Short-form video content now rules social media – there are many statistics I can list to back up that claim but I don’t feel the need to … you can already see Reels & TikToks taking over your digital life.

While long YouTube videos & blogs do retain their own value, people only go to them if they find your short-form appetizers interesting enough to dive deeper into your account.

This means that whether you’re online to market your business or to promote your personal brand, you have no choice but to pick up (and master) the skill of making short-form videos.

We all passively watch at least ten Reels every day. But I’ve recently taken up the habit of “active listening,” which involves pausing, re-watching & asking myself, “What exactly made this Reel interesting?”

This is helping me understand the infinite nuances of what makes content go viral. Today, I’m sharing all my learnings with you.

Here are content creation lessons from all the Reels that I found worthy enough to “save” on my gram. I’ll keep adding more every week – my goal is to arm you with 100 micro-case studies by the end of 2023.

That’s a big goal so let’s begin…

1. Business Challenges ~ The Tiggle

Tiggle is a niche D2C startup selling speciality hot chocolate & chocolate blends. In this video, the founder tells a story of how she ran into a roadblock when trying to work with an e-commerce marketplace.

She talks about the mistakes or lapses that can happen when you’re scaling your brand beyond your own storage space.

As the supportive comments indicate, the Reel humanizes the brand & makes them more relatable to normal customers. It makes them feel included in the brand’s journey – they’re seeing the highs & lows of the team through a very personal lens – building this intimacy & trust is a crucial step if you want to build a loyal community around the business.

Usually, BTS footage shared by businesses online is flowery & heavily manufactured (which is ironic, considering it’s supposed to be candid).

But I like that they chose to showcase their struggles. I gave them a follow because I wanted to see how they solved the problem, which they promised to share in the next episode.

Lessons Learned:

  • Be vulnerable in your content – it’s okay to struggle, fail or feel sad
  • Give people a reason to come back for the next Reel – end with a cliffhanger & continue the story

2. Uncovering ReCaptchas ~ ABC TV+

In this Reel, ABC TV+ teams up with comedian Lou Wall for their IP “#WTFAQ” to explore how ReCaptcha checks on Google work.

This is a highly technical topic so if they hadn’t done it right, I would’ve either been snoring or just skipped ahead. But thankfully, they’ve kept it light & natural.

I like how she has turned it into a conversation with her friend. It keeps me engaged throughout.

The dialogue is also simple & both the characters are acting like normal colleagues in an office so the conversation was quite easy to follow.

Lastly, I think the cutting played a very important role in keeping me hooked. It flows seamlessly between the two characters speaking and wherever required, zooming in on the computer screen to demonstrate what the Captcha “expert” is talking about.

Even the dialogue is captured from two or more angles. When filming your Reels, it’s important to plan your camera angles in advance & set up your room accordingly.

Ideally, you should have 3 POVs or focus points ready to cut & intersperse, keeping the video adequately fast-paced and avoiding visual drag, which is a result of a constant angle continuing for more than 5-7 seconds.

Lessons Learned:

  • When explaining something or educating your fans, frame it as a conversation to appear more natural & easy to follow
  • Keep interchanging between 3 POVs or focus points every 5-7 seconds to keep your audience interested in your video

3. ChatGPT Hack ~ Pete Huang (via TikTok)

The valuable tip shared in this Reel is obviously the main reason why I saved it (and shared it with my interns, too) – people love content that they can forward to save their loved ones time, money or effort.

But let’s go deeper – Pete (or whoever he has outsourced it to) really knows their video & audio editing.

  • There’s a zoom-in or out on his face every 3-4 seconds, which prevents visual drag
  • Along with this cut, there’s a “click” sound effect that accompanies any keywords or points he states
  • There’s a light leak effect to transition between the frames/topics
  • The font and colour used in the subtitles are also unique and hence catchy
  • He blurs into the background when the screen rec. of the ChatGPT site comes up to illustrate what he’s explaining

This professional effort that has gone into editing the Reel keeps its pacing absolutely perfect, giving it the look of a high-production value video.

Remember, your content can be great but if your editing falls flat, your audience won’t respect you in the long term.

What Pete has done can be achieved in mobile editing nowadays, so invest that time to create an output that shows you mean business.

4. Event Announcement ~ Ruia College

These kids wanted to promote the upcoming sports event in their college. The usual way to go about it would’ve involved shooting an announcement with the team saying all the details out loud … so boring!

Thankfully, these smart youngsters found a creative way to deliver the message. They convey it through single lines written on post-its, college boards, phone messages & so on, making me feel like I’m watching an exclusive insider conversation of their group.

There’s no dialogue and at its core, it’s just a simple college fest announcement – but the reason I was so invested was the whole concept that they’ve used to package the info as some sort of secret invite for the viewers watching it.

On a side note, the trending upbeat music in the background also helps to carry the video to its conclusion, so it’s a sweet, smooth ride for me through & through.

Lesson Learned: When creating announcement/update videos, see if you can creatively convey your message through offbeat visuals, sounds & editing techniques.

Make viewers feel they’re part of an exclusive conversation.

Remember, you need to tell a story at all times. And a story doesn’t need words, it just needs an intriguing hook (e.g. It’s happening!), a progression (e.g. where, when & what) and a grand reveal (e.g. see you there) in the climax – this video has it all so that’s why it gets my vote!

5. Tracking vs. Static Shot ~ Jazzie

The best way to prove that your technique or product is better is to actually show it in comparison with an alternative, either side-to-side or one after the other.

Without using any dialogue or explanation, Jazzie shows us in this Reel the power of using the technique called “tracking” in film, in which you follow the subject instead of standing in one position.

He first shows a tracking shot and then follows it up with a static shot (with the same frame and subject). The static falls flat in front of the cinematic-looking tracking shot and the answer is clearer than ever.

Of course, as people in the comments have pointed out, it is all about your personal preference and also what your story needs (a tracking shot shows the progression while a static shot is more suitable to end the story).

This is why Jazie smartly ends the video with the question, “Which one do you prefer?”, compelling his fans to weigh in with their thoughts in the comments, boosting his engagement rate.

Lesson Learned: Show, don’t tell. And try to end the video with a question!

6. Interview Hook Questions ~Filmanatix

In this Reel, the director & cinematographer going by the name “Filmanatix” explains how to create a short teaser cut from a longer documentary/personal intro or feature-style video interview you’re doing with a client.

He starts with a strong hook by presenting us with a tricky situation, using the format “Here’s what you’re doing. What if this happened instead?” (So you’re shooting a 20-minute video but the client wants a 30-second teaser edit).

If you’re into videography, you’d be instantly drawn in to discover the solution to the presented challenge.

Then, Filmanatix follows the classic but effective format that most film-focused creators on Instagram or TikTok use – first he walks us through his process, explaining his solution & line of execution, and then follows it up by showing us the final outcome of his filming & editing.

It’s very satisfying to watch because of the way the story is told – challenge, process, outcome. So you come out of the video with so much value.

Lesson Learned: Draw in the audience with a problem, explain your line of thinking step-by-step & do provide the logic behind why you’re doing what you’re doing wherever possible, then finally show the audience the end result of your process so that they know exactly what to envision & benchmark when they follow your style.

7. Falling Down ~ Doodles

You don’t need a long video to go viral. Even 5-second Reels blow up.

All you need is two ingredients – an “open loop” & a “pattern break.”

An open loop, in the context of video creation & visuals, is when you’re placed right in the middle of an action that’s taking place – this can be a familiar action, like a cup falling down mid-air, a base jumper getting ready to jump off a peak or in the case of this video, just a person doing jumping down.

Your brain doesn’t like open loops – it wants to close them, so you’re compelled to watch ahead.

This is where the pepper to your salt comes in – you break the pattern by showing an unexpected outcome.

In this Reel, the person doing the jump zooms in on his legs, which are folding on the floor. It turns out that it’s actually a fresh cut (not a continuation) and those are his hands, which pull out the business card displaying his cafe’s name (this appears to be in Russia).

Using no words, no special effects and just simple editing, he created a cute moment of delight which made me smile.

Lesson Learned: Forget the length. Forget everything. Break the pattern & create a moment of delight!

8. Dad Joke Survivors ~ Create Kids Inc.

This video gets me every time! It’s so hilarious I can’t.

The truth is that I’ve heard all these Dad Jokes before but again, the way they’ve presented them is the real lesson.

They’ve shot the video as a mockumentary, parodying the style of survivor stories or crime documentaries. The sound production is very thematic – with sad music and big thuds to accompany the titles, I was almost feeling real sympathy for the survivors of the Dad Jokes.

When this intentionally serious music and editing are juxtaposed with the actual content (which is completely non-serious), your brain goes nuts with emotions and the result is delight/laughter.

Had the Dad Jokes been told plainly, I would’ve taken them as cringe or dumb at best. So its really the director and editors that deserve the credit here.

Lesson Learned: Add a thematic layer to your content. Don’t just present it as it is. Can you parody something? Can you honour the style of a famous director or actor? That’ll create a much more impactful product.

To see another example of what I mean, watch this Reel in which a cute boy is used to parody the style of life hacks & business guru videos commonly found on Instagram.

9. 30 sec to Diagnose ~ MedSchool Bro

I slept through biology in school & I have no interest in medicine except when I’m visiting the doctor to treat myself or learn about a loved one.

So there’s no way I’m going to watch a Reel in which a doctor tries to guess the ailment with symptoms given as the clues. This Reel changed that in 30 seconds.

It’s a perfect example of how to make a boring or technical concept like a medical diagnosis interesting for the general crowd by gamifying it.

It’s help almost like a dumb charades or “warmer & colder,” game except here, the person behind the camera is giving the doc (who’s very handsome, if I might add) clues to help him guess an ailment that someone is suffering from.

The doctor starts with basic questions to know which category the disease belongs to & then drills deeper with more specific questions.

I understood nothing they were saying but because of the gamified format, I was hooked, rooting for the man to get to the answer before time ran out.

Lesson Learned: Gamify your content & set a time to build anticipation.

10. Luxury Trains in India ~ LBB Mumbai

When you’re out of content ideas, just curate a list that caters to a particular audience!

It’s the easiest way to give value to your audience. Best movie recommendations for Valentine’s Day. Coffee flavours for each Zodiac Sign. Thoughtful Gifts for Science Students.

And in this case, 6 luxury trains every travel enthusiast should hop on once in India!

Notice how you don’t need to shoot to speak anything.

The listicle flows seamlessly, accompanied by dreamy footage of the trains, lower thirds mentioning all essential details like the name, destination and price, and a smartly chosen soft melody (which was trending at the time) carrying the entire video in a pleasing manner.

Listicles also get bookmarked/saved & shared more than any other format, except maybe memes, so they’re a great content pillar to have in your calendar once a week.

Lesson Learned: Curate numbered lists that are relevant to your TG – it’s a great sustainable way to provide value!

11. Salting Cashew Nuts ~ Mucherla Aruna

I had a huge grin on my face throughout this video.

The South Indian chef, Aruna Aunty, is so adorable & natural while sharing her husband’s tip for salting cashews. She hasn’t prepared or scripted anything, you can tell that she’s just talking to you as if you’re her own child.

I love that her English is broken – you can tell that she’s trying hard to get her point across & she is successful in it. This makes the content so authentic, simple, well-grounded & cute. It made me go hug my mom.

Aruna has 1M+ followers on Instagram, a testimony that you don’t need polished language to make it big. In fact, the more home style you keep, the more people you’ll draw.

12. Plant Surgery ~ TSD Group

It’s not just about the quality of the information you give – it’s how you convey it. Nowadays, nobody likes to be “told” things. They want to enjoy their learning so it’s important to add drama, stories & fun in your content.

Take this video for example – it’s by a company that makes landscape designs, nurseries, irrigation systems, gardens, etc. for homes.

Maybe they just wanted to showcase their expertise in taking care of your house plants. Instead of doing an explainer video on why a plant might die if you don’t take proper precautions, they chose to turn it into a drama.

A “patient” comes in worried about her dying plant & the “plant doctors” revive it by performing emergency surgery, in which they skilfully highlight the neglect that must’ve led to the situation. They’re possibly parodying TV medical shows like “Grey’s Anatomy.”

The Reel has 3.7M+ views, which just goes to show the power of dramatizing your message!

Lesson Learned: In an earlier case study, we talked about how making your content conversational can help. Now go one step further & turn it into a parody, skit or drama. Your audience is more likely to consume & enjoy it!

13. Burger Cooking ~ Sahini Banerjee

One category of content that’s always in high demand on Instagram is “therapeutic” video.

I have watched this woman make chicken burgers for her husband even when I’m both hopelessly single & vegetarian just because it was just so pleasing to watch her make everything from scratch.

The music chosen is perfect (it’s from the opening montage in the movie “Up”) and the sound of her cooking is also pure ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) i.e. audio that relaxes you.

Similarly, I also remember saving this video of a guy placing an apple in his terrarium (a micro-level ecosystem in a bowl) and then filming all the snails & worms coming out to feast on it.

It was so beautiful to watch.

The point here is that you shouldn’t ignore this growing pillar of content – try deliberately working on some peace that can be consumed as audio-visual therapy. People love it because it gives them a break from all the fast-paced, hook-style content out there!

Your choice of music & editing will play a huge role here so spend some time making sure everything looks calm, nice & pleasing, like in a low-fi girl chill video or a meditation seminar.

Lesson Learned: Having some slow, easy, therapeutic content on the side will help you break free from the monotony of speedy content.

So dim the lights, put on some mellow background music and let a sense of calmness take over in your video – we could use more of it!

14. Wedding Painting ~ Kim-Vi Tran

In this video, the painter showcases her live painting done for a couple at their wedding.

But she’s smart enough not to reveal her end result at the beginning. She hooks us in by showing the shocked & surprised reactions of all the guests who pass by the painting.

What is everyone gawking at? Why are all of them so surprised & pleased? What is on the other side of the camera? Show me the completed painting ugh!!

That was me throughout the video. It kept me watching until the last few frames when we get to see the full picture in its glory.

In the age of dwindling attention spans, you have to learn the art of retention. Traditionally, complete audience retention (from start to end) is less than 10% for most videos so you have to really get it right to keep people invested.

Always write with the intention of keeping your people interested until the very end. At no point should your Reel feel bland or useless enough to swipe up & skip ahead.

Lesson Learned: Promise a carrot, build up or reveal to the audience to keep them interested in watching your video from start to end.

This can be done by asking an intriguing question, promising a reveal or creating FOMO if they don’t do as you suggest.

So that’s all the Reels I’ve loved so far. I hope you got some value out of the insights I’ve shared.

Any cool ones you’d like me to analyze? Drop their links in the comments below!

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