What is Instagram Reels? The Complete Guide

Image of a light blue old-fashioned film reel with film coming out, on a pink background. How to create and use Instagram Reels blog post
Image of a light blue old-fashioned film reel with film coming out, on a pink background. How to create and use Instagram Reels blog post

Instagram Reels are another short-form video option found on the Instagram platform, offering users and brands new ways to share content. Reels were released globally in 2020, in response to the aggressively rising popularity of TikTok. TikTok videos are commonly re-shared as Instagram Reels, but it's important to note that as of February 2021, Instagram's algorithm has started to de-prioritize Reels with the TikTok watermark. So, remember that when implementing your crossposting strategy.

If you’re wondering how to create Instagram Reels and how best to incorporate them into your social management strategy, this blog is for you.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Instagram Reels?

  2. Where to Find Reels on Instagram?

  3. What’s the Difference Between Instagram Reels and Instagram Stories?

  4. How to Make an Instagram Reel

  5. Using the Align Feature in Instagram Reels

  6. How to Use Reels as a Brand

  7. Can I Advertise on Reels?

  8. Where to Promote Reels

What is Instagram Reels?

Instagram Reels is a feature within Instagram allowing users to post short-form videos that can then be re-shared to stories or featured on the Explore page.   

Reels can be shot from right within Instagram, or externally and then uploaded to Instagram. They share many similarities with TikTok (which predates Reels by 2 years), namely the use of music, trends in style and content, and fun special effects. 

One of the biggest advantages to posting Reels on Instagram for influencers and brands is that they are designed to be shown to people who don’t already follow you. The Reels a user sees is based on the algorithm's calculation of the accounts it thinks that the user might like. 

So, if a user follows or engages with numerous fashion influencers, Instagram will start to show them Reels from fashion influencers and brands they don’t currently follow. The more content the user engages (liking, commenting, or sharing) with on Reels, the more information the algorithm has on the user, and those interactions will influence the type of content shown.

When did Reels launch?

Instagram Reels launched their beta phase in Brazil in 2019 before rolling out to 50+ countries in late 2020. 

Does everyone have Instagram Reels?

Instagram Reels are available in 50+ countries around the world. You do not need a particular follower number or business profile in order to use Reels. Anyone with an Instagram profile can access, create, and post Instagram Reels.

How long should Reels be?

Like Instagram Stories and TikTok videos, Instagram Reels are designed to be short form. When Reels first launched, the maximum length of a video was 30 seconds, however, that has been extended to 60 seconds. The sweet spot is still between 15 and 30 seconds — or shorter.

Where to Find Reels on Instagram?

One of the biggest changes that Instagram made in 2020 was with regard to how to find Reels. It used to be that Reels in Instagram were only discoverable through the Explore tab or on a user's profile - leading to low viewership of the new video content. Shortly after launching globally, Instagram made the access point to find Reels far more prominent, moving it to the center of the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen.

A phone that is opened to the Instagram app. At the bottom of the screen, the navigation icons within the app are emphasized to indicate the introduction of a Reels tab and a Shop tab.

On a profile page, you can see a user's Reels by clicking the same icon in the middle of the profile navigation bar, underneath Highlights.

What’s the Difference Between Instagram Reels and Instagram Stories?

The main difference between Reels and Stories is permanence. While you can save Stories to your highlights, they have a more ethereal quality than IG Reels, which are saved to your profile in a dedicated part of your page.

Additionally, Reels provide more editing capabilities that allow them to come off slicker and more professional looking than an Instagram Story.

How to Make an Instagram Reel

Making an Instagram Reel might feel complicated at first, especially with all the options and choices available. But we’re here to break it down with a step-by-step guide. It will take practice to get your videos as tight and polished as possible — the learning curve is steep, but levels out pretty quickly. 

TIP: Map out a clear script, general blocking, and have an idea of what you want your video to look like before recording. This is especially key for videos that include text since you can only add text elements after recording your Reel. 

You can either start by shooting a video on your phone and then uploading it to Instagram, or you can shoot, edit, and upload Reels from within the Instagram app itself. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll lead you through the latter process.

Note: You must use a mobile device to create an Instagram Reel. The functionality is not available on desktop.

1. Open Instagram and navigate to create a Reel   

There are 3 different ways you get to the create screen for making a Reel: via the home screen or your profile, through the Stories camera, or the Reels tab.

From the Instagram home screen

Image showing how to access Reels from your home feed, with arrow pointing to plus sign icon in the top right corner of the screen

Click the plus sign at the top of the screen (which you can also access from your profile page) 

From the Story camera

Meltwater Instagram profile page with arrow showing how to access Instagram Stories from the profile picture

Click on your Instagram profile picture to open up the Story camera. From there, scroll across the bottom to Reels.

Reels create button from within Instagram Stories

From the Reels tab

Locating the create IG Reel screen from within the Reels tab

You can also click the Reels tab in the center of the bottom navigation bar in Instagram, and select the camera icon in the top right corner.

2. Choose media, effects, and video parameters

Now you’re ready to set up how you want your video to look and sound before shooting.

On the left-hand side of the screen, you’ll see a column of options starting with music selection.

From top to bottom the choices include:

  • Audio
  • Length
  • Speed
  • Effects
  • Touch-up
  • Timer

Instagram Reels audio

Music and audio tracks are extremely popular in Reels. The common tracks that are used contribute heavily to Reel trends and are easily recognizable.

The music selection for Reels consists of “original audio” as well as music tracks. Business accounts on Instagram may not have access to certain audio given specific copyright restrictions, but there's an easy workaround: turn your account in to a “Creator” account. Learn how in our Instagram for business guide.

When viewing an Instagram Reel you can see what audio was used by looking at the bottom of the screen, under the caption.

Here we can see that this Reel is using "Original Audio" by an account with the username thechaigirls.

Instagram Reel using Original Audio from another account

Click on the square in the bottom right to see all the Reels that use that audio, and save it for easy access.

In the example below, we can see that over 200 Reels on Instagram have used the popular "It has pockets" song. The first one, in the top left, has the "Original" tag since it's their version of this audio being used:

Screenshot of original audio used on 200+ Instagram Reels

Important Note: "Original Audio" doesn't always mean that the user created the audio themselves. Sometimes you'll see a Reel using a very well-known song, but the audio is attributed as "Original Audio" to them by themselves or another user.

Instagram Reel length

Instagram Reels can be up to 60 seconds long. This is a relatively new change as the original duration had a max of 30 seconds. 

Speed

Screenshot showing speed selection when making an Instagram Reel

You can elect to speed up or slow down certain parts of your video for dramatic effect. Using a different speed is helpful for things like showcasing how a product is made (a fast motion view is recommended), or illustrating how a dress swooshes when you twirl (slow motion creates a dazzling view).

Effects

Screenshot showing location for choosing effects to add to your Instagram Reel

A phenomenon of the Instagram-era - effects and filters! Here is where you can control how your video will look visually. You can give a vintage vibe, add a nice sparkle, or do a split-screen. The possibilities are endless! 

Touch-up

The touchup feature helps balance your lighting and facial features, removing harsh lines and blemishes. This feature is best used for portrait-style IG Reels rather than shooting landscapes or other subjects.

Timer

Screenshot showing the Timer feature within Instagram Reels

Using the timer is great for when you know you want to cut your Reel into a specific set of same-length clips, or you know you want to fit in an intro and outro. 

When you open the timer feature you’ll see a slider bar where you can choose the length of the clip, and an option to select how long the timer should be to count you in. You can opt for a 3-second countdown or a 10-second countdown.

3. Hit record

Once you’ve set up all the parameters for your video length, look, and feel it’s time to start recording! Reels on Instagram run the gamut from fancy editing (which would mean using several clips within your 15-, 30-, or 60-second Reel) to very basic one to two-shot videos. 

Here’s how to shoot your Reel:

Click the large record button at the bottom of the screen. If you used the Timer feature you’ll see a countdown. If not, the video will start recording immediately:

Screenshot with arrow pointing to the Record button for making an Instagram Reel

Click the pink “stop” icon to stop recording.

Screenshot of recording an Instagram Reel with arrow pointing to the stop button

When you stop recording the screen will not look a little different. However, there will now be a circular button with a left-pointing carrot to the left of the record button. When you click this you’ll be able to view, trim, or delete the clip you just recorded:

Screenshot showing the trim or delete view for Instagram Reel clips, second clip highlighted

When you record more than one clip, they’ll both show up side by side in the clip edit view.

You’ll also now see a “Preview” button. Here’s where you can see your Reel clips strung together. It’s on this screen where you can add any text, stickers, voice-over, or other elements.

Screenshot showing the Preview view before uploading an Instagram Reel, where you can add text and stickers

(If you’re used to using Instagram Stories, the top nav bar in the Reels Preview section will look familiar). 

4. Post your Reel

After you’re happy with the result, it’s time to share! The screen to post an Instagram Reel looks very similar to the screen when posting a photo to Instagram.

The main difference is you can select a cover photo for your reel from your camera roll, and elect to share your Reel to your main profile page as well as your Reels tab. This is recommended to increase the visibility of your Reel. 

Screen from where you can post your Instagram Reel, showing section for caption and choosing if you want the Reel on your main profile

TIP: Instagram Reel captions show only one line of text when people are viewing. Captions can be easily expanded by the viewer, but they then cover the bottom portion of the video. Bear this in mind when writing your caption and use a pointing down emoji (👇) or “Read More” text to let viewers know there is more information available.

Using the Align Feature in Instagram Reels

An extremely popular feature when creating Reels is the “align” option. This allows you to film “trick shots” like holding out your empty hand in one shot, snapping your finger and having an object magically appear in your previously empty hand.

Many fashion influencers also use this feature. For example, an item of clothing might be laid out on a bed or a pair of shoes laid down on the ground in front of them. They will then fall onto the bed or jump behind the shoes, and in the next shot be wearing that outfit or shoes. See an example.

Instagram makes these kinds of videos simple to execute with the align feature, which shows up after you film your first clip:

Screenshot showing Align feature within Instagram Reels. Faded replica screen overtop previous clip

You’ll see a shadowy replica of your previous clip. Align this up as closely as you can to create the illusion. Then shoot whatever you had planned next (i.e., the object is now in your hand, or you’re now wearing the outfit that had been on the bed). 

How to Use Reels as a Brand

Instagram Reels are great for brands looking to build awareness, cultivate community, increase followers, and promote products. Reels provide a nice workaround to reaching a more relevant audience demographic with TikTok-like content, without limiting yourself to TikTok, where the audience is in a very young age bracket and may not be your target. 

 Here are a few key benefits for brands looking to incorporate IG Reels as a part of a social media management program:

1.  Build brand awareness  

Because Reels in Instagram are designed to be shown to people who follow and engage with similar accounts, they are a fantastic way to grow your follower base. Consider posting quick tips or tutorials related to your industry. Such as “5 ways to wear a sarong” if you’re a beachwear company or fashion influencer, or “The top 3 commands you need to teach a new dog” if you’re a dog-walker or pet store.

2. Product promotion

Showcasing your products or services through Reels is a great idea, especially if there are “secrets” or hacks you can provide. You can use Reels to illustrate ways to use your product to its fullest potential or give a little background into how it was made. You could also use Reels to tease upcoming product announcements.

3. Influencer partnerships

If your social team's bandwidth just can’t cover creating IG Reels on your own, why not work with an influencer who already knows the drill? They’ll be able to create polished content that helps get your company in front of potential customers. 

4. Behind the scenes

If you’re feeling mystified about how Reels could possibly be worth it, since they’re only one minute long or shorter, you need to shift your perspective to extremely short form topics. Behind the scenes content is always interesting - and a great way to humanize your brand. Authenticity is deeply valued by today’s younger generations, so using Reels to give an office tour, a clip of a rehearsal, or some bloopers can go a long way.

5. Q&A

An easy way to encourage engagement from your followers is to answer common questions in your Reels. Ask people to leave questions in the comments and provide the answers in your next Reel or series of Reels.

TIP: Consistency is key. Don’t get lost in the doom-scrolling shuffle. 

Some of the most successful brands and influencers on Reels have built that success out of using very consistent styles through their videos. Consistency can come from different places (such as the effects you use, the background, or the type of content) but there should always be a strong element that people can recognize in your videos.

Can I Advertise on Reels?

Yes. In June of 2021, Instagram rolled out ads in Reels globally (80+ countries). It had previously been tested in a small group of countries. When a Reel is an ad, it will have a small “sponsored” tag attached to it. 

Example of an Instagram Reel ad showing the sponsored tag underneath the profile name

It’s hard to say how successful ads have been for brands since it’s still early days, however this is another useful option for companies seeking to explore other ways to use their advertising budget.

Where to Promote Reels

Reels get added automatically to your Reels tab, and your Instagram photo grid if you select that option. They can show up in the Explore tab, and will also be shown to people who don’t follow you but follow similar accounts. 

You can also promote your Reels in your Stories! Which is a great way to let your current followers know you have this type of content available.

Feeling ready to take your Instagram marketing to the next level? Fill out the form below to connect to a Meltwater representative to learn how to use our Platform to incorporate Instagram Reels into your strategy.

Loading...