Reading Time: 14 minutes

In all probability, your school long ago joined the ranks of educational institutions around the world using Instagram in its social media marketing strategies. Through its visually captivating format, the social media platform pulls in a billion monthly active users of diverse backgrounds, offering incredible potential for reaching your prospects. Many schools also find it appealing that there are so many ways to engage with students through the platform, from regular posting and advertising to varied video options, including one-minute video posts, long form videos with IGTV, and 15-second temporary videos with Stories. 

But what about Instagram’s new Reels feature?

The newest in-app option in Instagram’s playbook is the platform’s video creation tool, unabashedly modeled after TikTok to give the Chinese-owned business a run for its money. Just like TikTok, Instagram lets users create and share short entertaining videos, packed with potential to quickly and easily transmit information about your school and its programs—providing another effective option for engaging with your students. 

Since launching Reels last summer, Instagram has been pushing its newest feature in a clear bid to grab market share from TikTok—so much so, that many Instagram users have reported a distinct drop in their routine post reach, connecting the decrease directly to Instagram’s shift in focus. Knowing there might be some weight to this theory, it seems only logical to respond by updating your school’s Instagram marketing strategy to include Reels.

So how do Instagram Reels work, and how can you put them to work in your school’s recruitment efforts asap? We give you all the details you need to know here!

New call-to-action

What Should Your School Know About Reels?

Instagram launched its Reels feature in August 2020 to let users of the platform record, edit, and share fun and creative videos of between 15 and 30 seconds in length. These video snippets can be set to music, audio, and other types of effects, and can be shared on the user’s newsfeed, profile page, or Explore page to reach the global Instagram community. The reel will play on a loop when someone scrolls onto it from one of these feeds, and will continue to play on the loop until the user scrolls past it.

Example: To encourage Instagram users to view and share more Reels videos, Instagram redesigned the app to place the feature at centre stage of its navigation bar, as seen on all three sample account pages below (clapboard icon indicated by red arrows). The redesign hints just how invested Instagram is in fostering the success of its newest feature.


When you go into the Reels tab, you’ll be able to autoplay reels through the Instagram accounts that you follow. Instagram will also show you reels according to patterns of your own user behaviour, identified by the platform’s algorithm.

How Students Discover Your Videos

There are certain sharing allowances in Reels, depending on whether you have a public or a private account. In a private account, Instagram will only show posted reels on your feed to your followers. Most schools, however, will have a public account as one method of maximizing recruitment efforts. It’s through this public privacy setting that you’ll be able to share your reels to Instagram’s dedicated Explore space. The Reels tab takes you to this page, where videos are shown from trending and popular Instagram accounts – not just those that you follow.

Example: If your Instagram account is public, your Reel will be shared to the Explore page, as shown below. Your video has the potential to be discovered here by any Instagram user.

The Explore page is where your video content can get discovered by the wider Instagram user community. More than 50% of Instagram accounts use the Explore page every month, making this an important resource for letting prospective students not yet following you find your content on the platform. Posting your reel here along with particular hashtags, songs, or effects can also help your video content reappear on dedicated pages when a user clicks one of those selected elements, further increasing your school’s reach. 

Instagram Reels are designed to be fun and catchy in nature to more effectively engage with your audience. The Instagram algorithm even favours more entertaining content, designed to hone in on videos that inspire others, use a variety of effects, start a trend, make people laugh, or take an experimental approach. The algorithm also seeks out reels making use of either Instagram’s own library of music, or videos that include original audio that can be reshared on the platform.  

Example: The University of Michigan does a great job of showcasing life on its North Campus, following a student as she makes her way through several areas of the campus set to a catchy tune. Through the reel’s many clips woven together, the viewer is casually informed about the campus and entertained all at once. This video received close to 100,000 views. 

Instagram also appears to be intent on prioritizing original content with its algorithm, discouraging content that’s been visibly recycled from other apps (watermarks and logos will be the giveaway). Instagram has confirmed it will make such uploads “less discoverable” on the platform. Users are also advised to avoid blurry or low resolution images, imagery covered in text, and reels that are uploaded surrounded by a border.  

How Your School Can Get Started Creating Reels

If your school already has an Instagram account to post photos or videos through the platform’s Stories feature, you’ll have the advantage of the format feeling familiar. To create a Reel, you’ll note the option to use this newer video sharing feature when you’re in the Instagram camera, as shown here:

Source: Instagram

After you click Reels, additional creative editing options will appear on your screen, giving you the option to use a variety of creative tools and effects in your video, including audio, speed, effects, and timer, as seen below: 

Here’s a little more detail on what these creative editing tools do:

  • Audio: With this feature, you can select music from Instagram’s music library to add to your reel, or you can use your own original audio. If you share a video with your own original music or other audio, that audio will be attributed to you. Users can even use your original audio in their own reels.
  • Speed: This lets you speed up or slow down your reel, so you’re able to easily sync up your video with your chosen music or audio.
  • Timer: If you’re making your reel on your own, this is a great way to let you take a video hands-free. Just like a timer on a camera, you can set your phone in position, then get ready, waiting on the countdown for a time that you can select before recording begins.
  • Effects: Just as it does in its Stories feature, Instagram includes a range of effects and filters for you to choose from to add to your reels. You also get a range of stickers and emojis to choose from if you want to add those to your videos.
  • Align: Your school has the option to create a Reel either from a single video, or by combining several recorded clips. For the latter creation, the align option helps give your video clean continuity in between takes, letting you line up objects by overlaying the final frame of the previous clip onto the next for a seamless visual presentation.

Using audio and effects in your school’s reels is essential for taking your videos to the next level, making them far more eye-catching and entertaining. The more creative and original you are with your videos, the more discoverable Instagram will make them, helping your content to become more sharable.

Example: This reel from the University of Cambridge gets high points on Instagram’s algorithm for creativity, using several effects in the video. The school was also creative with the event itself, lighting up one of its central buildings to celebrate the milestone of achieving one million followers on Instagram. The video attracted more than 144k views. Note additionally the use of original audio (indicated by red arrow). If a user likes the original audio added to your video, they have the option to share it – crediting your school and creating even more opportunities for exposure to your video content.

Strategies to Use in Reels: What Will Resonate with Prospective Students

When using Instagram marketing for education, your ultimate goal is to attract new students – and to that end, Reels is an excellent feature on the platform for gaining a new following. There are a few strategies you can try that will be of particular help to you when creating your school’s reels.

Tell Your School’s Story

Reels presents the perfect format for quickly introducing prospects to the human side of your school. These short videos are supposed to be casual, unique, fun, and quirky. Focus on creating videos that tell stories and showcase the achievements of your students, teachers, and alumni. Show all of your human subjects up close and personal—on campus, in the classroom, taking part in sports and in extracurricular activities. Take your audience on behind the scenes school tours in your team locker rooms, in the cafeteria, and on field trips. The more authenticity you can show potential recruits in your 15-30 second video, the more likely that your school will connect with someone on the emotional level that makes them want to learn more about your school.

Example: The University of Florida got a lot of engagement from this reel, showing a string of sped up scenes from its graduation ceremony adapting to COVID social distancing restrictions. The school’s social media team added the clever use of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” to emphasize the message of resilience in the face of adversity.

Get Student Ambassadors on Board

One of the most effective ways to showcase your school’s spirit and vibrant student life is to showcase your students themselves. Get your students and alumni on board with creating Reels for you. Just as we’ve seen on TikTok, trends on Reels will be changing quickly, and locally. Your students will have their finger on the pulse of the video content that’s currently resonating the most with your prospects. Not only do students love getting on board with video creation supporting their school, but they also know how to create the types of videos that may go viral.

Example: This reel from the University of Michigan has a student ambassador wearing a school sweater while teaching fellow students how to make an iced coffee as an idea for getting through finals. The “Study Buddy Recipe” idea was drawn from the popularity of quick recipe tutorials on both TikTok and Reels, and helps to promote school spirit in this case.

Grab Attention Early

A 15-30 second video doesn’t sound like much time to play with, but you’ll be surprised at just how much content and information you can include in such a small package. To make sure you grab your  prospects’ attention from the start, make sure the first few seconds of your reel count. You can use an engaging question that makes the viewer want the answer, a striking image, or whatever it takes as a strong lead to captivate the attention of the viewer long enough to follow through with the rest of the video.

Example: Who doesn’t like dogs? The University of British Columbia (UBC) clearly banked on the popularity of canines, grabbing viewer attention with several clips of dogs and puppies to highlight UBC’s “Wellness Walks with Puppies” event. The video received over 6,000 views and hundreds of likes. 

Make Your Videos Informative & Educational

During the pandemic, as students in droves across the world were forced to learn online, many also began to discover just how useful it was to learn in bytes. It turns out, students love to learn in clips! The timing of Instagram’s Reels release couldn’t have been better, with students taking advantage of the feature as a new option for learning everything from language, to art, to complex theories in digestible 15-30 second tutorials. Many students have found the blast tutorials to be a revolutionary way of grasping concepts that would otherwise take them hours to understand. After playing a short tutorial, several similar lessons will pop up from Instagram’s algorithm – increasing the user’s opportunities for learning about the subject at hand, making it a highly useful resource to learners.

Knowing that your prospects already like learning this way, it’s a perfect mode to harness for gaining a following. Teachers or student tutors you’ve tapped as ambassadors at your school might decide to engage with current students and prospects by posting useful at-a-glance lessons or educated opinion videos in the form of Reels.

Example: The Centre of English Studies (CES) in Dublin, Ireland has posted a variety of reels like this one, giving snippet vocabulary and grammar learning tips to English language learners. The videos have all received thousands of views, clearly providing a useful resource to students – as well as opportunities to be seen by prospects watching similar English language tutorials on the platform.

Get Inspired by the Competition 

One of the best strategies for nailing Reels in your school’s Instagram marketing  efforts is to research what other schools are doing on the feature that’s garnering the most attention. See which of their videos have been receiving the most likes and overall engagement. Take inspiration from the popular videos you discover to get started with your own. They’ll become original as you add your choice of music and effects to put your own school’s unique stamp on them. 

Example: College acceptance reveal videos have been wildly popular on social media, inspiring this reel from the University of Florida. Showing back to back overjoyed reactions from students as they learn they’ve been accepted into the school as “Florida Gators” attracted 145k views and more than 14k likes from the Instagram community. 

Another option is to start a challenge through your school. You might already be familiar with the popularity of TikTok challenges, where video creators challenge other users to take part in some kind of dance set to a specific tune, usually with highly entertaining results (and funny- think fails!). These challenge videos are great for gaining exposure, as they often go viral. Instagram lets users do the same thing with Reels, and with equally effective impact.

Repurpose your own content

If your school is already on TikTok and you have original videos that are performing well on the platform, you can try posting them to Instagram to try to catch some new viewers there. While Instagram has updated its algorithm to downrank reels that have been “visibly repurposed from other apps,” lots of brands are nonetheless re-posting their own TikTok video creations to Reels for additional exposure – and any new exposure for your school is a good thing! It also saves you the time and thought that would otherwise go into making a new video.

Example: The same UBC “Wellness Walks with Puppies” reel referenced above was posted on TikTok first, as we see from one of the video’s clips below. Re-sharing your own content to a new audience to increase your school’s reach is a no-brainer.

Remember to Add in Hashtags 

If you have any experience at all with Instagram marketing for schools, you’re probably quite accustomed to some of its best practices, including the use of hashtags. Just as you would add hashtags on a regular Instagram post, it’s important to use them with Reels to gain as much exposure as you can. When users click on one of your selected hashtags, it brings them to a dedicated page, increasing your school’s reach and engagement opportunity.

Example: The reel here by the University of Leeds was created with the goal of promoting its undergraduate Virtual Open Day. Including several hashtags and original audio to help maximize exposure, the video has received an impressive 88.3k views so far.

You can also use text overlay and descriptive captions on your videos to get more of your message out there. Just be careful not to add too much text, as images that are covered with copy make the video less discoverable on Instagram’s algorithm.

Why Now is a Good Time for Your School to Try Reels

Now that you have a better overview of what Reels are, how to make them, and the strategies your school can use for the greatest impact, you might be wondering if it’s right for you. While thinking it through, you may find it compelling to hear that Reels is currently rated as a “growth hack” by leading social media experts, with many describing it as one of the best ways right now to gain visibility, expand your reach, and achieve significant growth in your followership. 

So why should your school get on the Reels bandwagon sooner than later? For starters, as the application is still so new on Instagram, your school can enjoy a reasonably low level of competition. A lot of schools have barely scratched the surface on the merits of using TikTok as a recruitment and engagement tool, let alone its newer competitor. Others are simply more comfortable sticking with what they know. If they’re already on Instagram, that may mean a continued commitment to the routes of engagement they’ve been using successfully on the platform up to now, including the IGTV and Stories video-sharing features– but not necessarily Reels. That gives schools using the new video feature in these early days a competitive edge. 

While Reels so far remains underexplored in the realm of Instagram marketing for higher education, you still have a great shot at expanding your reach using the feature. Reels is 

new enough to be drawing a steady stream of attention. Now available in over 50 countries worldwide, the format is gaining continual momentum. Many brands are reporting substantial follower growth to their Instagram accounts since adding Reels to their social media marketing efforts. 

One might compare this stage of Reels to Instagram’s start with the platform’s Stories feature. If your school started early with Stories, you may recall the buzz surrounding the new feature that helped it garner 150 million users shortly after launching in 2016. Today, that number has jumped up to a whopping 500 million daily users. Instagram has positioned its Reels feature to do even better in its bid to compete directly with TikTok. Social media experts seem confident that this focus will lead to an Instagram algorithm that favours users who create and share reels. Make videos on Reels, guarantee views on Instagram. It’s that simple.

Instagram also recently announced new and improved insights to allow your school to learn how your content is performing on the platform. These Reels analytics will let you see metrics on engagement such as Plays, Likes, Comments, Accounts Reached, and more, as seen here:

Source: Later

This Reels analytics upgrade will give your school valuable insight into the most effective type of content for expanding your reach, as well as the types of accounts your school is reaching.

So, if your school has an Instagram account, what are you waiting for? Click the Instagram clapboard icon, see what’s popular, and try your own hand at creating and sharing videos on the platform to see what waves your own school might make with the format. Instagram is clearly invested in boosting its newest feature—which means your school stands to reap the rewards for your efforts in these early days of Reels experimentation.

New call-to-action