Getting the most out of Reels

Instagram’s latest feature is appealing amid questions about TikTok’s future, but PR pros have serious questions about its viability and analytics capabilities.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

With TikTok’s future in the U.S. uncertain, the release of Instagram’s copycat, Reels, could not have come at a better time. But does Reels offer the same marketing and PR opportunities?

The answer in the short term is a resounding “probably not.” 

Michael Lamp, senior social and digital media strategist and practice leader at Hunter, sums up the early read on Reels as “not particularly positive.” 

“We’re watching the consumer response closely, but the sentiment thus far has been that of, ‘Meh, was this really necessary?’” he says. 

And even if Reels does gain a foothold, it might be a result of Instagram as a whole rather than the attractiveness of the tool itself. 

“If Reels succeeds, it’ll be purely on the strength of Instagram’s network effects, not because it’s more attractive or a more creative option than TikTok,” says Greg Brown, VP of global platform strategy at FleishmanHillard, who notes that a wholesale ban of TikTok in the U.S. could change the equation. 

Yet those who do want to add Reels to their repertoire are looking at limited measurement and analytics capabilities. Similar to Instagram, users or account administrators have access to likes, comments and total views. 

Rhea Woods, VP of influencer strategy at Praytell, emphasizes that TikTok isn’t much better than Reels as far as availability of metrics is concerned. 

“TikTok metrics on organic content to date are limited, based on API access limitations across influence tech platforms,” she says. “So while we have access to viewership and engagements, we still have limited visibility into audience data.” 

Brown adds, however, that Instagram doesn’t count replays as a view, making it harder to compare metrics between the two platforms. 

Despite these challenges, many PR pros are devising plans to make Reels as useful as possible. 

“We’ll plan to use engagement rate as a primary KPI and start to develop benchmarks over what a successful post and influencer partner looks like,” says Greg Tedesco, EVP of digital at Zeno Group. “Additionally, we’ll start to apply creative analytics to the equation and develop predictions over what results we can expect from content within a specific category, influencer, featured environment and more.”

Lamp says that Hunter is keeping in mind that Reels is a video product. 

“We’re going to begin by comparing performance to other video products to determine relative ROI,” he says. “Are folks creating or watching Reels at all? Are they more interested in watching them to completion vs. their longform counterpart, IGTV? Do users engage more with Reels than typical feed posts featuring video?”

Lamp adds that adoption and engagement in the short term and long-term viability are important. To ascertain whether Reels can compete with similar tools, they plan to look at whether it keeps up with rivals. 

“For instance, after one month live, are Reels being created at a rate anywhere near TikTok’s after that platform’s launch?” he asks. “It also begs the broader question: is it easier to innovate within an existing platform, Instagram and Reels, or to launch something brand new with a fresh take on video creation, like TikTok?”

Other agencies are taking a similar approach. 

“With the Reels release, we’re tapping influencers who are participating in our always-on brand campaigns to test and learn content on Reels,” explains Woods. “Having prior Instagram content context on IGTV, feed and Stories performance will allow us to compare performance on Reels to the other types of content.”

From there, Praytell is planning to quantify this performance using metrics like impression delivery, engagement and quality of content.

While Reels is a new tool within Instagram, it’s important to remember that it functions as part of a whole, according to John Ratcliffe-Lee, SVP at Ketchum. 

“Reels becomes a new subset of how brands can create an experience or interact with their audience on Instagram,” he notes. “That’s important to understand because how Reels should be understood, not just from a measurement perspective, but as a platform -- it’s now part of the total Instagram experience. Just like Stories vs. Snapchat before it, the total platform strategy must evolve and measurement should be approached as such rather than looking at Reels as a stand-alone.”

Tedesco sees it differently, highlighting how Reels is competing with Instagram’s other tools and capabilities, making engagement an essential metric. 

“Instagram’s algorithms may select certain Reels for the Explore page and feature them prominently,” he adds. “This could become an interesting vanity metric for brands and influencers.”

All of that could change. Reels is new, and Instagram could roll out features to make the tool more attractive. In the short-term, Instagram’s reputation may play a role in whether Reels is widely adopted. 

One area where Reels’ reputation exceeds that of TikTok is paid partnership disclosure. Noting that TikTok has been criticized for this in the past, Tedesco argues that Reels is likely to roll out a feature enabling paid partnership disclosure as Instagram already has with stories and in-feed. 

“Once white listing becomes the norm on Reels, brands have an additional medium to cross-promote content and story to relevant audiences,” he says.

Brown sees it even more simply: “If a brand wants to leverage Reels at this stage, it should really be to test the new format and learn how their community responds, monitor engagement and to see how discoverable their Reels are—are they tapping a new audience?”

Ultimately, the comparison between Instagram and TikTok comes down to a few things. Both tools are somewhat limited in terms of measurement. TikTok easily surpasses Reels in terms of the ease of creating and editing content. It’s more straightforward to discover content on TikTok, whereas it is confusing to find Reels within the Instagram app. The For You page on TikTok also creates opportunities for virality, which can translate into greater brand visibility. 

This doesn’t quite equate a death knell for Instagram and Reels. As the success of Instagram Stories has shown, mimicking features from other social platforms can ultimately work. 

“The path of Instagram Stories could be replicated, i.e. moving from discovery, to hesitation, to light participation, to exploring unique uses and features to literally changing the way people use Instagram,” Tedesco says.

But the biggest difference might just be the near monopoly TikTok has on the Gen Z population. 

“Gen Z TikTokers in the U.S. have taken ownership of the platform, its community and its culture in a fundamentally different way than any other social platform,” Brown explains. “Instagram can’t replicate that from the top down or by simply introducing a new feature or format.”

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