What Is Instagram Reels: A Guide On The Platform’s New Short-Form Video Feature

Tanya Cruz
Written By
Tanya Cruz
Published On
Aug 21, 2020
Instagram Reels, the new short-form video feature on Instagram.

Instagram (aka Facebook) is here to give TikTok a run for its money, and it couldn’t have come in a more opportune time. As it currently stands, the future of TikTok remains unknown within the United States thanks to an executive order made by President Donald Trump which bans the company from operating within the country starting September 15. But with reports of TikTok planning to file a lawsuit and talks of Microsoft, Twitter or Oracle potentially buying out the app, there might still be hope for the popular video sharing platform that is if they can survive their newest rival, Instagram.

On August 5, Instagram released their hotly anticipated short-form video feature in over 50 countries, called Instagram Reels. Much like IGTV and Stories, the integration of Reels is another attempt by Facebook to keep users on the platform for longer, especially those who’ve made their way on TikTok, scrolling their way through hours worth of dance challenges, DIYs, and funny reenactments of your favourite scenes from “Keeping Up With Kardashians”.  

Now with Reels getting thrown into the mix, a big question remains is it worth making the switch from TikTok? Even without a U.S ban, does the feature risk making TikTok completely obsolete?  

We’ll be answering all that and much more! Here’s your ultimate guide on the new short-form video feature Instagram Reels:

What is Instagram Reels? 

For those who are already familiar with the leading short-form video app TikTok, you’ll find that there are a lot of similarities with Instagram’s new in-app feature. On Reels, users can record and edit together dynamic and engaging video content in 15-second clips. They can speed up or slow down content, incorporate AR effects and also set them to musical tracks available on the platform’s library. They also include an “align” tool to help recreate those nicely timed jump cuts, a video editing technique commonly used on TikTok. Once you’re happy with your video masterpiece, before hitting publish, users can include a caption and a selection of hashtags to help increase the discoverability of their content. 

Once completed, users can share their Reels on their Stories, Explore Feed and the new Reels tab located on user profiles.  And viola, that’s it! The video is live and ready to be consumed by the masses!

 Instagram Reels is viewable on Instagram’s Explore Page.

How Does The Instagram Reels Algorithm Work? 

The success of TikTok is largely due to its algorithm. It’s main “For You” page is algorithmically generated based on how users on the platform are engaging with videos, while also featuring content based on your interests and prior activity. As soon as a video gets posted, TikTok pushes it out to a sample of users to test out its engagement. If users respond positively to it, this triggers the algorithm to push that same video out to more and more people. This is why it’s much easier to achieve virality on TikTok – it’s less about who you follow and more about the content you’re putting out to the world and how others are responding to it.

Traditionally, Instagram’s algorithm works the opposite way prioritizing  content based on who you follow and who you engage with the most. Now, if Reels adopted the same algorithm, they could kiss world domination good-bye. But early reports suggest that may not be the case. While there’s no word on how the Reels algorithm truly works,  according to Vishal Shah, Instagram’s VP of Product, the recommendations on Reels will be different than everything else in the Explore Page, making it easier for new creators and good content to be discovered. 

But how will it compare to TikTok? Only time will tell, but by the sounds of it, Instagram understands that in order to attract users, incorporating a similar level of discoverability like the one TikTok, is integral to the success of the feature. 

Why Business Brands Should Take Advantage of Reels

Whether you’re team TikTok or Instagram, there’s no denying the exciting opportunity Reels offers to business brands. For those who already have established followings on the platform, Reels offers another fun and unique way to engage with them. More notably however is the ability for your Reels to appear on the Explore Page, and be seen by users who are not following you. This is major for brands looking to garner greater brand awareness and further drive sales initiatives.  

And let’s not forget the impact Reels will likely have on Influencer Marketing for this reason. Instead of regular feed posts and Stories, brands will likely start pushing for Reels in upcoming campaigns as well because of the ability for videos to appear on the Explore Page. Not only would Influencer content appear on the feeds of their followers, but the potential to reach wider audiences through Explore can increase their chances of virality and campaign success. 

Business brands

Instagram Reels VS. TikTok – Which One Is Better?

If you’re still scratching your head wondering which platform might be better, you’re not alone! Many will be asking themselves the same thing in the next couple weeks. But to start, let’s talk about what we already know as there are clear differences between the two. 

  • Video Length – Right now, Instagram Reels limits video length to 15 seconds, while TikTok currently sits at 60 seconds. 
  • Duets – These side-by-side video collaborations popularized on TikTok is currently not available on Reels.
  • For You vs. Explore Tab – The For You tab on TikTok is prominent on the app, while Reels is somewhat buried within the app, only accessible within the Explore page. In terms of user experience, it takes a couple taps to get to the Explore Tab as opposed to  the For You page on TikTok, where it’s the first thing you see. 
  • Analytics – Reels only offers views, likes and comments in their analytics breakdown while TikTok’s is much more sophisticated, including things like traffic source, audience breakdowns and average watch times. Many anticipate Reels will introduce better data in the weeks and months to come
  • Following – TikTok’s platform nicely organizes your feed into two sections, one “For You” page which aggregates content based on your interests and a “Following” page so you can quickly check on the freshest content made by your favourite TikTokers. On Reels, there is no section to check in on those you are following. If you follow a creator for their Reels, what they post on their main feed will also show up in yours which depending on the person, this might not be something they want. For example, if you follow someone for their funny reenactments, you may not want to see their regular day-to-day photo content, especially if it strays away from the content they’re creating in Reels. As of now, there’s no way to follow someone on Instagram strictly for their Reels unless you go straight to their profile

The Future of Instagram Reels

Is the new short-form video sharing feature on Instagram here to stay and take over? Only time will tell, especially as the future of TikTok remains relatively uncertain. If TikTok does get banned from the United States, many anticipate that the stars and creators who’ve made a household name for themselves there will naturally flock to Instagram instead, which would inevitably be a huge win for them as TikTok currently has 85 million active American users. 

But if TikTok stays for the long haul, it’ll be interesting to see whether Reels will be able to snatch up audiences the way it did with SnapChat after implementing Stories in 2016. Back then during its initial launch, Stories saw 150 million users implementing the new feature. Fast forward to today, and those numbers have skyrocketed to a whopping 500 million users using Stories daily. As for SnapChat? They’ve never been able to regain the prominence they once had since. 

At the other end of the spectrum, let’s not forget IGTV which was expected to rival Youtube but instead received a lukewarm reception from audiences. While the feature remains on the platform to this day, it’s far from the success it was expected to have. 

Whatever your thoughts may be right now, don’t make any hard and fast conclusions on Reels just yet! According to many reports, when Instagram launched Reels, they didn’t launch it with it’s full set of capabilities. With limited analytics, stickers and gifs currently available many experts anticipate new features to slowly start rolling out in the weeks to come, which will help smooth out any hiccups experienced in the initial roll-out. 

Future of instagram reels

The Takeaway 

Whether you’re a content creator, brand or social media manager the biggest takeaway from the arrival of Instagram Reels is to remain adaptable. For avid users of TikTok, this is a great opportunity to test out the capabilities of the new Instagram feature and see how the two compare in terms of views and engagement. We’ve seen many creators repurpose some of their TikTok content on Reels to test out the waters and we highly recommend you do the same!

For those who consider themselves Instagram loyalists and may not have previously created short-form video before, now is a great time to test it out! Because of the video’s ability to appear on the Explore Page, the greater the chances are for your content, brand and business being seen from audiences outside your immediate network. Take advantage of this!

For those that have built feeds to fit a certain visual aesthetic and afraid that integrating Reels into their content calendars might disrupt the look and feel of what they’ve curated – don’t worry! Thanks to the Reels tab on the user profile, it can remain separate from your main feed, giving you the freedom to think creatively and produce content that might be more out-of-the-box, compared to  your regular content. 

Regardless of where you stand, don’t be afraid to test it out! See what works and what doesn’t and see how your audience is responding to that content. While it may appear that many have already hopped onto the Reels bandwagon, jump on early with them! Competition is still much lower there, so it’s a great time to test out the waters and take advantage of those eyeballs while they’re still watching! Have fun creating thumb-stopping content!


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