Multimodality in Instagram reels


Thinking about our lives, multimodality is used almost everywhere, the way we interact amongst ourselves, the popularity of TV shows, the internet, our class, etc. It is fair to say that where information is transmitted, its multimodality can be found and applied. Beyond that, with the advent of Web 2.0, social media has become popular because of its relative ease of use, quick interconnection with the rest of the world, and we cannot overlook that multimodality is commonly used in social media platforms such as Instagram.

Instagram is an app for sharing photos and videos, as well as being a social network. It is similar to Twitter with followers, but relying more on visual images and less on text ( Jewitt, 2009). Many people may do not enjoy reading, but visual things can surely grab their interests (Socialnomics Trends, 2020). The real-time updates can connect the users with the world. So it is popular among people who want to be welcomed especially the younger generation and contributes to at least 1 billion active users monthly (Tankovska, 2021). Recently, Instagram has introduced reels, a novel way to create a short video that less than 15 seconds with creative tools to alter audio and visual effects and share with their followers or anyone on the platform. It provides a new way for people to use different models to share their lives and convey information.

The blogpost will first introduce briefly the function of Instagram reels and then analyze the use of multimodality in Instagram reels based on a Youtube video Here’s How to Use Instagram Reels (Later, 2020), and then summarize the main point. This blogpost is also a part of our multimodality project, if you want to see other aspects of multimodality, you can find the link at the end of the text.


Instagram reels — communication and interaction

Instagram reels is a recently added feature on the Instagram platform on August 5, 2020.  Users can slide up one reel to the next using their fingers while watching which invites users to create entertaining videos the user has 15 seconds to post a video that is available to the world. 

It is worth mentioning that, the Instagram reel not only contains a video shoot by creators, it also can add other modes, such as extra audio, AR effects, some texts, memes as well as hashtags to make the reel video more attractive and shows to the target audience. Some users use Instagram to show details of their life, allowing other people to see their homepage to gain more followers, which also means that the personal domain turns to the public domain under the influence of multimodal features and the social media environment.

The youtube video Here’s How to Use Instagram Reels (2020) shows the use of Instagram reels, the multimodality use can be analyzed based on it.

Later: #1 Marketing Platform for Instagram.(August 25, 2020). Here’s How to Use Instagram Reels

In this video, the author shows some steps to create a reel and explains how to watch and leave a comment under the reel video. The whole process can be analyzed in two aspects.

For the reel creators, firstly they have to shoot a video in less than 15 seconds as the main content of the reel, then select background music as you like and add it to the video, which can make the video content richer. After that, the creator could incorporate stickers or text some words on the screen relating to the video to explain more details of the video or add some of their individual expressions. This process can be seen as the creation of an ensemble, which is the combination of different modes (Sefafini, 2014). In this video, the reel creator uses several modes such as texts, images, sounds, and combines them to complete the narrative, which enables creators to use these modes to convey their content to communicate with their target audiences.

For the audiences, reels can be found on the Instagram search page with some popular Instagram reels posted by some ‘Instagrammers’. Reels have social functions that give people an opportunity to communicate and interact with the reel creators and other audiences while watching the video. The audiences can use some actions to express their opinions and attitudes about the reel by moving their fingers. When the viewers double tap on the video, it means that they “like” it, and long press the screen it means that they are disinterested in it. In the comments, the audiences have the option of typing some words or using memes to express their feeling about the video, which allows the reel creator and other audience to see their position and react to them. From a Social Semiotic perspective, all the modes constitute one domain of semiotic resources (Kress, 2015), which have some social use in communication. The modes in reels attract audiences to use their senses to see the video but also prompt them to have some social interactions with others.

By analyzing the fundamental functions Instagram reels, here are some points to summarize the multimodality use in reels. One is the mode ensemble is created in the video, as different modes can convey different meanings (Sefafini, 2014). Firstly, the dynamic visual mode video is richer than the linguistic modes of speech and writing to some extent ( Kress, 2015), so it can excellently present concrete details. Together with other modes such as audio, text and image, which can convey more information and arouse emotions, all of the force in “modal ensembles” to convey information (Kress, 2010). These modes coordinate with each other and build the content of the reel richer.

 On the other hand, the multimodality use in Instagram Reels increases engagement from the target followers. As Kress (2010) says, multimodality is a theory that looks at communication, the Instagram Reel shows a process of using multimodality to build interaction and communication between creators and audiences. When videos are uploaded, the Instagram algorithm is able to promote the content to a larger audience, and this causes heightened engagement. For the creators, what they can do is creating their own content using multimodality to attract audiences and evoking a sense of participation, for example making a topic to evoke discussion. Therefore, the communication and interaction in Instagram reels can be seen as the result of using multimodality.

Overall,Instagram Reels shows the use of multimodality in social media and close to our daily life. In the process of making reels, first, modal ensembles are used while creating content, dynamic visual modes are combined with other modes to fulfill the content. Then interests and attention of the audience are evoked and generate interaction and communication. 

Disclaimer: This blog post is part of a series of different elements in regards to the concept of multimodality. This contains multiple blog posts discussing different aspects of this concept as well as a podcast tying all of this together in verbal form. Here are the links to access our Podcast as well as other blogposts:

Podcast: Discovering Multimodality

Blogposts: Introduction to the project, Intro to Multimodality and Everyday Examples, The History of Multimodality, Multimodality in University Websites, Multimodality in Academic Area— The Multimodal Text, Art & Multimodality, and Teaching & Multimodality

Reference List

Jewitt, C. (ed.) (2009). The Routledge Handbook of multimodal analysis. London: Routledge.

Kress, G. R. (2010). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. Taylor & Francis.

Kress, G. (2015). Semiotic work: Applied linguistics and a social semiotic account of multimodality. Aila Review, 28(1), 49-71.

Later: #1 Marketing Platform for Instagram (August 25, 2020). Here’s How to Use Instagram Reels. Youtube.

Serafini, F. (2014). Reading the visual: An introduction to teaching multimodal literacy. Teachers College Press. 

Social Trends. (March 18, 2020). Why do people like Instagram?. Socialnomics.

Tankovska, H. (Feb 10, 2021). Instagram: distribution of global audiences 2021, by age group. Statista.

4 Responses

  1. 12/17/2020

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    […] multimodality, Introduction to the project, Explaining the concept, The history of multimodality, Multimodality in Instagram Reels, Art & Multimodality, Teaching & Multimodality and Multimodality in academic […]

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