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Formatting Video for Instagram

Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms, providing an outlet for creative expression. According to Statista.com, as of 2022, Instagram reports roughly one billion monthly users, with two-thirds of its user base under the age of 34. This demographic is prime digital real estate for video marketing.

However, Instagram is a unique experience regarding video formatting. Producing content can be a frustrating experience if you aren’t familiar with the requirements. This article is an introduction to compatible video formats that create the most effective experience for the viewer.

The Four Types of Instagram Videos

Instagram offers formats differing in dimension, runtime, and user interaction. You should become familiar with each before investing time in a video that may not be as effective—or compatible—as you had hoped.

Instagram Video Feed: These are videos published to your profile library and displayed on your public feed along with any image posts. Before 2021, Instagram offered Instagram TV (IGTV) to compete with the longer video formats found on YouTube and Facebook. Due to low user engagement Instagram scrapped the effort and merged IGTV with the standard video feed formats.

Videos posted to your feed will remain in your public library until you remove them.

Instagram StoryInstagram Stories are intended for short interaction and disappear after 24 hours. Creators often use Stories for updates, behind the scenes, and interactive features such as polls. Active Stories are posted separately from standard videos; you find them on a user’s profile, just above their library. Verified partner accounts may be permitted to include URL links within their posts.

Instagram Reels: While Stories serve as quick and efficient publications, Instagram Reels offer more tools for a creative outlet. Reels differ from Stories because they do not disappear after 24 hours, may have longer runtimes, and can be saved as drafts before publication.

Reels differ from standard library videos mainly in the editing toolset. Reels include a built-in editor that provides the creator with filters, speed controls, trimming options, graphic overlays, stitching tools (to combine reels), and access to a music library to a communal music library.

Reels are a competitive response to Tik Tok and can be found on a user’s profile’s “Reels” tab.

Instagram Live Video: Live video offers creators a chance to interact with viewers. Your followers are notified when a new stream starts and can join with a simple click. A recent update allows you to invite up to three friends to join you in the video stream.

One caveat, however, is that as soon as your live stream ends, it disappears from your feed. There are no replays, unlike stories that remain for 24 hours. You can leverage this feature to encourage viewers not to miss future streams.

Formats and Resolutions Used

While you can produce video externally, it’s evident that creators are encouraged to film directly with their mobile devices. Instagram doesn’t cater to the standard HD 16:9 format that other video platforms do. They have unique requirements, which can cause a headache when publishing videos across different platforms.

Instagram Videos: Instagram was once known for its low resolution, highly filtered, square image format. As a result, the video sizing options for the app are a bit unorthodox.

Filming in portrait (vertical) mode will produce the best results. Using the built-in cropping editor, you can resize your video as 1080 x 1350 pixels (4:5 ratio) for full-screen playback or crop it to the original 1080 x 1080 (1:1 ratio) square format.

If your video is in the HD 16:9 format, you can still publish it, but it will be converted to a 1080 x 608 definition to retain the 16:9 landscape aspect ratio. As a result, there will be space above and below the video frame.

Instagram videos typically have a limit of 60 seconds; however, with the IGTV format mixed in, verified accounts may have longer runtimes, potentially up to an hour.

Instagram Stories and Reels: Both formats are intended to be filmed in portrait mode providing a frame size of 1080 x 1920 (9:16 aspect ratio). Landscape videos can also be published but are subject to the same 1080 x 608 resizing as standard IG videos. Instagram Stories have a maximum runtime of 15 seconds, while Reels can run up to 60 seconds.

Instagram Live:  Live videos are meant for the 1080 x 1920, 9:16 aspect ratio. They can only be recorded on a mobile device and have a time limit of up to four hours.

Instagram is optimized for videos encoded with an .mp4 codec (H.264) and AAC audio. Most phones already use this format. Instagram may also accept some types of .mov files and even .gif formats (once converted to a video file).

Filming and Editing Considerations

It is much simpler to produce videos directly from your mobile device; however, some creators prefer to publish externally produced videos. This is certainly possible, and there are a few tips to help mitigate challenges.

Most importantly, know exactly where you intend to post your videos. If you want the same video on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and other video platforms, you’ll need to set up shots that can accommodate cropping (such as leaving extra space on the screen’s margins).

Alternatively, suppose you want to keep the 16:9 landscape format. In that case, you can take advantage of the blank space above and below and produce “filler” graphics that include branding or other information so that it appears intentional. Most video editing software allows you to create projects in a vertical 9:16 aspect ratio. Resize your landscape video to fit, create your border graphics, and then upload the video to Instagram as a vertical video. This makes your video look like a more polished full-screen presentation.

You can also use tricks on ReelsStories, and videos if you require longer runtimes. Become familiar with the Carousel feature, which allows you to upload multiple files into a collective post. Refer to Instagram literature on how to “hack” your way to longer videos.

Despite it living in YouTube’s massive shadow, don’t underestimate Instagram. With patience and experimentation, it can be a powerful tool in your publishing arsenal.

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