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Instagram Reels are no longer just a trend, but a permanent fixture on the platform. In this article, we publish the results of our Reel study, in which we investigated whether strong emotions in Reels lead to higher reach and engagement – and if so, which of all the emotions resonate best with the Instagram users. Many widespread rumors were confirmed, but there were also surprising findings about why some Reels are talked about across the globe, while others are swiftly dismissed with an apathetic swipe of the finger.
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Reels that trigger strong emotions are a key to increasing reach and engagement
Our study of more than 700 Reels confirms that Instagram users prefer Reels with strong emotions over Reels with weak emotions. Reaching on average 30 % of a profile’s followers, Reels with strong emotions reach nearly four times as many people as Reels with weak emotions (8 %).
They also achieve more than 11 times higher engagement rates than Reels arousing weak emotions. This is not only because Reels with strong emotions achieve particularly high engagement rates (4.1 % on average), but also because Reels that do not focus on emotions attain very low engagement rates (0.37 %). If you want to achieve the best results, you should make sure that you not only show an emotional protagonist, but prioritize arousing strong emotions in the viewer. Reels in which emotions are shown in facial expressions and gestures achieve 14 % lower reach and 37 % lower engagement rates than Reels which arouse emotions in the viewer.
Positive sentiment in Reels leads to the highest reach and engagement rate
Analyzing the sentiment of Instagram Reels, we find that Reels of positive sentiment achieve on average 2.5 times higher reach than Reels with weak emotions, and also 14% higher reach than Reels of negative sentiment.
All of the positive emotions examined in our study result in significantly higher reach. Unsurprisingly, funny content works well in Instagram Reels. People who make us laugh earn our likes. These are the Reels we share with our friends. Funny Reels reach almost four times as many people on average as Reels that arouse only weak emotions.
Likewise, Reels that create empathy increase reach. Empathy-evoking Reels reach 3.5 times as many people as Reels with weak emotions.
In addition, we analyzed whether joy in Reels increases reach and came to the conclusion that bringing joy to the viewer is also a brilliant way to increase a Reel’s reach. On average, joy-eliciting Reels pop up on 4.5 times as many screens as Reels that arouse only weak emotions (36.5 % vs. 8 %).
Although the effect is less pronounced than for positive emotions, most strongly negative emotions also lead to an increase in reach.
Grief-filled Reels reach more than 2.5 times as many people as Reels with weak emotions. Fear-producing Reels also land on nearly twice as many screens. And Reels that spread anger or fury are equally far distributed as empathy-arousing Reels, and are watched by an average of 4 times as many viewers as Reels with weak emotions.
That fact that the overall reach of Reels with negative sentiment does not register significantly higher is the fault of Reels which try to make viewers feel guilty. Viewers don’t want to feel accused and judged. While emotions such as anger or sadness allow viewers to identify with the creator’s views, content creators who make viewers feel ashamed do not succeed in drawing viewers over to their side. Such Reels are neither shared nor liked, which has negative repercussions for the reach: On average, only 3% of a profile’s followers see such Reels.
So if you are an environmentalist, for example, and desire to convince people to change their behavior via Instagram Reels and adopt an environmentally friendly mindset, it is better to show a shining example of environmental protection and his/her positive effects on the environment than to criticize the viewer by showing him/her the negative consequences of their actions.
Use positive emotions in your Reels to multiply your engagement
Positive emotions are a fantastic way to increase not only your reach, but also your engagement rate. Reels that create joy receive significantly more likes and comments than Reels with weak emotions: 3.9 % compared to 0.37 % average engagement. Reels that elicit empathy display engagement rates averaging 3.7 %, exactly ten times higher than Reels with weak emotions. Funny Reels are an excellent way to achieve higher engagement rates, too. Funny Reels show nearly 9 times higher engagement rates than Reels with weak emotions (3.3 % vs. 0.37 %).
The results are less strong for negative emotions such as sadness, anger, and fear. Although engagement also increases for these emotions compared to Reels with weak emotions, the increase is in some cases significantly lower than for positive emotions. With an average engagement rate of 0.5 %, Reels that generate fear barely receive more likes and comments than (0.5 % vs. 0.37 % engagement for Reels with weak emotions).
Sadness in Reels does not perform much better, receiving an average engagement rate of 0.87 %. With an average rate of 1.4 %, anger-generating Reels get the most engagement among the negative emotions (1.4 % engagement vs. 0.37 % engagement for Reels with weak emotions), although these values fall way short of those for positive emotions.
The surest way to scare away your fans is to post Reels that blame your audience or make them feel guilty, however. At 0.13 %, such Reels receive as much as 65 % less engagement than Reels with weak emotions (0.13 % engagement vs. 0.37 % engagement for reels with weak emotions).
To achieve the highest engagement rates for your Reels, we recommend you to stick with positive emotions.
Minimize the time in which your viewer does not experience strong emotions
A profound finding of our study was that reach and engagement of a Reel increase disproportionately strongly with the time that emotions are triggered in the viewer.
The widespread assumption that viewers’ attention spans are very short, and to entertain them they need to be emotionally invested in the Reel at all times, can be clearly confirmed.
Reels that manage to bring out emotions in the viewer in more than 80 % of the time spread like wildfire, displacing Reels which only trigger emotions in the viewer occasionally almost completely from the users’ displays. Reels that elicit emotions in the viewer in more than 80 % of the time achieve very high viewer engagement (an average of 5.5 %), and reach 52 % of followers on average – values that were hardly reached by any other factor analyzed in our study.
A high proportion of time in which emotions are triggered in the viewer is one of the decisive factors for high reach, as the user will watch such a video until the end. And Reels that are watched until the end are shared more frequently by Instagram’s algorithm. In addition, a high emotional density also leads to higher engagement rates, as steadily emotionally touched viewers are more willing to like and share the Reel with their friends and followers.
Conversely, both reach and engagement rates suffer greatly when a Reel does not evoke emotion in viewers in more than a quarter of the playing time. With an average of eight percent reach and 0.36 % engagement, Reels of this category achieve less than one-tenth the engagement and less than one-sixth the reach of the most emotionally dense Reels. This ranks them among the worst-performing Reels we examined in our study.
The lesson is clear: Don’t waste a second not creating emotion. The choice for Instagram users is vast, and the next Reel is just a finger swipe away for your audience.
If you want to be successful on Instagram, you should definitely use strong emotions in Reels. Focus on positive emotions and make sure your Reels arouse strong emotions in the viewer, not only in the protagonist. Make your viewers laugh or make them empathize with what you are showing. The shorter the intervals in which no emotions are triggered in the viewer, the greater your chances of increasing the reach and engagement of your Instagram Reels.
All of our results were obtained through an analysis in Fanpage Karma. If you want to find out for yourself what works best in your industry and with your fans, we invite you to try Fanpage Karma for free and find out for yourself.
Also check out our other tips on Instagram Reels.