Instagram Reels: What, Why & How.

Instagram Reels were gradually rolled out across the World in early 2020, and appeared to arrive in the UK around the end of July. We started experimenting with them for some of our clients in early August 2020 and saw some incredible results. In this article, I’ll take you through what exactly constitutes a ‘Reel’, how they differ to ‘Stories’, why you might want to consider having a ‘Reels Strategy’, and some top tips on getting the most out of them to help promote your Aesthetics practice.

So let’s start with some fundamentals. What exactly is an Instagram Reel? An Instagram Reel is a new way to record 15 to 30-second clips set to music on Instagram. If that sounds familiar, then that’s because it appears to have been directly, erm, ‘inspired’, by TikTok, which is entirely based on this exact format.

Just like TikTok, Instagram users can record or edit together 15 to 30-second video clips set to music and share them to their Stories, the Explore Feed, and the Reels tab on their Instagram profile.  Instagram Reels are a major focus for Instagram right now, which is evident in the way they’ve been given such prominent positioning within the Instagram app, but also in the way they are being shown to your followers and those interested in similar content, resulting in greater reach than ‘traditional’ Grid posts or Stories.

On top of seeing Reels on the new Reels tab, you can also find Reels on the Explore page.  This is where the majority of the ‘reach’ of a Reel appears to occur and is the opportunity that Reels currently present to those seeking to grow their social media audience to promote their Aesthetics practice. 

But how does a Reel differ to a Story?

This is a key point to understand, as the differences are numerous and the benefits of a Reel currently far outweigh those of a Story, once you understand how to a) create engaging Reels and b) get the most ‘eyes’ on each one you create.

Length: The first difference is length. A Reel can be up to 30 seconds, whereas Stories are capped at 15 seconds.  Of course, you can string lots of 15 second clips to tell a longer Story, hence the name.

Captions and Hashtags: On Instagram Reels you can include a full caption that is separate to the “asset” (video). Plus you can add up to 30 hashtags.  On a Story, there is no caption (other than the text you can “stick” over your image or video), and hashtags are limited to 10.

Lifecycle:  Stories disappear after 24hrs (although you can add them to highlights on your profile), whereas a Reel lives on, in a dedicated tab on your profile, and in some cases within the Explore tab for those with interest in similar content.

Location:  Reels can be placed in 3 main locations on Instagram.  Your own Reels tab, on the main Instagram ‘feed’, and they may sometimes appear in the ‘Explore’ tab if they’re performing well.  In addition, Instagram have made it easy to share Reels into Stories to generate further traffic. (A good tip here if you are sharing a Reel into a Story is to partially obscure it with a sticker or overlay. This encourages people to then tap through to see the full Reel increasing it’s views).

Engagement: This is a big one.  With Stories, reactions and comments remain private and appear in your Direct Message inbox only.  Whereas with a Reel, comments are public which encourages the Instagram Algorithm by showing your Reel to more and more people, the more comments and likes it attracts.

There are a few more key differences which are worth noting too:

  • Audio Focus: Reels are very much focused on the audio element, much like TikTok.  Users can select a track from a library, upload their own, or feature someone else’s audio.
  • Drafts: Unlike Stories, with Reels you can prepare Drafts to be published later. This is REALLY useful if you like to create your content in sprints when you have time then release them over time. (Recommended!)
  • Format: Reels are video only. Whereas Stories can include still imagery or feeds from the Grid.

Why Should I Use Reels To Promote My Aesthetics Practice?

So if the differences I’ve highlighted between Reels and Stories above have not whetted your appetite for Reels, then perhaps this will…  (can you tell that I am a fan?).

The biggest single reason you might want to start up an Instagram Reels strategy is reach.  Reels offer you the chance to reach more people than any other type of Instagram content right now.  Because Reels appear in the explore tab, your feed and in the dedicated Reels tab on your profile, they are experiencing high visibility and reach. The ability to have your Reels appear on the explore tab allows smaller accounts with a massive opportunity to get content in front of a new audience who may never have found you through your Stories or Grid posts.

If you want to grow your social media audience around your aesthetics practice, right now, Instagram Reels are a great way to do so without having to look at dodgy tactics such as buying followers or participating in ‘engagement pods’ (which I am famously against in all cases!).

Reels also give you a great new way to engage existing followers. The format challenges you to try new things and generally makes for more entertaining content, which means your followers are more likely to react to and even look forward to your content on Instagram!

I have seen some fantastic examples of Aesthetic Practitioners embracing this new format of Social content, with some great results too.  Take Dr Nisha Menon as just one example of many.  Nisha has been creating Reels since August 2020 and her content is funny, informative and highly engaging.  The example below has had well over 40,000 views!!  That’s on an account that has 1500 followers at the time of writing.  You simply cannot achieve that kind of reach with any other format on Instagram, without spending a ton of cash on paid sponsorship.   Don’t forget, all of the reach and engagement I am referring to with Reels in this article is entirely Organic, meaning FREE.

OK, I’m Sold! What Are Some Top Tips For Creating ‘Killer Reels’?

So before you start creating Reels, it is a good idea to do a little homework on what has worked well so far for others, as well as a few things we know are likely to hinder performance.

The Reels Algorithm is not fully understood yet, but what we do know so far is that it appears to favour Reels that are:

  • Fun! (i.e. it pleases people, grabs their attention, makes them laugh, or has a bit of a twist)
  • Inspiring (i.e. starts a trend)
  • Creative – using tools like text, filters, or camera effects
  • Vertical! Reels are designed for videos made with your phone ‘upright’
  • Musical, with music from the Instagram music library or original audio you’ve created
  • Experimental! Try something new, be yourself, and see what works for you and your audience

Reels that are unlikely to ‘take off’ might be:

  • Blurry due to low-resolution
  • Uploaded with a border around them
  • Have a lot of the image covered by text
  • Against Instagram’s Community Guidelines

Authenticity is Key!

As always with Social Media content, authenticity is critical to success. Instagram Reels, perhaps for the first time, offer the chance to truly get across your personality to your followers and patients.  You can be silly, funny, relaxed – that’s what Reels are for.  But you can also use these attributes to get across a serious message, perhaps about skincare, injectables, or laser treatments.


Educating patients, as we all know, is key to them making informed choices about Aesthetic treatments, and Reels offer the opportunity to educate through a unique form of creative content.  This positions you as the expert, builds trust, but also allows people to get a sense of the real you.  It’s a great combination!

Why Not Start Today?

So why not start experimenting with Reels on Instagram today, and grow the audience around your Aesthetics practice.  To access through the Instagram home screen, tap the “+” on the top right and scroll to the Reels tab at the bottom of the screen.  Don’t forget a nice in-depth caption, and make use of your 30 available hashtags too.

I look forward to seeing your Reels and your results!

Rick O’Neill, FRSA, is a digital consultant to the medical aesthetics, cosmetic surgery and pharma sectors. With over 20 years’ experience in digital marketing, O’Neill is the founder and owner of the award-winning digital agency ‘Look Touch & Feel’ based at Silverstone Race Circuit, a founding partner of The Aesthetic Entrepreneurs, investor and advisor to several other digital businesses.   Find him at


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Rick O'Neill

Rick O’Neill, FRSA, is a digital consultant to the medical aesthetics, cosmetic surgery and pharma sectors. With over 20 years’ experience in digital marketing, O’Neill is the founder and owner of the award-winning digital agency ‘Look Touch & Feel’ (known as “LTF”) based at Silverstone Race Circuit, a founding partner of The Aesthetic Entrepreneurs, Digital Consultant to Merz Aesthetics, and investor / advisor to several other digitally-focused businesses.

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