instagram will let you know. 

You can also share your Reels with friends via DM or on your story, regardless of whether your account is public or private. Sharing your Reel to your story works just like a regular story, so it’ll disappear in 24 hours.

At the moment, Instagram doesn’t allow you to download someone else’s video directly to your camera roll like TikTok does. So if you’ve seen TikToks shared all over other social media platforms like Instagram or Twitter, you won’t be seeing that with IG Reels. On TikTok, if the creator allows it, you can download their video to your camera roll and share it outside of the app. This is huge for creators who want to go viral or creators who make really cool content, because it means that other people can share their posts across platforms and introduce them to a much wider audience than they would otherwise get. On Instagram, you can share someone else’s public Reel, but it’ll be shared in a link format that directs you straight to the app, rather than being stored as a video on your phone. The only “save” option that Instagram offers right now is to save the Reel to your Saved folder right in the app, like you can do with other IG posts. 

Length and analytics

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Unlike TikTok’s 15-60 second time limit on videos, Reels are capped at 15 seconds. That means whatever burst of creative genius you’re trying to share has to happen quickly. This is probably because Instagram already has longer-form video sharing options, like posting directly to your feed, IGTV or Stories. 

According to Jessica Worb, a freelance writer for Later, an Instagram marketing platform, Reels is meant to fill the gap left by IGTV’s series-based longform content and Stories’ short 24-hour shelf-life. Instagram hopes that by capping Reels at 15 seconds, you’re inspired to share content that is less produced than the things you might share directly to your feed. For influencers or IG users who like to track their analytics, Reels only offers analytics in the form of likes, views, and comments. At the moment, you can’t use Branded Content tools on Reels, and you also can’t use interactive stickers like polls, Q&A, or challenges on Reels.

Music

Musicians on Instagram can’t upload their own songs to the Reels music library like they can on TikTok. The only option is to use their song as an original sound, and try to get publicity from there. According to an article written by Brian X. Chen and Taylor Lorenz for the New York Times, Instagram is still facing music restrictions from third-party rights holders. So, if you create a Reel with music from the music library and download it to your camera roll, the music will be stripped away and you’ll be left with a silent video, which kinda sucks when half of the entertainment comes from the audio.

Creating your own Reel

Reels is a new option in your Stories camera menu, so you can access it by clicking on the camera icon at the top. Once you’ve opened the Reels camera you can select the music you want, change the speed of your video, choose camera effects, and use the stopwatch button to modify the length of a video clip or set a timer for a countdown to hands free filming. To upload a video from your camera roll, just swipe up like you would if you were uploading a photo from your camera roll onto your Story! When you’re ready to post, you can choose a thumbnail for your Reel or upload a custom cover, and add a caption. Because no one’s really sure how the Reels algorithm works, it’s probably best to use descriptive hashtags and captions, and tag people where appropriate in order to get the most views.

Pulling from sources like Statusphere, an influencer marketing company, and Later, here are some best practices for influencers who want to make the most of Instagram Reels:

Pick a niche and stick to it! 

It’s likely that people will be drawn to your profile and stay there if you stick to a niche like fashion, cooking or fitness, and if you pick something that already resonates with your audience.

Make content that’s strictly for Reels. 

You can easily repost TikToks you made, but Instagram doesn’t favor those videos. Plus, with a much shorter time limit, it’s probably best to make original content anyway! You can always repurpose videos that you’ve made previously and create content for Reels that seems new!

Share your Reels to your feed! 

Whether you have a public or a private account, Reels will live on a separate tab on your account unless you post them directly to your feed. If you post a Reel directly to your Feed, it will show up both on your Reels tab and on your main profile grid. The best way to get Reels to your audience is to post it to your main grid. And, with customizable covers, you can make your Reel match your feed so it doesn’t look out of place if that’s something that matters to you.

What are your thoughts on Reels? Do you love them or hate them? Let me know!

Follow Camille on Instagram.

Camille is pursuing a Ph.D. in Communication at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. She has bylines in the Nonahood News, Her Campus, Screen Queens, and Shifter Mag. In addition, she has worked with "The Cypress Dome," and "The Florida Review." She is enthusiastic about Latina/o/x issues, fitness, writing, and reading. She is on Instagram and Twitter: @camilleeejoan
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