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How Brands Are Using Instagram Reels: Your Essential Guide to Success

On August 5, 2020, Instagram announced a brand-new feature to its platform: Instagram Reels. Reels allows users to record and edit 3 to 30-second video clips with effects, audio, and other creative tools. Reels can be shared with followers on the Feed and with the global Instagram community via a new space in Explore.

If the concept of Reels sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Many have compared Reels to TikTok, with some suggesting Instagram’s latest upgrade aims to neutralise the growth of the Chinese video-sharing network.

Either way, Reels could play a crucial role in your business’s market strategy. Consumer expectations are evolving, and the one billion monthly active users on Instagram have already embraced Reels.

This guide to Instagram Reels will take a deep dive look at what Reels is and how to use it best as a brand – including real-life examples and ideas for how you can use Reels.

Let’s get started.

1. What is Instagram Reels?

Instagram Reels gives users a brand new suite of tools to cut and edit 3 to 30-second videos with text, music, stickers, and other special effects.

The Reels update also includes a dedicated path to sharing and exploring the short clips. Like TikTok’s ‘For You’ page, users can access the never-ending Reels feed from the Explore page by tapping the Reel at the top of the screen.

Reels joins Instagram’s arsenal of video types, alongside the 15-second temporary videos in Stories, the one-minute videos posted to the grid, and the long-form videos accessed via IGTV.

Reels does seem to be a very close approximation of TikTok. Responding to this comparison, Director of Product at Instagram Tessa Lyons-Laing said to TIME, “We see Reels as us responding to what the community has already been doing, already been asking for.”

2. How to create and publish a Reel

You can create a Reel in one of two ways:

  • Hold the record button in Instagram to capture video footage
  • Upload video footage directly from your camera roll

You can create a Reel from one video or a series of clips recorded or uploaded one after the other. The specifications are as follows:

  • Videos are in full 9:16 portrait mode
  • Completed Reels can be between 3 and 30 seconds long
  • Reels are mobile-only, which means you can only upload and publish Reels from a mobile device

Here is the quick and easy six-step process to creating a Reel:

  1. Open Instagram and navigate to the Stories screen. Scroll across to Reels at the bottom of the screen.
  2. Use the four creative tools to craft your Reel: music (search and add music over your video), speed (speed up or slow down your video clips), effects (add filters to your video), and timer (decide how long your video will run for).
  3. Tap and hold the record button. If you decide to set a timer, you’ll see a countdown before the recording begins.
  4. Press the record button to end the clip when you are ready. Tap it again to start recording a new clip. After recording one clip, you will see the Align button underneath the timer. This allows you to line up objects from the previous clip to create seamless transitions.
  5. When you have finished recording, you can enhance your Reel with drawings, text, and stickers.
  6. Tap the > button in the bottom right-hand corner to publish your Reel. If you have a public account (which is a must for brands and businesses), your Reel may now be visible to Instagram’s global audience via the Explore page. According to the social platform’s announcement, “If your Reel is featured in Explore, you’ll receive a notification. Featured reels are a selection of public reels chosen by Instagram to help you discover original content we hope will entertain and inspire you.”

The easy way to schedule Instagram Reel posts with Sked Social

With Sked’s new update, you can plan your Reels right alongside your other social media content. Record your Reels ahead of time, upload to Sked and you’ll get a notification when it’s time to post.

If you aren’t a Sked member yet, you can sign up for a free trial.

If you already have an account set up with Sked, when creating or editing a post for Instagram, choose to post it as a story, Reel or IGTV post:

Scheduling an Instagram Reel post

Next, select Reel from the Story Type dropdown.

Scheduling an Instagram Reel post

When you select Reel, the check the box labelled ‘Publish story manually’ will automatically be selected.

You can add information that will be displayed in the Sked Social mobile app under ‘Notes for manual publishing’. This might be useful as a place to include reminders about the accounts or location you want to tag, or the stickers and/or caption you’d like to use.

Then, select the time and date you want to post your Reel.

When it’s time to post, the users specified in your account settings will get a push notification from the Sked app on their phone telling them that it’s time to post.

Click the notification and the app will open to your post. Click the post icon in the top right corner.

This will save your Reel to your camera roll. Then click Open Instagram. 

Then go to create a story and select Reels from the bottom option.

Select your camera roll and choose the media that was just saved to your phone. Add your audio, type out your text or edit the clip.

Tap the check mark and click the > arrow.

Add your caption and decide if you want to post the Reel to your feed as well. You can also share it to your Story from this page as well.

Click Share and you’re good to go!

For customers, we also have an in-depth guide to getting started with manual posting and notifications.

2. Why you should use Reels to grow your brand

If Reels aren’t on your business’s radar, it’s time to rethink your social media strategy.

In today’s digital world, things change fast. Trends explode overnight, and it’s the brands, influencers, and creators that get in early that reap the reward. Keeping up with consumer expectations is crucial to your business’s relevancy – and success – especially if your target audience includes millennials and Gen Z.

Here are some numbers to get you thinking: the average social media user (globally, there are 3.5 billion) spends three hours a day on social networks. During that time, 54 per cent of users research products, with a further 71 per cent confirming that a positive experience with a brand on a social platform makes them more likely to recommend that brand to friends and family.

Further, about three in four marketers believe that social media marketing had been effective in growing their business.

Social media for business is a no-brainer. But why use Reels specifically?

Well, Instagram Reels uses a proven, highly addictive formula to attract and engage Instagram users. Its concept is modelled after wildly successful TikTok. With 800 million users worldwide, TikTok delivers fast and fun entertainment that, as tech expert John Holdridge puts it, returns ‘us all to roots of the original appeal [of social media] – the ability to go viral’.

What’s more, because Reels is a new feature (and one that directly competes with TikTok), you can bet that Instagram’s algorithm is favouring accounts that are regularly publishing and engaging with Reels. Now’s the time to jump on the opportunity and use these short videos to reach big audiences. Remember, Instagram users can turn into followers, and followers can turn into loyal customers.

But these aren’t the only reason to use Reels – you should use Instagram’s newest feature to grow your brand by educating your audience, showcasing your business’s personality and values, and highlighting what differentiates your products or services from your competitors.

Educating your audience

Education should be one of your marketing strategy’s core pillars – an educated prospect is more engaged and more likely to make a purchase. Quick and digestible, Reels is an optimal platform for commanding your audience’s attention and getting your message across fast.

Showcasing your business’s personality and values

Social media is less about traditional, hard-sell marketing, and more about communication and connection.

Brands that successfully use social media craft an authentic voice that resonates with their target audience. They show customers that their values align – instead of sell, sell, sell, it’s about inviting prospects to join an exclusive club, one that reflects who they are or who they aspire to be.

Carefully planned and executed video is one of the most effective tools for showcasing a brand’s personality and values.

Highlighting what differentiates your products

Why should your ideal customer shop with you? What do you offer that your competitors don’t? Are you actively highlighting this across your marketing channels?

Reels is your opportunity to cash in on fresh excitement and utilise creative video techniques to show your point of difference in action, whether that be unique fashion designs, weekly dine-in specials, or support for community groups.

3. Best practices for Instagram Reels

Getting the most out of Instagram Reels requires a bit of prep work. But once you’ve laid the foundation, you can reach and inspire new audiences.

Here are the must-know best practices for Instagram Reels.

Conduct extensive research

Instagram Reels may be a new feature, but already creators have published countless video clips, amassing millions and millions of views. You know who your target audience is – spend some time watching Reels popular among their demographic.

It’s also worth investigating what your competitors are doing with Reels, if anything.

Create a storyboard

Reels don’t have the same spontaneous feel as Stories. Use this to your advantage by storyboarding your Reel before production begins.

Start by setting an objective for your Reel, and then map out how you will achieve this objective shot by shot. Remember, you only have 30 seconds to play with. Successful Reels typically stick to no more than three tips or points.

Practice makes perfect

Excellent Reels can land you a spot in the coveted Feature section of your audience’s Explore feed. Bad Reels can detract from your brand’s professionalism and competency. The lesson: practice creating a few Reels before hitting publish.

Forget hard selling

Reels are not about pushing your product or service on the viewers. Instead, their strength lies in capturing their attention and positioning your business as the industry authority or go-to brand.

Instead of advertising a discount or telling viewers to go to your website, create genuinely valuable content. If you run a fashion retailer, show viewers three unique ways to wear one of your items. If you own a hot sauce brand, share your favourite recipes. If you paint houses, create bite-sized how-to videos. These ideas boost credibility, establish authority, and promote audience connection.

Repurpose content

Popular content is popular for a reason, so repurpose it.

If you are stuck for ideas, look at other social media posts across all of your platforms that have garnered significant traction. It’s even worth running through your website analytics and noting which blog posts have captured the most organic traffic. Then, brainstorm ways to communicate the same information in a new and innovative way on Instagram Reels.

4. Seven brands already killing it with Instagram Reels

Some brands are already going viral with Instagram Reels, with many of these short videos getting more than five million views. Let’s take a look at how several major brands are already killing it with Reels.

How brands are using Reels: Sephora France

Sephora France has mastered the art of the Instagram Reel, with each of its videos securing hundreds of thousands of views. Their Reels are fresh and varied, ranging from mesmerising tutorials to user-generated content.

The biggest takeaway from the make-up retailer’s use of Reels is this: encourage engagement in the comments section using captions like, ‘Tag a friend who you would want to go shopping with’.

How brands are using Reels: Louis Vuitton

Every single one of luxury brand Louis Vuitton’s sophisticated and inspiring Instagram Reels has gone viral, with several being viewed more than six million times.

The fashion brand is primarily using Reels to showcase their new collections. Interestingly, unlike Sephora France, every Reel has a similar format and identical caption.

How brands are using Reels: Balmain

Another luxury fashion brand is achieving success with Instagram Reels: Balmain. So far, the Balmain team has kept the video content across all social networks consistent (you will see the same videos on TikTok and Instagram).

Balmain’s use of Reels is unique in that it shows a whole other side to the brand. Where their grid feed is sleek, sophisticated, and clean, their Reels are fun and playful. Viewers are getting a behind-the-scenes look that feels special and exclusive, even if millions of people are watching the same thing.

How brands are using Reels: Red Bull

Red Bull gives their audience exactly what they want: amazing videos of see-it-to-believe-it stunts. Their video content is high-energy and extremely sharable. It’s no wonder all of their Reels have between one and four million views.

How brands are using Reels: Netflix

Reels are short, sweet, and leave users wanting more – what better way to showcase up-and-coming Netflix shows?

Netflix has been uploading trailers and sneak peeks using Instagram Reels since the feature launched. This genius marketing strategy not only attracts new users to the streaming platform but also keeps existing users loyal. Someone considering axing their Netflix subscription might come across a trailer via Reels that sparks their interest. The service is suddenly worth keeping.

5. Ideas for Instagram Reels

Instagram Reels are powerful, and many leading brands are already reaching, engaging, and inspiring large audiences. If you are ready to incorporate Reels into your business’s social media marketing strategy, here are fourteen creative ideas to get you started.

Idea 1: Show your audience what goes on behind-the-scenes

Let’s say you own a celebration cake shop. Your audience already knows that your cakes are absolutely beautiful to look at – and eat. What they don’t know is all the hard work that goes into baking, decorating, and delivering your cakes. Reels is your opportunity to show them.

Source: @loveliecakes

Giving your audience a behind-the-scenes look at your day-to-day operations is a fantastic way to foster a deeper connection. Use these kinds of Reels to introduce your team, to put faces to the brand name.

Idea 2: Be 100 per cent real with your audience

Similar to behind-the-scenes style Reels, ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ content can help your viewers feel like a part of a community or group of friends.

Source: @lisamarie_schiffner

Be honest with your followers by creating an Instagram vs. reality video or a simple time-lapse of activities that you would typically never share.

Idea 3: Create a before and after

Instagram Reels are addictive because they offer instant gratification. Viewers get to see an entire process unfold in just 30 seconds, which keeps them engaged and wanting more. Leverage this by creating before and after videos.

Source: @builds_by_kristin

Many businesses lend themselves well to before and after videos: dog groomers, cleaners, tilers, interior designers, hairdressers, artists, carpenters, and so on.

Idea 4: Tell your story

If you run a small business, Reels is an excellent way to get your story out there. Quick and easy to create with little planning required, an introductory Reel helps your audience connect to your brand on a human level. You started with a passion, a vision. Share this with the world.

Source: @sucstu

It can be scary opening up online, so be sure to keep it casual as if you are chatting to a friend.

Also, keep in mind that you do not have to restrict yourself to one 30-second video. It’s more than fine to introduce yourself over three or four Reels that can be watched consecutively by navigating to the Reels section of your Instagram profile.

Idea 5: Give an exclusive Reels-only sneak peek

Many brands can give their audience a limited sneak peek Netflix-style via Reels, whether you are releasing new merchandise, testing a new recipe, or opening a new store.

Source: @cooperalanmusic

If you publish regular videos or host a podcast, short, enticing snippets are a great way to keep viewers coming back for more. The more exclusive your Reels content is, the more reason your followers have to continue engaging with your content.

Idea 6: Teach your audience a new skill

You are an expert – own it! Use Reels to share your knowledge with your followers, whether that’s by explaining how to bake the perfect chocolate brownie, how to curl your hair, how to polish leather shoes, or how to re-string a guitar. There is no limit to what you can share, so start brainstorming!

Source: @indiemoto

If you can think of several how-to ideas, write them down on a list and check back when you strike a brick wall. It’s bound to happen.

Idea 7: Showcase your products in action

Ever purchased something online only for it to show up and look completely different from what you expected? It’s happened to the best of us. Save your audience the heartache by showcasing your products in action in real-life scenarios.

For example, if you sell sneakers, record someone walking around in a public place, or highlight different outfit ideas. If you’re an illustrator that sells prints, show how they look framed and hung. If you sell handmade reusable shopping bags, demonstrate how many fresh fruits and veggies they can hold.

Source: @dapper_kicks

Before you publish your Reel, don’t forget to include purchasing instructions in your caption. You might write something like, ‘To buy, click the link in my bio!’

Idea 8: Jump on a trend

Want to get your Reel in front of more viewers? Hoping to be Featured on the Explore feed? Try jumping on a trend.

Just like on TikTok, Reels is home to many strange and fantastical trends that ebb and flow. From cutesy dances to daring challenges, keep your eyes peeled for a trend that’s on the up and up. You could even try creating your own and asking your followers to join in – don’t forget to include a unique hashtag.

Source: @eeeeshika

A word of warning on trends: While Reels is about having fun and trying new things with your social media marketing, at the end of the day, you don’t want to sacrifice your brand’s professionalism or reputation for views. Only participate in trends that are relevant to your audience and in keeping with your values. Otherwise, your Reels could do more harm than good.

Idea 9: Share insider tips and tricks

Sharing tips and tricks is arguably the easiest method of creating engaging, valuable content using Instagram Reels. Here are a few guidelines to get you thinking:

  • Don’t worry if your tip is super simple and straightforward. What might be obvious to you could be life-changing to a viewer.
  • Let your customers guide you. Are there two or three questions that you get all the time about your product, service, or industry? If so, use these as starting points.
  • Make sure your tips are relevant to your brand. If you sell organic vegetables, your audience is probably not interested in your photography tips.
  • Encourage feedback in the comments section. Ask your audience what they’d like to see next.
  • If possible, include visuals. It’s one thing to explain how to create a show-stopping flower arrangement in three easy steps. It’s another to show it.

Source: @thesocialimpact.au

Idea 10: Celebrate a stand-out employee

Think of this idea like a modern-day employee of the month. If a team member goes above and beyond, achieves a great result for your company, or delights a customer, celebrate on Instagram Reels.

Source: @theollieworld

And while we are on the topic of employees, why not ask them for ideas and input, too? Your staff could be marketing geniuses just waiting to be discovered. Give them the opportunity to contribute to your Instagram account.

Idea 11: Share user-generated content

User-generated content is an effective way of getting your audience involved. Some quick and easy examples include running a design competition and sharing the entries and asking your audience to use a brand-specific hashtag and featuring their photos and videos.

Source: @maxieelise

Do be sure to gain explicit consent from other users before sharing their content on your profile.

Idea 12: Make a list

When in doubt, write a list. Listicles are versatile and fast to put together. For example, you could share your top three favourite true crime podcasts, your four favourite local coffee shops, or your top TV show picks for 2020. Experiment with clipping together videos and images, using text to annotate the visuals, and overlaying a clear voiceover. Easy.

Source: @bhpdao

Again, relevancy is key. Unless you are a solo influencer, be sure the lists that you share resonate with your audience and align with your brand.

Idea 13: Re-share evergreen content

You don’t have to continually create new content to engage your audience on Instagram. Scroll back through your grid and make a note of any popular video posts. Do the same on other platforms, including TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube. Download your top posts and re-share to Reels.

Source: @therealfree

Do be sure, however, that the content is evergreen. Evergreen content is content that is always relevant and accurate. In other words, it’s not timely. For example, if you run a live music venue, your gig schedule for October 2020 is timely content. A video tour of your venue, in contrast, is evergreen.

A quick tip on sharing TikTok videos to Reels: While it’s a-okay to share the same content on both platforms, you do want to watch out for the obtrusive TikTok watermark in the corner. To avoid this, save you TikTok video as a live photo. Head to your camera roll and save the photo as a video. The watermark will still be there, but it won’t be quite as large.

Idea 14: Record a ‘day in the life’

If you are a big part of your business – or if you are an influencer – a vlog-style day in the life video is a must-try. While similar to a behind-the-scenes video, a ‘day in the life’ video focuses on your daily rituals outside of work. Morning and night routines are popular examples of ‘day in the life’ videos.

Source: @tonyyoumd

6. Start using Instagram Reels today

Social media platforms are always evolving, but one thing stays consistent: they are extremely popular. Every new iteration of Instagram and other social networks is a new opportunity for brands to win the hearts, minds, and business of their target audience.

If you are ready to adapt your social media marketing strategy to meet the changing expectations of today’s consumers, give Instagram Reels a try.

Instagram’s version of TikTok provides a fast and furious way to share tips, teach, inspire, relate, and engage. And you don’t have to be a big-name brand to get noticed or go viral – that’s the beauty of it.

Our social scheduling app makes it quick and easy to plan and publish Instagram Reels alongside all your other social content so that you can stay relevant and connected.

You can find out more about Sked and start scheduling Reels in a trial now.

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