The Marketer’s Guide to Instagram Reels – Sue B. Zimmerman

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There’s no better time to explore how your small business can use Instagram Reels as a part of your marketing strategy. Reels is the newest way for you to create entertaining 15-second multi-clip videos with lots of new and creative tools to help you drive traffic and sales.

Take it from The Instagram Expert herself, Sue B. Zimmerman, if Instagram is where your followers and ideal customer avatar are hanging out, then Instagram Reels is a great opportunity to take advantage of adding music and other effects, while also allowing you to share educational, step-by-step and behind the scenes content. This mobile-only option is also a great way get out a quick video while on the go to let everyone know what your business or brand is up to.

Rich: My guest today is a lifelong entrepreneur with an experience that led to her privately coaching hundreds of business owners to find their own traction and success through online marketing and education. Her “The Instagram Expert” account has over 100,000 followers on Instagram. Her “SBZ Team” has over 3,000, and her highly engaged YouTube channel has over 40,000 subscribers.

She’s been featured on stages like Social Media Marketing World, Creative Live, Trafficking Conversions, The Agents of Change Digital Marketing Conference on multiple occasions, as well as niche markets such as realtors, travel, retail, beauty industry and others worldwide.

She has been named one of the Top 50 Female Entrepreneurs to Follow by Huffington Post. She even contributed to the Netflix documentary, Follow Me. Back for a fifth time – that’s got to be a record – my good friend, Sue B. Zimmerman, Sue, welcome back.

Sue B.: It’s perfect. Because it’s five fingers.

Rich: There you go. So I don’t know how we’re going to do episode 6, we’ll have to come up with something like that.

Sue B.: Yeah. And by the way, those stats, I mean, I’m almost at 120,000 followers on Instagram so we’ve got to get that updated.

Rich: Yeah. Well, I just got this information, so you’re going to have to talk to your SBZ team.

Sue B.: Yeah, right.

Rich: So Sue, I was drinking my morning coffee the other day and reading your email newsletter, as I often like to do. And I see you’re talking about this thing called “reels”. Something I had never heard of before. So you always seem to be the first one to teach me about something new on Instagram, so let’s dive into reels. What are they exactly?

Sue B.: So funny that you said you haven’t heard of them before. So have you heard of TikTok?

Rich: Of course, my girlfriend and my girls won’t get off TikTok to talk to me. I’m well aware of TikTok.

Sue B.: Okay. So that’s Instagram’s version of copying TikTok, just like they copied Snapchat for Instagram Stories. So I did not go down the rabbit hole of TikTok. I did a little bit of videos there for Mr. Cody, but it’s just not a place I want to be playing. But here on Instagram, obviously, whenever there’s a new neighborhood. I always like to call a new feature a neighborhood when it literally is in the village called Instagram. So now that we’re here for the fifth time, let’s just like take it to number five.

So we have feed posts, we have stories, we have Instagram live, we have IGTV, and now we have Instagram reels. The way that I like to refer to reels is a really good opportunity to basically create an ad. It’s a free ad on Instagram. People’s time is precious and it started off as just a 15 second feature. It’s relatively new, as you said, and they recently bumped it up to 30 seconds. So I actually created a reel showing you how to make a 30 second reel, because that’s educational. And I’m always teaching people both how to do and why to do certain things on Instagram to get more visibility, to grow your authority, to grow your community and ultimately grow your business.

And so on YouTube, you should absolutely in the show notes put my recent YouTube video which is everything you need to know about reels in terms of how to do it, all the nuances of it. And we can get into tactics and strategies for sure, but what everyone needs to know is that when you create your first reel, you then create a channel. And on Instagram, if you look on mobile, if you look on the desktop, you now have a reel icon, which is to the left of the IGTV channel.

So Instagram is isolating content on Instagram and people like to watch different kinds of content. So some people like to hang out in stories all day and some people like to hang out in reels all day. So depending on where your audience likes to consume content, and mine likes to consume it everywhere, it’s important to create content that will get your audience to engage.

Rich: All right. There are so many tactical questions I have, but I know you’ve done a great job in these videos and obviously we’re going to link to them. So I want to spend a little bit of time just talking about some of the bigger picture stuff. So you’ve mentioned all these different neighborhoods. We have an Instagram and reels is the newest one. I guess I’m trying to wrap my head around what’s the difference between reels and IGTV, or reels and just the videos we put in our feed? What’s the real differentiator here?

Sue B.: So reels can be added to your feed or just added to your channel or used in stories. And one of the many features that I love about reels is literally the ability to entertain at a higher level. And when I say that, you can add certain effects, filters, texts, you can speed it up, you can slow it down, and you really can create that dynamic ad that captures someone’s attention.

So in a story if you’re explaining somethings specifically, by adding text at the right point of the video that that goes in, you can time how long someone sees the text. So if it’s a step by step process or a lesson or a tip that you’re teaching, they not only could listen to it, but they could read what exactly you’re saying and then it can come and go. So you can share a reel in your story for that purpose. If you want that content to remain in your feed, which is your evergreen content.

And so let’s back it up just a step. On Instagram the most important, in my opinion, most important thing that you have to nail and master is your boss bio, I call it. So the promise that you make to who you are, what you do, who you serve and your role. The credibility behind it. So that is the promise that you’re making. I like to refer to that like the cover of a magazine. The promise of the content in the magazine has to start and originate in your bio, and everything that you create in all of these five neighborhoods should reflect that in some way and not distract or confuse.

So by having this new found feature called reels and people doing just dance moves and wasting time, in my opinion, that’s not strategically using it as a tool for business. And I’m all about bossing up your business and not here to waste people’s time.

So when you’re creating that reel, it’s important to make sure that the content in it is what I like to call a bucket, a content bucket, which is in my Ready Set Gram program. And in Ready Set Gram Pro, we really go deep into establishing 5-7 content buckets that you stay in, that you only post content in those buckets. And anything else you just don’t post it because that’s how you confuse your audience.

So again, to go back to the bio, the promise that you’re making is reflected in your feed. Your feed is your evergreen content. Your feed is the most important content and IGTV can live in your feed. A live video that you do can now remain in your feed if you choose to let it. A reel can be in your feed, stories are stories and they remain in stories. So a reel, the maximum amount of time you get now is 30 seconds, and IGTV can be up to an hour. A live can be up to an hour. A video in your feed can be up to a minute, unless it’s a carousel post where you can have 10 clips of alternating videos and photos, or 10-one minute videos, which essentially would make that feed post a 10 minute video.

So there’s a lot of nuances in each neighborhood and it’s important to decide which one you’re going to prioritize or at least master. And I always teach our coaching clients that they should definitely focus on the feed first, and then master stories, and then go into the other more advanced features on Instagram.

Rich: Alright, so here’s what I’ve heard so far, reels are definitely advanced so you might not want to start there if you’re just getting started. Reels are basically Instagram’s approach to TikTok, it’s their competition. But what you’re saying is if you’re a business, you’re not going to treat it like teens use TikTok. It’s not just about entertaining, it’s about educating as well.

It’s got to be in alignment with everything else you’re doing around content marketing. And then it sounds like you can do more things in reels from a creative or technical standpoint than you can using some of the other tools that they’ve rolled out so far. You can take these reels, these little videos called reels, and use them in your feed, use them in your stories. Am I pretty much spot on?

Sue B.: Yes. You are spot on. And the bigger message I want everyone to hear is that it’s Instagram’s goal to keep you in the app as much as possible, because they make their money from ads. So any feature that you’re going outside of Instagram, whether it’s transcribing or a certain app that you like because you want edit your photo a certain way, or texts that you’re looking for, Instagram is constantly improving and adding those features.

So whether they’re adding more text options. Trust me, soon we’ll be able to transcribe and IGTV has added that to the IGTV where the videos get transcribed, but it doesn’t happen every time, so it is a little glitchy there right now. But Instagram is constantly thinking about where are people going to create content and how can we bring that into Instagram.

And that’s been the theme that I have observed over the past eight years of teaching Instagram. It’s always how can we keep people on Instagram, what additional features can we add, so that you don’t go off the app.

Rich: Exactly. So you mentioned that reels has some new features or some things that you can do in reels and you kind of teased a little bit. What are some of your favorite things in reels that you really think people should be paying attention to as they create reels for their own business?

Sue B.: Yeah. So I will talk about best practices and worst practices. The things that really, I think, are annoying. So with a reel, you want to get right to the point right out of the gate. You want basically the words out of your mouth from the very first thing you say should be exactly what they can expect to learn or the information. And it doesn’t literally have to be you talking, it can be just in text. And what I want everyone to know is, if you are going to be talking in your reel, that is the audio. If you choose to bad music, and I know everyone does not have the music feature, there are work arounds. First of all problems over here. Remember, Instagram is free. The most popular question is, how do I get the music feature? I have a business account, okay, and I have the music features. So it’s just a myth that you can’t get it if you have a business account.

But the point is, if your audio is going to be music, it’s going to be that music all the way through your reel. If it’s going to be you talking, it’s you talking all the way through the reel.

Rich: So it’s either or.

Sue B.: And the text feature allows you to have music and not necessarily have to talk, but you can have gestures. Which I did a reel video of, talking about the two most frequent mistakes I see people making in Instagram stories, and I used music. Because I’m doing some split testing with what people appreciate the most, and it appears that no matter what reel I do, that they engagement is just through the roof because I’m teaching. So it’s either, or like we said.

My favorite feature is the ability to add text and time how long people can see the text, in my opinion is brilliant. A mistake that a lot of people make is they don’t have the text up long enough to read it. So they might do that purposely so you could go back and watch it and watch it and watch it again.

Another best practice is, I always, always give a thorough description in my reel so that people can read it, read what I’m teaching as well. So if you’re like, “Oh my gosh, Sue is just talking so fast and this is going by so fast. I just can’t get it.” Don’t worry, on my reels I break it all down in the description and I strongly suggest people save my reels because they’re really, really good. For reals.

And to save anything on Instagram you do, just tap that little arrow icon on the bottom right of a post, and you can create a category and you can call it “Sue B. tips”. And saves really are great for the algorithm. When you on your account get a lot of saves and shares and likes and comments, but saves is definitely triggering Instagram saying, wow, people really like this content and I want to push it to more people. So I encourage people to save things where they’re learning and getting inspiration from.

Now humor does phenomenal. And I am obsessed with watching people that are humorous. So the entertainment factor, in my opinion, is really important on a reel. You can’t be boring, just to teach. It has to have something that captures people’s attention. And so that’s important, adding personality. And obviously good lighting is everything. I preach and teach this all the time. You need to get in good natural light or good lighting, and that will increase your viewership on it, for sure.

But your reels don’t even have to have you in them if you want it to be a lesson or a tip. Now another mistake I see a lot of people making is that they’re creating a reel, but it really should be an Instagram story. I’m like, what was the point of that?

Rich: So, alright. Explain to me why you get that feeling off of some people’s reels. What is the thing that triggers you to say, “That should have been a story”?

Sue B.: Because I learned nothing. There was no substance whatsoever. It was all about them. The thing we always say is, what is in it for them. What can someone walk away with in this micro time, 15 or 30 seconds, and say, “Oh my God, that was so good. I can’t wait until they post another real.”

And so if it’s a waste of time, I will not watch another reel from that person. You lose them. You only get one chance to make a good impression. And a lot of people are trying reels because it’s the newest neighborhood and Instagram is pushing it, and the algorithm reels and IGTV so a lot of people are like, “Oh, I want to get more eyes on my content”. But they’re not ready to do it yet because A) they don’t have a strategy, B) they’re not doing what we said earlier, which is creating content that matches up to the promise that you made in your bio. And it’s just like, look at me, I’m on vacation and I’m eating delicious food.

Rich: Right. Unless you’re a travel blogger, that’s probably not the content you should be sharing.

Sue B.: And even if you are, there needs to be some more information about that food that I would say, “Okay, I have to try that. I’ve never tried that”. Or, “I have to go to that restaurant. It looks so fun. They look like they have great drinks or like appetizers”. There’s got to be value.

Now when we say the word’ value’ and everyone’s like value, value, value, these are the things going through my mind, Rich. And I’d love to hear your opinion, but value is, did you make someone laugh? Are you entertaining? Did you educate in some way? Are you the go to resource for your industry for your niche? Are you giving someone something where they’re like, that was so good. And they want to talk about it, they want to tag other people, they want to share their story because they want their followers to see it. That, in my opinion, is the epitome of success. When other people share my content or tag others to see it because it’s good.

Rich: Right. And you’ve always taken that kind of education approach. I mean, you’ve got your own style, you’re fun. But the bottom line is, you’re always looking to teach people, whatever the medium is, whether it’s reels or stories or IGTV, or in person sitting outside a room. I always see you. You’re always trying to show people how to do things. So that definitely resonates with you.

Sue B.: Yeah. I mean, it literally is my daily dose of endorphins. Teaching and making sure people understand in a way that is simple and has all the steps and none of them are missing. Right. So that’s important.

Rich: It sounds to me like reels, to do a good reel, it takes a little bit more time and technique than doing a story or an Instagram post. Because there must be some editing tools in there for how long the word should appear on the screen. And I know there’s something about transitions as well from watching your videos. How much time do you spend perfecting a reel before it goes up on Instagram?

Sue B.: That is a great question. And you’re absolutely right about that. So reels start to finish, I would say it takes me 45 minutes. Okay. Because I’m filming each clip, I’m filming the beginning, I’m filming the end. So I have the bookends on video so that you see me on video. And then often the in between will be a screen record of me walking you through a process. And then I want to make sure the audio is good, the lighting is good. So I tweak each clip if I need to. You can now edit each clip inside of reels, which is a new update, which is fabulous. You can trim your videos, and to your point, adding the text so you can read it and placing it in the right place.

So a lot of people make the mistake, a reel is the size of an Instagram story. But when it’s in your feed, when you choose to have it be in your feed, you want to make sure that the text is in the box of the feed size, not the story size. Because if the text is above, people won’t see it unless they go to your channel.

Rich: Okay. All right. That makes sense.

Sue B.: Yeah. So on your channel, if people tap into your channel, they watch each reel in the size format. Which is 9 x 16, which is the same as an Instagram story. If they are watching it in your feed, it’s a different experience.

Rich: So you get automatically cropped in the feed for your reels?

Sue B.: Yes.

Rich: That’s an important thing for people to know.

Sue B.: Yeah, exactly. And so a lot of people make the mistake with their texts and they’re placing it too high or too low.

Rich: Again, unless that’s their ploy where it’s like, the secret is right here, and they point just off screen and then you have to go to their story or their channel to see exactly what it is. But that’s a little bit advanced.

Sue B.: Yeah.

Rich: So, and by the way, 45 minutes is a while. But then again, I spent 8 to 10 hours on a blog post, so really it’s all relative.

Sue B.: Yeah. And my feed posts, I probably spend a similar amount of time. I mean, my feed posts are, I have a lot of hands on my content in my team because I have a graphic designer that’s creating the graphics. We use Trello to organize our content, we’re three weeks out in creating it because of all the elements that go into writing it and just checking off all the pieces that make it a stellar post. So nothing is just quickly done, it’s all with great intention and purpose and our business keeps growing.

I mean, typically we’re getting 1,000 new followers a week now on The Instagram Expert, because we are constantly looking at our data, assessing what’s working well, what isn’t. We now know in terms of the feed, when we put text on top of the image and people can see what exactly I’m teaching, that has been a new theme that we started in September adding the information. So if it shows up in Explorer, it’s not just a picture of my face, it literally tells you “user generated content”, that’s what this post is about.

Everything’s labeled and you can’t assume that people know what you’re doing unless you tell them. And so now when things get more and more, in my opinion, crowded or more people join a platform. And Instagram is probably climbing to close to 2 billion, if not a billion and a half, it’s just so important to have a point of difference. And we think about every detail, our brand colors, our audience, which is typically women 40 and older. And so I the eye site thing, we want to make sure that they can see what I was doing like all the little nuances.

As long as, you know who you are talking to, you can support their needs. And that’s another piece of this. If you’re in your twenties and you’re doing reels and you’re listening to this, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, this is not how I do it, but this is how Sue does it”. But I mean, it really is who is your audience, who are you serving, and how can you give them what they need and want?

Rich: Sue, I have a question. Because I’m always looking to maximize the results of any content I create, because I do believe like you do that you should be putting a lot of energy into the content you create so it’s amazing, so it stands out. So you’ve created this reel, what are the best ways to get more eyeballs on it, both on Instagram and are there any opportunities outside of Instagram to repurpose this content?

Sue B.: Great question. So, yes, whenever I create a reel I always do a story around it. And I don’t just share the reel into my story. I get on video and I talk about it, I give it context. In fact, I’m going to be doing a reel about creating your own personalized .gif of yourself to use in your story. This is one of my reels that’s coming down the pike. And so it’s really cool. All you need to do is create a video clip in a couple seconds, put it in this software that I’ll share, and then you can copy and paste it and put it in a story. So, really cool. It’s going to do what well.

So I will then do a story and I’m like, you don’t have a graphic designer, no problem. You can create your own .gif, and here’s how. So doing a story around the content of that reel is important, in my opinion. Separately, every single reel has its own URL. So you could announce it in an email that you are sending out to your list and you could tell them why they would be interested in watching it and if they do, to like it and comment and share it and all that good stuff.

Rich: And save it.

Sue B.: And save it. Yeah. All of it. So every single post on Instagram, every single post including your highlights, has its own URL that you can share anywhere on the internet, stories has its own URL but in 24 hours the current story goes away.

So your highlights have a URL. Your posts in your feed have a URL. Your IGTV has a URL. Your IGTV channel has a URL. Each reel has a URL, and your reel channel has a URL. So you can repurpose all day long.

Rich: There’s no reels for Facebook, at least at this time. Is there an opportunity to embed these reels into Facebook or do we just link to them? How, how have you done any of that?

Sue B.: So I have not taken the link and created a post in my Facebook page, but certainly we could repurpose it. And if we repurpose the reel on our Facebook page, Sue B. Zimmerman Enterprise, I would again give it context, give it a story, and let people know why they should go watch it.

We are definitely cross promoting a lot of our content and repurposing it to what’s organic to the platform. For example, when I do an IGTV – and I know we’re talking about reels, but I think this is important for your audience – when I do an IGTV video, I will create a snippet of it to share on Facebook. No, I’m sorry. When I create a YouTube video, I will do a two minute tease of that YouTube video or summary of that YouTube video, and we’ll put it on our Facebook page. And then we’ll link to the YouTube video in the first comments below, because that’s organic to Facebook. Not the actual link from YouTube, but a video. Video, video, video. So we do share a lot of video.

Rich: And can you, after you’ve made your, is it saved to your phone? Could you take that and upload it natively to Facebook or natively to LinkedIn or some other platform?

Sue B.: Yes, you can save every single reel to your phone before you publish it. So that’s a practice I strongly recommend before you save it. Well, if you save it, you can save a reel and you can batch produce reels and save them in the reels channel. I always recommend saving it to your camera roll in case that saved video is glitchy or doesn’t work. And because it takes so long to create a really good reel, I strongly suggest that you tap that down arrow and save it to camera roll.

Rich: And so one other thing. You’re spending a lot of time on these reels, so are you publishing a reel every day, once a week? Have you seen any best practices emerge yet? When it comes to small to medium sized businesses, how often they should be adding reels to the mix?

Sue B.: Yeah. So I’ve done 12 so far and they’re getting so many views, upward of like 30,000 quickly and comments and engagement. And I’m getting discovered by people that normally aren’t commenting. So because Instagram is pushing this, the explore tab, I’m getting a lot of new eyeballs, new followers and engagement from a completely different audience that wouldn’t have discovered me.

So I did two last week because there were two reel updates and I wanted to do them. I did them both in one day, so I put them both there and one day and one of them – this was last week – one of them has almost 15,00, one has 14,400. So the second one has less because it hasn’t quite been around as long, but I also have three reels coming in our content strategy.

So it’s definitely part of our content strategy and we have specific guidelines around what kind of reels I’m doing. And it’s not just to create a reel at the beginning, it’s with the intention of what my audience wants to see. So you could just do it for a week if you want to just get some fresh juice to your account.

Rich: Interesting. Now you’re obviously doing some things that are really working for you. Have you seen reels from some other companies, brands or whomever that you’re like, “Wow, that’s really interesting”, that’s a great approach that you might recommend for a typical business owner or a social media manager out there?

Sue B.: Yeah. I mean, what I recommend for people to do is literally when you tap into the explore tab, which is the one that looks like a magnifying glass, Instagram is showing you reels at the top. And I would just keep pulling it down and seeing which ones are really capturing your attention and why, and just taking note of the ones that just really make you say, ”Wow, that was a great idea”. It is literally the first thing that Instagram is showing you.

Rich: Alright. Sue, this has been amazing as always, and I know you’ve got so much stuff you can talk about in reels. We’re going to be linking to your YouTube videos and the reels, now that I know that they each have a URL, in the show notes. So if you’re listening, make sure you do that. Go to the show notes, check out those. But Sue, for those few people who don’t know where to find you online, where would you like to send them?

Sue B.: Can you say, so everyone, I always when I do podcasts interview, Rich, I always tell people to come over to Instagram and tell me what has been your favorite “aha” moment or light bulb moment from this interview and take action and let me know. Because lurkers aren’t action takers. People that put themselves out there and become part of the conversation are the people that I want to connect with. And so if you’re listening to this and you haven’t said hi to me yet on The Instagram Expert, come over and just share and let me know. And you can tag Rich on that as well, so that he gets a notice. Which account do you want them to tag, Rich?

Rich: @TheRichBrooks is usually the best way to get my attention on every platform, but Instagram, too.

Sue B.: Yeah. So tag Rich, tag me when you come over and say hi. And let me know if you going to be doing a reel, I want to come see it, if you do.

Rich: Yeah. If you’re going to do a reel, make sure that you tag Sue in it because she loves checking out that stuff. And she really is good at giving advice. If you didn’t hear it, it is @TheInstagramExpert, that’s her handle on Instagram. That’s where you should focus your attention. That’s where you should go as soon as this episode is over.

Sue, as always, you are a wealth of information, your energy is overwhelming. Just loving it all. Thank you so much for stopping by and being my most frequent guest on the show outside of myself.

Sue B.: That’s so great. See ya.

Show Notes:

LinkedIn Webinar on 11/17/2020: theagentsofchange.com/linkedinsales  

Sue B. Zimmerman is a passionate teacher of the benefits of Instagram as a valuable marketing tool. You can find her on all the platforms, but be sure to follow her on Instagram for all the latest news on what that platform has to offer. And absolutely check out SBZ’s latest YouTube tutorial on everything “Reels” related.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.

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