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Instagram Reels: Everything Marketers Need to Know

Laura Finnerty

Multimedia Content Manager @ AdRoll

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From Snapchat to TikTok, there are many short-form video platforms for social media users to spend their time on. Younger generations have flocked to these apps, enjoying the thrill of limited-time content and snackable pieces of entertainment. 

Of course, the pivot from traditional media forms to mobile-only, 30-second video clips should come as no surprise, considering how millennials and Gen Zers are labeled the “instant gratification” generations. 

To cement themselves as a major player in the field (or, in other words, compete with TikTok’s capacity to achieve 1 billion global downloads in 18 months), Facebook launched Instagram Reels in August 2020. Capitalizing on TikTok’s woes — namely privacy concerns and a potential federal ban — was a strategic move for the tech behemoth. Now, young digital natives have two platforms that offer similar creative features that allow them to create and binge on 15 to 30-second video clips. 

With the digital media landscape no longer resembling what it was 12 months ago, marketers must make an effort to keep up. Here is everything you need to know about Instagram Reels:

Why Reels?

By providing tools to create fun and engaging content, Reels is a great way for brands to increase their Instagram reach and develop their communities. Given its relative newness, it’s a prime opportunity to cement your company as one of the platform’s early adopters (less competition for views!).

If your brand already has a strong and savvy Instagram presence, hopping onto Reels allows you to test out short-form content while guaranteeing engagement from your existing followers. Or, if you’re not quite an Instagram pro yet but don’t want to spend the time and resources to learn and flesh out a TikTok content strategy, trying out Reels won’t hurt either. 

Ultimately, even though there aren’t advertising opportunities on Reels yet, it is owned by Facebook — the king of social media monetization. As the platform develops and the user base grows, we’ll likely see it become a playground for marketers. When this happens, it helps to have already mastered the features and functions. 

For more on connecting with customers through social media: 

Instagram Reels vs. Stories

For the uninitiated, Reels may sound indistinguishable from Instagram Stories — short-form videos, text effects, filters, and stickers can be found in both. But here’s what makes Reels unique:

  • Reels has more editing tools: augmented reality effects, buttons to splice together multiple clips, transitions, speed controls, among others. 
  • Reels can be shared to multiple locations: your Instagram feed, Stories, or the Explore page, which is a public Reels feed. Regardless of where you end up sharing it, all the Reels you create can be found in a dedicated tab on your profile (similar to IGTV posts).
  • If your Reel includes original audio, other users can use it in their own Reels, and the audio will be attributed to you — which means more exposure!

For more on Instagram stories:

Content Galore

Unsure of how you can effectively convey your value proposition, brand identity, and call to action in less than 30 seconds? It’s not easy, but here is some inspiration:

  • Demonstrate products. Because you can share Reels to the Explore page, it’s a great opportunity to expose your brand to potential customers who aren’t your followers — over 50% of Instagram users check out Explore every month. Cosmetics company e.l.f. is an excellent example of a company using Reels to showcase its product line, posting everything from product demos to new arrivals to customer testimonials. 
  • Promote sales. Whether it’s launching exciting sales or exclusive deals, Reels is a way to get people hyped. But you’ll want to make sure that your videos aren’t entirely ad-centric — remember that people are looking for quick entertainment bites, not a sales pitch. There’s an unpolished sense of authenticity that characterizes Reels, much like TikTok, and companies that successfully balance marketing with originality and fun will reap the benefits of these platforms. 
  • Share behind-the-scenes sneak peeks. Nowadays, it’s not enough to just post about your products. People are curious and interested in the why and how of what you do. Personable, behind-the-scenes content is an excellent way for brands to develop trust with their customers. One example of a “polished” brand that is inviting viewers to learn more about them is Benefit Cosmetics, who, for example, created Reels to share “one-day-in-the-life” of employees in different departments. 
  • Highlight user-generated content. Brands can also use Reels to celebrate their customers. Take a look at Sephora France, for example — they have a variety of Reels content, but what stands out the most is the user-generated content that they repost. Not only are they giving a shoutout to their biggest fans, but they’re also encouraging other followers to interact with the account. 

For more social media content ideas from powerhouse brands:

Find Out What’s Hot and What’s Not

Stuck on what effects or audio to add to your Reel? Here are the ways you can easily search for trends:

  • Your feed. Take a look at Reels created by influencers, friends, or brands that you follow by clicking on the Reels tab on their profile. 
  • Search based on a particular audio or hashtag. Just type it into the search bar to find relevant Reels. 
  • The Explore page. As previously mentioned, an unlimited number of Reels await. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, look for the Featured label (which means Instagram boosted the Reel).

For more social media resources:

I’m Sold! Where Do I Start?

Ready to join the likes of Sephora and Walmart? Before you hit the record button, you’ll want to take a moment to review your Instagram presence. Great Reels can rack up hundreds of thousands of views, and you’ll want your viewers to click onto a profile that is optimized. Ultimately, your account should sell the idea that following it is worthy of people’s limited time and attention. 

If you’re trying to gauge how your social media efforts contribute to ROI, check out how AdRoll's Instagram advertising platform can help you gather reliable and comprehensive data to make better decisions. 

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