Dear brands, let’s get real about Instagram Reels

James Towers
By James Towers | 18 August 2020

James Towers is the lead digital and social strategist at 16K Agency.

Like an awkward grandparent dragged into their grandchild’s TikTok dance video, many brands have initially struggled to find their feet with Instagram’s latest platform feature, Reels.

On August 5 and after around a year in development, Instagram launched Reels, its in-app competitive feature to TikTok. Reels is essentially a near-direct copy of TikTok’s creative short video platform and the initial launch in 50 countries has seen users and brands flock to upload content in the new Reels feature within Instagram.

Instagram makes very good business sense for many brands to be active on. The global usage is extremely high, the app is relatively intuitive and easy to use for a wide demographic and many brands have an established audience on the platform. You can search, shop, explore, post, like, share, save, comment, create and edit all from within the platform itself. It makes sense for brands to spend more time here than migrating users to other emerging social networks who haven’t yet stood the test of time or proven the relevance to each individual brand.

Brands that were unsure of TikTok’s relevance and fit to their marketing, content and social strategies can now finally play with TikTok-ish content in the more familiar surrounds of Instagram. And this is exactly where it’s gone wrong in the first week of the Reels rollout.

The music stops here
Many brands jumped into Reels on day one as their social teams scrambled to scribble ‘we were here first’ on the wall of their Reels tab. But that’s where the music (and creativity) has stopped for many in the first foray into Reels. Social media teams have lacked the basic understanding of what content fits within Reels and have fallen into the trap of posting existing content initially built for the Instagram Feed or Stories and plonked it straight into Reels.

Currently the native creative process in Reels is clunky, time consuming and limited but that’s not an excuse to view Reels as a dumping ground for content you’ve already posted elsewhere. We must understand the culture of social apps and the reason TikTok has seen a sensational amount of viral content coming out in the past two years. Seeing what content works in this format and then translating this to your own brand voice is essential. Remember that different platforms serve different purposes for audiences and the culture fit for each platform might not be totally transferable between apps.

Brands need to consider what each social platform does for them
Instagram Stories launched in August 2016 and was met largely with delight as brands protecting their highly polished Instagram feed could now loosen the belt a little with more ‘in moment’ content that only stuck around for 24hrs. Back then this was a large shot fired across the bow of Snapchat, known for its light hearted, fun, creative and time-limited content. Stories has since been a huge success for Instagram and brands alike as they discovered a clear difference between what content suited the Feed and what belonged in Stories.

Getting real with your Reels strategy
Reels allows for brands to flex their creativity by entertaining and delighting their followers. To be effective with Reels brands must understand the needs of their audience. What are they seeking from you on all of your social media channels? What are they seeking from you on Instagram and where does a Reels strategy meet your audience requirements?

Reels requires more creative input, time and dedicated management to be executed well and this should be a careful consideration for many brands. Viral videos are often on-trend and in-moment and these trends can be fleeting. There might not be room for lengthy brand approval processes if you’re looking for highly engaging content within the Reels format. It’s best to create approved frameworks and creative process so social teams can be agile and create on-trend content that is upholding the brand strategy and driving the overarching brand goals.

We know from the past that using new Instagram features early out of the gate often leads to increased visibility and exposure as algorithms may be tweaked towards showcasing content in these new formats. This, coupled with the fact there is less clutter means that well-crafted content has a chance of boosting a brand’s reach and exposure.

When Instagram launched Stories it solved a user problem, but with the launch of Reels it feels more like the solving of a competitor problem to Instagram itself. Nevertheless, Instagram seems committed to the growth of Reels and with its release comes opportunity for brands to engage with their audience in a new and unique way.

As always, content from brands should fit soundly into a strategy and that strategy should always see content produced to fit the only the platform and the format it sits on.

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