Winning at Reels: The “TikTok” of Instagram

Picture of Aliza ShermanAliza Sherman is a web pioneer, author, and international speaker. Sherman is the author of 8 books about the Internet including The Everything Blogging Book, Streetwise Ecommerce, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Crowdsourcing and Social Media Engagement for Dummies.

Winning at Reels: The “TikTok” of Instagram

Just when you think you’ve mastered Instagram, new feature appears, and the pressure is on to figure it out and start using it. One of the latest additions to Instagram’s suite of multimedia storytelling tools is their "Reels"feature.

Reels are short videos – 15-seconds or 30-seconds in length – where you can edit together video, audio, effects, and other tools to enhance your post. If the Reels format looks familiar, it is probably because it is a direct competitor to the popular TikTok app. This isn’t the first time Instagram (owned by Facebook) has added new features in direct response. When Snapchat popularized the Stories multimedia post format, Instagram added their own Stories feature.

Reels can appear on your Instagram feed as well as in a section called Explore. Instagram put Reels up front and center to encourage you to view the feature with a click of the square icon that resembles a film clapper board right in the middle of the bottom navigation bar on the app. While you’re watching other people’s Reels, you can save the audio if you’d like to use it for future apps clicking the lower right icon.

When you’re ready to produce your own Reels, you can click the camera icon on the upper right corner if you’re in viewing mode or if you’re at the Instagram home screen, you can click the plus sign on the upper right corner and swipe left on the navigation at the bottom of the screen until you get to Reels.

On the Reels screen, you have several options:

Audio – This is where you can select a song or background sounds for your video, or you can record your own. If you record your own audio, keep in mind that once you share your Reel publicly, the audio will be attributed to your account but available to anyone to reuse.

Length – You can choose to record either a 15-second or a 30-second video.

Speed – There are six options to speed up or slow down part of the video or audio.

Effects – Add sparkles, words, backgrounds, borders, and more to your video.

Touch Up – Remove flaws.

Timer and Countdown - Set the timer hands-free recording. When you press record, you’ll see a 3-2-1 countdown before recording starts.

You can record a Reel all at once or stitch together a series of video clips. If you’ve uploaded other videos to Instagram, you can use those as well. As with any Instagram feature, you can add hashtags that are clickable. Using hashtags can help people find your Reel when they do a hashtag search.

Before you share your Reel, you can change the cover image, add a caption with the appropriate hashtags, and tag others, if appropriate. You can opt to share your completed Reels on your main Instagram feed so it will appear on your profile grid, or if not, all your Reels will be archived on a separate Reels tab on your profile. You can also share Reels as a Story, but keep in mind it will disappear after 24 hours from your Stories section.

Should you use Reels to promote your business? If you’re already using Instagram and gaining traction, adding Reels to your social media marketing could be beneficial, particularly if you’ve mastered Stories. Producing content for Reels can be intimidating, and there is a learning curve in terms of both figuring out how to use each tool in the new feature as well as understanding the style of video particular to Reels. If you’ve been using TikTok already, the Reels format will feel very familiar.

As with any new social media app feature, check out how others are using it first. Then make sure you have the time, resources, and content to adopt it.