Instagram Reels vs Stories: Understanding the Key Differences

Social media users often find it challenging to distinguish between Instagram Reels and Stories. While both options are popular for sharing video content and boosting engagement, it’s not a matter of choosing one over the other.


Simply put, Instagram Reels and Stories have varying reach and cater to different audiences and consumers in your sales funnel. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the disparities between these two video formats and how to utilize them effectively in your social media marketing strategy.

Let’s quickly review the distinctions between Instagram Reels and Stories.

Instagram Story

An Instagram Story is a feature that allows users to share vertical, full-screen photos or videos that are available to their followers for up to 24 hours. Stories appear at the top of the Instagram app’s home screen and can include filters, stickers, and text overlays. They’re ideal for sharing casual, behind-the-scenes content and connecting with your followers on a more personal level.

Instagram Stories are brief videos or slideshows that are linked to your Instagram profile picture. These can only be viewed by your followers or any user if you have a public account, and they expire after 24 hours. The editing options are limited, and the length is restricted to 15 seconds.

The purpose of Stories is to give a candid look into your daily life or brand. Since they can be viewed directly from your profile picture, they are easily discoverable by your followers. When you open the Instagram app, new Stories are shown at the top of the home screen.

Reels, on the other hand, offer a different set of discovery benefits but require viewers to navigate to the Reels tab to access them.

Instagram Stories are also exceptionally interactive, offering a range of features to engage your followers and motivate them to take action. You can integrate polls, timers, links, and other interactive elements to make your Stories more engaging and interactive.

Instagram Reels

Instagram Reels are short-form videos that are created for the primary purpose of entertaining viewers, much like TikTok videos. They can range from 15 to 90 seconds in length, but most users have a 60-second cap. Unlike Instagram Stories, Reels do not expire after 24 hours and can remain on your profile permanently.

Reels are designed to be more polished and refined than the casual and spontaneous Stories.

The most significant distinction between Instagram Reels and Stories is that Reels are public, while Stories are only viewable by your followers or anyone who visits your public profile.

Reels can be seen by all Instagram users, which means that if you create a Reel that goes viral, you have the potential to generate significant engagement and gain many new followers.

Now that you have a basic understanding of Instagram Reels and Stories, it’s time to delve deeper into the key differences between the two and discover how you can utilize them to your advantage.

Allowed Formats:

Instagram Stories can be comprised of video clips, but you’re not limited to only video content. You can incorporate a variety of media, including a collage of photos, a single static image, or even posts from your feed. Due to the versatility of story creation, it’s recommended that you publish stories daily to keep your audience engaged.

In contrast, Instagram Reels is exclusively video-based. Instagram is competing with TikTok in this space, so they do not allow low-effort slideshows or images with text. As Reels require more production effort, it’s not necessary to create them daily like Stories. However, it’s a good idea to produce a few Reels per week to increase engagement.

Audio Editing Options:

When it comes to Instagram Stories, you can add personality and emotion to your content by including background music from the music library. However, this is the extent of audio editing available for Stories.

In contrast, Instagram Reels offers more advanced audio features. Similar to Stories, you can include background music from the music library. Additionally, you can add a voiceover to narrate your content, which is another way that Reels mimics TikTok’s functionality.

Drafts Opportunity:

Instagram Stories are designed to capture and share fleeting moments, so the app doesn’t allow you to save drafts of your Stories. However, you can create your Story off the app and leverage a social media scheduling tool to publish it automatically at the most opportune time.

Unlike Instagram Stories, you can save your unfinished Reels as drafts directly within the app and return to them whenever you have time to work on them. This feature makes it easy to collaborate on Reels and preview them before publishing to ensure they meet your standards.

Usage of Hashtags:

Instagram Stories allow you to include up to 10 hashtags, which should be sufficient given their limited duration of 15 seconds. It’s crucial to ensure that your hashtags are highly relevant to the value your content provides, as vague or misleading hashtags can turn off your followers.

In contrast, Instagram Reels permit up to 30 hashtags, so don’t be hesitant to utilize them to the fullest. Reels are publicly discoverable and searchable through hashtags, which means that using the correct tags can expand and define your viewership. If you’re looking to increase your followers, hashtags are much more essential for Reels than Stories, so use them wisely.

Viewer Engagement:

Instagram Stories are designed to make it easy for your followers to engage with your brand, but not with the broader community. This makes sense because Stories are private, but they compensate for their limited reach by offering deeper engagement.

When you post a Story, you can leverage interactive features such as asking a question, conducting a poll, offering a discount, or linking to your landing page, among others. This interactivity makes Stories invaluable for calls-to-action and data collection. Additionally, your followers can engage with your brand by jumping into your DMs, making Instagram Stories highly engaging due to their interactive features.

Reels, being public, offer engagement that is just as public. Viewers engage by commenting, which can be either positive or negative depending on the quality of your Reel.

If you want to maximize engagement even further, you can post your Reel as a Story, making it more likely to be viewed by your followers. This dual functionality of Reels gives them a significant advantage over Stories when it comes to engagement potential.


Instagram Stories are only shared with your followers and are attached to your display image, which appears at the top of users’ screens. This location provides some of the best real estate across all social media platforms. Therefore, even if your Stories don’t receive as much engagement, they still have a higher chance of engaging your high-value followers.

In contrast, Reels have their own tab on the app, and users navigate to the Reels page when they want to scroll through entertaining TikTok-style videos. While the Reels tab is not as easily discoverable as the Stories bar, your Reels content is more publicly discoverable than your Stories.

How to Maximize Engagement on Instagram: Story vs. Reels

Instagram Stories and Reels are valuable tools for your Instagram strategy, but each serves a unique purpose and communicates best to a specific audience.

Stories are typically reserved for private content, meant to engage your loyal base of followers. In contrast, Reels are public videos designed to attract non-followers (i.e., potential new followers) through entertaining clips and catchy music.

To make the most out of each format, here’s how to use them to your greatest advantage.

Advantages of Reels:

Elevating Overall  Engagement:

In terms of overall engagement, Reels takes the lead. Research indicates that Instagram feed engagement has dropped by 44% since the introduction of Reels, with Reels picking up the slack. Furthermore, Reels have a stronger search interest on Google compared to Stories. Since Reels are discoverable by the entire Instagram community, you can repurpose them as a Story.

Acquiring New Followers :

Reels are discoverable by non-followers, making them an effective tool for expanding your Instagram following. A study discovered that Reels result in 22% more new followers than videos on your feed. As a result, if you’re still managing your Instagram feed as if it’s 2015, it’s time to shift your focus to creating Reels.

Achieving Viral Success:

The universal visibility of Reels, combined with the ability to post them everywhere (on the Reels tab, on your feed, as Stories), makes them a potent viral tool. However, it’s crucial to schedule your Reels to drop at the appropriate time, or a viral hit could easily get lost in the shuffle.

Advantages of Stories

Engaging Your Base of Followers

Maintaining the engagement of your current followers is arguably more crucial than seeking new ones, as current followers are already further down the sales funnel. When creating a Story, target your base with personalized precision to cultivate loyalty and build a strong connection. Post frequently, and encourage interaction with polls, timers, offers, and other interactive features.

Promoting Your Products or Services

Your followers are genuinely interested in your brand, so capitalize on that by promoting your products or services in your Story. Demonstrate how they benefit users with real-world examples and results. However, be careful not to make your Story seem too sales-oriented, as nobody enjoys commercials.

Encouraging Action with CTAs

Engage your followers by encouraging them to take action. Stories are interactive, so get them to click through for a special deal or challenge them to repost and share. Ensure that every call-to-action has a clear incentive for your followers.

Instagram Reels and Stories offer a plethora of engagement opportunities for brands to take advantage of. Each feature provides precise tools to reach both new and existing followers.

To target top-of-the-funnel customers (non-followers on Instagram), use Reels to showcase your brand’s personality. For those lower in the sales funnel (your followers), deepen your connection and encourage action with Stories.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Which is better between Instagram Stories and Reels?

Instagram Reels is better for overall engagement. However, it’s not reasonable to compare Stories and Reels head-to-head, as they are intended for different audiences. Stories are better suited for engaging with your current followers, while Reels are more effective at attracting new ones.

What is the best time of day to post Instagram Stories and Reels?

The ideal time to post Reels on Instagram varies depending on location, industry, and audience factors. However, you can begin optimizing your Reels posting time by using the following average best times:

Monday: 3 am, 7 pm, 7 pm Tuesday: 12 am, 1 am, 6 am Wednesday: 4 am, 6 am, 9 pm Thursday: 6 am, 4 pm Friday: 2 am, 11 am, 1 pm Saturday: 9 am, 4 pm, 5 pm Sunday: 5 am, 8 am, 1 pm.

Are Instagram Reels visible to the public?

Yes, Instagram Reels are public, which means that all Instagram users can view your Reels, even if they are not following you. If you want to share private video content with your followers, create a Story or publish videos to your feed.

How often should brands post Instagram Reels?

If you’re looking to gain new followers, it’s best to post Reels multiple times a week.

How often should brands post Instagram Stories?

Brands should aim to post an Instagram Story at least once a day, and if possible, twice a day.

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