The evolution of Instagram Reels: one year on

With the recent explosion in popularity of the short-form video, it’s worth remembering that TikTok is not the only game in town.

Ed East, CEO and co-founder of global creative influencer marketing agency, Billion Dollar Boy, tracks the progress of a pretender to the TikTok crown

This month marks one year since Instagram introduced Reels, a direct competitor to TikTok, the most downloaded app of 2020. Seeking to capitalise on the short-form video content boom and TikTok’s then-uncertain future, Reels was rolled out in over 50 countries.

At a first glance, Reels is remarkably similar in format to TikTok. It allows users to create and engage with 15- to 60-second multi-clip videos, complete with audio and visual effects, and share them all over Instagram, on the Explore Page, Stories and Main Feed.

Instagram has invested heavily in promoting Reels and is actively encouraging its use among creators. Since it launched, Instagram has added a Reels button to its home screen and provided unprecedented insight into how to maximise Reels content through its Creators profile.

With the ‘Reel’volution in full swing, brands and influencers who are not yet on the platform could be missing out on an effective route to consumers.

The Reel Deal

On closer inspection, there are some obvious differences between Reels and TikTok. Firstly, Reels is an additional feature launched by Instagram, rather than its own entity like TikTok. Even this distinction, however, has since been blurred by the launch of the standalone IGTV app, designed for longer-form videos more comparable with YouTube.

It’s featured at the forefront of Instagram, championed by the platform as an entertaining way to discover innovative content beyond non-stop scrolling through the Main Feed and Stories (it’s possible to be ‘fed’ into Reels at the end of an Instagram Story).

At the time of launch, Instagram was open to users repurposing TikTok content on the platform, but this has since been deprioritised by the algorithm. Instead, Reels encourages users to implement Instagram-specific AR filters and tools, and has introduced more own-branded features, such as Reels Remix to rival TikTok’s Duet function.

Reels’ early success created momentum, and quickly after launching, Instagram introduced in-app shopping on Reels, another profitable e-commerce opportunity for brands and creators to exploit.

New insights for performance marketers

Since May this year, Facebook introduced Reels Insights, an analytics platform offering more data for marketers on how their campaigns are working on the platform. New metrics include Plays, Accounts Reached, Likes, Comments, Saves, and Shares.

These metrics are included in Account Insights to provide a broader picture into how Reels and Live shape an account’s performance.

New breakdowns provided by Instagram provide transparency into which types of accounts you’re reaching and which content formats are the most effective at driving Reach.

Maximising Reels content

Taking its lead from TikTok, Reels allows users to produce quick, creative and informative content to grab the attention of time-poor scrollers (or those with short attention spans) who nonetheless find it easier to consume information via video rather than pictures with ever-more-extended captions.

Brands and creators now have the option to use short-form video alongside traditional Instagram posts to show, for example, behind the scenes or making-of footage, and give the audience a fuller experience.  

In recognition that it can be easy to feel lost in a sea of new features and platform updates, Instagram has begun sharing how brands and creators can make Reels work best for them - whether it’s demystifying the ranking algorithm or adapting Reels trends to creator content.

A good starting point is the creation of consistent content and constantly monitoring its success. From there, brands and creators can start carving a Reels content strategy that grows engagement and drives ROI.