This August, Instagram debuted Reels, “a new way to create and discover short, entertaining videos on Instagram.” The feature allows users to record and edit short multi-clip videos with audio, effects and other creative tools. Beyond sharing them to their Instagram feeds, users with public accounts can also make them available in the Explore tab, potentially exposing them to a wider audience.
The release of Instagram Reels came at a strategic time, when President Trump announced plans to ban TikTok. The Chinese-owned platform just so happens to be taking viewers away from Instagram. Sliding in with Reels as an alternative option is a smart move.
Whether you’re coming over from TikTok or just trying to learn about the new feature, here are five ways to make the most of your Reels experience.
Think in Bite-Sized Chunks
When Reels was first introduced, videos could only be 15 seconds long. Instagram recently released an option for 30-second videos, opening things up a bit more. Whether you go the 15- or 30-second route, you won’t have a long time so there’s not a lot of room for excess fluff.
“I’m a big fan of how short Reels are,” says Nicole Riccardo, creator of The Instagram Marketing & Sales Academy and Founder of NR Media. “That short timeframe will hold people’s attention spans much better than long-form content, like a longer caption, IGTV video or Stories with four or five slides.”
Don’t be scared by the shorter time, though. Fifteen seconds is equal to about four bars of music in many songs, providing a baseline for your video. If you’re a clothing company, for example, show off four new seasonal outfits, transitioning every time a new line of the song begins.
While your execution needs to be more compact, your thinking can be as big as ever. Reels is still such a new feature that fans will appreciate you giving it an effort, even if there are some growing pains.
“Just like anything else you are going to get better the more you use it,” says Lindsay Mukaddam, Travel Blogger and Content Creator at One Girl Wandering. “You’ve just got to start and go from there.”
Don’t Blend In with the Competition
When something new launches, it’s tempting to look toward your competition to see what they’re doing. While another brand or individual can provide inspiration, try to avoid mirroring their Reels shot for shot.
“If you look at coaches or marketing influencers, it’s a lot of the same types of posts,” Riccardo says. “It’ll be music in the background, and I’m going to dance. And I’m going to point, and there’s some text on the screen. Then I’m going to point, and there’s some more text. That’s all anybody is doing right now. If I’m scrolling and scrolling and it’s the same thing, that’s only going to make me skip your post.”
One way to avoid looking like everyone else? Try editing some videos outside of Instagram entirely. Reels does offer engaging features like music and effects, but as a video editing tool, it’s fairly rudimentary. You may be able to create a more fluid video—or even update an existing one—by editing in another platform.
“If you are finding shooting and editing in Instagram to be cumbersome and difficult, it is totally okay to use a different app to edit and then upload the video into Reels,” says Mukaddam.
Set the Right Mood for Your Audience
Reels shouldn’t deviate from your overall brand goals. They do, however, offer a chance to set an impactful scene, more than a single post can. And with Instagram’s algorithm prioritizing Reels, brands and influencers alike can educate a wider audience if they capture them with the right mood.
“Instagram is definitely pushing Reels forward,” says Sarah Negrón-Pagán, a social media coach and marketer from @s.isforsocial. “They’re all over the home page, their space on the Explore tab is bigger compared to regular posts. Even on hashtags their space is only on the top area. This makes creators work harder on their Reels because they want to be found.”
Even if you don’t have a physical product or service available at the moment, you can use Reels as a way to tease something you’re working on. It can also serve as a platform to announce brand pivots. For example, Jaz McCarthy introduced herself as a No BS Business Coach through a series of Reels that educated her audience on the benefits of coaching. In addition, she was able to share her business’s transformation.
While brands can use Reels as a teaching tool, influencers are using it to create an immersive experience for their followers. Mukaddam’s audience looks to her for travel tips and advice, so she’s created Reels to showcase adventures like horseback riding in Vail, CO. “I loved making it look cinematic and dreamy,” Mukaddam says.
Experiment with Cover Photos and Transitions
Most Instagram users are aware of the effects and music functionalities. But two of the more overlooked areas of Reels are cover photos and transitions. They’re a great way to keep your videos looking smooth and your feed feeling consistent.
One of the keys to thriving on Instagram is creating a unique, identifiable brand aesthetic. Have you ever been scrolling through your feed and identified a post from someone just because of its feel or colors? That user has a strong aesthetic across their feed. You could pick out their post from a lineup, since it provides a comfortable, welcoming experience.
However, that aesthetic can be more difficult to replicate with videos. Luckily, Instagram predicted this to some extent, and offers the option to create Reels cover photos.
“I like that I can upload a cover photo for my Reels to keep my feed looking consistent,” says Mukaddam. “I don’t do it with every Reel, but having that option…has made it easier to maintain a cohesive feed.”
Similarly, having jerky transitions that feel out of place can make users quickly scroll by. You don’t have to be a professional music video editor to create something special with transitions. The Align tool lets you line up your previous shot with your next one. That way you can keep viewers in the moment even if you took an extended break behind the scenes to set up your next clip.
Riccardo notes transitions are a way to keep audiences engaged, while also offering a bit of fun. She cites content creator Josie Bullard as someone who does this well.
“She does some really cool transitions, so all of her videos are very specific to her niche and target audience,” says Riccardo. “[Josie] provides value for her audience while still showcasing her unique personality. That combo is key.”
Negrón-Pagán of @s.isforsocial recommends experimenting with another transitional technique: continuous or infinity Reels.
“With these types of Reels, you record in reverse, meaning you start the Reel with your ending scene,” she says. “That boosts the views because it seems like the video is not over. People stay on it for longer spans of time.”
Think Across Platforms
While Instagram and TikTok might be competing in real life, you can use them in perfect harmony.
Most Instagram brands that also have TikTok likely have some type of crossover in fans. However the majority are only following on one platform or the other. Use that to your advantage. Did you have a few videos on TikTok that performed better than usual? If they’re not timely, repost them to Instagram.
The dimensions are the same on both platforms, 1080 x 1920, and you can either use the same audio clip or “refresh” the video with new audio as needed. Similarly, think about how you might use your Instagram Reels content in other arenas.
“Video can be pretty labor intensive so make sure you are creating something that can be used across multiple platforms,” says Mukaddam. “I consistently use the same videos for Instagram Reels, Stories, TikTok, and Pinterest. Creating something that my audiences on each platform will enjoy and engage with while not doing triple the work is a major part of my strategy.”
Your brand may not be on every social platform, but you can still use Reels content in avenues like your website or newsletter. People won’t be able to click on any mentions or tags within your video, yet they’ll still get plenty of value out of the quick-hitting content.
Riccardo believes Instagram is the platform that can have the most impact for brands and influencers alike because of its tendency to introduce features to compete with other channels.
“That’s what Instagram does,” Riccardo says. “They created Stories and filters to compete with Snapchat, then created IGTV to allow people to use longer-form content. And now it’s Reels to compete with TikTok. These features are smart business moves because there are so many social media platforms, so they can provide one single place for their users—people already on their platform—to get the same features of all of these other various platforms.”
It’s clear that Reels is here to stay. There’s still room to grow the user interface and add more helpful analytics beyond views, likes, and comments. That shouldn’t stop you from embracing Reels. Brands and influencers that do will have a leg up on the platform.
Feature image via Instagram