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Instagram Stories 101 for Brands

Guest Author

February 23, 2021  •  10 min read

Here’s an analogy for you: Snapchat is Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and Instagram Stories is Whitney Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You.” Both made an impact, but one took the original idea and brought it to an even wider audience for social engagement.

It’s no secret that Instagram Stories was inspired by Snapchat, offering photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours and can be decorated with text, filters, stickers, and buttons.

What many didn’t see coming, however, is the success Instagram Stories has driven since it launched in August 2016. In just two years, the platform grew to a whopping 400 million daily users – double the amount of people who use Snapchat.

Brands are getting in on the action, too. They’re using Instagram Stories for marketing to publish behind-the-scenes content, live videos, influencer takeovers, product demonstrations, and innovative ad formats. Just look at the marketing for Instagram Stories from NASA:

Still not convinced of marketing in Instagram stories? Consider these stats: One-third of the most-viewed Instagram Stories are from businesses, and 39% of users have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it on Instagram Stories.

That’s why we’re serving up this Instagram Stories marketing & advertising 101 guide, including why Stories are so valuable, how brands can create them, and how to measure their success in driving social engagement.

Let’s take a look.

Why Instagram Stories Are So Valuable

Instagram Stories essentially doubles the creative potential of Instagram. So if brands aren’t using Stories to drive social engagement, they’re missing out on a huge part of what this platform has to offer.

Why? Because Stories complement the often glamorous, overly edited photos of Instagram feeds with more personal, inspiring, and insider content, as this Instagram study found:

For example, Cheerios uses Stories to give personalized shoutouts to its customers. Warby Parker created an interactive crossword puzzle. And J.Crew showed staffers wearing its new rose-colored glasses.

Stories also let businesses ramp up their posting frequency on the mobile app.

“[Before Stories,] the bar for what was ‘Instagram-worthy’ was so high that its users were starting to get intimidated,” Kurt Wagner wrote for Recode. “People don’t climb mountains, eat at fancy restaurants or take beautiful beach vacation photos every day. That meant people weren’t posting to Instagram every day, either.”

Now, with Stories, you can post multiple times a day, driving social engagement with as much spontaneous, real-time content you want without clogging your feed.

How to Create Instagram Stories

There are many elements that can go into each Instagram Story. Brands have the freedom to mix and match graphic, interactive, and dynamic features depending on what their content calls for and what their audience wants.

Here’s a taste of what you can choose from.

Photo and Video

Photos and videos will likely make up the meat of your Instagram Stories. Keep in mind that these will be full-screen, vertical media with an image ratio of 9:16 and 16:9 to 4:5. Instagram also recommends leaving roughly 14% (250 pixels) of the top and bottom of your image clear of text or logos since they’ll overlap with your Instagram profile icon.

Airbnb, for example, posts videos and photos of its Airbnb hosts and members, highlighting its rich community:

Text

Text can be added to your photos and videos in various formats, colors, and sizes. For instance, Instagram recommends playing around with the eyedropper tool, which can grab a color from anywhere in your Story and use it in your text.

Mentions

Mentions are just text that tags someone else’s account. This is a great tool for calling out loyal customers, influencers, and brand partners who might be involved in your campaign. Each time you tag someone, they will receive a Direct Message notifying them about their mention.

Hashtags

Hashtags tie your Instagram Stories to larger conversations on the app. You can create your own hashtag for a campaign or join an existing one. In the Explore section of the app, Instagram even compiles select posts with certain hashtags into a community Story, providing more opportunities for your content to be discovered.

Stickers

Stickers are some of the most versatile and diverse paraphernalia on Instagram Stories. They’re little, often-interactive graphics that you can pop into your Stories. For instance, location stickers geotag your Story (and potentially tie it to community Stories in the Explore section). There are also clock stickers, temperature stickers, GIF stickers, emoji stickers, and holiday-themed stickers.

The Q&A sticker and polling sticker also open doors for brands to drive social engagement, gather feedback, and learn more about their audience’s interests. A classic example is how the NBA and MLB used the polling sticker to ask fans which teams they were rooting for in big games:


Filters

As on Snapchat, brands can now create their own augmented reality filters for Instagram Stories. These are graphic overlays that map to your face and certain movements. Instagram has already launched its own filters like dog ears and sunglasses, as well as filters with brand and celebrity partners like Kylie Jenner, Ariana Grande, BuzzFeed, and the NBA.

Boomerangs

Boomerangs are quick videos that rewind and repeat in quick succession. It’s one of the most unique features on Instagram, and it provides fun opportunities to get creative with your Stories.

Live video

Just like YouTube and Facebook, Instagram has a livestreaming capability, and it exists within Instagram Stories. To start your own live video, swipe right on the app and tap “Start Live Video.” Once you go live, your followers will be notified that they’re streaming. And anyone can join in to watch, comment, and like the video. You can also replay the video on your Instagram Stories once it’s over, extending the lifetime and reach of your live content.

Brands might use Instagram live to host a product demonstration, go behind the scenes at an event, or do a live Q&A with an influencer.

Links

It’s tough to link to websites on Instagram. Regular posts don’t support links in captions, so people resort to putting them in their bios. But Instagram Stories are different. If you’re a verified user with over 10,000 followers, you have the option to include a link in your Stories. For users, this shows up as an invitation to “See More” and swipe up to visit a website, which opens right in the app.

Sephora, for instance, has multiple Instagram Stories featuring different products that users can swipe up to see on the brand’s website. From there, they can learn more about the product or purchase it – without even leaving Instagram.

Shopping

That’s not the only opportunity for driving e-commerce in Instagram Stories. The mobile app also has a Shopping feature on Instagram Stories that is now available to all businesses approved for shopping on Instagram. The Shopping feature invites brands to create product stickers, which users can tap on to visit a product details page of images, information, similar items, and a link to your website.

Here’s the example Instagram provided from retailer Madewell:


Reposts

You don’t always have to build your Instagram Stories from scratch. You can easily repost content from your feed by clicking the “Share” button and choosing “Add post to your story.” You can also share someone else’s Story with one click if they mention or tag you.

Brands can use these capabilities to feature content from their fans and followers. For instance, you might launch a contest and tell people to tag you into their Instagram Story submissions, and then repost the best entries.

How to Archive Instagram Stories

As of December 2017, Instagram users have been able to save Stories in the “Highlights” section of their profile, which sits below their bio. For brands, this provides a great opportunity to group successful or relevant Stories into Highlights that consumers can revisit and enjoy.

Betty Crocker, for example, has Highlights for dinner ideas, dessert ideas, and product sneak peeks. Walmart has Highlights for toys, monthly tips, and shopping lists from partner Ellen DeGeneres. And IBM has Highlights for various business verticals.

To add Stories to their Highlights, brands can click “+New” in the Highlights section or visit their Stories Archive, which automatically saves Stories after their 24-hour expiration period. Just click the Archive icon (which looks like a clock) on your profile to find your stored posts.

How to Launch Instagram Stories Ads

Instagram Stories ads are a valuable form of social advertising. They’re like regular Instagram Stories, but you can target them by reach, video views, traffic, conversions, app installs, and brand awareness. Instagram even provides this handy chart to see which content formats, buying options, and objectives are supported by Stories ads:

With Instagram Stories ads, you can also include a call to action at the bottom of your ad, such as Learn More, Shop Now, Sign Up, and Contact Us.

Overstock, for example, wanted to counter the narrative that they sold dated merchandise. So they launched Instagram Stories ads featuring modern, new items along with copy that helped reposition its image. Each ad also included a “Shop Now” call-to-action button that led to the Overstock.com website. The campaign was targeted to US women aged 25-54 and Instagram users who were interested in home décor and furniture.

As a result, the Instagram Stories ads delivered an 18% increase in return on ad spend, a 20% decrease in cost per acquisition, and a 20% decrease in cost per click.

Instagram also lets brands run carousel ads in Stories ads. These are ads that include up to three pieces of content – such as photos or videos – with one call to action. Gap, for instance, ran carousel video ads in Instagram Stories to promote its “Logo Remix” collection of clothes. The campaign drove a 17-point lift in ad recall and 73% higher click-through rate than their previous Instagram campaign.

How to Measure Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories naturally have different social engagement metrics than regular Instagram posts. Of course, they include your standard reach and impressions, but beyond that, Instagram Stories analytics are as unique as the format.

They include:

  • Replies: The number of Direct Messages you received from this Story.

  • Discovery: The number of people who saw your Story but don’t follow you. They may have discovered it through the Explore page or a share from a friend.

  • Impressions: The number of times your Story has been viewed.

  • Navigation:

Back: How many times people tapped back to see your previous Story.

Forward: How many times people tapped forward to go to your next Story. Although this may seem like a good interaction, too many taps forward is not a great sign because it might indicate that people were getting bored with your content and wanting to see what was next.

Next: How many times people swiped to see the account’s Story after yours.

Exited: How many people exited your Story by either going back to their regular Instagram feed or exiting the Instagram app.

  • Completion rate: You’ll need to calculate this yourself by dividing the number of people who viewed your last Story by the number of people you viewed your first Story. So if 70 people viewed your last Story and 100 people viewed your first Story, your completion was 70%.

  • Interactions: If your Stories include extra features like links, stickers, or polls, you can see a breakdown of who interacted with these and how they did.

To access your Instagram Stories metrics, click the Insights tab at the top of your business profile.

Driving Social Engagement with Instagram Stories

When it comes to driving social engagement, Instagram should be at the top of your list. It’s the fastest-growing social network, after all, and its fastest-growing feature is Instagram Stories.

With Instagram Stories, brands can tap into a whole new world of content on the mobile app – publishing real-time, authentic, behind-the-scenes posts that users have a major appetite for. They can also play around with fun and interactive formats like polls, filters, locations, and links that keep audiences invested and coming back for more.

So, if you’re ready to get dive in, this guide should provide the tools you need to start reaching those 400 million daily Instagram Stories users. And if that’s not enough, you can always listen to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Love You” a couple times. That’s sure to get anyone inspired.

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