For Innovation in Focus this month I experimented with Instagram Reels and spoke with social media manager Anthony Quintano about Instagram Reels and how it compares to TikTok so far. He is currently a manager of visual storytelling and has trained journalists on how to use social media since 2010 at NBC, Recode and Honolulu Civil Beat.
Dingmann: Could you run me through your experience with Instagram Reels and TikTok and tell me how they compare?
Quintano: TikTok has been around longer, and Instagram Reels is basically a copycat of TikTok. The biggest issue that Instagram has had over the last five years has been their algorithm and its ability to expand organic reach to new audiences. The reason TikTok has grown the way it has is its ability to reach new audiences without any paid views. The organic reach is just amazing. Just the fact that you can start an account and have a hundred followers within a couple of days, compared to zero to little reach on a new Instagram account.
The goal for any journalist is always reaching new people and to better engage with your existing audience. So right off the bat TikTok just destroys Instagram in that area. Now, when it comes to news [within TikTok], there’s no real easy way to follow a particular story. What you can do is make sure you follow a particular journalist.
Obviously, this is a video platform, so the main networks are using it for the viral video aspect of things, not necessarily original reporting. But they are using it in ways to inform people about news topics. And they are doing it in the fashion that TikTok is meant to be produced, using text on the video and lip-syncing to the audio.
Dingmann: So, TikTok is working to reach young people and Instagram Reel isn’t because of the algorithm?
Quintano: I find Reels very confusing, not user friendly the way TikTok is. I think it creates a lot of people who upload once or twice to Reels and then they kind of leave it. On instagram you have stories, traditional Instagram posts, DMs, and then you have Reels. It’s a mishmash of stuff. In Reels, unless the person actually uploads to their main feed, the discovery of that reel is limited to it popping up in somebody’s feed via the algorithm, or possibly in explore. Whereas, if you post content to your regular feed, then followers will know where to find it.
TikTok is very clean cut and clear. It’s on your profile where the videos live, there’s nothing confusing about the methodology or engagement.
Dingmann: I have seen that people will post a couple of Reels and then stop, so should they post their TikToks to Reel?
Quintano: That’s what a lot of people are doing. Instagram is often basically a photo album for TikTok users, and that’s because you can link to your Instagram account. Plus, it’s the panic fall back, so if TikTok goes away, go to my Instagram and my videos are still there.
Dingmann: You mentioned the viral video aspect, is that how journalists are using Reel and TikTok, trying to create viral videos?
Quintano: Reels is eye candy, something that is visually catching and that will stop you in your tracks. There are maybe one or two people who are trying to vlog with it, but they’re not really getting traction. The thought was, oh Instagram is trying to promote Reels, so if you post Reels, you might reach more people because they’re focusing on that in their algorithm. But that’s unfortunately not the case. From what I’ve seen, Reels are not getting any more reach than a regular post. And most of them don’t get seen beyond the day of posting. It’s kind of random, but every once in a while explore will feature Reels.
WIth TikTok there is a clear formula for boosting your engagement. If you do certain things, you have a good chance that you’ll end up on the “for you” page of certain viewers. Strategies like using the lip-sync audio, using a trending hashtag, or adding audio that’s trending. With explore on instagram, there’s no magic to it. Even if you do land on explore, you may just get a hundred views. You’re not going to get the followers, likes and comments you would on TikTok.
Dingmann: Is there anything else you would like to add about Reels specifically?
Quintano: Don’t think you are going to grow because you did some Reels. Even if you have a large audience, you are not going to reach a lot of people through that feature as it currently works. If anything, do experiments there!
Editor’s note: This Q&A is edited for length and clarity.
Sara Dingmann is a University of Missouri journalism student and Innovation Lab student staff member.