Will These 5 Updates to Instagram Reels Boost Engagement and Trend Discovery?

Instagram recently rolled out a host of updates for Reels, all with a view to helping creators leverage the latest trends to maximise engagement and build and strengthen the community around their content.

But as I’ve been finding out while helping clients at my own performance marketing agency, Pixated, 5 of these updates in particular could be hugely beneficial to marketers, too.

1) Reels Trends

Instagram has introduced Reels Trends, a new discovery feature enabling creators to more easily find trending audio and hashtags within Reels. As Instagram said during its announcement,

Creators are always looking to discover fresh content ideas, so now we’re adding a dedicated destination for you to be inspired by the latest trends. You’ll be able to see the top trending songs and hashtags on Reels, see how many times the audio has been used, tap in to use it, or save the audio yourself.

Reels Trends is now available in the Professional Dashboard, where you can explore what audio and hashtags are driving interest across your audience, and take a deep dive into user insights.

In many ways Reels Trends is reminiscent of TikTok’s Creative Center tools, which give many of the same insights across pretty much every element of the platform’s trending clips. In fact, if anything TikTok’s Creative Center is even more powerful, because it comes with both the option to filter by region and even deeper and more granular insights than Reels Trends.

But regardless of how it shapes up against TikTok’s Creative Center, of course, Reels Trends is an excellent addition for social media marketers keen to take their Reels research to the next level, tap into Reels-specific insights to advance their content strategies, and better inform their long-term approach to Instagram marketing.

2) Reels editing flow

Instagram has merged its creative tools with the video composer screen, making it more seamless and intuitive than ever for creators looking to produce more distinctive and eye-catching Instagram Reels.

The new editing flow incorporates text, video, stickers and audio track editing, all on a single screen. As Instagram noted during the rollout, ‘This makes it easier to align and time elements of your Reels to the right moments in a more visual way. Keep an eye out for even more exciting tools to come as we continue investing in more ways to make editing your Reels simpler and easier.’
The new Reels editing flow reminds me irresistibly of TikTok’s separate video editing app CapCut, fast becoming popular in its own right—it recently hit 200 million active users, and it’s storming up the App Store rankings. The new Reels editing layout is similar to the interface on CapCut, and also provides similar (but currently more rudimentary) functionality.

3) Total and average watch times

Instagram is now providing insights into total and average watch times for Reels, meaning creators have more data at their disposal to explore what’s working for them and how to adapt their content strategies moving forward.

Of this new feature, Instagram said:

Total watch time captures the total amount of time your Reel has been played, including any time spent replaying it. Average watch time captures the average amount of time spent playing your Reel, calculated by dividing watch time by the number of total plays. This will help you better understand where people are being engaged or where you may need to create a stronger hook to have viewers stay longer.
Average watch time could be a tad misleading if a user were to replay your Reel multiple times but only view the first few seconds in each instance—but we can only assume (or hope) that doesn’t happen too often (although I know I’ve certainly done it myself!). All in all, average watch time is an eminent indicator of your audience’s overall engagement with your content.

4) Reels-specific follows

Just a quick one that caught my eye: Instagram has added new notifications that alert creators when a user has followed their account directly after having viewed their Reels content. A nice little confidence booster!

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5) Expanding access to Gifts

Finally, Instagram has rolled out a feature embedded within its virtual Gifts element, through which creators can see which of their fans have sent them gifts so they can more easily acknowledge their top supporters. A little recognition goes a long way—and the ability to see and thank your biggest fans can be hugely important in fortifying that vital sense of community around your brand.

Keeping up with the TikTokers

These updates are great to have, but they certainly illuminate the benefits of Instagram’s major rival TikTok as well, especially since it seems that in rolling these out the former is just trying to keep up with the latter. TikTok already provides all 5 of the features I’ve laid out today—and more.

And that’s really the story of Reels in a nutshell. With the explosive rise of short-form video to become king of the content types, Meta has been playing catchup for a long time now, seeking to align with this latest consumption trend while beating off the competition for user attention. It seems to be working too, helped in no small part by the privacy concerns presently swirling around TikTok. The fear of the CCP potentially stealing sensitive information is already enough to have seen many social media users stick resolutely to Instagram. Perhaps this latest batch of Reels updates will be just what the platform needs to now tip the scales firmly in its favour.