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5 Reasons Your Reels Aren’t Going Viral and How to Fix Them

How to Go Viral on Instagram Reels

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CEO, digital marketing expert, afraid-of-flying frequent flyer, self-taught photographer, luxury travel content creator, and candle connoisseur. 

I am Catarina Mello.

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5 Reasons Your Reels Aren’t Going Viral and How to Fix Them

Are you pouring your heart into Instagram Reels trying to go viral, only to see them fizzle out with barely any views? It’s a common struggle, and a frustrating one! Many creators struggle with making their Reels stand out in the ever-changing world of Instagram. With Reels being the absolute best way of growing your Instagram account in 2024, mastering how to make a Reel go viral is more crucial than ever. The good news is, those frustratingly low numbers can be turned around! 

Let’s uncover the most common mistakes sabotaging your Reels and give them the viral potential they deserve.

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Mistake #1: Poor Hook

Your hook is the first 3-5 seconds of your Reel – so it’s your chance to make someone stop scrolling and pay attention. A weak hook means even amazing content might never be seen.

What NOT to do:

  • Lengthy text overlays are a no-go. If people have to read a paragraph, they’re likely to swipe past.
  • Don’t waste time with a slow start of your video or showing the least interesting footage first. Jump into the action, the core message of your Reel and/or the most interesting visuals right away!

5 Types of Viral Reel Hooks That Work:

  1. Question Hooks: Start with a question relevant to your target audience’s pain points, interests, or curiosities.
    • “Ever struggle with finding the perfect outfit?” or
    • “Want to know a secret for the fluffiest pancakes?”
  2. Bold Statement Hooks: Begin with a controversial, surprising, or intriguing statement.
    • “You’ve been using your moisturizer all wrong.”
    • “This one change transformed my mornings.”
  3. The “How-To” Hook: Promise to share or teach something valuable or solve a problem.
    • “How to style a scarf 5 different ways.”
    • “How to get perfect winged eyeliner every time.”
  4. Pattern Interrupt Hooks: Use unusual visuals, sounds, or editing techniques to grab immediate attention. For example:
    • Quick cuts between contrasting scenes
    • A bold, colorful, or unexpected image/scene
  5. Relatable Situation Hooks: Describe a common struggle or experience your audience connects with.
    • “Pov: trying to fit your entire wardrobe on a carry-on to avoid baggage fees”


  • Keep it short and simple. Don’t try to cram too much information into the first few seconds.
  • Remember that viral reel hooks can be visual, overlay text, or voice-overs/spoken. If you want to learn how to make a reel go viral, always use a mix of 2 types of hooks — e.g. a stunning visual + a text overlay that piques the interest of viewers.


Imagine you’re filming a Reel about packing light for a trip. Here’s the difference a good hook makes:

  • Bad Hook: 5 seconds of you arranging clothes on a bed with the text “Packing Tips for Europe!”.
  • Good Hook: Opening with a fully packed carry-on, text overlay saying “How I fit 30 outfits in this carry-on”.

The good hook creates curiosity and offers immediate value, making viewers more likely to keep watching.

Mistake #2: Bad Lighting/Footage

Instagram is a visual platform, and harsh lighting, blurry footage, or distracting backgrounds can make your content unappealing, no matter how great the idea is. If you want to grab people’s attention, then your video needs to look visually appealing.

Common Problems:

  • Harsh Shadows or Overexposure: Extreme lighting can obscure details or make your video look harsh and unprofessional, so avoid it.
  • Shaky Footage: Unstable videos are difficult to watch and give an amateurish impression.
  • Cluttered Backgrounds: Messy or distracting backgrounds detract from the focus of your Reel.

Quick Fixes:

  • Embrace Natural Light: Use soft, diffused, natural light whenever possible. Film near a window with sheer curtains or shoot outdoors in the early morning and late afternoon when the light is softer.
  • Simple Lighting Gear: If natural light isn’t enough, invest in a ring light or small softbox setup. These are inexpensive and make a huge difference.
  • Stabilize Your Shots: A small phone tripod or even propping your phone against something will improve stability. When filming clips with movement, make sure that the camera movements are smooth and not too fast.
  • Tidy Up: Even if you film against a plain wall, be mindful of clutter or objects that might distract from your message.


  • Preview Your Shots: Before you hit record, take a few test shots to check your lighting and composition.
  • Embrace Editing: Simple color correction or brightening in your phone’s editing tools can do wonders. 


Let’s say you’re filming a makeup tutorial Reel. Here’s how lighting affects the result:

  • Bad Lighting: Harsh overhead lighting casting shadows, or a window directly behind you making you appear silhouetted.
  • Good Lighting: Soft, even lighting coming from in front of you to illuminate your face without harshness.

The well-lit Reel will showcase your makeup skills better and be more enjoyable for the viewer.

Mistake #3: Reel is too Long/Slow to Get to the Point

Attention spans are short, especially on platforms like Instagram. If your Reels take too long to deliver the core value or entertainment, then people will swipe away — and it won’t go viral.

How to Spot This Mistake:

  • Are people dropping off early? Check your Reel insights to see what’s the average watch time and compare it with the length of your video. 
  • Honestly ask yourself: Could you get to the main point of your Reel faster?


  • Cut the Fluff: Eliminate anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to get to the point of your Reel
  • Front-Load Your Best Stuff: Put the most interesting or valuable information right at the beginning.
  • Speed It Up: When talking to the camera, keep a fast pace and avoid fillers or long pauses that don’t serve a specific purpose. 
  • Text Overlays for Summary: According to Instagram, more than half of viewers watch Reels with sound off. Make sure to add closed captions when talking to the camera or voice-overs, and summarize key points with text on the screen for quick information absorption.


  • Think like a Viewer: Watch your own Reel draft as if you were scrolling through your feed – be ruthless about cutting anything that doesn’t immediately add value.
  • Time Yourself: Especially for tutorials or informational Reels, see if you can deliver your message within half the time of what you started with. If you want to learn how to make a reel go viral, you need to practice using every second of your Reel effectively.


Imagine a Reel demonstrating a quick video transition editing technique.

  • Too Long/Slow: The Reel opens with a 10-second intro showing how to open the editing app, add footage, etc., followed by slowly explaining basic adjustments until finally getting to the point of the reel.
  • Gets to the Point: The Reel starts by showing the video transition, then jumps right into demonstrating the core editing technique.

The second version hooks viewers with the desirable outcome and keeps them engaged with a fast-paced demonstration – making this Reel much more likely to go viral. So if you want your Reel to perform well, don’t make this mistake!

Mistake #4: No Clear Focus/Message

Reels that lack a cohesive theme or try to cram in too many ideas end up feeling confusing or pointless. Your audience should be able to easily understand what your Reel is about and what the key takeaway is.

Signs of This Problem:

  • You feel unsure how to summarize your Reel’s takeaway in a sentence. If you can’t articulate the core point quickly, chances are the viewer won’t either, and your Reel won’t go viral.
  • Your Reel covers multiple, loosely connected topics. This creates a scattered viewing experience.

How to Fix It:

  • The One-Thing Rule: Before filming, define the ONE idea, tip, or story you want your Reel to convey.
  • Break It Down: Can you turn a broader topic into multiple Reels? For example, instead of “What to do in Italy,” focus on one Reel about what to do in Rome, another on what to do in Florence, etc. If you have a lot to share about one topic, break it into multiple parts — for example, break 10 tips for saving on flights into two reels with 5 tips each).
  • Script or Outline: Even a loose outline will help you stay on track during filming and editing.


  • Who is your Reel for? The more specific your ideal viewer, the easier it is to keep your content focused.
  • What action do you want them to take? Think about the desired outcome – should they learn something, be inspired, feel motivated, etc.? Is your Reel ACTUALLY delivering that outcome?


Let’s imagine a travel Reel about Paris.

  • No Clear Focus: A montage of random clips from various places in Paris, with no voiceover, text overlay, or a connecting theme.
  • Clear Focus: A Reel with the title “3 Hidden Gem Cafés in Paris,” showcasing short highlights of each location with overlaid text about what to order.

The focused Reel provides value and leaves a clear impression on the viewer, making them more likely to save and share that Reel. A Reel with many saves & shares is much more likely to go viral.

Reels without a cohesive theme or point end up feeling confusing. Your audience should be able to easily understand what your Reel is about in 3 seconds from its start.

How to Fix It: 

  • Define the ONE idea, tip, or story you want to convey before filming. 
  • Break broad topics into multiple Reels or a multi-part series
  • Create an outline before recording


  • Who is your Reel for? The more specific your ideal viewer, the easier it is to keep your content focused.
  • What action do you want them to take? Think about the desired outcome – should they learn something, be inspired, feel motivated, etc.?

Trending sounds can increase discoverability by putting your Reel in front of people already interested in that audio — which can make a reel go viral. However, using sounds incorrectly can backfire.

Common Pitfalls:

  • Using a sound just because it’s popular: If it doesn’t align with your content or niche, it’ll feel forced and confuse viewers.
  • Misinterpreting the trend: Sometimes the audio’s popularity is based on a specific format or type of content, so research before to make sure you understand the trend.
  • Not adding your own spin: Simply copying what everyone else is doing won’t make your Reel stand out.
  • Find relevant trends: Keep a pulse on what’s happening in your industry and browse Reels on your “For You” page for inspiration.
  • Analyze successful Reels: Pay attention to HOW the sound is used in Reels that get lots of views and try to adapt that structure to your own niche.
  • Put your twist on it: How can you make the trend uniquely yours? Connect it to your expertise or brand personality.


  • Save sounds you like: Instagram lets you save audio clips for later – build a library of potential sounds to use.
  • Don’t be afraid to be early: If you spot a sound that is rising in popularity, try using it creatively before it becomes oversaturated.


Let’s say a sound clip of someone saying “Wait till you see the transformation…” is trending.

  • Bad Use: A random slideshow of your travel photos with the sound, offering no clear ‘transformation’.
  • Good Use: A travel creator using the sound to showcase the before/after of using packing cubes. The before shows a messy suitcase, and the after a beautifully organized suitcase using packing cubes.

Even small fixes to these common issues can make a HUGE difference in your Reel performance. For that reason, don’t be afraid to experiment, analyze what works best for YOUR content, and most importantly, have fun with it!

Ready to see your Reels take off and go viral?

Then join my free training ‘5 Steps To Accelerate Your Instagram Follower Growth And Land Paid Brand Collabs (Even If You’re Starting From Zero)’. In this 60-minute free training, you’ll learn how to stand out on Instagram, grow your audience using my viral Reel formula, and land brand collabs with brands you love. Save your free seat by clicking on the button below.

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