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Instagram Reels in 2024: A Complete Guide for Businesses

Learn how to promote your brand, reach new people and engage your audience with Instagram Reels, Instagram’s favorite format.

Alyssa Hirose February 15, 2024
Cover image

Here’s the Reel deal: videos are ruling Instagram. Using Instagram Reels for your business is an important building block for any social media marketing strategy (in fact, it’s expected that over half of American marketers will use Reels for influencer marketing this year).

140 billion Reels are watched every day—so how do you get a piece of that delicious strategic pie? Read on for the cold, hard truths about Instagram Reels, including how to make them, share them, download them, hack Instagram’s mysterious algorithm and more.

Bonus: Claim your pack of free animated Instagram Reels templates created by Hootsuite’s professional designers. Easily customize them in Canva, and take your Reels game to the next level today.

What are Instagram Reels?

Instagram Reels are videos uploaded to Instagram. They’re generally rather short (the absolute maximum length of a Reel is 15 minutes, but most high-performing Reels are between 7 and 15 seconds).

Reels can be made up of a single video, several clips edited together, still photos or some combination of photos and video. They can be created using Instagram’s native video editing tools or by using a third-party video editing app.

Most Reels aren’t just videos: they use text and trending audio to convey a message. Many are humorous, but there’s also plenty of educational, informative and serious Reels out there—and they’re an excellent tool for increasing brand recognition for your business in a modern, accessible way.

How to make a Reel on Instagram Creating short entertaining video is an art, and Instagram provides many paths to success. The following instructions guide you through editing and posting a Reel using the Instagram app.

(Psst: If the in-app IG Reel editor isn’t working for you, there are a ton of free third-party video editing apps you can use).

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Step 1: Open up the Instagram Reels editor

This is the easy part—you can actually start an Instagram Reel three different ways. Here’s a quick rundown of all three.

First, you can start a Reel from the Instagram news feed (otherwise known as the page that opens automatically when you enter the app) by hitting the plus button at the bottom.

How to Make a Reel Plus button on Instagram

Second, you can start a Reel from the Reel section, Reel simply. There’s a camera icon in the top left. Hit that and you’re ready to rock and roll.

Camera Icon How to Make a Reel

Last, you can start an Instagram Reel from your profile. Just go to the plus button in the top right.

plus button top right of Instagram profile

Note: The following two steps (2 and 3) can be done in any order. You can pick music first, then add your clips, or clips then music. You’re the captain of your own life.

Step 2: Create your video or select clips from your camera roll

You can use the record button on your screen to shoot a Reel on the spot (but honestly, nobody does this—it’s frankly a totally bonkers way to create content for Reels).

Create Video Using Record Button

Instead, most social media managers will film video clips ahead of time. To access the clips in your camera roll, hit the square icon in the bottom left corner of your screen.

Square Record Button on Instagram Bottom left corner

From there, you can choose videos from your photo and video library.

Step 3: Add audio

Guess what? There’s also three ways to add music to your Instagram Reel.

You can select your audio at the same time you’re selecting clips by hitting the music note icon on the left side of your screen.

Music Note Icon with Flower Bouquets in Background

Or, after you hit Next, you can open up the audio menu and access Instagram’s music library by tapping the music note icon on the top of your screen.

Tap Music Note Icon to access Instagram’s music library

Last one: you can also add audio from the clip editor itself (for a thorough rundown of the clip editor, check out step 5).

Music Icon Add Audio for a Reel of a Bouquet of Flowers

No matter how you get there, the audio selection menu for Instagram Reels looks the same.

Search music on Instagram popular song suggestions

Search for the song you want or choose from trending songs (the ones that have a little upward arrow are trending).

Step 4: Add text

To make it a little easier on you, there aren’t three ways to add text to an Instagram Reel. (There’s two.)

First, you can add text when you’re previewing your Reel by hitting the text icon at the top of your screen.

Add text on Reel top right corner

Or, once you’re in the clip editor, you can add text by tapping Text on the bottom of your screen.

Add text option

Once you type in your desired text, you can edit the size, font, color, and outline style.

Select desired font on Instagram Reel and watch for spelling mistakes

Step 5: Edit it until you’re sick of it

We joke. Mostly. Using Instagram’s Reel editing tools, you can clip videos, change the order of videos, add transitions, split clips, change the playback speed, add stickers and more.

Edit option to change playback speed and trim video

This is the step that usually results in getting the chosen audio stuck in your head for the rest of the day. But hey, it’s worth it.

Once you’re totally happy with your Reel, hit the little blue arrow on the right side of your screen.

blue arrow button on right side of screen

Step 6: Add a cover image

Don’t skip this step: a specific cover image will ensure that the Reel fits with your Instagram aesthetic. Tap Edit cover.

New reel edit cover

From there, you can choose a frame from your Reel to act as the cover image…

Edit cover and select frame from video or photo from camera roll as cover image

… or you can hit Add from camera roll to choose a different still image.

Add from camera roll choose image

Step 7: Add a caption

You know the drill: write a great hook for this caption and include a call-to-action at the end. (If you’re looking for over 250 awesome captions—plus more ideas—this is your sign).

Write a caption or add a poll

Step 8: Tag other users

Hit Tag people and tag any relevant users, collaborators or creators.

Tag people on Reel such as creators and collaborators

Step 9: Add other optional details

Before publishing your Reel, you can also add products from your Instagram shop, add topics, change your audience, add a location, reminder, fundraiser and more. These aren’t mandatory, but the more information you put in your post, the better—more for the algorithm to pick up on (more on that in the next section).

New Reel tag products add message button audience

Step 10: Hit “Share”

You did it! Now’s the time to hit Share.

Preview and Share Video

Or, you can schedule your Instagram Reel instead to reach the maximum number of users (Hootsuite can help you do it).

How does the Instagram Reels algorithm work?

The Reels you see—and the Reels you don’t see—on Instagram are entirely up to the Instagram algorithm, and only Adam Mosseri and the devil himself know how it works.

Just kidding. It’s true that the IG algorithm is purposely shadowy and ever-changing, but there are a few proven factors that make up this feed-dictating formula:

  1. Relationships. The algorithm pays attention to who you interact with and how often. You’ll be more likely to see Reels from accounts that you follow, and liking, commenting, DM’ing or sharing something with another user increases the chances of your Reels showing up on each other’s feeds.
  2. Relevance. IG aims to show you content that it thinks you’ll like. The more tree frog videos you watch, the more you’ll see.
  3. Timeliness. Newer content is prioritized in the Instagram Reels algorithm.
  4. Popularity. The larger and more engaged your audience is, the more likely the IG algorithm will favour your content. Yup, another popularity contest.

How to download Instagram Reels

To download a Reel on Instagram, take a look at the left-hand side of the screen: there, you’ll see the “share” icon, which is shaped like a paper airplane.

Share Icon Paper Plane button next to Reel of a rack of clothing

Once you hit Share, a menu with lots of options pops up. Download is one of those options—to save the Reel to your camera roll, just tap that button.

Download Reel to save video to camera roll

The best time to post Reels on Instagram

The ideal time to post a Reel on Instagram depends on your target audience, the type of content you’re posting, how often you post and more—but hey, that’s not the answer you’re looking for, is it?

Overall, Hootsuite has found that the best time to post Instagram Reels is between 9AM and 12PM from Monday to Thursday. But again, that’s just us.

(Psst: if you don’t want to be glued to your phone at those times, it’s much easier to just schedule Reels to publish at strategic times… and Hootsuite can do that for you.)

How long can Instagram Reels be?

Using Instagram’s built-in Reel creator, Reels can be anywhere from 15 to 90 seconds long.

But if you want to post Reels that are a little shorter—or much longer—all you have to do is use a third-party scheduling tool. For example, Hootsuite: when you’re uploading Reels to Instagram using Hootsuite, a Reel can be as short as three seconds or as long as 15 minutes.

Truthfully, Instagram’s in-app video editor is quite tricky to use, anyway (unless you’ve got some kind of small finger advantage), so it’s best to go with a different video editing app.

For max engagement, we’ve found the best Reel length is between 7 and 15 seconds.

Instagram Reels sizes

The short answer: Instagram Reels should be 1080×1920 pixels, with an aspect ratio of 9:16. The bad news? Instagram Reels appear as different sizes depending on how the viewer is watching them.

That 9:16 ratio only applies when the user is in the Reels section of Instagram. If the Reel pops up in the Instagram newsfeed, the aspect ratio is 4:5. That means that some of the video will be cut off—to avoid the good stuff being cropped out, try to keep important information (such as text) in the middle of the screen when you’re editing Reels.

How to share a Reel on Instagram

Share because you care. There’s lots of ways to pass on a great Reel, and all of them start with that little paper airplane icon in the bottom right of your screen.

little paper airplane icon to download reel of chair sketching

Once you tap that icon, you’ll see suggestions to send the Reel as a direct message to people you commonly interact with on Instagram. You can also use the search bar to seek a specific user.

WhatsApp Facebook Messenger or Messages How to share an Instagram Reel via X or Snapchat

In the same menu, there are options to post the Reel to Threads, add it to your story, share it to WhatsApp, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), or Snapchat. Or hit Copy link to send a link to the Reel to anyone with internet access (your grandma’s going to love it when you email her links to all the Reels you love).

Other Instagram Reels tips

You know the basics, now it’s time to get deep. Scroll on for advice that will make your Reels irresistible.

Adding captions

Adding captions to your Reels makes your content more accessible for all. You can type your own captions using the text editor on Reels… OR, you can use Instagram’s caption generating tool, which is a heck of a lot easier.

To automatically add captions to your Instagram Reel, first tap the sticker button in the top right.

How to add captions Tap Sticker Button in top right corner of Reel

Then, select Captions.

Captions button on Reel

The captions will be automatically generated. Instagram is usually pretty good about interpreting audio…

Tap a word to edit Look at all these beautiful flowers

…but if you need to adjust a word, just tap on it and use the keyboard to edit.

Tap keyboard to edit adjust word flowers on Reel

Boosting Reels

Boosting an Instagram Reel is an adorable name for “making a Reel into an ad.” Essentially, you “boost” a Reel by paying for Instagram to show your Reel more often to more people. Instead of being at the mercy of the Instagram algorithm, you’re investing money into ensuring that your Reel is seen.

Unfortunately, you can’t boost any IG Reels that use copyrighted music. Use original audio or royalty-free music on any Reel you’re planning to boost.

To boost a Reel, first publish that Reel on Instagram. Then, tap the three dots in the bottom left of your screen.

Tap three dots in bottom left of screen to boost Reel

Next, select Boost Reel.

Boost Reel option on Instagram

From there, you’re able to choose the goal, audience, budget and duration for your boosted Reel.

Select a goal more profile visits more website visits or more messages

For more thorough step-by-step instructions on how to fill in each field, check out this blog post on How to Boost Reels on Instagram.

Scheduling Reels

As we mentioned above, scheduling Reels for the optimal post time is an excellent strategy for social media marketing (and it’s also an excellent strategy for the sanity of a social media manager).

Scheduling Instagram Reels with Hootsuite

This blog post has a full rundown of how to schedule Reels using Hootsuite, which is obviously our favourite tool out there.

Using great hashtags

Hashtags can help you hack that pesky algorithm, and make it easier for you to reach your target audience. Hootsuite even has a free hashtag generator for Reels.

Replying to a comment with a Reel

Engagement is everything on Instagram, and one of the most entertaining ways to engage with your audience is by replying to Instagram comments with a Reel.

To reply to an Instagram comment with a Reel, first choose the comment you’d like to reply to. This comment will appear like a sticker in your Reel.

Hit Reply like you would to type a comment.

Reply option to type a comment on Instagram But instead of typing, tap the camera button.

Tap camera icon to reply to Instagram comment with reel

From there, Instagram will open the Reels editor and the sticker will automatically be part of the video.

Reels editor to add stickers to a video of a laptop with comment that says Love this

Splitting clips on Reels

The goal of a Reel should be as entertaining as possible—but in real life, there’s an awful lot of boring parts. Edit out the least interesting bits of your videos by splitting clips and deleting anything that’s not important: here’s how.

In the Instagram Reels editor, tap Edit video.

How to spilt a clip Edit video bottom left corner of screen reel

Next, select Edit in the bottom left.

Edit option bottom left corner of screen to split a clip

Find the spot in the timeline where you’d like to split the clip—in other words, the beginning of the part that you want to cut out. Once you’ve moved the playhead (the vertical line showing where you are in the video) to that spot, select Split.

Split button on Instagram Reel

Next, move the playhead to the next part of the clip that you’d like to split (in this example, this would be the end of the part of the video you’d like to delete).

By splitting your video in two places, you’ve now isolated the part that you’d like to delete (we’ve circled it in blue in the below image). To delete the clip, select Delete.

Tap discard button to delete a clip

Using templates on Instagram Reels

One of the best Instagram Reels hacks is using a template instead of starting from scratch. Templates will automatically edit your selected clips to a specified length that matches up with audio.

There’s several ways to find Reels templates on Instagram (we’ll take you through them all step-by-step in this blog post) but here’s a quick rundown of one strategy.

First, open up the Instagram Reels editor. Tap Templates at the bottom right.

Templates button bottom right of screen

This will open up the Instagram Reels template library, where you can find templates that are trending and templates that Instagram think you’ll like. Choose a template from this library.

Browse Templates Recommended for you and trending

From there, you can select the clips you’d like to use in the template by tapping Add media. Instagram will automatically trim the clips so they fit—and like magic, you’re done.

Add media button to Instagram Reel of coffee

Hot tip: Instagram templates work best for aesthetic videos and general scenes/scenery—since IG does the clip-trimming for you, templates aren’t as useful for clips that have a specific “good” part. For example, a long video of your dog catching a piece of popcorn might not work, as Instagram may cut out all the action.

Pay attention to Reels Insights

Keep track of how well your Reels are performing by keeping a close eye on Instagram’s insights. With metrics including likes, shares, comments and saves, plus information about your audience and accounts reached, insights can provide valuable information—and honest feedback—that you can use to improve your social media strategy.

Easily schedule and manage Reels alongside all your other content from Hootsuite’s super simple dashboard. Schedule Reels to go live while you’re OOO, post at the best possible time (even if that’s when you’re fast asleep), and monitor your reach, likes, shares, and more.

Start free 30-day trial

Save time and stress less with easy Reels scheduling and performance monitoring from Hootsuite. Trust us, it’s reely easy.

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By Alyssa Hirose

Alyssa Hirose is a magazine editor, playwright, comedian and comic artist based in Vancouver, B.C. She attributes her great sense of humour to 9 years of braces and good ol' elementary school bullying (unrelated, unfortunately).

Read more by Alyssa Hirose

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