Social media and digital marketing have become critical pieces of every business plan, big or small — and while large scale marketing has long been thought of as a tool only accessible to big businesses (with big budgets), social has emerged as an equalizer. Now, with over 4.7 active social media users globally, nearly every brand’s audience is on social. And with the cost of entry being relatively low on social, the playing field has become increasingly leveled and the possibilities are endless for businesses of all sizes — particularly for smaller brands seeking meaningful and effective ways to build long-lasting relationships with customers.
However, with new social and digital trends emerging daily, keeping up with the ebbs and flow of social networks and adapting social strategies to ensure success has become increasingly challenging for small businesses. Notably, one of the most significant trends emerging in this new area of social is the rise of short-form video content — which has become a make or break for businesses looking to more effectively reach their target audiences. In this article, we’ll help to explain how small businesses can capitalize on this trend to boost their social presence, while building brand loyalty and engagement for the long-term.
Small Businesses: Fear Not the Goldmine That is Video Content
The content creation process is daunting for many (if not all) social marketers, but specifically for small businesses. For small businesses owners, who are often managing their social channels from the sides of their desks, it takes continuous guts, creativity and inspiration to generate engaging content on a daily basis — and staying up to date on trends and adding new content types into the mix can be overwhelming.
While small businesses have cozied up to the idea of integrating video content into their social strategies, there remains a hesitancy and intimidation to dive into platforms’ short-form video features — as video content can be more time-consuming to produce, challenging to get right and typically requires a brand advocate to get in front of the camera. To add to the intimidation, video content is quite different from writing social posts, and the ways of translating a message and brand voice into video format might not seem obvious to brands at first.
This is where the social rule of thumb comes in: trust the process. As with all things on social, adopting a ‘trial and error’ philosophy and a deep sense of patience are key to trying out new ways of engaging with users. While there might be a stigma around video content needing to be highly curated and costly to produce when compared to other social content, in reality, mobile-first and low-budget videos are typically the best performing, as they embody a sense of authenticity that social users crave.
Now, the next question that small businesses will ask themselves: which platform is the most effective in reaching users with short-form video content?
The Ongoing Debate: Instagram Reels vs TikTok for Small Businesses
Bursting onto the social scene in 2018, TikTok has had an impressive rise in popularity, becoming the most downloaded app of 2021, with 656 million downloads in a single year — through which it has also garnered an outsized influence on the social and cultural landscape. Inspired by this influence, Instagram Reels launched over two years ago — and since then, has become the platform’s fastest-growing feature globally.
When comparing the two platforms, there are many similarities. Both TikTok and Instagram Reels allow users to create, edit and share short-form video content — creating new opportunities for small businesses to create in-app content that is engaging and stands out from the traditional “sea of sameness”. From a demographic standpoint, while TikTok’s popularity (and video content in general) has been largely driven by its Gen Z audience, with 42% of users aged 18 to 24 years old, the second biggest generational cohort on the platform is millennials, accounting for 31% of users. And interestingly, Instagram is not all that different; as of 2022, the majority of Instagram’s audience were millennials and Gen Z users.
And with so many similarities, small businesses are often left wondering which platform will be more effective in driving success on social. For small businesses, the answer could be quite simple — while TikTok boasts a higher engagement rate (and is by far the most engaging social media app), Instagram can be advantageous for brands who already have established communities on the platform, and tapping into video content becomes an effective way to strategically extend that reach and engagement. Whereas TikTok can offer a higher chance of virality, Instagram Reels can boost brand loyalty and nurture already engaged customers, leading to more meaningful, stronger relationships.
Adapting to this new (and favored) way of connecting with users through video content, on any platform, is sure to drive impact for small businesses. In an ideal world, businesses would appropriately leverage both channels to maximize reach, but when time and resources are limited, prioritizing efforts on social is highly encouraged — and can still generate impressive engagement results. In the case of small businesses, Instagram Reels might be the most strategic way to tap into existing and prospective audiences for long-term success.
Leveraging Instagram Reels for Increased Engagement
With a steadily growing global audience of 1.3 billion users, Instagram is undoubtedly an important platform to leverage — especially for small businesses, as half of Instagram users say the platform helps them discover new brands, and 44% of users shop through the platform on a weekly basis.
While being authentic is the ultimate key to increasing social media engagement, as a starting point, small businesses can follow these tips to boost engagement (and potentially go viral!) on Instagram Reels:
- Understand how the algorithm works: Working with, not against, the algorithm is the key part of success on Instagram. Having a deep understanding of the way the Reels algorithm works can help you get more visibility on the Explore page and the Reels tab, in turn leading to greater reach among current and prospective customers. With algorithms evolving to adapt to shifting trends, businesses should keep a close eye on the changes, as this will impact the success of their posts.
- Have fun with trending audio: Users are changing the way they search for content, and are now looking to trending audio sounds to find content to interact with. By using trending sounds in videos, brands are well-positioned to get more views and stay relevant with key audiences. However, there’s a caveat: Instagram Business accounts don’t have the same selection of audio as other types of Instagram accounts, and as such, need to do research before choosing a trending audio to reduce likeliness of a post being flagged.
- Don’t be too salesy: While social commerce has boomed, businesses can’t rely on sales-first content to connect with their audience. Successful brands put out content that goes beyond selling and taps into their audiences’ pain points in a unique and creative way. Don’t think of Reels as a sales pitch, but rather, an opportunity to get more visibility for your business.
- Stay consistent: Consistency is key for any social strategy, and it’s no different for Reels. Posting consistently (and often) helps businesses identify the type of content that resonates well with their audience through frequent feedback, as well as provides insights on how content is performing. And, it helps increase the odds of going viral — something every small business strives to achieve.
- Collab with other creators: Brands that collaborate with creators are tapping into an established audience where loyalty and credibility already exists. Leveraging the Collab feature within the Instagram platform is a great way to test working with creators, other businesses and influencers — and, in turn, work towards driving more brand awareness and business leads.
Looking for an example of this in action? A social-first small business that has leveraged the power of social, and has really tapped into short-form video content to further its message and reach, is Apricotton. Aiming to engage with Gen Z users to drive business sales, the founders turned to both Instagram and TikTok, with a customized content strategy for each platform to help them tap into their niche target audiences. By tailoring their efforts, the brand has successfully generated over 1.5 million views on Instagram Reels alone — contributing to an 108% increase in sales.
Social is ever-evolving and small business should be too
While it takes more time to create video content than it does to post a picture, small businesses have a lot to gain from leveraging short-form video content, whether it’s through Instagram Reels or TikTok. But, as the wild world of social continues to evolve, what constitutes thumb-stopping content will also change with time. For small business owners, who are often wearing multiple hats, keeping pace with the shifting trends and algorithms can be particularly challenging — but by investing the time in getting to know each platform, and creating the unique content that audiences are looking for across each, brands will be well positioned to win in this competitive space.
Brayden Cohen is the Social Marketing Manager at Hootsuite, and currently leads the talented team behind Hootsuite’s social media channels with over 9+ million followers, in addition to its influencer marketing, and employee advocacy programs.