Joining Instagram in 2020: Instagram’s Threads & Reels

Sarah Donawerth
Sarah Donawerth
Joining Instagram in 2020: Instagram’s Threads & Reels

With Instagram dominating the photo-sharing space online, they’re expanding their empire! Instagram has announced a few changes coming to the platform and even companion apps in the last few months. We’re looking at the new Instagram apps and features. These new items may play a role in your brand’s digital marketing strategy in the near future. Here’s a first look at Instagram’s Threads and Reels.


Threads launched in October of 2018 and is a companion app to Instagram. It is positioned in the space as a messaging app for your closest friends. It’s also aimed to be a direct competitor to Snapchat. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in March 2018 that he sees private messaging as the future of the company. So, Threads seems to represent the next step in Facebook’s privacy overhaul and their renewed focus on “meaningful interactions.”

What is Instagram’s Threads?

According to Instagram, Threads is a “camera-first messaging app that helps you stay connected to your close friends.” They emphasize that this app is only for your close friends list on Instagram, and is a way to stay connected to these people in a way that you wouldn’t do on Instagram at large.

You’re able to share Instagram photos, videos, messages, Stories, and most other types of Instagram content with your close friends list. Instagram also consistently references the privacy component of this app— that it is for personal communications between friends and that you control what your friends can see within the app from you.

How Instagram’s Threads Works

Threads has a few key components: the Close Friends List, Messaging, and Statuses.

Close Friends List

Your Close Friends List is the basis for the Threads app. You can set your close friends within Instagram or the Threads app.

Your Close Friends list allows you to filter through all your Instagram followers, and only focus on the ones that are most important to you.


Instagram’s Threads is primarily a messaging app for your Close Friends List. You can easily see who has messaged you from this list and reply with different types of media. You also get to choose how long your images last in these messages.

Similar to Snapchat’s messaging, Threads allows users to privately share little moments throughout the day, instead of sharing them on Instagram publicly.

Messages stay synced between Instagram and Threads, so any message you start in one of the apps can be continued in the other. Also, you don’t have to be on their Close Friends list or have them download Threads in order to communicate. Messages sent to them from Threads will appear in their Instagram DMs.


This feature seems to be borrowing heavily from the original AOL away message, Slack’s status updates, and a few other iterations of statuses that have occurred over the years. You can share where you are or what you’re doing, similar to the original away messages.

The most controversial aspect of the statuses is the Auto-Status. You can turn on this feature to have Threads automatically share status based on locations that you frequently visit. Although it’s not sharing exact data about your location, the app will learn when you’re at home, work, or even the gym, then share this with your close friends.

According to Instagram, your frequently visited locations are run through a web search to find out what type of address this is, then it correlates it to statuses that it can share with your friends.

The user can set how long a status is available for, and who to share the status with, allowing them control over what their close friends are able to see.

Other Features

Threads has a few features that help with the use experience. Threads has several dark modes available for users, under Themes, which allows you to customize the way your app looks. This little change does seem to make a big difference so that the user gets to look at the aesthetic configuration that appeals to them most.

A drawback to the Threads app is the limited options for pictures that the user shares. Currently, Threads allows you to draw on the picture and add text, but doesn’t have any of the gifs, stickers, and filters that we’ve come to know and love within Instagram. While this approach does strip down the showmanship of sharing images and emphasize a more conversational tone, it seems like a less glitzy option compared to Instagram’s full suite of photo-editing tools.

You can also set up how long your image lives on Threads. Much like Snapchat, you can set a time frame that your image will appear in your friend’s messages. You’ll also be notified when one of your friends screenshots the image that you shared with them.

Using Instagram’s Threads for Your Brand

Business and Creator accounts on Instagram can use Threads with their close friends list, just like personal accounts. However,  it’s anyone’s guess how Threads will eventually become a brand-building and marketing channel for brands. Based on Instagram’s current statements about the app, it seems as though advertising or any sort of sponsored message may not ever be allowed on Threads. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, there are a few ways that brands can use Threads to better communicate their message. You can offer certain VIP followers access to your Close Friends List, so that they can get priority assistance through the Threads app.

Influencers have already started using their Close Friends List as a way to implement a paywall for their content. In other words, influencers are presenting content normally for their followers, but paying followers get exclusive content sent through messages and they can pay for a slot on the “Close Friends” List. For brands that produce content and other freebies, this could be a way to monetize part of that process.

Should I Use Instagram’s Threads?

At this point, it’s hard to tell if brands and even users should invest the effort in using Threads yet. Reviews on Instagram’s Threads have been mixed, with users saying that Threads is trying to take down Snapchat, that Threads affirms Facebook’s “pivot to privacy” well, that Threads shows Facebook’s continued superiority in the messaging apps industry, or that Threads is just outright creepy. The Verge calls Threads an “Instagram-flavored take on Snapchat messaging.”

For those already using Snapchat heavily to message their close friends, Instagram may be trying to get them to make an easy switch to a similar platform, but there are definitely a few caveats to consider before starting to use Instagram’s Threads app.

The chief reason for Threads’ lackluster reviews is that it doesn’t provide anything additional to the user except for a cleaner inbox. Messages sent through Threads sync and display in both the Threads inbox and the Instagram inbox, so what’s the point in having another app for an inbox that is already a part of a larger, more useful app? There’s really no incentive to download Threads and try it out because you’re not missing out on any messages.

Do I have to use Threads to get my messages?

For users who don’t want to try it yet, that’s okay. Messages sent through Threads will appear in your Instagram inbox. You can contact any of your close friends through Threads, without having to worry if they’ve downloaded the app. For those on your Close Friends list who haven’t added you to their Close Friends list, you’ll be able to message them through Threads and they can respond from their Instagram DMs.

For heavy users of messaging through Instagram, Threads may offer a solution to their messy inboxes. However, lighter users are probably better off just seeing their messages within Instagram itself.

Supposedly, Threads is also “the fastest way to share a photo or video with your close friends on Instagram,” according to Instagram’s press release. The time spent seems negligible compared to messaging through Instagram.

The statuses feature seems to have the most potential as a feature, but it quickly blurs the line between helpful tool and tool for stalkers. Depending on how much you want to share with your friends, this may be something useful. However, one can guess that if it becomes the most popular feature, then it’s only a matter of time before it’s incorporated into Instagram’s primary app as well.

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, has already committed to making Threads compatible with the other apps in the Facebook family, like Messenger and Whatsapp, so Threads may become a more integral part of the lineup in the near future.


Reels launched on November 12, 2019, but is currently ONLY available to users in Brazil as Instagram completes a comprehensive beta test and irons out all of the questions that they have about how this app will change the way people use Instagram at large. Instagram hasn’t guaranteed that Reels will roll out to the United States, but here’s what you need to know in the meantime.

What is Instagram’s Reels?

Instagram’s Reels is a new feature within Instagram Stories that is positioned to compete with the TikTok platform. Even Instagram director of product management Robby Stein credits TikTok for the idea, saying, “I think Musically before TikTok, and TikTok deserve a ton of credit for popularizing this format.”

Reels is not a separate mobile app, but instead exists within Instagram’s existing camera. The feature allows users to create 15-second videos using either audio from Facebook’s vast music library, or audio from someone else’s clips. Facebook and Instagram built up their available music library since June 2018 when they launched music stickers for their Stories.

It also allows users to use editing options, like changing the playback speed, or ‘ghosting’ that allows users to create seamless transitions for simple visual tricks.

Reels shows Instagram’s continued movement to increase video content on the platform and offers an array of tools to help users create the bite-sized content that thrives elsewhere on social media.

How Instagram’s Reels Works

Reels is a simple suite of features within the Instagram Stories camera. Reels includes visual effects that are easy to achieve and a countdown timer so that users can accurately outline and film their 15-second video clips.

One of these special effects is “ghosting.” Ghosting allows users to pause the video, then resume filming with a seamless transition. Picture when I Dream of Genie’s Genie would nod her head and magical items suddenly appeared!

There are a few ways that content created with Instagram’s Reels can be found. Instagram will add a new “Top Reels” section to the Explore tab, highlighting the content for users.

The addition of this content to the Explore page also shows that Instagram is trying to incorporate the ability for this content to go viral, similar to TikTok’s ability to generate mass views of a single video as it spreads through blind discovery, rather than discovery based on who the user follows. “Top Reels” also devotes more real estate on the Explore page to Reels rather than traditional feed posts.

Reels will also be featured on profiles as well as another way to discover the content. Reels can appear in a user’s Stories, Highlights, and within a Reels tab on their feed.

Using Instagram’s Reels for Your Brand

Instagram’s Reels is a different kind of content that your brand could share to their Stories or their Highlights. Reels is perfect for the brand that already has a TikTok marketing strategy in place. These brands can simply share and create according to their existing TikTok plan.

The matter becomes more complicated for brands who haven’t yet dipped their marketing toes into TikTok. While this type of short video content is becoming more and more prevalent in modern advertising, novice brands should wait until there is an established precedent for how to effectively use Reels for marketing.

Should I Use Instagram’s Reels?

The learning curve and retraining for users to adopt Instagram’s Reels might become a big struggle. TikTok as a platform is known for the scripted, yet unpolished, goofy content that the younger users are sharing.

According to TechCrunch, “TikTok is 100% about acting ridiculous just to make people smile, your personal image be damned. Instagram, and Instagrammers, may have to lose their artful, cool aesthetic to embrace the silliness of tomorrow’s social entertainment.”

If you are one of those users obsessed with getting the perfect shot and capturing your aesthetic, then Reels may not be an enjoyable feature to adopt. It may seem too showy or too casual a format compared to what the average Instagram users are accustomed to.

The Future of Instagram’s Threads and Reels

These are not Facebook’s first attempts into creating additional apps. Facebook has long been trying to gain traction with certain demographics by launching different ways to share videos and photos. Some examples:

Whether Instagram’s Threads and Reels will gain the momentum they need to succeed is anyone’s guess. Our Instagram accounts may become the keys to a much larger family of apps. Instagram may soon have a collection of editing apps, live video apps, and other popular sharing features.

Some brands can choose to wait on adopting new features until they have a bit more of a track record. However, early adopters of these Instagram features may be the ones to reap the rewards. It’s anyone’s guess how the future will unfold.

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