By Olivia Wagner9/8/2022

Playing Catch-Up: Instagram Reels Features & How They Compare to TikTok

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Social platforms are constantly churning out new updates and features, and Instagram is no exception, especially when it comes to their Reels feature. As Instagram continues to compete with other big social media platforms, they’re rolling out new features to catch up.

What are Instagram Reels?

Instagram Reels are short videos that users can record directly on the app or upload from existing videos from their camera roll. The launch of Reels in 2019 was prompted by the rise in popularity of short, entertaining videos that users can scroll through quickly.

Reels have become so popular that there’s now a separate tab on each users’ profile page to showcase the video. This feature allows brands to create videos promoting their products or services to potential consumers. Compared to traditional videos, Instagram Reels take up the entire area of a device screen, using a 9:16 ratio format. If users record a video using another app or camera, they’re able to upload the video to Reels without worrying about any content being cut out of the frame.

Instagram’s Recent Updates

With its rise in popularity and the constant need to outperform competitors, Instagram has rolled out a few key features to truly step-up Reels. With the new Instagram app update, users can now record videos up to 90 seconds on Reels, up from only 60 seconds previously. A new “sound sync” feature allows users to import their own audio, including voiceovers, and to sync their video clips with their desired audio.

Features that were previously offered only on Instagram Stories are now making their way to Reels. Polls, quizzes and emoji stickers can be utilized on both Stories and Reels to make users’ content more interactive. According to a study from Instagram, 58 percent of the people surveyed reported being more interested in a product or service after seeing it in a brand’s Stories.

Creative Freedom for Creators and Brands

What do these updates mean for content creators and brands?

The implementation of longer videos allows users more time to showcase products or services, adding more value to the video with longer demos, tutorials, testimonials, and so on. In terms of the interactive elements, brands can increase engagement with their users as well as gain valuable insight directly from their consumers.

On Instagram Reels, brands can now ask questions, allow users to vote on topics, and offer quizzes. The voiceover aspect will give users the ability to explain in-depth about a product or service and will add more personality to the video, compared to having a song, or even no audio, play in the background of a video. The voiceover lets users create a personal undertone that will help them connect with their target audience.

Competing with TikTok

With these updates, any average social media user can’t help but note how these features compare to TikTok, the rising platform known for popularizing the short video trend. TikTok is also constantly updating its platform, rolling out new features week by week. TikTok now allows for 3-minute videos; however, it was the first to roll out the voiceover option and has included interactive elements for users to implement on their videos since 2020.

Because most of these features were rolled out at TikTok’s inception, it is interesting that Instagram is implementing these updates to stay relevant through the rise of quick videos and to create effective competition with TikTok.

About 60 percent of TikTok users are Gen Z, people who were born between 1990 and 2010, and overall TikTok has over 1 billion monthly active users. All in all, it is up to the brand to decide whether they want to put their efforts into Instagram and focus solely on Instagram’s capabilities, or if they want to venture onto TikTok – or both. Depending on audience demographics, it may be wiser for a brand to stay directly on Instagram, but if a brand is looking to better reach the Gen Z audience, they should explore adding TikTok to its channel mix.


Olivia Wagner is a content marketing intern at Brunner. She is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Business Administration studying Marketing and Supply Chain Management with a minor in Film & Media Studies. She uses her blend of creativity and research skills to develop content for a variety of digital channels.