instagram reels

Instagram Reels: What You Need to Know

how to use instagram reels

TikTok and Instagram Reels

Have you checked out TikTok? If not, take a look, then open Instagram and visit Instagram Reels.

Instagram Reels is Instagram’s answer to TikTok. They have copied TikTok much like they copied Instagram Stories from Snapchat, and Stories have been wildly successful. Time will tell who wins the short-form video battle, but I’d place my money on Instagram — especially in light of the president’s threat to ban TikTok in the U.S.

According to AdWeek, in the first quarter of 2020, TikTok generated “the most downloads for any app ever in a quarter.” The platform now has more than 100 million American users.

Instagram Reels rolled out to all users this past Wednesday, August 5. The feature allows users to upload 15-second videos, much like on TikTok. It lives within the Stories feature and users have access to the same augmented reality (AR) features as in Stories. Users can add popular music available from licensed music companies.

Unlike Stories, Instagram Reels will remain permanently on your profile at the top, between the Feed and IGTV icons, unless you choose to share your Reels in Stories — then they’ll disappear after 24 hours.

Are Reels Right for Your Business?

This question may be less about the format than about the platform. I have never considered TikTok, as my audience is generally not there. Remember, when you choose what social networks you’ll be active on, the first consideration should be where your audience is, not just where you like to spend time.

My audience is much more likely to be on Instagram already as opposed to TikTok. With few exceptions, I’d bet yours is as well.

So, yes, I think there are many types of businesses that can use Reels well, even if it’s just to show a more fun side. Your Reels will show up on the Explore page, where new users can discover you and follow you from Reels.

What Kind of Content Works for Instagram Reels?

This is not the place for a long explainer video. With only 15 seconds to capture the viewer, emotional content plays best — funny, happy, or sad. Here’s a sweet one with a dad and his daughter, who uses a wheelchair, that’s perfect. It’s fun and it tugs at heartstrings.

Here are a few other ideas for Reels content:

  • One quick tip, or one fun fact. Share a shortcut or hack your audience will appreciate.
  • A brief how-to. One Reel demonstrated how to tie a knot in a button-down shirt.
  • Demos of your product or techniques, such as painting, cooking, art or DIY projects
  • Short clips of you speaking
  • Animals or pets
  • Q & A – one question with answers.

You can use similar content to that in your other videos, as long as you can trim it to 15 seconds. It can be challenging, but it can also help you distill what’s important. I remember when Twitter first began, and everyone struggled with how to express a thought in 140 characters. I believe it made me a better writer and forced me to think and express myself succinctly and clearly. Maybe short-form video will have the same effect.

Watch First

Invest a little time watching Reels before you dive in. Take note of the kinds of content that does well. To watch, tap the Search icon (magnifying glass) at the bottom of your Instagram screen. Tap Reels and you can scroll (down) through videos just like on TikTok.

You can like, comment, and share Reels via direct message (DM) or to your Story.


Here are some examples of businesses using Reels. Here’s a LEGO inspiration account — I’m not sure if they are associated with LEGO or not, but it’s very cool.

Here’s one from an artist.

And this screenshot of a Reel shows a quick style tip.

Instagram reel screenshot

I like this format for Q & A.

How to Record a Reel

Open the app on your phone.

1. Swipe right to open the Instagram camera.

You’ll see Reels just to the left of the Normal camera setting. Swipe to choose the Reels interface.

instagram reels camera

Add music if you like from Facebook’s music library.

2. Tap and hold the Reels icon in the bottom center to record a Reel.

You’ll see the pink bar at the top and your video time at the top left. You can select the effects and music you want to use and set the speed. Control the length of the clip with the Timer. If you’re combining more than one clip, you can use the Align feature to make smooth transitions.

3. Trim the clip as desired.

Drag the white bars at the beginning and end of the video.

instagram reels

4. To use an existing recording, swipe up to bring up your camera roll and select the video.

Instagram reels add video

5. Share the video as usual — add caption and choose whether to share it to your feed or not.

Time will tell how important Reels become to Instagram. If it’s as successful as Stories have been for Instagram, more Story features may be incorporated, as well as more robust analytics. Currently, there are only statistics on views, comments, and likes.

Share this post