Cracking the Instagram algorithm is no easy feat. But a handful of creators say a new tactic has supercharged their growth on the platform: posting Instagram Reels.
Reels, which is Instagram's competitor to TikTok, launched in August 2020 to mixed reviews. To some, it was an exciting new way to create content. But others weren't impressed and The New York Times dubbed it a "dud."
What Instagram needed was for creators who had a knack for making compelling short-form videos to start posting Reels. During the summer, The Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram had even offered to pay a number of creators to start posting to Reels. But Instagram still had to fight to win over creators.
Now, it appears that the feature may have found a path to success — or at least popularity among influencers. Ten Instagram creators, across content categories and following sizes, told Insider that since they began posting Reels regularly, they had seen spikes in engagement and new followers. That is an enormous incentive for them to continue using the feature, they said.
In Instagram's public statements, it emphasizes that creators should use all of the platform's features and post regularly to promote growth.
"Consistency in your approach is the most important thing," Jackson Williams, a member of Instagram's Creator Partnerships team, said in an interview with Insider. "There's no one size fits all approach to this. There's no secret magic bullet for perfecting Instagram."
But many creators say Reels is the closest thing they have right now to a "magic bullet," and that in some cases, starting to post short-form videos kickstarted their growth after a period of stagnation.
Christine Tran Ferguson is one creator who witnessed a spike in followers after she began posting to Reels regularly.
"I was stagnant for quite a while, and here and there, I was losing some followers," said Ferguson, a lifestyle influencer with over 350,000 followers. "When I started going more viral and having my Reels get picked up, I started growing a couple hundred and I was like, 'Oh, this is cool. I'm finally growing again.'"
"I haven't had this growth in a long time since I started Instagram," she added.
Ferguson's Reels started gaining popularity in November when she had about 311,000 followers on Instagram. Since then, she's gained about 40,000 (according to data from Social Blade).
While Instagram formally advises creators to use the app's entire suite of features, the company has been explicit about Reels being an effective way for influencers to reach more people and grow their followings.
"We think about Reels as the stage for discovering a new audience for creators," Williams told Insider. "I think we started to see that early in August and September, and then really started to see that explode once we launched the Reels tab — which is the dedicated surface for people to discover Reels content."
"There are a ton of creators for whom this has reignited their growth on Instagram," Williams said. "Reels is the place to think about focusing time and energy just because it is able to deliver on the growth creators are asking for."
Creators explain how Reels has bolstered growth on Instagram
Like Ferguson, some other creators said that before Reels emerged, their growth on Instagram had been stagnant.
Micro influencer and content coach Lissette Calveiro started posting Reels three to four times a week after attending an Instagram-hosted workshop in October, hoping to increase her growth. Calveiro said that during the workshop, Instagram had given specific advice about what and how frequently to post.
Calveiro followed Instagram's recommended volume (adjusting it a bit to fit her own content) and within a month, her following increased by 3.6% and her total reach increased by 555%, a screenshot of her Insights dashboard seen by Insider showed.
"And in a time when Instagram isn't showing users a ton of growth, 3.6% growth was a big deal for me," Calveiro said.
Creators said that unlike growing on TikTok, where some creators can go viral and amass hundreds of thousands of views and followers overnight, it had been an uphill battle on Instagram.
"For me, it was more of a slow and steady situation," said Chandler DeHart, a lifestyle influencer with over 215,000 followers on Instagram. Occasionally, a post would outperform others and she'd see a spurt of new followers.
DeHart was part of Instagram's beta testing of Reels and began posting videos in early August. Since then, her following has increased by about 50,000 (according to SocialBlade data).
"The ratio of followers that a really good Reel video will generate, as opposed to a regular static post, is I would say three to four times the amount," DeHart added.
And Raye Boyce, a creator with over 1.5 million Instagram followers, told Insider that though her following has somewhat plateaued, posting Reels had helped her reignite her engagement and reach.
Still, Instagram creators do not yet have access to in-depth analytics for Reels, which has limited their ability to gauge exactly when and where the growth is coming from.
Williams told Insider that Instagram plans on expanding Insights to Reels, which will likely mirror the Insights available for feed and Stories posts. Williams said creators can currently synthesize the engagement rate of Reels by looking at the views (or plays), comments, and likes.
Instagram or TikTok? Both.
Instagram is not only competing with TikTok — the two platforms feed one another.
TikTokers are coming over to Instagram, and Instagrammers are heading over to TikTok. And being active on both platforms is an important strategy for creators, industry insiders said.
For instance, Alyssa McKay, who started her creator career on TikTok and gained about 7 million followers in two years, started rapidly growing on Instagram this summer. McKay attributed this growth to both a change in her content style and to the introduction of Reels.
"Since posting on Reels, I've noticed that the number of people coming from Explore or other, rather than Profile or Feed, is significantly higher by a couple of thousand," McKay said.
McKay said she wasn't growing much on Instagram before Reels started, so she wasn't putting much effort into the platform. This summer, she had about 250,000 followers. But now, she has over 800,000.
For creators like McKay who are successful in short-form video, the answer to "Instagram or TikTok" is clear: both.
"I think that's one of the most crucial things that you need to do as a creator," McKay said. "You have to diversify."