Social Media

How to Use Instagram Reels to Grow and Boost Your Engagement

Amir Shahzeidi
min read
How to Use Instagram Reels to Grow and Boost Your Engagement

Instagram Reels are where it's at when you want to boost your engagement. 

Ever since Reels launched as a response to the growth of TikTok, the 'Gram has put a lot of emphasis on the short-form video format.  

Instagram currently gets about 26% of all live stream viewing in the US and UK, and it's now going after this new trend in the video content market. 

Interested in getting in on the act?

We're going to cover:

  • Exactly what Reels are
  • How Reels differ from TikTok
  • Four companies that are smashing their Reels content
  • What you need to do to get your Reels in front of your audience

Let's cut to the details.

What are Instagram Reels?

Instagram Reels are short videos that use music, filters, and screen effects to engage audiences, stay on your newsfeed for as long as you want, and appear in the Reels and Explore tabs. 

The Reels tab is part of a new navigation bar on Instagram that began rollout in November 2020, showing just how important this content format has become for the platform. 

Reels look very much like TikToks, and it's not all that surprising when the Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri recently said that TikTok is a direct competitor.

Like the rest of Instagram content, viewers can either like your Reel, leave a comment, or share it with others. 

When they were first launched, Reels could only be  15 seconds long. Soon after the limit was increased to 30 seconds, and are now up to a minute in length

You can create Reels through the Instagram app directly, upload content from your gallery, or edit together, a mix of both. 

Along with the overall look of Reels, a lot of other elements seem very much like TikTok., sSo what exactly are the differences between the two platforms?

Instagram Reels vs. TikTok: What are the Differences?

Whilst on the surface Instagram and TikTok may look and feel similar, there are some key differences between the two. 

Let's break those differentiators down and explore how the two social media giants square up to each other. 

Difference #1: Audience

We've seen that Instagram has around 1 billion active users, and around half of them interact with stories at least once a week.  Just shy of 70% of users are under 34 years old, and 51% of all users are female. 

TikTok has 689 million active users with 47% aged 30 or younger in the US.

With TikTok's user base more than doubling in the 18 months after December 2018, it's clearly growing rapidly but hasn't yet reached the scale of Instagram.

Difference #2: Branding and business options

TikTok has developed a range of tools for businesses and marketers to reach a wider audience, such as:

  • Branded hashtag challenges
  • Branded effects
  • Branded takeovers
  • In-feed ads
  • TopView

Meanwhile, Instagram launched Reels ads that appear in the Explore and Reels tabs as of  June 2021.

Difference #3: Video length

TikTok recently extended the maximum video length, with creators now able to post content up to 3 minutes in length, while their live streaming options seem to have no time limit

We noted a moment ago that Instagram has just increased the time limit on Reels to 60 seconds, and there's a 4-hour cap on live streaming.

Difference #4: Music

Adding music to your content drives engagement and both platforms have options for creators. 

TikTok has a Sound Library with more than 150,000 tracks available to businesses and creators.

To add music to a Reel, you can access up to 10,000 tracks available on Facebook Sounds Collection, which are available to personal and creator accounts, but not business accounts

Music for Instagram
Image Source: Instagram

Difference #5: Editing and effects

On both platforms, you can upload a video you've already edited, record a new one, or use platform tools to piece together existing and freshly recorded content. 

In terms of the range of effects, layers, and filters you can add to your video, TikTok has more to offer, along with the ability to edit or change said filters throughout your filming session. On Instagram, you have to set your effects before you start recording.

IG Reels filters
Image Source: Instagram

Another feature that TikTok offers that isn’t yet available on Instagram is Stitch, which lets you take parts of other content, crop it, and include it in your content. 

Instagram did launch the ability to remix a video in March 2021, allowing you to make a reaction video to another Reel, similar to the same as the Duets feature on TikTok.

Now that you've got an idea of what features Instagram Reels offer in comparison to its direct competitor, let's look at how you can get in front of your audience there. 

How does the Instagram Reels algorithm work

Everyone who works in digital marketing knows about "The Algorithm"—the thing that can make and break our efforts by deciding who gets to see our content. 

"The Instagram Algorithm" is a bit of a misnomer; it's actually a collection of algorithms, classifiers, and processors, Adam Mosseri assured us all in June 2021

His post is a treasure trove of information, at once confirming what many people already knew, and also dispelling some myths and legends that have been built around "The Algorithm."

In terms of Reels specifically, Instagram knows users want to be entertained, so the Reels algorithm will try to find content that users will like with, focusing on smaller creators. 

Other things that help Instagram deliver your content to the right potential audience include:

  • The type of accounts the users have already interacted with
  • What posts the user has engaged with previously
  • Whether the user has interacted with your posts when they've come across them before

What counts as interaction and engagement? 

Adam tells us that they look at whether the Reel is watched all the way through, whether the viewer likes or comments, and whether they tap on the music information, which would suggest they're inspired to create their own Reel.

As a creator, adding music is one of the elements that you can focus on to boost engagement—Reels with tunes will get priority. 

There's also a snowball effect—meaning the more popular your content becomes, the more people it'll be shown to. So getting immediate interactions after you post will be important. 

Some other signals that Instagram looks at are whether your content has been filmed in hi-resolution, that the video doesn't have any watermarks, and that the content isn't political. 

Put simply, Instagram will promote:

  • Videos with music
  • Videos with high engagement
  • High-resolution videos
  • Trending content

Instagram does this by adding these videos to Explore and the new Reels tab. 

Want to see how businesses are harnessing the power of Reels to get into users' feeds and boost their engagement?  Here are 5 accounts that are slaying it.

3 Examples of Companies Using Instagram Reels to Grow their Audience

Now we know that Reels are getting lots of attention from Instagram at the moment and are very popular with users.  If you're wondering what it takes to create reels that'll get into your customers' feeds, check out these accounts.

Example #1: Uscreen

At Uscreen, we've started publishing Instagram Reels - got to practice what you preach!

We're working on posting Reels regularly to give people as much a chance as possible of being served one of our Reels. 

Uscreen IG feed

We've also been working on different trends that are happening with Reels at the moment, such as using popular music and formats that are getting attention, like so:

IG post with The Magic Bomb by Hoàng Read

In one of our recent reels, we used The Magic Bomb by Hoàng Read which has been used in over 123k Reels so far. 

Here's how some other businesses are working with “the Algorithm” and creating positive signals about their Reels. 

Example #2: Shopify

Shopify is an eCommerce platform that simplifies how people sell products to their customers.  Its Instagram Reels are all about celebrating the success of its users.

Shopify IG Reels

As you can see above, their Reels get tens and sometimes hundreds and thousands of views.

Shopify makes sure to use music - their own original audio - to tell the stories of their users, and we all know audiences like a success story. 

Here's a different take on Reels.

Example #3: Biteable

Biteable is a tool that helps businesses create videos for their social media accounts, so you can expect them to know how to make a killer Instagram Reel. There's a visually appealing aesthetic on their Reels tab.

Bitable IG Reels

The company generates high engagement, with a freshly posted video getting nearly 10k views in a few hours and one of their posts hitting 3.5 million views. 

Shopify IG Reel

The content of their Reels follow trends and popular tropes on Instagram, and is both funny and relatable—which encourages engagement and should send strong signals to Instagram to show it to more users.

How to leverage Instagram Reels to grow your audience

Organically growing your Instagram audience can lead to great things, from more brand awareness and an increase in sales to the potential to monetize your content

Since Reels are being given a lot of attention by Instagram, they're a surefire way to get the attention of your audience and show them what your brand is all about. 

Based on what the Insta boss has put out there, here's what you can do to make Reels work for you and grow your audience. 

Tip #1: Be consistent

There’s no definite rule about how often to post a Reel, but you should be consistent.  One of the factors used to decide who sees your Reel is whether someone has interacted with your Reels in the past. If you post regularly, then more people will have the opportunity to see your content. Consistency also means posting around the same topics, as we saw with our earlier examples.

Tip #2: Use the tools on offer

Instagram has gone to great lengths to tell people how important music is to your Reels.  A person tapping on the music on your Reel is a signal that they're engaging and that you've inspired them to make their own content, which should ensure your content sees their feed again. Adding filters, using effects, and changing the layout of your videos will  help drive engagement even further.

Tip #3: Stay on trend

While you can't create your own trend with a branded hashtag challenge (yet), you can still produce the type of content that people want to see. 

This will mean following the best Instagram accounts in your industry, influencers in your field, and the hashtags that are relevant to what your business does.

Look at the music people are using and the topics they're discussing - you don't have to copy them exactly, but they can serve as good inspiration. 

Tip #4: Feature your product

Your product should be front and center of all your Reels, like how Shopify tells their customers' stories of how they found success with their product. 

Make sure that the video content you create leads to personable and genuine engagement by showing your viewers what you have to offer along with your creative skills and sense of humor. 

Now Over to You

That's everything you need to know about Reels and how to use them. 

Social media is both a skill and an art form, so you’re going to need to stay on top of your game. Now that you know more about what actually gets your content onto screens and have seen how some great companies are doing it, you can use our tips to get your own Reels on point. Get trend spotting, draw straws for who gets to go on camera, and get your Reels rolling so your audience can learn more about you and your brand!


[Feature image photo by Drew Colins on Unsplash]

August 23, 2021

About the author

Amir Shahzeidi

Amir Shahzeidi

Amir is the SEO Lead at Uscreen, an all-in-one video monetization platform that empowers video entrepreneurs and creators to monetize their content and build thriving businesses around their videos.

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