Learning Journey

What to Do to Grow Your Instagram Reels & The 3 Things I Actually Did – March 2024

Hello, I’m Yusuke from Tokyo, aka @_nuts.tokyo_ .

The other day, I posted a 22-second reel on my Instagram and, to my surprise, it quickly garnered 100,000 views, over 3,000 saves, and more than 700 new followers.

Until now, I hadn’t seriously focused on Instagram reels. However, I realized it would be unwise to ignore this trend. So, after doing some research and applying what I learned, I achieved the above results.

Even though there might still be a big element of beginner’s luck involved, in this post, I’m compiling some notes on the key points I focused on when creating my Instagram reel.

3 Key Points I Focused on When Creating an Instagram Reel

First, here is that reel.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by YUSUKE NAGATA (@_nuts.tokyo_)

It’s just a 22-second video that doesn’t seem to do anything special, but I consciously focused on the following 3 points.

POINT 01: Created a Hook in the First Second

It goes without saying, but with short videos (and practically all content on the internet), viewers will quickly skip over anything that seems irrelevant or uninteresting to them.

The advice to “make the first second count” is commonly given. However, knowing exactly how to do this can be challenging. During my research, I found this video by Aprilynne.


Aprilynne has extensively analyzed videos from top YouTubers, identifying formulas for creating successful content. She talks about the importance of creating a CURIOSTY GAP in the video’s intro. There are several hooks to create this curiosity gap:

  • RESULT: Showing the outcome
  • PROCESS: Showing a transformation from A to B
  • REACTION: Showing someone’s reaction to an event
  • QUESTION: Asking a question
  • NOVELTY: Showing something new or unusual

This advice is not only applicable to YouTube but also to Instagram reels and various other content forms. In my reel, I adopted the strategy of showing the RESULT first.

My video was about “making zine covers with tracing paper,” and in the first second, I showed the finished product with the text “I handcrafted each zine cover like this.” My goal was to spark curiosity about how I made it.

Showing such a hook in the first second creates curiosity, prompting the viewer to wonder, “What’s this about?” or “What happens next?” This psychological effect can encourage viewers to watch to the end to see the outcome.
Thanks to this effect, the part of the video showing the finished zine had a 51% retention rate up to the 20-second mark.

How I grow my instagram reel

For a 22-second video, having more than 50% of viewers stay until the 20-second mark is quite good, I think! However, even with a good initial hook, it’s essential to maintain interest to ensure viewers watch to the end. That leads to the next point.

POINT 02: Used Music That Feels Comfortable

Many YouTubers stress the critical role of music, so I focused on choosing music that feels comfortable to listen to.

Although I should perhaps do this more seriously, this time I matched an Eminem song to the video clips (the rap starts around when the actual zine-making process begins).

Initially, I tried using stylish music tracks popular among other Instagrammers, but they did not suit my video content at all. It felt awkward, which can be dangerous.

Similar to written content, where typos or odd paragraph breaks can lower read-through rates, an uncomfortable match between video and music can lead viewers to skip your content.
So, I was careful to ensure the video was pleasant to watch, considering the relationship between the video and its music. (I need to research and learn more about this relationship and hope to share my findings in future content.)

POINT 03: Matched the Thumbnail Image with the Video Intro

In the video by Aprilynne that I mentioned earlier, matching the thumbnail with the first few seconds of the video can also help improve retention right from the start.

You might wonder how this is related to increasing views. Videos that keep viewers engaged till the end are considered “good content” and are more likely to be promoted by Instagram’s algorithm to more users.
Instagram wants to increase user app engagement and ad views, so it prefers engaging videos over easily skipped ones.

So,  “matching the thumbnail and the first few seconds of the video” is an effective technique on YouTube, where viewers click on a thumbnail to watch a video. However, I thought it could also be applicable to Instagram.

How I grow my instagram reel

While Instagram Reels generally start playing without showing thumbnails, making them seem less important, I anticipated that the theme of my reel, “zine-making,” would be discoverable through hashtags.

Creators interested in seeing what kinds of zines others are making might search for them, as I did myself. And indeed, some reels are displayed with thumbnails in hashtag search results (though perhaps I should consider more clickable thumbnails in the future).

How I grow my instagram reel

Assuming a certain number of views could come from people clicking on thumbnails to start watching, matching the thumbnail with the intro could be an important technique.

However, since I don’t have exact numbers on how many views came from hashtag searches, I plan to experiment with different approaches and further analyze their effectiveness.

Conclusion: Aiming for 1M Views by Continuously Improving

So, these were the 3 key points I focused on for my reel:

  1. Creating a hook in the first second.
  2. Using music that feels comfortable.
  3. Matching the thumbnail image with the video intro.

Especially the first point about creating a “hook” is vital for all web content. If you’re reading this, perhaps my hook sparked your curiosity (I used a hook by showing the “result” at the beginning of this content).

As for Instagram reels, since this is just me applying what I learned from a bit of research, there’s still a need for more research and improvement. But since this reel reached 100K views, I’m now aiming for 1M views for the next one!

Additionally, on this blog, I plan to share not only Japanese off-beat cultures but also various things I’ve tried and learned about content creation. Please look forward to it, and thank you for reading until the end. See you next time! Stay tuned!


Garage Sale by Yusuke

I started a garage sale because I think it’s a waste to just let an unused camera sit idle in a box. I hope it can find its way to someone who wants to use it.


This photo zine provides a captivating look into Hokkaido, Japan, seen through the photographer’s lens.
It showcases the visages of the Ainu people, man-made artifacts found across the vast landscapes, and the breathtaking views from Cape Nosappu—the easternmost tip of Japan’s main islands.

Each image has been carefully printed in the darkroom and then digitized, allowing you to experience the authentic texture and ambiance of the prints.

Check more details

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