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The Reels Algorithm: How to Use Reels on Instagram

Instagram has a knack for adapting popular social content formats on their platform, and Reels are a prime example of this. Instagram Reels operates similarly to TikTok— short-form videos that last a max of 60 seconds. 

Because the platforms follow a similar content structure, many creators are applying their TikTok content strategy, and the content itself, to Instagram Reels. Understanding that Instagram’s ultimate goal is to provide engaging and valuable user experiences rich with unique content, treating Reels like TikTok’s fraternal twin might not achieve the best results. 

Additionally, Instagram uses a different algorithm for each part of its platform, and the Instagram Reels algorithm is its own beast. Here’s what you need to know. 

Understanding the Reels Algorithm

First things first, if you want to get the most out of your Reels content, don’t repost from TikTok. Yes, it's convenient but the Reels algorithm won’t push watermarked content to users who aren’t following you. However, if you’re creating TikToks and want to repost them for your followers, you can but know that it won’t do much to grow your reach and audience.

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How the Reels Algorithm Ranks Content

The Reels algorithm ranks content based on three factors: user activity, creator activity, and the content of the Reel.  

User Activity

User activity encompasses which Reels a user engaged with recently as well as \ the user’s history interacting with a creator (that’s you!). Information about the Reel includes the audio track, video understanding, and popularity. User activity is the most important signal so your top priority should be getting viewers to watch your Reels completely, like them, and click the audio to make their own Reel. 

Reels Content

The main purpose of Reels is to entertain, but you want to make sure that content is quality. For example is the Reel on-trend, such as popular audio tracks. 

Using a cover photo will help your Reels fit into the aesthetic of your feed. You can use text on your Reels, but covering up too much of the image with text will hurt your reach. You should also avoid posting Reels that have a border around them. 

PLANOLY Pro-tip: Using PLANOLY but don't know how to import missing Instagram videos or Reels to your IG Planner? Learn how here to simplify planning and scheduling future content
Creator Information

Creator information is how other users interact with the creator who posted. So if the creator has more engagement on a video their content most likely will rank higher. 

The algorithm finds Reels users might be interested in, then ranks them by putting what they predict will be most liked. Instagram even notes that the algorithm favors smaller creators so long as they’re creating entertaining content. 

Instagram recommends getting creative and using music from the Instagram music library or original audio created on Reels

Instagram’s Feed is limited to accounts users already follow so hashtags help users discover content and find new accounts to follow.

Related: Top 10 TikTok Memes, Trends, and Challenges to Try

How to Create High-Quality Reels

Access Reels by heading to the Instagram home feed, clicking the “+”, then scrolling to the Reels tab at the bottom. You can either upload your own footage or record using Instagram’s camera. To record, open the camera and click the Reels icon. 

Start by choosing your music and desired video length. If you want to use a specific trending sound, you can search for it and click the “use sound” button. Next, record or upload your footage. When recording on Instagram, you can start and stop as many times as necessary and use the “align” button for crisp transitions. You can trim clips using the “scissors” button. 

Adding captions to Reels with voice-over makes your Reel accessible to your target audience. Once it’s ready to go, create a cover photo with a photo from your camera roll. Reels capture photos from your video automatically, but they tend to be of lower quality. 


Remember, the Reels algorithm prioritizes content that’s entertaining. With that in mind, getting creative with the editing features available is vital to the success of your Reels. 

#1 Use Audio

Reels are short. The platform is designed to keep users scrolling. You only have a few seconds to grab your viewers’ attention before they scroll to the next video. Choosing an interesting, trendy song is a great way to keep them watching long enough to peak their interest. Plus, using trending sounds gets your content in front of users searching through those sounds. 

#2 Add Effects

When creating and editing your Reels, you have access to a host of special effects designed by users and Instagram alike. Since you have a minute or less to convey your message, effects are a great way to share what you need to without words. For example, you can use the shaking effect to show that the subject of a video is frantic. 

#3 Adjust the Speed

If your lips don’t match the sound, your Reel will look sloppy. You can change your video’s speed to match the flow of your sound. Aligning your movements with the sound is key to creating a professional-looking Reel.

Related: Best Reels on Instagram: How Brands Can Create Engaging Reels

Boiling it all down, the Instagram Reels algorithm is about creating content that will entertain your target audience. Since that’s likely already your goal, you’re on your way to executing a successful social campaign on Instagram Reels. We can’t wait to see what you create!

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Carrie Boswell

Carrie Boswell is the Digital Marketing Content Specialist at PLANOLY. She is always finding ways to include pop culture and the Gen Z perspective into the content we create for marketers and small business owners.

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