Knock-Off TikTok?: Instagram’s Reels are Set to Compete, but Should You Reallocate Dollars?

Instagram Reels is a compelling new feature allowing users to create 15-second video clips and seamlessly edit them in-app, which competes directly with TikTok’s media format.

While this new feature should put a dent in TikTok’s marketshare to some degree, TikTok is still an ever-expanding platform that promises to compete with Snapchat and Instagram in the future– especially among Gen Z users.

Don’t move money from TikTok quite yet.  In fact, have a influencer and content strategy for the medium, and for Instagram Reels.


It started small, and now it’s everywhere. We’ve all seen it. You walk by a public area and see a group of teens or college kids. They’re all gathered together in front of a phone propped up by someone’s wallet, posing, getting every person in just the right spot–then they spring to life as the music starts. This is the social phenomenon known as “TikTok.”  

After years of near-zero competition, TikTok is finally being seen as the competitor it is.  Instagram, YouTube, and other platforms are taking note. The launch of the Instagram Reels option in the flagship social app represents just how serious that note is.   

What are Instagram Reels?  

Instagram Reels could almost be referred to as a “TikTok KnockOff”– it’s a creative suite of tools launched within the Instagram app allowing users to create 15-second video clips and seamlessly edit them in-app to create compelling content. Sound familiar? That’s because it is.  

All of this comes with access to Instagram’s audio library with a full search capability for tracks, special effect filters, and all of the other bells and whistles to make your content unique. Users can now even search against individual tracks or videos to uncover new content, a massive deal for user engagement on a platform that has seen some migration to TikTok in recent years. These searches and video indexing functions should only serve to improve and narrow the powerful algorithm’s success rate in dropping relevant content into user feeds.

TikTok’s meteoric ascent to play with the biggest players

The rise of Bytedance’s popular social app hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of us in the marketing and advertising space. According to data analyzed by tech app researcher SensorTower, TikTok once again was the most downloaded non-gaming app in June 2021, topping the Apple and Google Play Store charts. Mind you, all of this happened in the face of major media headlines outlining data privacy concerns and the potential for Chinese government surveillance. If that doesn’t vouch for how sticky this app is for users, I’m not sure what does.

Additionally, users are sticking around on the app, and these users are young people. Based on a late 2020 study by eMarketer, users are spending 33 minutes per day on TikTok, with Instagram clocking in at 30 minutes per day and Snapchat at 28 minutes, respectively. 

Source: eMarketer, January 2021

Punctuating this is the Gen Z mass migration to the platform. In May of 2021, there were 37.3 million Gen Z users of TikTok to 33.3 million users of Instagram. Snapchat is still king among the age group, but the king has undoubtedly met a worthy opponent. TikTok stands to close the user gap with Snapchat based on estimates running up through 2025.

Source: eMarketer, May 2021

TikTok’s suite of editing tools, flexibility to create content, and simple user interface have caused a disruption in the US Influencer marketing economy. Agencies and large corporations across the board are integrating TikTok into their influencer marketing budget, cutting into Instagram’s total market share and revenues. According to eMarketer’s April 2021 research study, TikTok has grown from 16% of marketers reporting allocating budget to TikTok to 68% in March of 2021, a seismic shift in budget and perception. In short, if you don’t have a TikTok strategy as a brand, you need one.  

[Social Media Platforms are US Marketers Planning to use for Influencer Marketing]

But…. the Gram Ain’t Going Quietly.

In that same study, Instagram still ranks as the platform receiving the most interest from marketers’ influencer budget at 93% for Instagram, Instagram Stories at 83%, and now the newly released Instagram Reels at 36%, representing just how much faith marketers have in the new feature. Additionally, projected user growth and penetration is an interesting story. Based on a May 2021 model provided by eMarketer, TikTok is projected to grow its total US user base by 18.3% by the end of 2021, then surpass Snapchat’s users by 2023 with an estimated total of 89.7 million users.  

Source: eMarketer, May 2021

So, should you knock off TikTok and move your budget elsewhere?

If you’re a B2C company looking to reach a wider swathe of the population (especially Gen Z and younger demographics) with market penetration and brand awareness messaging in mind– I’ll answer this question in a single word, “no.” No, you shouldn’t. In fact, savvy marketers know TikTok is here to stay, so keep it in your budget.

But, Instagram Reels stands to disrupt TikTok in a fairly significant way. Its features, existing user base, and brand strength in the US stand to create user growth and adoption of the new feature. Instagram Reels will also be providing a real-time data analytics feed, providing valuable metrics to influencers that ultimately feed their business model. Reels will provide data points, including likes, comments, saves, total shares, plays, and more. All of this is also incorporated into an insights dashboard where these users can monitor and track engagement over time. A boon for both influencers and their marketing partners–YAY DATA! And as we know, where the influencers go, the views and users follow. And the best part as an influencer, in this case, is that I probably don’t need to go anywhere.

Here are the top four steps we’re advising clients take as Reels rolls out to more users this year:

  1. Have a TikTok brand strategy – This is one of your first moves after reading this. The platform isn’t going away, nor will it be disrupted out of the marketplace. Based on past trends in social adoption, younger consumers have a habit of causing mass migrations to and from platforms. Don’t miss out on a chance for your brand to reach your target audience.

  2. Don’t abandon TikTok in your influencer budget – It’s still a viable platform with notable value to organizations targeting Gen Z consumers. This also allows you to hedge in the case Reels doesn’t catch on.

  3. Launch an Instagram Reels brand content strategy – Find ways to disseminate high-impact content through Reels. With a broader user base and massive market share in users, Instagram is a pretty safe bet to make good on their investment in these updates.

  4. Consider allocating influencer dollars from traditional Instagram efforts to Instagram Reels – Use this as a test and learn opportunity. Engage with an influencer or two looking to spread their wings using this new feature, and work with them on a three-month posting calendar. Start small and stay flexible to scale up when the time arises.


Contact us for more information about social media trends and other brand strategies we’re thinking about.


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