How to create successful Reels

Reels quickly became Instagram’s flagship format, on which Zuckerberg is betting to compete with TikTok. The potential of Reels is very high and knowing how to create them (and be good at it) will be an important skill to have, also in light of Instagram’s intention to create a full-screen scrollable feed, very similar to that of TikTok, which will certainly favour short videos. In this article you will find some tips on how to create successful Reels and what not to do in order to avoid penalties.

After several more or less successful attempts to promote video content on the platform, the arrival of Reels marked a decisive step towards the inclusion of short videos on Instagram, a format made popular by TikTok.

And if you look at the future plans of Instagram, it would seem that the platform is increasingly oriented towards a “tiktokization” of content, with the feed that will soon become a scrollable vertical full screen, like that of TikTok. This will give much more space to Reels, which at the moment is only one of the features of Instagram, probably at the expense of other content such as photos, which marked the beginning (and success) of Instagram.

Therefore, it is clear that anyone who wants to use Instagram to do business or branding must soon learn how to create and publish Reels. But let’s start from the beginning.

What is Instagram Reels

Instagram Reels is a feature launched in August 2020. Reels are short videos of up to 60 seconds in length that, similar to TikToks, users can create by combining photos, video clips, filters, stickers, captions, music, audio and different effects.

At the time of writing, Reels content is accessible through a special icon in the homepage, by visiting the profile of a user or by accessing the Explore section and clicking on the contents that have the Reels symbol at the top right.

So, unlike other content shown in our feed, which is usually from users we follow, the Reels we see are not necessarily created by followed users but rather they are selected by the Instagram algorithm based on the content we usually interact with on the app or on their virality.

How to create a successful Reel

One of the simplest and most immediate ways to understand how to create successful Reels is to observe what other users are doing. This will help us not only to identify current trends but also to understand the style and types of Reels that our audience appreciates the most.

When we identify something that we want to replicate or that particularly inspires us, let’s remember to save it (be it a complete Reel or the audio), so that we can quickly find it again at the time of creation.

Having said that, let’s see exactly how to create successful Reels.

The tools

There are two possible ways to create Reels: using Instagram’s tool or relying on an external app.

There are pros and cons to both solutions.

From personal experience, I recommend using Instagram’s internal tool to create simple videos, without too many clips, photos and effects. If what you want to create is not particularly complicated or does not require to handle heavy video clips, the Instagram tool is definitely more agile and simple to use, as it allows to select the content to upload directly from our gallery, search for the audio directly in the app and upload the Reel without too many steps.

In addition, Reels has recently introduced Templates, which make the creation of Reels much more immediate and simpler as it allows to use a certain Reel as a template to create our own content.

A more time-consuming alternative but which allows us to give an extra touch of professionalism to our Reels are free external apps like VN, perhaps the one that is most popular among creators.

These apps are video creation tools, which allow you to act with extreme precision on the seconds to be included, to cut clips and apply texts, effects and transitions with extreme ease. Personally, I prefer using these apps when, for example, I have to create videos that require a precise number of seconds and milliseconds to match the song; or when the original video is several minutes long and I have to cut it without wasting too much time (or crashing Instagram).

So, my advice is to test various tools to understand which one is best for you in terms of simplicity and speed of use.

An important note: if we are creating a Reel on an external app, perhaps based on a viral audio or a song, let’s remember to select the audio directly on Instagram and not to upload the video with the audio integrated into it. This will allow us to be included among the contents already created with that audio, thus boosting our Reel.

Types and duration

Reels can last 15, 30 or 60 seconds and can be different in style and format.

There are Reels starring the creator, Reels with the voiceover, animals Reels, travel Reels, funny Reels, ASMR Reels, dancing and singing Reels, duets Reels, Reels featuring a green screen, tutorials Reels. The creative options are truly endless.

It will be up to us to find the format that best suits our audience and the content we want to convey. The important thing is to not limit our creativity out of fear: Reels lend themselves to a more informal, maybe even carefree, communication style. In a nutshell, if we want to “dare” and experience something different, Reels are a good way to do it.

The storyboard and content selection

Planning content and the content of each content is essential to give a professional touch to what we are doing.

For this reason, it is important to include Reels in our editorial plan and calendar, decide the topics to be addressed in each one, plan how to do it and which materials (videos, photos, audio, music …) to use.

During the creative process, using a storyboard can be very helpful. It is a tool as simple as it is effective, used by video makers to visually create a story. The storyboard, in fact, is nothing more than a graphic representation of each scene, which helps us organize the narration. Basically, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of a director and imagine how we want our Reel to look scene by scene.

Chosing the song or audio

Audio and songs play a key role in the creation of Reels. Through them, users discover other content and have fun creating similar videos, fuelling trends. This also pushes the Instagram algorithm to show similar content to users who have already interacted with a Reel created with the same audio.

Keeping an eye on the audio trends of the moment can help us get many views and boost our Reels.

We can also be the first to launch a trend, perhaps by launching a type of content that perfectly matches a certain song or by creating or importing an original audio on the platform, encouraging other users to create similar content on our wave.

How to publish and promote Reels

When we’re publishing a Reel, we can add a caption, hashtags, a location and tag other users, as with all other Instagram posts. We can also decide whether to show them also in the feed of our account, not limiting them to the dedicated tab that is created automatically after the publication of the first Reel.

To promote it, we can also share it in our Stories, amplifying its visibility especially among those who already follow us. And obviously sponsor it.

Having said that, Reels are (relatively) new, and Instagram is pushing this format a lot. Furthermore, they circulate with a logic that is partly different from other Instagram contents. So, if we are committed to following trends, immediately identify the most popular audios and songs and promptly create content, it is easy for our Reel to achieve at least a moderate success, without the need for paid sponsorships.

It’s important to keep in mind another thing: currently, the main trends are generated on TikTok and land on Reels about two weeks later. So, taking a look at TikTok too (or maybe even including it in our strategy) can help us anticipate what will soon go viral on Reels.

What not to do

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Instagram is moving at great speed towards the creation of a highly immersive app, which is based on video content and which is able to compete with the success of TikTok, attracting creators and advertisers and establishing itself as the place where trends are born (and not just as an app on which they arrive after a few weeks). The new scrolling feed that some users are already experiencing is proof of this and will create a few problems for all those contents that are not Reels and therefore risk losing quality with the new full screen mode. Therefore, it is not much of a stretch to believe that soon, the majority of the content on the app will be Reels.

In this context, Instagram has no intention of hosting content from TikTok or other apps in its feed. For this reason, any Reel with a TikTok watermark or other is penalized. So, if we manage multiple platforms, let’s avoid recycling content downloaded directly from other apps.

Other practices that Instagram explicitly discourages, penalizing the content by limiting its potential reach, are the use of low-resolution images or videos, the use of texts that cover most of the photo/video and the upload of content that has a frame around the video/image.

Obviously, all of this fits into the more general requirement of not posting content that does not comply with Instagram guidelines.

If you want to know how we can help you setting up a content strategy which includes Reels, contact us now!

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After graduating in Languages at the Università degli Studi di Milano, my interest and curiosity towards the digital world led me to pursue a career in this field and to get a Specializing Master in Digital Marketing. Today, I am responsible for the definition and application of marketing and communication strategies for both EOS and the ipcm® magazines. In my free time I travel, I read a lot and I binge-watch TV series. A place to visit at least once in your life: Oman. Must read: Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini. What you should binge-watch next: Mr. Robot.

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