How To Optimize Your Short-Form Video Content: TikTok vs. Reels



Short-form video is at its feed-filling height right now. A conversation-starter, superbly-shared medium unlike any other of the moment. But what divides TikTok output from your Reels routines? Keep reading.

TikTok is an image-recognition wizard
The TikTok algorithm intimately knows what we love and love-to-hate to watch. Beyond the cookies filling your cache, the AI-behind it is ever evolving especially when it comes to products. Sometimes it’s the outer-packaging, other times it’s the pump or a particular color.- Pay close attention to the first 3 seconds of the videos hitting your feed, landing at the top of the trending sound.

TikTok walks so that Reels can run
What about good ol’ Reels? Not forgotten, just a little behind. Instagram is known for its ability to absorb features outside of its platform and Reels is one example of that. Many creators and brands notice a lag in trends making their way over from TikTok. Interestingly, a TikTok trend does not guarantee a hit Reel. What you spy on your TikTok feed or suite of editing tools you should expect to see a version of it in your IG within the calendar year.

Reels is more aesthetically-driven
The photo-sharing app of Valencia filters past? No surprises here but generally speaking Reels exhibit a higher production value. You’ll see a tighter crop, higher-quality camera finish, back camera over front, a constant light source or perpetual golden hour. These all make for better Reels content. On TikTok, the content, hook (the first 3 seconds + question-framing) and overall storytelling are key. On TikTok, it’s usually not worth your time to develop a video in an Instagram-way.

Reels is no longer grid-only
If you follow the @creators account on Instagram (you should, it feels like the Instagram resource you’ve always wanted) they recently shared a hack to create an in-feed cover image for your Reels within Stories. Why is this a worthy consideration? Well, many social media managers know, the directive in recent months has been to pull your cover image from within the video for optimum feeding. AKA views beyond your own followers – the golden-goose of Reels strategies. Alas, Instagram has changed its tune and what this suggests is that they’re encouraging an approach beyond the feed. They’re trying to push people to care a little less about their 3×3 – as the ever wise and brilliant Eva Chen has been campaigning over for years.

TikTok trumps on trends
Thanks to quarantine attention spans, lockdowns and too much time at home, TikTok has become the beating heart of cultural trends; From West Elm Caleb to Couch Guy, girls that get it to material girls and all the adorably strange stuff in between. Look for sounds with recent accelerated views, ideally around the 10,000 views mark to really get ahead of the game – but anything under 100,000 has viral potential. I’ll save the dance advice for someone with a little more rhythm (read: any at all) – but a trend is only worth doing if you can execute it in a style native to your brand. Ask yourself if it’s on brand for your company, personal narrative or you find it fun/funny/emotionally charged. If yes, then go for it. One 7 second video with a little text running across it could catapult you, your brand or your talent to Hype House-Heights.

TikTok converts and drives conversation
With trends come chit-chat and with chit-chat comes purchases. A whole lot of them. In beauty it’s been the Kosas CloudSet at the hands of Dana Patterson, the Peter Thomas Roth marvel at the amateur-filming of an impressed customer, or in fashion it’s the Abercrombie jean or the whole House of Sunny collection. Major retailers and small-businesses alike recognize the wave-like crescendo that comes with a TikTok made-me-buy-it-moment. Reels has the ability to fan this frenzied flame but we’re yet to see a movement of Reels-Made-Me-Shop-It to a similar degree. If revenue or conversion is the main goal, adjust your content strategies accordingly.

Let me link to you please
Both platforms fall short with the lack of link abilities, making ROI trickier to ascertain if you don’t reach viral status. It’s worthwhile setting up a bespoke TikTok landing page or unique link for those that do make it across to shop directly. Capture as much qualitative data as possible to counteract this dilemma.

Talk insights to me
TikTok has this one nailed with the ability to see where a specific video traveled globally – something Reels fails to deliver. The TikTok Creator Marketplace is also a fabulous destination for discovering new creators with stats in hand. You can stratify by niche, location or even theme – i.e. Back To School or Valentine’s Day couples, helping you sift through the 1+ Billion users and scout out the next big star.

Is the algorithm problematic?
In short yes, despite having human reviewers to better this situation. AI is inherently biased – often at the expense of minority and BIPOC creators and brands. This manifests itself into divisive beauty standards too, with a host of creators admitting their videos don’t get fed to the For Your Page via TikTok’s algorithm without using the beauty filter. And although AI isn’t my area of expertise, I always want to support BIPOC creators I love by actively seeking them out, sharing their content and engaging across platforms. Both as a brand and as an individual. This can help (if not only marginally) reclaim the airtime and space they deserve.

A moment on cross posting

  • Remove the watermark. The Instagram algorithm penalizes you for any noticeable TikTok feature as they work to erase the perception that Reels is a second tier destination. Some use screen recording in preview mode (though this may compromise quality). Others use tools like SnapTik.
  • Avoid using TikTok text elements or fonts on Instagram. Not only do trends move slower on Reels but any TikTok-y overlays or identifiers (in-app fonts, filters or editing functions) might see your video remain on your feed and no one else’s.
  • If you’ve gone to the effort of crafting “content gold” all timed out to the TikTok sound of the moment, give yourself the very best shot at eyeballs and manually link the sound in Instagram. This means you’ll show on the song’s page and if the song takes off, your video is likely to go along with it.

Need more inspo? Stellar saves are right this way:
Reels Feeds To Follow:
Phoebe Parke – Head of Social Media at Grazia UK
Courtney Park – Cultivate Socials

TikTok Wonders To Know:
Its Me Jules – Creator Marketing Expert and TikTok Algorithm Nerd
Styla Socials – Trend Tip Offs and Execution Tip Offs

Emily McDonagh
PR and Social Strategy Manager at Youthforia

Emily McDonagh is the well-written beauty marketing and brand nerd from Australia, taking up residence now in San Francisco. Crafting the social strategy and influencer footprint across the likes of Ford at Ogilvy, Australia’s largest bank and beloved beauty brands Go-To Skin Care and Youthforia. Alongside writing here at WIIM and Doré, the style destination built by outfit icon Garance Dore. Soon launching her own podcast Bra(i)nded, delving into the brains behind the brands you love. 

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