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As the rise of short form video content continues into 2023, it is more important that ever to be utilising Reels if you want to reach new people and grow your audience on Instagram. But as the demand for short-form grows so does the the competition, and it has  become increasingly harder to get views that convert to engaged followers. Luckily there a a few things you can do to keep that infamous algorithm onside and I wanted to share my top 10 tips that have helped me to grow my own Instagram audience with Reels over the past few years. 

1 - Content is King

If you ask me, the most important aspects of high performing content is that it is engaging and offers some form of value. You want to make people want to share your Reels with their friends, take the time to leave a comment or even better, save the video to re-watch later. When I look at the statistics on my highest performing Reels, the common theme is always that they have a much higher proportion of shares, saves and comments than my other videos.


But what make an engaging video? When I’m coming up with ideas I like to ask myself whether or not the video is one of these 3 things:


Educational – if your video is teaching your audience something valuable, they will be much more likely to hit save and come back to it later.

Impressive – does it have the “WOW” factor?

Funny or Entertaining – if it makes someone laugh or smile, the chances are they will want to send it to their friends.

2 - Music

The music you choose for your video could be the difference between a viral video or a flop, so don’t neglect this stage of the process! Using trending music can definitely help your videos to be discovered more easily (you know when every other video on your feed has the same sound!) but it’s certainly not necessary to create an engaging Reel.


The most important thing for me is finding music that complements my video. I usually go for something that has a beat I can edit to which really helps to make the video flow – notice how in my photography videos the camera settings pop up to the beat of the music.


I often use music that has a build up followed by a beat drop, this way I can use the music to build up anticipation for the result of the video on the drop, for example,  the final photo or a dramatic landscape.


You could also try adding another layer to your videos with immersive sound design – check out our favourite SFX library at Epidemic Sound. 

3 - Text

It’s always a good idea to include some kind of text or captions in your Reels as helps give the video some context and is a great way to grab someone’s attention. Many people could be scrolling through their feed without the sound turned on, especially in public places, so giving them something to read will help to keep the video engaging without relying on sound.


These are some of the ways that you could include text in your Reels:

Questions – ask an intriguing question that will keep your viewer watching.

Instructions – for an educational Reel this could be step by step instructions or your camera settings.

Context – simply give some additional information such as a location or an explanation of what you are doing.

Call to Action – for example, “wait for the result…”.


Instagram is a search engine and like any other search engine, SEO is important. Remember to include any relevant keywords in your captions and video text to help get you content shown to the right people!

4 - Consistency is Key

You should definitely aim to create a range of different video types but it’s important to stick to a niche – in my case it is the fairly broad theme of travel photography & filmmaking, but it could be whatever you’re interested in! Sticking to theme will ensure that you build a high quality audience that has a genuine interest in your content and will continue to be interested in your future content.


It can be tempting to jump on every trend and copy the content that seems to be going viral, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t beneficial to gain followers from content that you don’t plan to continue making long term. Don’t get me wrong, trends can be a great way to grow your audience, just make sure that it is relevant to the content that you enjoy creating. If you’re a photographer you don’t want to end up with an audience that is only interested in your viral baking video!


Below is and example of a Reels where I utilised a viral audio, but put my own spin on it so that it was more in line with my niche.

5 - Building Anticipation

One of the best ways you can let the Instagram algorithm know that your content is worth pushing out is by ensuring that your viewers watch all the way through. If you have a high rate of people skipping your videos, this is telling Instagram that the content is boring!


A great way to do this is by building anticipation for the final result, whether that be an edited photo, interesting creation or incredible view. Try not to reveal the the highlight of the video until the end, but let the audience know that it’s coming. I usually do this with the help of music & text like I have already talked about, alongside an interesting behind the scenes shot (or series of shots) that gradually reveals more as the video progresses.

6 - Editing

Editing your Reels outside of the Instagram app is one of the easiest ways you can make them stand out from the rest – I do this for nearly every video! Personally I use Davinci Resolve on my desktop computer but if you want to stick to mobile, apps such as Premiere Rush, Videoleap and VN are all great (and much cheaper) alternatives I have used in the past.

Here are a few of my favourite ways to use editing software / apps to create Reels:

● Cropping landscape video clips to fill the vertical 9:16 aspect ratio of the Reels platform.

● Adding unique transitions beyond the standard transitions included in the Instagram editor.

● Keyframing (animating) movement such a zooms in or out of my images.

● Colour grading my videos to give them a unique look 

7 - Video Length

It would be impossible to define the perfect length for a Reel as it really depends on the content of the video. I try to make sure that my videos are long enough to provide value but not so long that people will lose interest before getting to the end – remember this is a short form platform, not YouTube.


Try to make sure that everything you include is necessary and intentional to keep the video engaging. Usually I will lean toward keeping my Reels shorter rather that longer as people will be more likely to rewatch, which is great for the algorithm.


Following on from the previous point, I’m not a big fan of outros, such as “follow @rorywatson_ for more”, at the end of Reels. In my opinion it’s unnecessary and marks the end of the video, encouraging the viewer to scroll on. Unlike long form videos, Reels will restart automatically so it’s a much better idea to keep the ending short and sweet, allowing the video to loop back to the start.


This topic is definitely subject to debate, but overall I’ve found that the sweet spot for my highest performing videos is between 8-12 seconds.

8 - Hashtags

Another topic that’s open to a lot of debate! I definitely don’t claim to have the right answer for this one but I can give you my opinion.


As for the number of hashtags, I have no idea, I don’t think it’s particularly important but I generally use 5-10. What is important however, is the relevance of the hashtags to your video, to ensure that it is being shown to the people that are most likely to enjoy the content.


Avoid using anything too broad such as #viral or #reel, but instead stick to hashtags that are closely related to your content eg. #filmmaking, #beautifuldestinations, #photographytips.


There’s now a specific tab for Reels alongside the “top” and “recent” tabs when you search for a hashtag so it’s definitely worth using a few hashtags in the caption at the very least – it can only help!


You might have noticed a new option when you go to post a Reel called “Add Topics” where you can choose 3 topics that match the content of your Reel, which should then help the algorithm to show your video to the right people. I can definitely see this being the feature to replace hashtags in the future so don’t sleep on this! 

9 - Stick to the Safe Area

This is a really simple tip but I see people making this mistake all the time!


When you watch Reels through the dedicated Reels feed you get a full 9:16 vertical view of the video, however, when they show up in the main Instagram feed they will be cropped slightly along the top and bottom. This means that if you place any text in these “danger” areas it won’t be visible to a large proportion of your audience.


To avoid this you need to make sure that you place any text or stickers within the “safe area” – luckily the Reels editor has a handy feature that highlights the area with a blue line if you get too close to the edge.

10 - Ideas

I find that it can really helpful to keep a list of ideas that I can keep adding to, so when I’m stuck for what to create I can refer back to it. Having a wide range of different concepts and ideas to choose from will also help keep your audience interested and stop your content from becoming boring and repetitive.


Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Behind the scenes – I post photography BTS videos all the time where I show my camera settings followed by the photo, but this concept could be applied to anything.

Tips & tricks – do you know any travel tips or photography hacks that others might find useful?

Mobile phone clips – if you have any impressive clips from your travels just sitting around on your phone, it could be something worth sharing.

Tutorial video – like a YouTube “how to” video but in under 15 seconds – these always work well for me!

Tell a story – it could be anything from a funny story or and interesting adventure, there’s no better way to tell a story that with visuals.

Trends – I’m not the biggest fan of trends but if it’s something that genuinely aligns with your usual content then it go for it!

Final thoughts

There is no secret formula and almost certainly some element of luck involved in finding success on Instagram, but I’m a strong believer in making your own luck. If you can focus on continually working to improve your skills and commit to posting regularly, the quality of your content will improve and you will see results.


As of 2023 it’s taken me over 4 years of almost daily (occasionally weekly) posting to get to where I am now, and I’m still working to get to where I want to be. Hopefully these tips can help you take some steps in the right direction!


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