If you haven’t heard, Instagram released this new thing called Reels recently. It’s part of their plan for world domination – and, to take down TikTok. So it released to much fanfare and hype, people hoping for some amazing new tool to create eye-popping content.
And then people tried it… lol
Ok, in all fairness, I tried it out and HATED it. I really did. Now, this type of content (super short videos) is NOT my happy place. We all know I’m more than a little verbose so cramming myself into 15 seconds does not come easily. But I wanted to give the app a fair chance. I really did! But I also had to write a blog post about it and pretty much did everything I could to “break” it so I would know what you could or could not do on the app. All in all, I ended up hating it. It drove me bonkers trying to get a whole video stitched together and complete! And, as a result, I filmed a video about it, in true Jenn Herman rant fashion. If you wanna check out that video, you can watch it below. But read on below the video if you want to know how Reels actually works and how you can use it for reals (ha, see what I did there!?).
What are Reels?
Here’s the quick skinny on what you get in Reels:
- They are short form videos of 3-15 seconds
- They are available in-app within Instagram (don’t go looking for a Reels app in the app store)
- They are full portrait 9:16 mode
- They are designed for mobile devices
- They can be filmed within the Reels camera or by uploading from your camera roll
- They can be filmed as a single take or stitched together from multiple takes
- They are displayed in your new Reels tab on your profile but can also be added to your regular feed and to your Stories (I know, it’s confusing. I’ll break it down better later in this post)
These are NOT the same as Stories, even though they are really similar. And if you ask me, Instagram could have taken some of the Reels features, added them to Stories, not launched a whole new feature, and everyone would have come out ahead. But, hey, what do I know?
Where can you find Reels?
Because Reels are in-app and can be displayed in a bunch of places (pretty much anywhere except IGTV), you can pretty much find them anywhere! If you see a video with the Reels icon (the little square with the play arrow), that’s a Reel. In the feed, it will preview just like a regular video with the “watch Reels” option in the lower left corner of the video. If you tap on that, it will open the video to full screen in the Reels platform.
And, once you’re watching a Reel, you can swipe up on your mobile device to go to more Reels. Keep swiping to view new ones!
Obviously the feed is just those you follow so you’ll only see Reels from people you’re following, if they’ve created them. If you want to find new content from other users, go to the Explore page and at the very top is a large square with a Reels video for you. Again, tap on that to watch and then swipe to scroll through more options. Additionally, as you’re scrolling through the Explore page, you’ll find more Reels mixed in intermittently to entice you into watching.
You can also go to anyone’s Instagram profile and if you see the Reels icon (the square with the play arrow icon) next to the grid, IGTV, and tagged photos icons, they have Reels on their account and you can tap that Reels icon to view their videos.
How do you create Reels?
Ok, so chances are you wanna give these things a try and you want to actually create a Reels video. Here are the steps to follow and a handful of warnings to pay attention to as you go.
1. To get to the Reels camera, swipe right from your home feed (not your profile) to open the “Stories” camera. Now, at the bottom of the camera interface, you’ll see the option for Live, Story, Reels. It defaults to the Story option so you can swipe to get to the Reels camera.
2. There are navigation tools on the left side of the Reels camera screen: Audio, Speed, Effects, and Timer. If you’re a business profile, you don’t get the audio option (sorry!) but that’s because Instagram has strict copyright restrictions that prevent business accounts from using popular music (which is why you also don’t have the music sticker in Stories). Warning: If you want to use effects (filters) on your video clips, you must select them BEFORE you film the clip. Once you film your clip, you cannot go back and edit the clip to add the effect. Additionally, if you’re filming multiple clips, you have to add the effect to EACH clip individually. Annoying, I know.
3. To record your video clip, press and hold the big shutter button (just like you would for Stories). Or tap the shutter button once to begin hands-free recording (tap again to stop recording). You can also use the Timer option here to set a timer for how long you want to record then tap “Set Timer”. When you tap the shutter button, you’ll see the countdown from 3-2-1 to start recording. You’ll notice a red line progresses across the top of the screen to show you the time duration. The whole screen width is your max 15 seconds. If you stop recording, the red bar stops. When you start recording again, the red bar picks up again with a slight break so you know where each clip starts and ends.
4. In addition to the steps above to film a video within the Reels camera, you can choose to upload your own videos from your camera roll on your device. You’ll notice the small square in the lower tool bar of the Reels camera with a little “+” sign. Tap on that to open your camera roll. You cannot upload photos, only videos. And you cannot add effects to your uploaded videos. If your video is more than 15 seconds or more that the remaining amount of time available in your Reels video creation, the video will be cropped to that length. You can drag the timer slider to select the portion of the clip you want to use up to that amount of time.
5. When you stop filming your clip, you’ll notice two arrows appear, one on either side of the shutter button. You’ll also see the “X” in the top left corner. Tapping the “X” at any point during the process will ask you if you want to discard the entire video. If you click “discard”, the whole video is erased – not just one clip, if you have multiple clips.
6. The left arrow is a replay of the clip you just filmed. Tap on that to go back to the clip and trim it or delete it. Use the scissors button to open the trim function and drag the starting and ending markers to where you want the clip to start and finish. When you’re done trimming, or if you don’t want to trim it, tap the right facing arrow to return to the main camera. Tap the trash can to delete the clip and start over. You can only delete one clip at a time, and only the most recent one. If you have 4 clips uploaded, you can’t delete the second one.
7. If you want to film more clips, film them following the steps above.
8. Once you’ve filmed one clip, you’ll notice another icon in the left tool bar, and that is your Align tool. Tap this to pull up a translucent copy of the last frame of your last clip. This allows you to easily align your clips to match up and make your video clips look more seamless. TIP: If you really want to use this feature, use a tripod and don’t move your device between takes. Even with this Align tool, it’s nearly impossible to realign your position perfectly once you’ve moved your device.
9. When you’ve got all your clips together and are ready to finalize your video, tap on the right facing arrow next to the shutter button to review your final masterpiece.
10. In this editing screen, you can add stickers, doodles, and text much like you’re used to in Stories. The stickers are not nearly as varied as Stories options but hopefully more of those are available in the future.
11. You’ll also notice the down facing arrow in the top tool bar in this editing screen. That is your SAVE option. You can download your finished video from here and save it to your camera roll.
12. When your edits are complete, tap on the right facing arrow at the bottom of the screen to navigate to the Share screen. You’ll notice two tabs on the Share screen: Reels and Stories. WARNING: If you want to share your Reels to your Story, share it there FIRST. Once you post to your Reels, you can’t go back and add it to your Stories.
13. To share to your Stories, tap on the Stories tab (the screen defaults to the Reels tab). You can then share to your Story, to your Close Friends list, or via DM to a person or group. WARNING: You cannot edit your Reels video before sharing it to your Stories. No adding filters, stickers, tags, mentions, etc. It goes out just how it is in the Reels format. Annoying (again), I know.
14. To share to your Reels and your feed, tap on the Reels tab again.
15. You can select any frame for the cover image (much like you can on other Instagram videos). Tap on the thumbnail image that says Cover and drag the slider to find the perfect frame for your cover image. Or you can upload from your camera roll (Android users may to swipe up to see this option). You can select any image from your camera roll to place as the cover image. Tap Done to save your changes and go back to the Share screen.
16. Add a caption to your Reel. You have 2200 characters and 30 hashtags to use just like a regular Instagram feed post. But, WARNING: if you exceed 2200 characters or 30 hashtags, you don’t get a warning, and your caption will NOT post. Yeah, hello Instagram of 2017, we remember you. Also, TIP: people watching your Reels video won’t likely tap on the caption and scroll through to read it. So if you have a call to action or something you want people to know or do, make sure that directive is actually IN THE VIDEO, not just in the caption.
17. Phew! You are now ready to post your finished product. Congratulations, you made it this far! lol
18. So, no matter what, the video will go to your Reels tab which is now a new tab on your profile (like IGTV). But you can also share the video to your feed so that your followers can see it without having to go look for it. To share to your feed, keep the “Also Share to Feed” button toggled on. You can tap that to turn it off if you don’t want the video in your feed.
19. Tap the big “Share” button at the bottom of the screen and your video will make its way to the interwebs for the entertainment of all.
20. Or, if you aren’t quite ready to share it just yet, you can tap on “Save as Draft” and the video will save to your Reels Drafts which only you can see. If you’re going to be doing a series of clips in a video that are taken over time, you’ll want to use the feature. WARNING: If you use the draft feature and go back to share the video, even after adding more clips, you can’t share it to your Stories.
21. So, let’s say you did save a video as a draft and you need to go back and complete it or add to it. Go to your profile, tap on the Reels icon just above your feed/grid and you’ll see a “folder” for Drafts as the first place in the sequence of videos (along with any published videos). Tap on the Drafts image and you’ll go to a screen with all of the drafts you’ve saved. Tap on the one you want to edit and you’ll be on the “Share” screen. In the top right corner is the “Edit” option. Tap on Edit to go back to a replay of your video as it currently stands. In the top left corner is the camera icon – tap on that, tap on “discard” (to discard edits you didn’t make), and get back to the camera mode to take more clips for your video. Follow the steps above to finish editing and processing your video.
Fun Story Workaround: I found this cool workaround for sharing to Stories if you want to add more features or share after saving as a draft. Select your uploaded Reels video and tap on the share button (paper airplane icon) from the full view screen. You can choose the option to “Share to your Story” and it embeds the video in a new Story. Since it’s a fresh Story, you can add all the interactive stickers, tags, and other features we know and love. Because Reels are only up to 15 seconds, the whole thing plays in one Story without breaking.
Now do you see how complicated this seems? I’ve never written such a complicated tutorial for any Instagram feature!
With at least one Reel under your belt and uploaded to your profile, when you go to your Reels tab on your profile, you can see the videos you have uploaded and a view count is displayed on each video. These are live updates for the actual views on your video. For other “metrics” (which aren’t really metrics), you can tap on the video thumbnail to open your Reel and see the like and comment counts in the bottom right corner. You can tap on either the “like” or the comment number to get some quick insights into who liked the video and see all the comments. You will also get all the comment notifications in your regular notifications so you can like and reply to those there as normal.
But these are the only insights you get for now. Nothing else. No details on retention, shares, follows generated, etc. There’s nothing in your profile insights with any info on Reels (for now). Hopefully they change this. Your reach from the Reel does count towards your account’s overall reach in your Insights though.
When you’re in your own Reels video, there is a three-dot button next to the like/comment/share buttons. If you tap on that, a screen pops up with options to delete the video, remove it from your grid (if you had shared it there), copy the link (so you can share it with others elsewhere), and save your video to camera roll (the “save video” option) or save the video to your Instagram saved posts (the “save” option).
Tapping on this same three-dot button on someone else’s video gives options to hide, report, copy the link, share to (DMs only on Instagram or other outside options), and to save to your Instagram saved posts.
Oh, but we’re not done yet…
There are some more limitations and annoyances that you should be aware of. These include:
- No progress bar when watching videos so you have no idea how far along you are.
- No rewind option when watching videos. You have to let it play out and loop back around to watch anything again.
- No option to edit a caption after upload. Yup, I learned that one the hard way! Once your video is uploaded, that caption is stuck to it.
- Only one line of the caption appears in the Reel itself. While the whole caption appears in the feed with the video preview, once someone taps on the video or finds it from the Explore page or whatever, and are watching it in full screen, the caption is one line with the “…more” at the end. Even when they tap on that, only a few lines appear at the bottom of the video and you have to scroll through it to read a few lines at a time. Super annoying and don’t count on people reading these captions.
Are they worth it?
That’s a great question. And I can’t answer it for you.
Personally, it’s a shit load of work to create these things and make them look the way I would want to. Maybe if I did them more often, I’d get faster and better at them. But for now, the amount of work and process that goes into creating one isn’t worth my time.
But, if you’re good at creating this type of content and you can be creative with them, go for it!
There’s no time like the present to start and build your presence with these. So many people are simply uploading TikTok videos and calling it a Reel. Others are trying it once and giving up (because, duh, did you see how much work they take?). So, if you can do it, and do it well, please do! Let that creativity flow and show us how it’s done.