Experiment: Do Reels Improve Your Overall Instagram Engagement?

Have you noticed your engagement stats go up after posting an Instagram Reel? You’re not the only one.

Since the short-video format debuted on the platform last year, brands and creators alike have found that these posts reel in more than just views. Many have seen their follower counts and engagement rates increase, too. One Instagram creator says she gained 2,800+ followers by posting a Reel every day for a month.

At Hootsuite, we decided to dig into our own Instagram data and test this theory out.

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Hypothesis: Posting Reels improves your overall Instagram engagement

Our running hypothesis is that posting an Instagram Reel may have a shine effect on our overall Instagram metrics. In other words, posting Reels may boost our overall engagement and follower growth rates.

Methodology

To run this informal experiment, Hootsuite’s social media team carried out its Instagram strategy as planned, which includes posting Reels, single-image and carousel posts, and IGTV videos.

Hootsuite’s first Reel was posted on January 21, 2021. Over the 40-day period between January 21-and March 3, Hootsuite published 19 posts to its feed including six Reels, seven IGTV videos, five carousels, and one video. In terms of frequency, we published a Reel roughly once a week or so.

When it comes to discovery, there are a number of variables to account for on Instagram. In every case, our Reels were published to the Reels tab and feed. Some accounts have noticed that the performance of a Reel significantly drops when it is only posted to the Reels tab. We did not test that theory in this experiment.

Others have noted that sharing Reels to Instagram Stories can also have a marked impact on engagement. We shared all of our Reels to Instagram Stories, so keep that in mind as you read the results.

Audio is another way Reels can be discovered on Instagram. After watching a Reel, viewers can click on the track and explore other videos that sample the same audio. Of the six Reels we posted, three feature trending tracks, while the other three use original audio. Finally, three Reels included hashtags, and none of them were “Featured” by Instagram curators.

Methodology Overview

  • Timeframe: January 21-March 3
  • Number of Reels posted: 6
  • All Reels published to the feed
  • All Reels shared to Instagram Stories

Results

TL;DR: Follower count and engagement rate went up, but not at a rate much higher than before we started posting Reels. Reach also stayed the same.

Have a look at Hootsuite’s follower breakdown in Instagram Insights (pictured below). Sure enough, every bump of the green “new follower” line corresponds with the publication of a Reel.

Follower breakdown:

Source: Hoosuite’s Instagram Insights

“We’ve seen significant spikes in our follower count one to three days after posting a Reel. My hypothesis is that these spikes in follower growth came from our Reels content,” explains Brayden Cohen, Hootsuite social marketing strategist. But according to Cohen, overall, Hootsuite’s follow and unfollow rate hasn’t changed much.

“We typically see approximately 1,000-1,400 new followers every week and approximately 400-650 unfollows per week too (this is normal). I would say our follow and unfollow rate has stayed the same since posting Reels.”

Let’s drill down into the data a little more. Note: All stats cited below were recorded March 8, 2021.

Reel #1—January 21, 2021

Views: 27.8K, Likes: 733, Comments: 43

Audio: “Level Up,” Ciara

Hashtags: 0

Reel #2—January 27, 2021

Views: 15K, Likes: 269, Comments: 44

Audio: Original

Hashtags: 7

Reel #3—February 8, 2021

Views: 17.3K, Likes: 406, Comments: 23

Audio: freezerstyle

Hashtags: 4

Reel #4—February 17, 2021

Views: 7,337, Likes: 240, Comments: 38

Audio: Original

Hashtags: 1

Reel #5—February 23, 2021

Views: 16.3K, Likes: 679, Comments: 26

Audio: “Dreams,” Fleetwood Mac

Hashtags: 3

Reel #6—March 3, 2021

Views: 6,272, Likes: 208, Comments: 8

Audio: Original

Hashtags: 0

Reach

In terms of overall reach, Cohen says, “I do see a similar increase in # of accounts reached from our Instagram account on dates that we posted Reels.” While there are peaks and troughs, there’s a steady rise in reach over the month of February.

Instagram reach insights graph

Source: Hoosuite’s Instagram Insights

Engagement

What about engagement? Compared with the previous 40-day period, the average number of comments and likes per post is higher.

But that’s mostly because of the Reels themselves. In addition to having a much higher view rate, “Our Instagram Reels see 300-800 like per post whereas an IGTV and an in-feed video gets between 100-200 likes,” says Cohen. Take the Reels out of the equation, and the engagement rate for both periods is about the same.

So, do Reels improve your overall Instagram engagement? In Hootsuite’s case, the answer is: a little. Follower count and engagement rate went up, but not at a rate much higher than before we started posting Reels.

What do the results mean?

Instagram wants quality Reels to be seen

Instagram redesigned its home screen to put Reels front and center, so high Reels view counts should come as no surprise. In that sense, Reels have become a key frontier for organic reach on the app. The more people you reach with your Reels, the higher your chances that follower count and engagement rate will grow.

While Reels may get more reach than other formats on the platform, Instagram’s algorithm still prioritizes Reels that check certain boxes. Here’s how the company explains its recommendation engine: “People tell us they want to see entertaining, funny, and interesting content in places like the Reels tab, and we’ve gotten better at recommending that.”

Reposting TikTok videos as Reels? Instagram may ding you for that. “We’ve also heard that low video quality reels (i.e. blurry due to low resolution) or content that is visibly recycled from other apps (i.e. contains logos or watermarks) makes the Reels experience less satisfying,” a post from the company explains. “So, we’re making this content less discoverable in places like the Reels tab.”

Reels that feature people perform well

The success of TikTok is largely creator-driven and Instagram Reels are no different. Take a look at your Reels feed and you’ll notice that most videos have one thing in common: People! Forget hyper-stylized product shots, the Instagram aesthetic, or even illustrations. All of that comes second to people in personality in the Reels format.

“We see that an image of a person in the Reel helps it perform better,” says Cohen. Of Hootsuite’s top three performing Reels in this experiment, two feature a person in the cover image (in both cases, it’s Cohen!). The third Reel also features a person (Hootsuite’s Inbound Marketing Lead, Shannon Tien), just not on the cover.

Audio can make a big difference

It’s probably not a coincidence that our top three performing Reels happened to be the three that feature a trending track. Ciara’s “Level Up” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” in particular, are pretty popular on Instagram and TikTok at the moment.

“Instagram favors when you add your audio and songs natively in their app versus adding them beforehand in a 3rd party app or using other music not available within Instagram,” says Cohen. “I think this plays a huge factor.”

Sharing to Instagram Stories boosts views

Adding your Reel to a Story increases the odds that it will be seen. Reels can be shared directly to Stories, but Cohen recommends taking a different approach: “I reshare the in-feed Reel to stories so the Reel in our feed gets more views.”

If your account has more than 10K followers, sharing your Reel in a Story allows you to use them to drive traffic or conversions. “Sharing to Instagram Stories is incredibly helpful when providing a swipe-up link or CTA as this cannot be done for in-feed Reels captions,” he says.

Hashtags have a minor impact on reach

Instagram Reels can include up to 30 hashtags, just like other posts on the platform. According to an Instagram Story posted by the company’s @creators account, “Hashtags continue to be a great source of discovery for creators, particularly on Reels.” Popular Reels hashtags include #dance, #humor, #fitness, and #reelitfeelit.

Hashtags didn’t have an obvious impact on Hootsuite’s Reels. Posts that didn’t have any performed just as well, and in some cases better, than posts that had some. “I think hashtags help with the discoverability of the content and perhaps help push them to the top of certain trending hashtags,” says Cohen. “I’m not 100% certain on the relevance of hashtags right now though.”

All of these aspects are still being fine-tuned by Instagram. In fact, Instagram head Adam Mosseri recently told The Verge he’s “not yet happy” with Reels. Stay on top of Instagram updates here.

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