Engagement Metrics: Do Instagram Reels or Stories drive better engagement?

Reading Time: 13 minutes


In today’s digital age, merely having a presence on social media isn’t enough. The true value lies in how actively and meaningfully you engage with your audience. Engagement—measured through likes, comments, shares, and other interactions—is the lifeblood of social media marketing. It’s not just about vanity metrics; high engagement rates signal that your content resonates with your audience, increasing the likelihood of conversions, brand loyalty, and turning passive viewers into active advocates for your brand.

Enter Instagram, a platform that has steadily risen to the forefront of social media marketing. While photos and standard posts were once the core of Instagram, the platform has evolved, introducing innovative tools to keep users and marketers engaged. Two such tools, which have become central to many content strategies, are Instagram Stories and Reels.

Instagram Stories, represented by those little circles at the top of your feed, offer a glimpse into the daily lives and updates of brands and individuals, disappearing after 24 hours. They have become a tool for real-time engagement, allowing brands to connect with followers in a more spontaneous and authentic manner.

On the other hand, Instagram Reels, the platform’s more recent addition, invites users to create short, engaging videos set to music. Reels offer a fresh way to reach a broader audience, especially with their potential to be featured on the Instagram Explore page, a hub for discovering new content.

As we dive deeper into the engagement metrics associated with these two formats, we’ll uncover which tool might serve your brand best, and how to effectively harness their power for your marketing strategy. So, whether you’re Team Stories or Team Reels, there’s a wealth of engagement potential waiting for you. Let’s explore.

Understanding Engagement Metrics

As we delve into the world of social media, particularly platforms like Instagram, you’ll often hear the term “engagement metrics” being thrown around. But what exactly does this term entail, and why is it such a focal point for businesses and influencers alike?

What are engagement metrics?
Engagement metrics are the quantitative measures used to gauge how users are interacting with content on social media platforms. Think of them as the pulse of your online content, showing how “alive” or resonant a particular piece of content is within your audience. Common engagement metrics on Instagram include:

  • Likes: The most basic form of approval, a virtual nod from your followers.
  • Comments: A deeper level of engagement, indicating that your content spurred a reaction worth typing out.
  • Shares: When followers share your content on their stories or with their friends, it’s a sign that they found it valuable or noteworthy.
  • Saves: An indication that users found your content so compelling that they wanted to revisit it or keep it for reference.
  • Story Views and Interactions: For Stories, seeing how many people viewed, replied to, or interacted with elements like polls or questions gives insight into its effectiveness.
  • Video Views and Duration Watched: Especially relevant for Reels, this metric shows the number of views and how long people watched, indicating how captivating your video was.

Why are they essential for businesses and influencers on Instagram?
Engagement metrics serve as a compass in the vast ocean of social media, providing direction and clarity. Here’s why they hold paramount importance:

  1. Audience Insight: High engagement often translates to content relevance. It’s a clear indicator that you’re producing content that resonates with your audience’s interests, values, or aspirations.
  2. Platform Algorithm: Instagram, like many social platforms, operates on algorithms that prioritize content with higher engagement. This means that posts with more likes, comments, and shares are more likely to appear on users’ feeds, increasing visibility and reach.
  3. Building Relationships: For influencers, engagement metrics aren’t just numbers. They represent real interactions, conversations, and opportunities to foster a deeper connection with followers.
  4. ROI Determination: For businesses, these metrics are pivotal in evaluating the return on investment (ROI) for their social media marketing campaigns. High engagement can lead to increased website traffic, sales conversions, and overall brand awareness.
  5. Strategic Planning: Regularly monitoring engagement metrics aids in refining content strategies. By understanding what works and what doesn’t, businesses and influencers can fine-tune their approach to maximize results.

In essence, engagement metrics aren’t just superficial numbers. They are the heartbeat of an Instagram strategy, vital for understanding performance, guiding future decisions, and ultimately achieving online success. As we proceed, we’ll see how these metrics play out specifically in the realms of Instagram Stories and Reels.

Overview of Instagram Stories

Since its inception, Instagram has been an ever-evolving platform, always looking for innovative ways to keep its users engaged and connected. Among its most influential and transformative additions is the introduction of Instagram Stories.

Brief History and Purpose of Instagram Stories:
Launched in August 2016, Instagram Stories took the social media realm by storm, drawing comparisons to Snapchat’s story format. While the concept of ephemeral content – posts that disappear after a set period – wasn’t new, Instagram’s integration of this feature into its already booming platform was a game-changer.

The primary purpose behind Stories was to encourage more spontaneous and frequent sharing. Unlike the main feed, where posts are often curated and perfected, Stories gave users the freedom to share fleeting moments, candid snapshots, and unfiltered thoughts without the pressure of permanence. These bite-sized pieces of content, available for just 24 hours, introduced a new dynamic of real-time engagement, making Instagram not just a platform for beautiful imagery, but also for everyday moments and raw authenticity.

Key Features and How They Facilitate Engagement:
Instagram Stories may have started as a simple platform for sharing temporary photos and videos, but it quickly expanded, incorporating a plethora of features designed to boost interaction:

  1. Interactive Elements: Tools like polls, questions, quizzes, and sliders aren’t just fun additions; they’re engagement powerhouses. They invite users to participate actively, making them not just viewers but also contributors to the content.
  2. Swipe-Up Links (for eligible accounts): A game-changer for businesses and influencers, this feature allows direct traffic to websites, product pages, or other relevant content, bridging the gap between engagement and conversion.
  3. Mentions and Hashtags: By tagging other accounts or using hashtags, Stories can reach a broader audience, weaving into larger conversations or communities on the platform.
  4. Music and GIFs: The integration of music snippets and animated GIFs gives creators the tools to make their Stories more dynamic, appealing, and share-worthy.
  5. Story Highlights: While Stories are temporary by design, the Highlights feature allows users to curate and showcase specific Stories on their profiles indefinitely, making it possible to capture and retain engagement long after the original 24-hour window.
  6. Live Stories: Going live on Instagram allows real-time interaction with followers. Viewers can comment, ask questions, and send reactions, fostering a direct and immediate connection.
  7. Filters and AR Effects: Custom filters and Augmented Reality (AR) effects not only enhance the visual appeal of Stories but also offer a fun, interactive element, often encouraging users to try these effects themselves and share with their followers.

Incorporating these features, Instagram Stories have shifted from being just a platform for ephemeral content to a rich, interactive medium that fosters engagement at multiple levels. Whether you’re a brand aiming for increased product visibility or an individual hoping to connect more deeply with your followers, Stories offer a versatile toolkit to achieve those goals.

Overview of Instagram Reels

In the ever-competitive landscape of social media, platforms are continuously seeking ways to innovate and capture the attention of users. Instagram, known for its adaptability and foresight, introduced Reels in 2020, a feature that quickly became a cornerstone of content creation on the platform.

Introduction to Instagram Reels as a Newer Content Format:
Instagram Reels emerged in response to the burgeoning short-video content trend, with platforms like TikTok setting the stage. With Reels, Instagram provided its vast user base with a tool to create engaging, 15 to 60-second videos, set to a vast library of music or other audio. It’s not just about quick clips; Reels is a playground for creativity, enabling users to share everything from bite-sized tutorials and comedic skits to dance challenges and beyond.

The addition of Reels to Instagram’s arsenal aimed to cater to the growing appetite for short, captivating video content while also providing creators with a fresh canvas to showcase their creativity and reach new audiences, especially with the potential of being featured on the Explore page.

Distinctive Features of Reels and How They Differ from Stories:
While there’s a superficial similarity in the short-lived nature of both Stories and Reels, they serve distinct purposes and come with their own set of features:

  1. Editing Tools: Reels come equipped with a range of in-built editing tools, such as align, speed controls, and countdown timers, which make it easier for users to craft seamless and engaging videos without needing external applications.
  2. Audio Library and Original Audio: One of Reels’ standout features is its expansive audio library, allowing users to incorporate popular tracks into their content. Furthermore, creators can use their original audio, which others can then reuse, leading to potential viral trends and challenges.
  3. AR Effects: Like Stories, Reels also allows the use of AR effects. However, the application in Reels often leans towards enhancing the storytelling aspect of the video.
  4. Dedicated Feed: Unlike Stories that appear on top of the main feed, Reels have their dedicated space. The Explore Page showcases popular and trending Reels, offering creators the opportunity to gain exponential visibility.
  5. Duration: While Stories are capped at 15 seconds per slide, Reels can extend up to 60 seconds, providing a longer timeframe for content narratives.
  6. Permanence: Unlike Stories, which vanish after 24 hours (unless added to Highlights), Reels reside on a dedicated tab in user profiles, ensuring longer shelf life and continued engagement.
  7. Engagement Metrics: Reels offer insights such as plays, likes, comments, and shares, giving creators a comprehensive view of their content’s performance.

In essence, while both Instagram Stories and Reels offer avenues for creativity and engagement, they cater to different content strategies. Reels, with its emphasis on short-form video content and its suite of tools and features, has carved a niche for itself, providing brands and individual creators a dynamic platform to captivate, entertain, and engage their audiences.

Comparative Analysis: Engagement Metrics of Stories vs. Reels

As marketers, influencers, or businesses, the goal on any platform is clear: to engage your audience effectively. With both Instagram Stories and Reels as viable tools at your disposal, a comparative analysis becomes imperative. Which format truly reigns supreme when it comes to audience engagement? Let’s delve into the data and real-world examples to find out.

Average Engagement Rates for Both:

  • Stories: Reports suggest that the average engagement rate for Instagram Stories hovers between 1% to 7%, depending on the account’s total followers. Larger accounts, with follower counts in the millions, tend to see lower engagement rates, typically around 2%. In contrast, smaller accounts, with a more intimate follower base, can experience rates up to 7% or higher.
  • Reels: Since its inception, Reels has shown impressive engagement numbers. The average engagement rate tends to be higher than Stories, ranging from 2% to 8%. The novelty of the format, combined with its prominence on the Explore Page, can lead to more significant interactions and wider reach.

Types of Engagement Each Format Tends to Drive More Effectively:

  • Stories:
    • Direct Responses: The interactive elements in Stories like polls, questions, and quizzes encourage immediate audience interaction, leading to direct responses.
    • Swipe-Ups: For eligible accounts, the swipe-up feature can drive substantial website traffic or page visits.
    • Story Views: Being prominently displayed at the top of users’ feeds ensures a consistent number of views.
  • Reels:
    • Likes and Comments: Given its main feed nature and Explore Page visibility, Reels often gather more likes and comments than a typical Story would.
    • Shares: The shareable nature of Reels means they often get reposted to Stories or sent to other users, leading to broader organic reach.
    • Saves: The more extended shelf life of Reels and their educational or entertaining content can lead to higher save rates than Stories.

Case Studies or Examples Showcasing Engagement Success from Both Formats:

  • Stories:
    • Nike’s Air Max Day Campaign: Leveraging the polls feature, Nike created an interactive Story asking users to vote for their favorite Air Max design. This not only built anticipation for the product launch but also fostered direct engagement with thousands of users participating.
  • Reels:
    • Sephora’s Makeup Tutorials: The beauty brand effectively utilizes Reels to showcase quick makeup tutorials using their products. One Reel, demonstrating a summer look, garnered over 2 million views and thousands of likes, comments, and shares, driving both engagement and product interest.

While both Instagram Stories and Reels offer substantial engagement opportunities, their strengths lie in different areas. Stories excel in fostering direct interactions, while Reels, with their potential for virality, can achieve broader reach and heightened engagement metrics like likes and comments.

Pros and Cons of Each Format

Every tool in the Instagram arsenal brings with it a unique set of advantages and challenges. As brands and content creators aim to navigate the space effectively, understanding these pros and cons becomes essential. Here’s a breakdown for both Instagram Stories and Reels:



  1. Temporary Nature Can Drive Urgency: The ephemeral nature of Stories can make them particularly compelling. Knowing that a piece of content will disappear in 24 hours can motivate users to view and engage with it promptly.
  2. Direct Engagement Tools: With interactive elements such as polls, questions, quizzes, and swipe-up links (for eligible accounts), Stories are primed for direct and immediate audience engagement. These features transform passive viewers into active participants, creating a two-way communication channel.


  1. Short Lifespan Limits Cumulative Engagement: While the 24-hour window can drive urgency, it also means that the content has a limited timeframe to gather engagement. Once the window passes, the opportunity for organic interactions with that particular Story ends (unless it’s shared as a Highlight).
  2. Potential Saturation: With almost every Instagram user leveraging Stories, there’s an inundation of content vying for audience attention. This saturation can make it challenging for individual Stories to stand out, especially for users following a large number of accounts.



  1. Evergreen Content: Unlike Stories, Reels aren’t bound by a 24-hour expiration. They find a permanent home on the user’s profile, allowing for continued discovery and engagement over time.
  2. Opportunity for Wider Reach: One of the standout features of Reels is its integration into the Instagram Explore page. If a Reel gains traction, it has the potential to be showcased to a much larger audience, well beyond an account’s existing followers.


  1. Increased Production Effort: Crafting a captivating Reel can often require more thought, planning, and editing than a spontaneous Story. This might deter some creators, especially those without the resources or time to invest in video production.
  2. Evolving Audience Behavior: As a relatively new addition to the platform, user behavior around Reels is still solidifying. While many have embraced the format enthusiastically, others are still warming up to it, leading to potentially unpredictable engagement patterns.

Factors Influencing Engagement

While the battle between Instagram Stories and Reels continues, it’s crucial to understand that engagement isn’t solely about the format. Several underlying factors can influence how your audience interacts with your content. Let’s delve into these variables to get a holistic picture of what drives engagement on Instagram.

1. Content Quality:
Regardless of whether you’re crafting a Story or a Reel, the adage remains true: quality over quantity.

  • Relevance: Does your content resonate with your audience’s interests, needs, or pain points?
  • Aesthetics: In a platform as visually driven as Instagram, high-quality visuals and crisp audio can set your content apart.
  • Value Proposition: Whether it’s entertainment, education, or inspiration, content that offers tangible value often sees higher engagement.

2. Audience Demographics:
Different formats might appeal differently across various demographics, such as age groups, locations, or interests.

  • Age Groups: For instance, younger audiences who are accustomed to short-form video platforms might lean more towards Reels, while older demographics might engage more with Stories.
  • Cultural Relevance: Content that caters to specific cultural or regional nuances can see heightened engagement from those demographics.

3. Algorithm Preferences:
Instagram’s algorithm is a complex beast, always evolving and adapting based on user behavior.

  • Feed Visibility: Historically, when Instagram introduces a new feature, they tend to give it prominence in the feed. This was true for Stories, and more recently for Reels, which might explain why many creators see their Reels gaining wider reach.
  • User Interaction: The algorithm also considers individual user behaviors. If a user frequently engages with Reels, the algorithm might prioritize showing more Reels on their Explore page.

4. Posting Frequency:
The debate of quantity versus quality comes into play here.

  • Consistency: Regular posting can signal to the Instagram algorithm that an account is active and consistently offers fresh content, potentially boosting visibility.
  • Audience Fatigue: However, over-saturation can also be detrimental. Posting too frequently, especially without maintaining content quality, can lead to audience fatigue and reduced engagement.
  • Finding the Balance: Some reports suggest that brands posting Stories 2-3 times a week see optimal engagement. For Reels, given the production effort, once a week or bi-weekly might be a sustainable and effective frequency.

A comprehensive engagement strategy on Instagram takes into account the quality and relevance of content, audience preferences, platform algorithms, and consistent yet mindful posting habits. The key is to remain adaptable, monitor metrics, and be ready to evolve your approach as the platform and its audience change.

Best Practices for Maximizing Engagement

Engagement is the lifeblood of any social media platform, and for content creators, it’s the benchmark of success. With so many tools at our disposal on Instagram, how do we optimize each to ensure we’re connecting with our audience effectively? Let’s dive into some best practices.

1. Tips for Creating Engaging Stories:

  • Leverage Interactive Features: Use polls, questions, quizzes, and countdowns to foster direct interactions. These tools not only capture attention but also invite participation.
  • Use Strong Visuals: Given the fleeting nature of Stories, ensure your visuals are eye-catching. This can be through compelling graphics, vibrant colors, or engaging animations.
  • Craft a Narrative: Stories can be a sequence. Lead your viewers on a journey, whether it’s behind-the-scenes content, a day in your life, or a story related to your brand.
  • Utilize CTAs: Especially for brands, a clear Call-To-Action like ‘Swipe Up’ (for eligible accounts) can drive traffic to websites, product pages, or other desired destinations.

2. Tips for Creating Engaging Reels:

  • Plan Your Content: Given the longer shelf life of Reels, invest time in pre-production. Script out your ideas, storyboard, or rehearse if needed.
  • Utilize Editing Tools: Take advantage of the in-built tools like align, speed controls, and AR effects to make your Reel seamless and professional-looking.
  • Engage with Audio: Whether you’re tapping into trending music or using original audio, ensure it aligns with your content and adds value.
  • Keep it Authentic: While it’s a platform for creativity, authenticity resonates. Be genuine in your approach, and let your unique personality or brand voice shine.

3. Cross-Promotion Between Reels and Stories:

  • Tease Reels in Stories: Use Stories to give a sneak peek of your Reel. This can build anticipation and drive your Story viewers to check out your full Reel.
  • Share Reels to Stories: Especially when you have a new Reel, sharing it to your Stories can give it an initial boost in visibility.

4. Utilizing Other Instagram Features:

  • Integrate with IGTV: Especially for longer content that doesn’t fit within the Reel limit, you can tease it in Reels or Stories and direct viewers to the full version on IGTV.
  • Leverage Guides: If you have informational or educational content, compiling them into Guides and then promoting those Guides through Stories or Reels can be an effective way to provide value and drive engagement.
  • Collaborate: Use the “Collab” feature to co-author posts or Reels with another user. This can help tap into each other’s audiences and foster community engagement.

Engagement isn’t a one-size-fits-all game. It’s about understanding the nuances of each feature and optimizing them based on your unique audience and goals. With a bit of creativity, strategy, and consistent effort, the realm of Instagram offers endless opportunities to captivate and connect with a global audience.


Navigating the ever-evolving landscape of Instagram can be both exciting and challenging. As we’ve journeyed through this discussion, several key points have emerged:

  • The Essence of Engagement: Beyond the numbers and metrics, engagement is about meaningful connections. Whether through Stories or Reels, the goal remains to create content that resonates, educates, entertains, or inspires.
  • Distinct Tools, Different Strengths: While Stories offer immediacy and direct engagement tools, Reels provide an evergreen avenue with a potential for wider reach. Both, however, come with their unique sets of pros and cons.
  • Beyond the Formats: Engagement isn’t solely about choosing between Stories or Reels. Factors like content quality, audience demographics, algorithmic considerations, and posting frequency play significant roles in shaping engagement outcomes.
  • Maximizing Potential: With best practices in hand, from leveraging interactive features in Stories to planning and authenticity in Reels, one can optimize each format for maximum impact.

However, the heart of the matter is experimentation. While we have data, trends, and best practices to guide us, the true essence of social media marketing lies in understanding one’s unique audience. As Instagram continues to grow and evolve, so should our strategies. Remember, data can provide a compass, but individual results may vary. Embrace the journey, test both formats, and discover what uniquely resonates with your audience. In this dance between data and creativity, may your brand find its rhythm and flourish.

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