Reels, an Instagram feature for creating short videos akin to TikTok, has rapidly grown in popularity since it launched in 2020.
Meta (the parent of Facebook and Instagram) has invested heavily in the tool, giving Reels preference in its algorithms to boost views and engagement among Instagram’s 2 billion users, as well as offering monetary incentives to creators who use it. The Facebook platform also now offers Reels; Meta recently announced it would be making cross-posting between the two easier and adding even more ways to monetize the content.
The bottom line: Reels have become an essential tool for both creators—and brands.
Reels tend to drive more engagement than static posts not just because of algorithms , but also because their quick, easily digestible format has become a popular way to consume content. And because Reels can be shared on Instagram’s Explore page—a collection of public videos and photos (mostly Reels) tailored to each user—they drive a huge opportunity. When brands partner with influencers who add a level of authenticity to marketing efforts, that opportunity is amplified even further. Sephora uses this approach effectively with a mix of in-house and influencer-created Reels, as does National Geographic Travel.
So how do brands and their creator partners create a successful Reel? We reached out to creator Kelvin Davis (@kelvindavis), a middle school art teacher-turned-menswear influencer and body positivity advocate and Allie Tong (@allie.eats), a food blogger and content creator, for their advice on making Reels people will actually watch — and like.
1. Be Authentic
“Authenticity” is a buzzword in the marketing industry for a reason—it’s a genuine way to build a connection with audiences based on vulnerability and relatability. Reality is now aspirational. That’s why Davis and Tong both emphasize the importance of it.
“Millennials were all about the Instagram aesthetic; we loved everything to look perfect,” Tong says. “But Gen Z doesn’t want perfect photos. They don’t want to be lied to. And that’s why we’ve seen a shift to TikTok and Reels. The videos are rawer. You don’t have to try so hard. And anyone can throw one up, so it’s not only influencers who are making content.”
While Tong’s videos look quite professional, for example, she’s not afraid to admit when she burns the mac and cheese, vacuums it up, and still serves it for a dinner party.
For Davis, a big part of authenticity is letting your passion and enthusiasm for your niche really shine. “People want to see Reels that are joyful and funny. Be funny. Be personable. Be charismatic.”
And yes, it’s possible to do this even when promoting brands—just look at how Davis models Lands’ End jackets.
“Millennials were all about the Instagram aesthetic; we loved everything to look perfect. But Gen Z doesn’t want perfect photos. They don’t want to be lied to. And that’s why we’ve seen a shift to TikTok and Reels.”
2. Keep It Simple
Reels don’t need to be overly complicated. In fact, it’s better if they aren’t.
“Sometimes the simplest videos do really well. I see people use the exact same thing they put in a Story on a Reel and it gets a million views,” Tong says. “It could be a one-shot take. Throw on some text, music, a voice-over—and there’s your Reel. It doesn’t have to be a multi-shot, nicely edited video.”
She learned this lesson the hard way after hiring someone to help her film her videos to get a higher production quality. “I wanted something that looked better,” she says. “But those videos didn’t do as well.”
And while Tong chooses to film and edit her videos in separate apps before posting to Reels, she notes that it’s possible to shoot and edit directly in the app. Instagram even encourages it. “There are some creators who have grown their accounts by 100,000 followers in a small amount of time because they were using the Reel app to film and post, and Instagram’s algorithm was pushing out their content heavily,” she says. “I know that it does help.”
3. Stick to Your Niche
One of the best ways to gain virality and a loyal audience is by finding your niche, posting consistently, and sticking to it.
Tong notes that’s actually one of the big differences between her approach to TikTok and Reels.
“I’m still very picky about what I put on my Instagram because I care what the aesthetic of my feed looks like, but I don’t do that with TikTok,” she said. “It’s more fun, so I’ll put funny videos on there or things that have nothing to do with my niche.”
People are more likely to hit “follow” when they know what to expect moving forward.
4. Provide Value
Creating content that’s educational or insightful in some way is a great way to show authenticity and knowledge, and it will keep an audience coming back for more. “Creating things that give people value—that they can learn from—is what does best,” Tong says. “That’s why recipes do really well. They’re learning from it and may save it to watch it again later.”
Davis agrees. “There are a lot of Reels that don’t even have people’s faces in them. They just give you tips like ‘5 Ways to Help Your Fiddle-Leaf Fig Grow.’”
Once people know that they can rely on great how-to or content that provides value in their lives, there’s a good chance they’ll follow the account and keep checking back to explore new videos.
5. Just Do It
Davis and Tong’s biggest advice for making successful Instagram Reels? Start making them.
“Don’t overthink it,” Tong says.
“What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Davis asks. “The worst thing that could happen is that it doesn’t do very well. And then you do better the next time.”
With news that Reels is Meta’s fastest growing content, it’s clear that audiences love it, and the company will continue to make it a huge focus going forward. That alone is a big reason for brands to invest and make Reels a part of their influencer marketing strategy.