Instagram Stories boasts over 500 million daily active users who are tapping, viewing, and interacting with Stories of the people they follow (and likely Stories ads as well). That’s a good half a billion people who could potentially see your Story or Story ad.
In addition, 58% of Instagram users say they become interested in a brand or product after seeing it featured in an Instagram Story. This means you can increase your brand awareness, followers, and customers all by using Instagram Stories regularly.
Throughout this article, we’re going to dive deeper into what Instagram Stories are and how you can use them for your brand to increase your reach and engage your audience.
What is an Instagram Story?
An Instagram Story is a disappearing post to your Instagram profile. It will stay on your profile for 24 hours, unless you add it to a highlight category (more on that later).
You’ll know if someone has a Story posted by the bright circle that will appear around their profile picture:
To view the Story, simply tap on the profile photo, then tap through each Story to see them all:
Why use Instagram Stories for business?
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Instagram Stories:
- An active user base: Instagram reports there are more than 500 million daily users for Stories.
- Stories effortless creation: No one expects you to invest half an hour on a post that’s not going to be around after tomorrow. While Instagram posts require the perfect lighting, angles, and hashtags, a good Story just requires a quick idea or an interesting moment and some creativity.
- A testing ground for ideas: Instagram Stories aren’t as exposed as regular Instagram posts, making them great for testing ideas. If it’s received well (positive replies and people watch your entire Story without dropping off), you can consider re-posting it as a permanent Instagram post or adapting the idea for another channel.
- An armory of features: There are various Instagram tools for drawing, placing Instagram stickers, adding augmented reality filters, and more.
- The opportunity to drive traffic: Add links to your Stories, advertise your products with shopping on Instagram, and take advantage of Instagram’s latest feature: shopping on Explore. This makes product discovery and reaching new audiences easier than before.
- Another way to get discovered: You can hashtag and geotag Stories for the chance to appease the Instagram algorithm and amplify your reach.
But we’ve still only scratched the surface. Here are some ways you can integrate Instagram Stories as a marketing channel for your business.
How to post an Instagram Story
To post an Instagram Story, follow along with these steps:
- Tap the + icon at the top right corner of your screen (next to your notifications and messages) OR swipe your screen to the right.
- Select Story from the options of what you want to create.
- Take a photo or record a video. Or swipe up to access your camera roll to upload a photo, graphic, video, or Boomerang that you’ve already made.
- Edit your photo or video using Instagram’s various editing options.
- Tap the Your Stories button to post to your public Story or the Close Friends button to send to only a specified group (if you’ve set this group up).
Instagram gives you a number of new features you can apply to your posts, encouraging you to create content within its editor. But you can still easily upload content you’ve created elsewhere.
Unlike the dimensions for standard square Instagram posts, Stories are shot vertically. Your photos and videos should be sized accordingly, at 1080 pixels wide and 1920 pixels tall. In March of 2022, Instagram released an update that lets you resize your photos and videos before posting by pinching your phone’s screen.
Anything added to your camera roll should show up when you swipe up in the Stories camera view. Besides photos and videos, Stories give you a variety of modes to create in other formats:
- Type: Text-based posts in a variety of styles against a colored background.
- Live: In-the-moment livestreams where your audience can comment in real time. You can post them as a Story afterward.
- Boomerang: Create one-second looping videos.
- Focus: Take portraits that blur out the background and keep your subject's face in focus.
- Superzoom: Dramatically zoom in on your subject from afar, using a variety of humorous effects like Paparazzi or Surprise.
- Rewind: Record a video that will play back in reverse.
- Hands-free: Record a video without having to hold down the record button.
You can have a lot of fun with how you create this content. You can design quick title cards and other graphics in Canva (or even Keynote, Slides, or PowerPoint) that you can upload as the intro, call to action, or individual slides within your Story.
Quickly edit together a bunch of clips using a video-editing app like Quik by GoPro (free). Just remember that you can only upload 15 seconds of video at a time or it’ll get cut off. (Live videos can be one minute long.)
There are tons of Instagram Story ideas available, so you can get creative. Use all the options at your disposal to bring your content to life. Combine text, pictures, videos, stickers, filters, interactive polls, and doodles to produce fun and interesting content.
What are Instagram Story Highlights?
The Instagram Story Highlights feature groups Instagram Stories into themes or categories and displays them on Instagram permanently (instead of expiring after 24 hours).
A Highlight appears on your Instagram profile page, giving you a chance to show off your brand's personality. They let businesses save Instagram Story content and curate it, presenting it to followers on their profile pages.
To create your own Instagram Story Highlights, follow these steps:
- Head to your Instagram profile and click the + button under the empty “Story Highlights” section to create your first highlight category.
- Select from your past Stories to start bulking up your new Highlight category, then tap Next.
- Edit the cover (and keep it on brand) by creating a relevant graphic and uploading it from your camera roll.
- Name the Highlight category then tap Add.
- Create as many different Highlights as you want by repeating Steps 1 to 4 until you’re done.
Instagram Story features to increase engagement
With traditional posts, you can generally increase your exposure if you strategically use stickers, location geotags, and the best Instagram hashtags. You can add a location, sticker, or hashtag to your photo or video in the stickers menu.
Whenever you share a photo or video to your Story, you now have the option to add Stories stickers to encourage different types of engagement (look for the smiley face in the top right of your screen).
IG Stories used to require that a user hit 10,000 followers before gaining access to the “swipe up” feature to add links to their Stories. However, the Instagram app recently changed this to a link sticker that anyone can use—even personal accounts.
This makes it easy to link to a blog post, product page, or any other page on your website that you want to mention in your Stories.
Ask your audience for their opinion! This is an especially great hack for gathering customer preferences if you’re working on a new product line and want to know what your audience would prefer.
Post Stories using the poll sticker on top of two different product options—or use it to have fun with your audience as a part of your social media marketing strategy.
This is exactly what Bloomscape did in this example above, asking its audience how long they thought it would take for a new leaf to unfurl.
Use your Instagram Stories to talk directly to your audience. Overlay the question sticker onto a photo or video to let your audience ask you any burning questions they might have.
You can then place their questions onto a new Story while you record yourself answering or write out answers that you place on top of a different photo or video. Bonus points if the photo or video corresponds with the question they asked.
Want to mention a user or another brand? While you can do so with the type feature, there’s also a mention sticker perfect for this.
You can see it in use below when this health and wellness brand tagged a user who completed a challenge they were hosting:
A strategy like this is perfect for recognizing your loyal followers and customers. Fresh Start tagged this follower, then asked them to direct message it to snag their prize.
You can also use hashtag stickers or location stickers in your Instagram marketing—they have a similar look in your Stories.
Want to add background music to a photo or video? You can easily do so with a music sticker. Simply tap the “Music” option in the sticker library then select or search for the song you want to add:
Count down to a product launch, event, Instagram Live video, or other exciting news with a countdown sticker. This type of content will ramp up anticipation, and it even lets your audience set a reminder on Instagram for when the countdown ends.
GIFs are another fun way to spice up your Instagram Stories. Tap on the GIF option in the sticker library to explore all of the various options, or search for something that is relevant to what you’re posting.
If you’ve already set up your Instagram shop, you can link to products from your Stories. This is a great way to make it even easier for your customers to make a purchase. If they see something they like in your Story, they can immediately tap the product link and buy.
Emoji slider stickers
This last option’s biggest benefit is just to have some form of interactivity within your Stories. You’re able to customize which emoji you want on the slider, giving you free reign into how you want to incorporate it.
You can use the emoji slider to ask how much someone loves a product you’ve featured, or simply place it on a Story to give it some more spice, like we see in the example below.
Geotags will help you get discovered in location-level Stories (e.g., New York City or a popular restaurant in your neighborhood). Regularly tagging your location in your Story posts when it’s relevant can put you in front of people who are checking in on that particular spot.
While they’re typically used for discoverability on social media, hashtags are more likely to take viewers away from your Stores and to others’ posts.
Instagram hashtags in Stories are best used only if you own them—if you’re running a contest or you’re getting customers to submit photos of themselves using your product under a branded hashtag. This way, if the hashtag is used in a Story, it’ll at least take people to a collection of posts related to your brand.
Analyze results with Instagram Analytics
With a personal account, it can be hard to tell how your Stories are performing. You don't have many signals to work with except for views (you can see who has viewed your Story by swiping up on it) and replies (when a viewer messages you through your Story).
But with a business account, access a wide range of signals for a more meaningful feedback loop from your Stories.
View metrics like impressions and reach, but also actions taken on your Stories, such as how many people tapped through, replied or bounced away.
Use this insight to figure out where you’re getting the most engagement and where you’re losing attention. If your Stories are too long or too short, you can make your content better over time.
Creating an Instagram Story strategy
1. Think less about “posting,” more about “programming”
Just because Stories don’t stick around forever, that doesn’t mean they don’t require some thought and planning. Brands should think about their Instagram Story as they would any other content channel: ahead of time.
Consider treating your Story like a TV network with scheduled programming for the week, or even recurring “episodes” that happen on certain days. Thinking in advance about what kind of content you’ll be sharing and how your Story will flow will help you craft a more addictive and consistent experience for your viewers.
You can even tease what will be happening and when so your followers know to tune in.
2. Post up to seven Stories per day
Social media SaaS company Buffer conducted some research by analyzing 15,000 different Instagram Stories and discovered that the optimal Story length is between one to seven Stories at a time.
As we can see in the graph above, the completion rate starts to drop off after those first five to seven Stories. Because your Stories disappear after 24 hours, you’ll want to wait until the tail end of that time frame to post your next batch.
3. Post consistently
Posting consistently is a key component to any social media platform’s strategy, and the same goes for your Instagram Stories. Because they only last 24 hours, you want to make sure you’re consistently posting more so that your audience always has something to watch.
The more you post, and the more your audience views and interacts with your Stories, the higher up in their Stories feed you’ll appear. This will bring even more attention to your Insta Stories, increasing your overall reach and engagement.
4. Use Instagram Live to support your Stories
Instagram Live is fun to watch when it’s someone else’s show, but it’s a little intimidating to start yourself, since it’s recorded and goes out in real time.
Live video gives you less control because it’s on the spot, but it’s an interactive and versatile format.
One of the advantages of Instagram Live is that your followers receive a notification when you start one (unless they’ve turned off notifications). Once you’ve finished your livestream, you can upload it to your Story for the next 24 hours.
If you have a decent-sized following, consider giving Instagram Live a try. Uploading it to your Story changes the icon to differentiate it from the rest of the Stories at the top of that app, as these Live videos generally happen less frequently.
Remember that this is interactive, and that means regularly acknowledging comments from your live audience and inviting them to participate in some way. It might also take some time for your audience to join before you can start, so prepare for a preamble to buy yourself a few moments.
Some Instagram Live ideas include:
- Running a contest or inviting your audience to bet on an outcome
- Hosting a Q&A or AMA (ask me anything)
- Covering an event or sharing an interesting moment
- Hosting a talk show
- Vlogging live
- Influencer takeovers
It's easy to shy away from this feature, but Instagram Live is a worthwhile engagement tool for accounts with a sizeable following and loyal fans.
5. Drive traffic to your website and products
Links in your Instagram bio
Your Instagram bio was once the only place to add a clickable link, and many brands still use this approach. Luckily, you can apply two basic conversion principles to get the job done: affordance and a call to action (CTA).
Affordance provides a sensory signal to the user indicating where their attention should be and what action they can take. Beyond just telling your audience to check the link in your bio, consider mentioning your own account (@yourhandle), or using an arrow to point to your avatar in the top left of your Story, both of which lead to your bio.
A CTA is a direct instruction for what you'd like your audience to do. Without an explicit CTA, your audience's default action will likely be to continue swiping to the next post. As a standard, you should always be looking to add a CTA, whether that’s on your Instagram captions or your Stories. Here are a few examples of CTAs you can use:
- Check out more pics at #yourcampaign
- Swipe up to scoop this product
- Tap now to snag XX% off
Links in Instagram Stories
You can also add links to your Instagram Story posts, driving users to your homepage, blog, product pages, or wherever you choose.
You can also leverage shopping in Instagram Stories to create clickable posts that drive your audience to purchase pages. Use the product stickers to show off the products in your Story. Your audience can tap to learn more and make a purchase.
Instagram also recently announced plans to incorporate shopping into its Explore tab. The Explore tab is where Instagram users go to discover new content and accounts, curated to match their interests, hashtags, and in-app behavior. This can put your products in front of audiences who don’t even follow your account.
Remember that you only have your audience’s attention for brief moments, so when you want them to take a specific action, be direct.
6. Curate Stories into Highlights
Stories might have a short shelf life but they can live on as Story Highlights that you can pin to your profile. These Highlights are made up of Stories you can curate under specific themes and title in meaningful ways.
You can use Highlights to:
- Create trailers for your account
- Show off your customers
- Showcase product features
- Directly address new Instagram followers with a pitch about your content and account (you can label it “Start here”)
- Advertise a sale
7. Run Instagram Story ads
If you’re looking to bring even more attention to your Instagram account, creating Story ads is the best way to do so.
Story ads are photos, videos, or graphics that promote your brand and its products or services. They appear between organic Stories and can be a single image or video or take up multiple frames.
Here’s an example of a Story ad by Papaya Reusables:
While you can use your Stories for anything—behind-the-scenes videos, educational graphics, links to blog content—your Story ads should be created with a specific goal in mind. This might be to increase followers or to make a sale.
What’s your experience with Instagram Stories?
Are you using stories as part of your Instagram strategy? What’s your experience been so far? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Instagram Stories FAQ
How do you use Instagram Stories?
- Post regularly to get more engagement
- Show your face and behind-the-scenes content
- Use stickers
- Play games
- Run polls
- Send traffic to your business website
What are the features of Instagram Stories?
- Instagram stickers
- Shoppable features
Why are Instagram Stories better than Snapchat?
Instagram Stories are more interactive and sophisticated than Snapchat. You can add text, captions, and GIFs to videos and photos. They regularly add new features such as face filters and shoppable stickers so you can sell stuff on Instagram.