Best Practices for Instagram Video

Jenny Coppola


Telling a story in 15 seconds, well, that’s tough to do. Thankfully, this past March Instagram announced an update that would change the game for all of us video-loving marketers. We said goodbye to our Vine-style videos, and welcomed “long-form” video content to the platform. Instagram users could finally upload 60 seconds of video to the platform! Huzzah.

Now that we have a bit more leeway when it comes to video length, it’s time to think about how we can use video on this channel in the most impactful ways possible. From shooting and editing, to production and general aesthetics, there are a number of important factors to consider when posting video to Instagram. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty!

Shooting and editing your video

Using your built-in camera

As you may have seen in our guide to crafting a social video strategy, you can shoot video from within the Instagram app itself or from your phone’s built-in camera. Heck, you can even whip out your fancy-pants DSLR gear! There’s no one “right” way to shoot Instagram video, as long as it fits in with your brand’s aesthetic.

If you plan on shooting video from your phone, however, keep these basic tips in mind:

  • Shoot video vertically OR in landscape mode (only when posting on Instagram). Lucky for us, Instagram stopped cropping everything into a perfect square, so whatever way you shoot, you’ll still fit the entire shot into your ’gram.
  • Maintain focus on your subject. Tap on your screen to focus on a person, or tap somewhere to the left or right of them to have the subject fall out of focus, if that’s what you’re going for.
  • Avoid a wobbly shot. Put your elbows down on something sturdy nearby, or crouch down on one knee and use that as a nice place to plant your elbow for the shot!

Editing your Instagram video

Our video producer Trevor recently made an awesome guide to creating a DIY camera toolbox. The original tutorial video was three and a half minutes long — not exactly something fit for Instagram — but we felt like the imagery was visually compelling enough that it would still attract viewers on Instagram. We decided to trim the media down to the essentials, so viewers could still get the gist of it.

This clip touches upon all of the major scenes that are in the longer-form video, without compromising too much. Teaser videos for the win! Curious what the whole thing looks like? Head on over to the Library!

Nugget of truth: Editing videos in Instagram can be a real pain if you’re trying to do anything other than give it a quick trim (not to mention the app tends to crash a lot when in this setting – eek!). That’s why we recommend editing as much of the video as possible with a video editor outside of Instagram, and then importing it to the platform when it’s done.

One major setback is that Instagram’s trim feature only lets you cut footage from the beginning or end of your video. For example, if you want to delete the middle portion of your video, leaving you with just the beginning and end, you’re out of luck! You’d have to make two copies of the video in your phone’s Library, trim one to the beginning, one to the end, and then join them together in the app. If that sounds like too much work to you, that’s because it is.

Rule of thumb: Avoid using Instagram’s in-app camera unless you want to capture things that are super in-the-moment. For the most part, stick to your phone’s camera or other gear, and then upload the videos to the app from your Library.

Production and aesthetic

Think “no sound”

Instagram was the first social platform to initiate silent, auto-playing video. When they launched this back in 2013, Facebook and Twitter followed suit and adopted this as the norm. Silent videos on social media are less intrusive and optimal for skimming. But how do you grab someone’s attention in just a few seconds? How do you get them to fully commit and tap the screen for sound? There are a few important things to keep in mind when producing a video for Instagram:

  • Since users have to tap the video for audio to play, any audio before the person taps won’t be heard. It sounds obvious, but you might consider starting off the video with an introduction that doesn’t need audio. When and if the user taps for audio, they won’t have missed much.
  • Talking head videos work well on websites and landing pages, but on social you want to be more creative. Dialogue-based videos probably won’t drive the same amount of engagement as more visually stimulating ones. Cater to the silent autoplay!
  • If you don’t have awesome visuals to work with, and your Instagram caption doesn’t convey everything you want it to, try to integrate text or include captions in your video so that viewers can follow along.

Here’s one example of an Instagram video that performed really well for us — the angle of the shot was interesting enough to hold viewers’ attention, the text explained what the content was, and the calls to action were clear.

First impressions matter. Sort of … 

Just like with any video, it’s wise to put a little bit of thought into your thumbnail. For Instagram, you’ll want to select the frame that you believe will be the most engaging and exciting to your audience. Remember, though, that thumbnails are only seen by viewers when they’re looking at your profile page from the grid view perspective, not the feed.

Video in a user’s feed will autoplay as you scroll through, so your thumbnail will only be seen for a split second (without audio). Make sure the beginning of your video is as attention-grabbing as possible so viewers are tempted to turn audio on.

It’s also important to note that if you’re editing your video from inside the app, you’ll have to choose a still from within the footage you’ve shot. Instagram doesn’t let you upload a separate thumbnail. This means you should edit your video outside of the app if you want more control over the cover image.

Filters and reach

Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be an inverse relationship between camera phone quality and Instagram filters — the better the camera, the fewer filtered photos we see in our feeds. When your image is already crisp and beautiful, filters tend to make them look a little overproduced. However, if filters are your thing, definitely use the same one throughout the entire length of the video; don’t switch between filters for different clips.

Now that you have your video looking great and ready to go, it’s time to add some relevant hashtags to your post. Hashtags and location tags make it easier for Instagram users to find your content if they aren’t already following you. Add hashtags that relate to the content in your post and that also have the most reach. You can find out which tags are most popular by typing them into the search bar and selecting ’Tags’ before you add them to your caption.

Hit share, and you’re in business! Watch those views roll in. But remember, some services that automatically share Instagram posts to Twitter, like IFTTT, won’t share video posts, so beware!

Feeling inspired?

You’ve got these skills locked down, and now you’re ready to rock video on Instagram. For some inspiration, take a look at these brands with memorable Instagram accounts:

MailChimp: This Instagram account is already so on-brand, but lately they’ve been taking things to the next level and incorporating more video into the mix. Whether it’s GIF-like or silly or behind-the-scenes content, MailChimp has it covered.

Bluleadz: Bluleadz does a great job of incorporating a little bit of post-production work into their videos before pushing to Instagram. They kick off a lot of their videos with a title slide, which does wonders for autoplaying feeds!

Staples: The Staples brand relies heavily on animations and stop-motion video. These pieces of content don’t need sound to be effective, however when you turn the sound on, it’s often quite delightful!

Dunkin Donuts: This Instagram account boasts a ton of creative video content. They have many animations with no sound whatsoever, but they know when it makes sense to add audio.

Jenny Coppola


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