Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Instagram: One Year of Reels

By Ed East, CEO and Co-founder of Billion Dollar Boy

Picture this: it’s August 2020 and you’re sat at home scrolling through TikTok – the most downloaded app of the year – when you hear its future is uncertain. In swoops Instagram, announcing the rollout of a direct competitor championing short-form video content. It’s called Reels and it’s being launched in more than 50 countries. 

Similar to TikTok, Reels allows users to create and browse 15- to 60-second multi-clip videos with audio, and visual effects, which can be shared to the Main Feed, Stories and the Explore page. 

This month marks one year of Instagram Reels, and it’s clear Zuckerberg and his team are backing Reels to go all the way. Since the launch, they have added a Reels button to Instagram’s home screen, and in their first-ever Creator Week, vowed to support creators and provide inside insights on how to maximise presence and engagement across the app.

So, how has Reels evolved since its launch a year ago? And most importantly, how can brands and influencers maximise their efforts on Reels?

The ‘Reel’volution 

First and foremost, it’s important to establish the differences between Reels and TikTok. The formats may appear similar, but ultimately Reels isn’t its own entity like TikTok is (or Vine was). It’s an additional feature rolled out by Instagram, and another way to find entertaining content beyond endlessly scrolling through Stories and Main Feeds.

This connection to the broader Instagram ecosystem allows users to send Reels to their friends directly on Instagram, in addition to using Instagram-specific AR filters and tools. It’s all ready-made. 

Unlike TikTok, Reels doesn’t allow the use of photos, and all Reels must comprise video content. In the early days, Instagram was open to creators repurposing TikTok content on the platform, but this has since been deprioritised and de-favoured by the algorithm. In the year since its launch, Instagram has introduced more own branded features, such as Reels Remix to rival TikTok’s Duet feature. 

And that’s not all. Quickly after launching, Instagram realised Reels could offer another lucrative ecommerce opportunity, and in December 2020 welcomed in-app shopping in Reels. It also extended its 15-second maximum to up to 60-seconds long, allowing users to get even more creative. 

Reels now dominates Instagram. It can be found not only in the new Reels tab, but also the Explore page, Stories and the Main Feed. 

Brands and creators maximising Reels

Reels’ presence across Instagram is likely the reason brands and creators have favoured them as a growth strategy this year. 

Those in the beauty space have had particular success. Reels is a fantastic source of quick, laid-back, but high-quality and informative content. Reels offers beauty brands and creators the opportunity to engage consumers who are too time-poor to watch a 15-minute video on YouTube, but who demand more than a static image with a lengthy caption description. Reels hits the sweet spot by incorporating video content to educate, in an innovative way, that only takes a maximum of 60-seconds to watch.

It’s not just beauty brands who can make the most of this new format. Instagram marketing has evolved hugely since the platform came into our lives 10 years ago. To maximise earning and sales potential, brands and creators must keep up with the latest features and get comfortable using them.

Those who feel lost are in luck. Coinciding with the anniversary of Reels’ launch, the Instagram @creators profile recently shared a video demystifying the ranking algorithm. Notably, Instagram highlighted important signals that can increase the reach of Reels.

The algorithm will take note of the content that users have engaged with and the interaction history with the user who created the Reel, ensuring it serves content the user wants to see. Instagram also tries to match up what users engage with by showing content similar to videos previously watched.

Creators and brands are also more likely to see success if they use tracks from the Instagram music library or original audio created or repurposed within Reels.

By creating consistent content with these pointers in mind, and constantly monitoring the content’s success, brands and creators can begin to shape their Reels content strategy to increase engagement and drive ROI. 


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