Author: Brigitte Swimer,
Data Analyst – Billion Dollar Boy

August saw the launch of Reels, a new Instagram feature in which users can create and share 15-second videos set to audio featuring AR effects. Reels is seen as Instagram’s answer to TikTok, and with the future of TikTok hanging in the balance in the US, plus a ban in India, the launch of Reels comes at an interesting time.

In an attempt to stop a potential US ban, the latest news sees a proposed partnership between TikTok owner ByteDance with Oracle and Walmart to create a new company called TikTok Global, which would be headquartered in the US. In the proposed deal, Oracle would manage US cloud operations as the platform’s “trusted tech partner”. While President Trump has reportedly given the deal his blessing, whether it will go ahead is yet to be seen.

With the two platforms now offering very similar functionalities, we conducted some research to assess the performance of Reels vs TikTok content.

Play rates are higher for Reels

Our early data suggests that on average Instagram Reels get a play rate of 40.1% of an influencer’s follower count, while for TikTok this number is 9.4%. Play rate is calculated as the number of plays a Reel or TikTok video receives divided by the number of followers the influencer has on the respective platform.

There could be a few factors that contribute to this. As Reels is still very new, it’s likely not all creators will have started using it yet, so there’s less competition to appear and reach new audiences on Instagram’s Explore page compared with TikTok’s For You page. 

It may also be that influencers’ followers are perhaps more likely to see their content in their main feed on Instagram compared with TikTok, or that followers are more likely to view Reels content more than once, generating more plays.

Another factor is the novel nature of Reels – it may be that people are viewing Reels more as it’s a fresh, new and exciting feature, therefore we don’t yet know how consistent this play rate will be in the future.

Of course there are viral videos on each platform which far exceed the play rate we’d typically expect to see. TikTok’s strength has been the ability for a video to go viral even when an influencer doesn’t have many followers, thanks to the nature of the For You page. This is something Instagram is emulating with the Reels section of the Explore page, and it’s working – we’ve seen examples on both platforms of content where influencers have received play rates of over 1000% of their follower count.

TikTok videos get higher engagement rates, but Reels elicit more comments

While play rate may be higher on Instagram, TikTok performs better in terms of engagement rate. 

UK influencers see an average engagement rate of 17.2% on TikTok, while for Reels this number is 5.1%. This is the case across all influencer tiers – engagement rates on TikTok are consistently higher than Reels. TikTok shares have been excluded from this calculation for comparison purposes, so engagement rate is calculated for both as likes and comments over plays.

Interestingly, however, when comparing the percentage of engagements that are comments, Reels perform better with an average of 4.0% vs 2.2% for TikTok. This suggests when choosing to engage with a post, a user is more likely to comment on a Reels video compared with a TikTok video. This could be due to the bond of the influencer with their audience or the nature of the platform, with Instagram perhaps performing stronger in terms of influencer-follower interaction.

Reels receive more views than Instagram main feed videos

When looking at Instagram alone, we’ve noticed an uplift in view count on Reels vs main feed videos, with the average influencer receiving 62% more views on their Reels posts vs their regular main feed videos. 

For the purposes of this Instagram-only comparison, view count for Reels has been used as opposed to play count, to ensure views are counted in the same way across content types. For reference, Instagram counts a view when a video is watched for 3 seconds or more, while plays are counted each time a Reel starts to play (excluding replays). This analysis excludes IGTVs and Stories, which provide video content in different ways and are therefore less comparable to Reels (IGTVs are more long-form and can last up to 60 minutes, whilst Stories do not appear in the feed and disappear after 24 hours unless saved as a Highlight).

Average engagement rates on Reels are also typically higher than on main feed videos. When calculated in the standard way for Instagram (likes and comments over followers), Reels see an average engagement rate of 2.7%, vs 2.2% for main feed videos.

This could be because Reels content is shorter, snappier and more entertaining to watch thanks to the audio and AF filter options. It could also be because Reels are more easily discoverable by users who don’t follow the influencer, thanks to the dedicated Reels section on the Explore page.

To delve deeper into the Reels vs TikTok debate, watch our Battle of the Platforms webinar here.

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