Remember when Instagram stole the whole concept of Snapchat and added Instagram Stories to its platform? The brilliant minds behind the popular photo-sharing social network did it again, but this time they capitalized on TikTok’s rising popularity and added Reels to the app.
Steal, borrow, take, innovate—it doesn’t matter. Instagram Reels are here to stay, and they’re a powerful engagement tool when used correctly.
Whether you’re a Reels expert or just Slacked your best friend “What’s an Instagram Reel,” we have you covered. This post will walk you through everything you need to know to start creating Reels on Instagram that boost your account’s engagement and following.
First, let’s start with the fundamentals. What’s an Instagram Reel?
What’s an Instagram Reel?
Instagram Reels are 15-to-60 seconds clips (usually set to music) that can be shared as Stories, posts, and even featured on a dedicated Reels tab on your profile.
You can find Instagram Reels by clicking the play-like button that’s dead center on your navigation bar. This page is a feed for all things Reels, though you’ll also find posted Reels on your home tab and the Explore page.
Businesses and casual users take advantage of Reels to feature products, make announcements, be creative, and have fun. Start scrolling through your Reels, and you’re bound to see everything from quirky dances to baby announcements and everything in between.
Like everything else on Instagram, the content on your Reels feed is determined by a nifty algorithm that users are always trying to figure out. While Instagram hasn’t blatantly come out and said why they feature some Reels over others, we have a pretty good guess (more on that soon).
Why Instagram Reels? Why Now?
TikTok’s popularity continued in 2021, becoming the most downloaded app of the year with 656 million downloads. However, TikTok serves a primarily younger demographic (for now), whereas Instagram serves a broader age range.
Noticing the opportunity, Instagram jumped on the scene to (again) give its users a one-stop-social network for every piece of content they’d like to consume. Ever.
IGTV combats YouTube by allowing users to post episode-length videos, and Stories battles Snapchat by letting users publish 24-hour accessible photos and videos. Now, Instagram has added Reels to provide short content that doesn’t have the tiny shelf life of Stories.
How Do You Make a Reel on Instagram?
Ready to get started making your own Reels? You’re in luck—it’s easy.
Instagram lets you create Reels from the “Your Story,” “New Post,” and Reels tabs. You can follow the process for creating a Reel from any of these locations, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s start from the Reels tab.
Step 1: Upload a Video
If you’ve already recorded a video that you know will fit perfectly for Reels, upload it by clicking the square icon in the bottom left corner. There you can upload your raw video and start editing.
Reels also allows you to upload multiple videos (or photos) if your final video needs multiple clips. If you want to add a backdrop to your video, make sure you press the “Green screen” toggle icon (also, make sure you shot your video on a green screen).
Pro tip: Instagram’s “Remix” feature is another way they’ve piggybacked TikTok. Go to the explore Reels tab and click on the 3 dots next to a video to bring the content into your Reels editing view. Here’s where you can comment and “re-edit” native content. You can only do this with Reels made for the platform that allow the “Remix” feature.
Step 2: Choose Your Music (or Audio)
If you want to shoot your video in-app, then you should start with your music. Music is the driving force of short-form trends, so choosing the perfect audio snippet is critical to racking up views. Find a song that connects best with the subject of your video or brand. Watch our Reel below, we used a quirky acoustic song to connect with the nature of the video.
When you click on “music,” Instagram will automatically suggest popular options and trendy songs. You can also save songs that worked well on previous Reels or import your own “original audio.”
Pro tip: Add a voiceover to your Reel by tapping the arrow editing icon after you’ve added your music. By tapping the microphone at the top of your screen, you’ll open a voice recording window to add to your Reel.
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Step 3: Choose an Effect
The stars icon opens up a variety of effect options, from subtle filters to wacky animations. This is where you can use your creativity to explore and test effects that will make your Reels stand out. Similar to music, you can save your favorite effects and browse trending effects on the platform. But don’t get stuck doing the same filter, because new effects are consistently added to the app.
Pro tip: If you notice a cool effect (or audio) on a Reel, you can look it up by clicking the video and it will be listed at the top of the video.
Step 4: Choose Speed, Layout, and Time
You’re almost ready to record. The final steps to customize your Reel are the speed, layout, and timer.
- Speed: Choose the speed of your Reel (from .3x to 4x). This is perfect if you’re making a timelapse reel.
- Layout: Choose different layouts to showcase your video. Stitch together multiple videos to fit within your time frame. Watch our Reel below, where we use a simple layout (and captions) to showcase both subjects in a podcast interview.
- Timer: Choose the length of your Reel (15 seconds, 30 seconds, or 60 seconds). This is also where you can set a timer to record hands-free.
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Step 5: Record and Share
Press the Reels icon button to start recording. Press it again to stop.
And that’s that.
Once finished, you’ll then be able to preview the video and make additional edits to music, add effects, overlay text, freehand draw, and more.
Add your finished Reel to and share Stories, publish it to your feed, or both.
10 Instagram Reels Dos and Don’ts
Making a Reel is relatively easy, but making a good (read: viral) Reel can be tricky. Here are a few dos and don’ts to set you in the right direction:
- Use vertical video (this is a must)
- Create content that users will watchfrom start to finish (skips will hurt your ranking)
- Experiment with creative tools like filters, effects, text, and music
- Include closed captions (many people watch without sound)
- Be original—find inspiration from others but create unique content
- Publish Reels with watermarks from other sites (aka, TikTok)
- Upload blurry or low-resolution videos
- Cover your video with too much text
- Fail to meet Instagram’s Community Guidelines
- Do the same thing every time. Reels are supposed to be fun, creative, and fresh.
How to Use Instagram Reels to Boost Engagement
Whether you’re looking to boost awareness, generate sales, or build your following, Reels is another tool to engage your audience. While you don’t necessarily need to use every Instagram feature to be successful, Reels is a high-priority item for Instagram at the moment—they’re featuring it front and center as soon as every user opens the app.
While we can’t be sure of everything impacting Instagram’s algorithms, it’s safe to assume they’re giving preference and priority to Reels content. Publish high-quality, engaging Reels, and there’s a good chance Instagram will also show some love to your Stories, Feed, and even Instagram Shop.
That’s not a fact, but come on—it’s Instagram.
Plus, it’s easy for Reels to have a more viral nature. Articles and videos can take minutes to consume, while Reels last only seconds. This makes it easy for users to watch more, like more, and share more.
Curious about how you can use Reels to boost Instagram engagement? Here are a few ways:
Build Your Instagram Following
Engaged followers lead to more engagement, engagement leads to reach, and strong reach can land you on the Explore tab. Get your Reels on the Explore tab, and you’ll expose your brand to thousands of brand-new users who may never have interacted with your brand before—for free.
Include keywords and hashtags in your Instagram Reels. People will stumble across your Reels when using Instagram’s search function, and these pieces of copy will help Instagram understand more about the video you’re publishing. Add a hashtag or 2 to help users find your content.
Spread Awareness with Subtle Branding Elements
Not everyone cares who the author of a Reel is—they just want to watch, laugh, and go on with their day. However, you can add subtle branding elements (logos, brand-associated colors, captions, text blocks, stickers) to boost brand awareness without being too in their face. This makes for a “double win” whenever someone consumes your Reels.
For example, the Reel below feels simple and organic, but notice to subtle foundr logo on the piece of paper.
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Drive Sales with Product Features
Experiment with announcing or featuring products in your Reels to generate hype and drive sales. Remember, Instagram Reels isn’t ecommerce focused—it’s still a consumer-first feature on a social networking platform.
However, it’s worthwhile to give it a try and see how your audience reacts. If engagement goes up and you see more sales coming from Instagram, it might be a tactic worth exploring further or replicating regularly. If engagement dips, scale it back a bit and revisit your strategy before trying again.
Add a Single Call to Action (CTA) to Your Reels
Sometimes, you’ll just want to entertain or inform your audience and send them on their way. Other times, you’ll want them to consume your content and do something about it.
Use stickers, GIFs, and text to tell your audience what to do. Ask them to click the link in your profile, follow your account, or check out another piece of content.
Focus on a single CTA. Don’t overwhelm your viewers. Provide them with a great piece of content, and then ask them to like, comment, share, visit, or engage. That’s all there is to it.
Here are some frequently asked questions about using Reels for your business or personal brand. For more info, visit Instagram’s help page.
Should I make Reels and TikTok videos separately for my brand
Yes and no. Don't be lazy and upload a video to Reels that you edited on TikTok (vice versa). The platforms will penalize you for this. We suggest outlining your video and shooting it on a phone ahead of time. Then edit within the native platforms.
What type of music can I use on Reels?
You can only use licensed audio that's approved by Reels and attributed to the artist(s). The same goes for audio uploaded by creators.
Can I use other people's Reels?
Yes, if the creator has a public account, you can remix their video and audio in your own Reels. On the flip side, you can also allow other people to use your Reels. If you download a video, all licensed music and audio will be removed from the Reel.
Should I allow other people to remix my brand's Reels?
The old saying 'any press is good press' applies here. But remember, when you upload a Reel for your business or personal brand, it's fair game for Instagram creators to utilize.
Is Reels better than TikTok?
The jury is still out. TikTok is the pioneer of short-form video (sorry, Vine), but Instagram quickly caught up with Reels. Now, other platforms like YouTube and LinkedIn are adding 'shorts' to their repertoire. Like all social platforms, invest where your audience is. Short-form video is one of the best ways to grow an audience quickly, and the emerging buyer demographic (age 16 - 35) is spending more and more time on Reels and TikTok.
How do I make a Reel that gets views?
Reels might be inhaled quickly by viewers, but usually, the work behind it takes longer than 30 seconds. But the demand for content can be overwhelming, especially if your team is small (or just you). Here are a couple of suggestions to create engaging Reels that build your brand while entertaining scrollers. Think like an individual, not a brand. What makes you laugh on Reels? Test and learn. Reels are quickly consumed, so don't be afraid to try something crazy (to an extent). Use what you've got. Pull video clips from YouTube interviews or customer testimonials. Remix, edit, and add a fresh effect. Less is more. At foundr, we have a full video studio for our course creation, but this Reel was one of our most popular pieces of content ever.
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