Today, Instagram is about so much than just displaying your content. Instead, it’s a platform to grow a community by engaging with them and thereby making it a powerful tool for your brand, business or marketing strategy (that is, in addition to creating a website). Since engagement is such a priority, Instagram’s algorithm – the determinant factor of who sees your posts and how they perform – focuses on just this. But, why should you care specifically about Instagram Stories?
Instagram Stories are a remarkable feature, which was released about two years ago. Now, it’s enjoyed by over 300 million people and businesses - establishing them as an integral part of any social media marketing strategy. They are a great way to improve your chances in Instagram’s algorithm, precisely because of how much users enjoy interacting with them. Through Stories, followers can correspond with you via direct messages, respond to your polls, or upload your content and tag you. In turn this can help you find more ways to make money on Instagram. But what exactly are Instagram Stories and how can you maximize their potential? The answer is simple, just follow these best practices.
How to use Instagram Stories
01. The basics: What are Instagram Stories
First of all, if you don’t have a business profile on Instagram, you should definitely set one up. This will add to your professional credibility as a business or brand – and, it’s worth considering because one-third of the most viewed stories are from businesses.
So what exactly are Instagram Stories? These are a collection of photos and videos that you upload for viewers to see in a 24-hour period. Each individual component of your Story is called a slide. To upload each slide to your Instagram Story, simply click on the camera icon from your Instagram Feed screen, then take a live photo or video, or swipe up to add a previously taken one. To each slide, you can add optional stickers, GIF stickers, a location tag, text, and many more extra components through the icons in the top right corner of your screen. Finally, once all of your content is set, you can click the plus sign in the bottom left corner of your screen to add the slide to your Instagram Stories.
A basic understanding of human nature and attention spans will help you figure out when to post to best succeed at driving results. Most people have an extremely short attention span (in fact, it’s shorter than that of a goldfish), especially when it comes to social media. Saying this, you’ll want to place your brand in the first few seconds of your Story. Another way to catch your audience’s attention quickly (and keep it) is by building anticipation throughout your Story. You can do this by making each slide progressively more interesting as your viewers click through. Also, you should upload as often as possible when you have something worthwhile to show. Depending on your business, this can be anywhere from 3-15 times a day.
In terms of what to post, showcase your business’ highlights and big updates. Let followers know what you’ve been up to and what you can offer them. Fundamentally, you’ll want to share your content in the form of a novel. No matter how many slides you choose, there should be a beginning, middle, and end. This is also a good place to coordinate your Instagram Stories to your regular feed posts, by adding them simultaneously.
02. Craft content specific to your brand
Just like your brand, the style you use in your Story should be consistent. Your brand identity should run throughout your stories, as well as in coordination with your posts and Instagram bio. Everything from the way you hold your camera to the filters you use should be cohesive. Think about your brand’s voice, color palette, fonts, and everything that represents you – all of this encompassed will define your Instagram marketing ‘look.’
03. Utilize videos more than photos
Videos give followers a true sense of who you are. They’re like a behind the scenes sneak preview of your biz. When people speak to each other or to their followers, this evokes more relatability for viewers than images and graphics are capable of doing. Therefore, adding sound, faces, and lots of people increases the traffic to your Story. Also, remembering the short attention span of most followers, you’ll want to say the most important things within the first few seconds of your video clips.
Keep in mind that Instagram limits the time a video can be to 15 seconds each. Therefore, if you’re shooting a 45-second video, it will cut it into three, 15-second slides.
Story videos can be shot directly on Instagram or on your phone's camera. If you prefer to edit your Stories prior to posting, you might want to look into additional apps such as the Wix Video Maker for professional promo videos.
04. Engage with people, places, and hashtags
One of the best ways to expand your community is by reaching out to them individually. There are many ways you can initiate this. Let’s take a look at just a few:
Tag people and businesses in your Story when relevant. They will see this and potentially engage with you more by tagging you back, commenting, or direct messaging.
Tag locations you visit in your posts. This will increase your chances of showing up in the ‘Recommended Stories’ section of the ‘Explore Tab.’
Repost followers’ content. When followers add something relevant (like showing your product in their Story) a great way to build your engagement is by taking a screenshot of their content and uploading it to your own Story. Make sure to tag them to spread the love.
Utilize hashtags. Users can now not only follow people and businesses but also hashtags. This provides another great opportunity to engage with them. When deciding which ones use, rather than going for the most popular hashtags, choose unique hashtags that are relevant to your business specifically.
05. Convert your followers with calls-to-action (CTAs)
A CTA is meant to boost engagement by converting followers to your intended goal. Such as, visit your personal website, book a ticket to your next event, or shop your eCommerce store. Several popular CTA’s are “Learn More,” “Contact Us,”, and “Shop More.” All in all, a good CTA needs to be short, catchy, and contain a verb in the imperative form. Furthermore, it should be thought of cohesively with building anticipation. That’s because the best place to include one is at the end of a short Story – typically one that is about three slides long. Never include a CTA in the first slide, as it will take away from the value of your Story, and encourage followers to leave your Story by clicking to an external page.
Side note: If you have a business account with more than 10,000 followers or a verified account, you can add a link in your Story with a link sticker that can drive people to a website or a desired destination off of the app.
06. Stimulate engagement via polls and contests
One of the best ways to measure and improve your engagement is by giving followers something to interact with. The quickest way to see results is through a contest or a poll. Here are some creative examples:
Create a poll asking viewers’ their preferences. Do you prefer this shirt in black or white? Do you like reading about food recipes or nutrition tips? Are you a cat-enthusiast or dog-lover? From here, you’ll gain insight based on how many followers saw your Story and how many answered your poll. On a serious note, this is one of the best ways to receive real and fast feedback from your customers. Less seriously, you can build engagement with customers through light and fun posts that aren’t directly related to your business or product.
A fill-in-the-blank contest. Invite people to take a screenshot of your branded post, fill in the blank lines, tag you or a related hashtag, and upload it to their Story. For example, in reference to an attached photo, “what should we name our new product? ________” and “describe this product creatively in three words: ______.” Then, the most unique and fitting choice can win a gift card or store discount. First, this will help you come up with ideas about what to name that product. And more importantly, it will expand the reach of your visibility on Instagram (i.e., the followers of your followers will see your brand)…now that’s breaking through the algorithm!
07. Work with your audience and influencers
Featuring other people will help spice up your content on your Instagram Stories by offering a different perspective from your normal daily content. Even further, it will widen your reach by tapping into that users’ market of followers. You can achieve this by partnering with influencers, followers, or featuring other people in your company. You could host an interview with someone that offers a complimenting product or service to yours. Or have an Instagram takeover featuring the day in the life of an influential customer. The ideas are endless and the more you try out, the more you’ll learn what works best.
Although a takeover sounds like you’re giving out the credentials and administrative abilities of your perfectly crafted Instagram account to a stranger, this isn’t the case. You can ask your partner for specific content based on your plan. Then, edit it and upload the parts that you know will fit best into your Story. After all, you’re the pro here ;).
08. Make your content timeless with Story Highlights
It’s sad to see your hard work and creativity disappear after just 24 hours. Instagram thought the same thing which is why earlier this year they released ‘Story Highlights’.
To use this, open the tab for Story Highlights from your profile view in the app, then tap the plus sign to add a new one. Here you can choose old content and upload it to your profile in a permanent form of a Story (a.k.a. a highlight). Content should be in the same categories and classified with branded cover photos to flow with the rest of your content. For example, ‘business tips,’ or ‘meet the team.’ Your followers will now be able to view your best stories on your profile all the time – not just for one day!
However, make sure to keep a few things in mind when you decide to make your Stories into Highlights. Begin by choosing content that is general and engaging, but not related to a specific date (i.e., your July 4th dessert recipes will be irrelevant in mid-winter). Include the things associated with your brand that will add value to your customers. For example, if you’re a baker, a “how-to” of your ultimate chocolate frosted brownies will go great here.
09. Leave your comfort zone with spontaneity
Your Instagram Story is a place to express your creativity and try things out – especially because posts are gone after just 24 hours. There are many ways you can stand out with unique, spontaneous content. Here are a few more easy and inspirational ideas to consider:
Use Instagram’s stickers and animated GIFs. There are many options to choose from, so let your vivid imagination run wild. Despite them being purely for fun, keep them somewhat relevant. For example, if you want to announce a big upcoming sale on one of your slides, you can draw attention with a flashing light GIF (or a dancing banana if you choose).
Install a 3rd party app for additional fonts. Although Instagram has stepped up its game and offered more font options, they’re still quite limited. One of our personal favorite smartphone apps that provides an array of symbols and fun text to choose from is Cool Symbol. This and other applications are available for you to copy captions in unique fonts and paste them into your Story.
Create an “article-style” Story. Begin with the cover of your Story containing something along the lines of “5 Inspirational Ideas for your significant other’s birthday.” Each following page will contain a different gift or experience and a corresponding number. This type of Story makes sure that followers have a reason to view it in entirety, i.e., giving them an added boost to make it to number five.
Promote an event. Anytime you have a big event, the best place to talk about it is on social media. With Instagram Stories, you can keep followers informed from the planning and preparation to the actual happening of the event itself. Even if they don’t come to your event, getting a behind the scenes or a front row preview might just lure them in for the next one.
10. Focus on what your followers value most
It’s important to keep in mind what the majority of your followers actually find interesting. Don’t just post content because it’s fun, rather post with purpose. This can be a sale or a new product, perhaps. After you’ve tried out many of these creative ideas, it’s time to measure the impact of everything. To see that all of your hard work has paid off, you can look into the following:
Look back at old posts. The content from your Instagram feed posts that excelled significantly with likes and comments is bound to also do great in your Stories. Plus, you’ll reach more of your followers here anyways as not everyone is able to see your posts in their feeds due to the mysterious algorithm.
Check your archives. From your profile page, click the circular arrow in the top right corner to access your ’Archive.’ Here you can look back on how many views and responses to polls old stories had. Future content can then be based on the successful Stories of the past.