What are instagram stories

January 18, 2021

Instagram has been an exceedingly popular platform for the past five years, skyrocketing to popularity ever since it was acquired by Facebook. One of the reasons it’s stayed so popular is its dedication to evolve as a platform, offering new features to keep users engaged.

Instagram Stories was one of those new features a few years back, and it’s become a central part of the platform today. It’s not uncommon to hear people talking about Stories, and for these short, disappearing images and videos to be a crucial part of a brand’s social media marketing strategy.

In this post, we’re going to look at everything you need to know about Instagram Stories, including why you should be using them for your clients’ campaigns, how to create them, and best practices to drive results. 

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What are Instagram Stories?  

Stories are vertical, full-screen, mobile-friendly content on Instagram. Still images will show up for five seconds (or longer if the user holds their finger down on the screen to pause), and videos can be up to 15 seconds long. They can be interactive, thanks to clickable Stickers, prompts to click a link, and prompts to message the poster. 

IG stories example

When you open Instagram’s app or desktop site, the Stories are the first thing that you’ll likely notice. They appear at the top of your feed. After the user clicks to view one, they’ll see the others one after another. Recency is a big factor that determines what order you see content in, with Instagram's algorithm showing you content that you're most likely to respond to first and pushing stories with more than 50 views first, and everything else in reverse chronological order. 

IG stories up top

Twenty-four hours after the Stories were first posted, they’ll disappear completely. 

Why Instagram Stories Are So Important 

Instagram Stories should be an important part of your social marketing strategy for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • It’s an incredibly popular feature. Over 500 million people currently use Stories daily, and one-third of the most frequently viewed Stories come from businesses. There’s a massive audience to reach here. 
  • There are powerful shopping features. Shoppable Stories are an enormous asset to E-Commerce businesses, as you can tag products in the Stories themselves. Users can click on the image, see a product’s information, and purchase it right within the app. 
  • The potential for engagement is high. One study found that 62% of users said they became more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in their Stories. They can also help you attract new Instagram followers
  • They’re interactive. Stickers allow you to interact with your viewers in a number of ways, including by asking them questions, allowing them to ask you questions, and having them weigh in on a poll. They can generate discussion as a result. 
  • There’s an urgency to Stories. When people need to either watch now or forever hold their peace (or at least not see the content), there’s an urgency to not miss a single thing. This can keep users hooked on what you have to say.
  • What Should I Feature in My Instagram Stories? 

    Part of the beauty of Instagram Stories is that they’re versatile, making them a great place to feature different types of content.

    We believe that the following are typically the strongest use cases for the Stories feature:

  • Showcase events. Do you have an in-store event happening? Sharing content showing everyone excited to be there is a great choice. It can cause other users to want to participate and show the value of what you offer.  You can also share information about events and provide links for registration.
  • Instagram Stories Events
  • Share user-generated content. UGC is the most valuable marketing medium you could possibly have, and featuring it in your Stories is a great way to maximise its visibility. Always tag the user who shared the original post, and try to encourage other users to share their own, too. 
  • IG Stories UGC
  • Make brand or product announcements. Do you have a big sale coming up, or a new product launch? Are you moving offices, or expanding your service line? Stories is a great way to not only announce this information, but to tease it a few days in advance, too.  If you’re trying to push products, make sure that you’re using Instagram’s shoppable features.
  • Make brand or product announcements
  • Offer exclusive, behind-the-scenes content. Everyone loves getting a look behind the brands that they follow. It creates a human element, which allows for rapport building. Examples might include sneak peeks of a new product, “how it’s made” videos, or content of your employees. 
  • Offer exclusive, behind-the-scenes content
  • Q&A Sessions. You can have your team answering questions submitted by users, which is now easier than ever thanks to the Questions sticker. These can be live or pre-recorded, and they can be exceptionally valuable.
  • Q&A Session IG Stories
  • Go live. Live video is immensely popular across all platforms. Your followers will get a notification when you go live, and they can respond and send messages in real time for everyone to read. While Facebook Live will be the focus of many brands, taking some time to test out the feature on Instagram is a great choice. Once the live is over, it can be saved to your camera roll and played back as Stories broken into bite-sized segments.  
  • How to Create Instagram Stories 

    The simplest way to create Instagram Stories is to go to the mobile app and click on your profile picture near the story section. 

    Profile section IG Stories

    This will open up the full-screen Story creator. Here, you can take a picture or video with the in-app camera, create a text-based Story, select a picture or video from your camera roll, create a Boomerang, and more. 

    full-screen Story creator

    Once you have an image or video selected, it’s time to get creative. You can add text, emojis, and gifs. You can draw directly onto the Story with your finger. There's also the option to add Stickers to your story. 

    ig stories stickers

    Stickers can simply be a flashing gif that encourages viewers to turn their sound on, but they can also add layers of interactivity to the post. 

    IG stories stickers

    You can mention certain users, feature a clickable hashtag or location, take a poll, encourage donations, or even add music to the background.

    How to use polls on Instagram Stories

    Once you do this, you can hit “send” on your Story to publish it.

    Creating Stories with Third Party Apps

    Some businesses will choose to create Stories with third-party apps. While you can’t add Stickers to Stories with third party design tools, you can do just about everything else, which can save you a significant amount of time. 

    Third-party apps also allow you to create higher-quality, professional looking designs. This is particularly important for Instagram Stories Ads, but it can make a good impression on your followers, too.

    Design platforms like Snappa (pictured below) and Canva have dozens of templates for Stories that you can fully customise. They’ll be the exact right dimensions, and allow you to add your own images and graphics to the designs, along with plenty of their own stock photos, design elements, and graphics.

    Creating Stories with Third Party Apps

    Scheduling Instagram Stories with Third-Party Apps 

    There are some exceptional tools out there that allow businesses to plan, design, and schedule Instagram Stories from a single dashboard on their desktop. For many business marketers (especially social media managers who are working with multiple clients!), this is a huge asset.

    Later is a great example. Their tool allows you to bulk upload Stories images to their dashboard, organise it like a storyboard, and to schedule the content for publication. 

    Scheduling Instagram Stories with Third-Party Apps 

    These Stories will be sent to your phone automatically, and you’ll receive a notification when it’s time to post. You can quickly add any final touches via Stickers in-app, and up they go. 

    How to Monitor Instagram Stories Progress 

    All businesses and marketers should always keep a close eye on their content’s performance, as it can help you see what’s working and optimise your content in the future.

    Fortunately, all Instagram business accounts and creator accounts have access to free, native, on-platform analytics. To access your Stories, go to your Insights, and then scroll down to see your Stories.

    Monitor Instagram Stories Progress 

    You can view all the Stories that you’ve published in the last 14 days, and see which were your top performers based on a number of different qualifications, including the following:

  • Reach
  • Scroll backs
  • Call button taps
  • Email button taps
  • Exited
  • Follows
  • Next story
  • Get direction taps
  • Impressions
  • Link clicks 
  • This information can help you see which Stories were most useful at driving actions like link clicks or phone calls, and which drove users to scroll away quickly. All of these are important parts of the marketing puzzle. 

    Instagram Stories Best Practices 

    Instagram Stories are clearly a huge part of the platform and an excellent pathway to connect with your target audience frequently. In order to see strong results, however, it goes without saying that following a few strategic best practices can help.

    We recommend following these Stories best practices to get the most out of your Stories. 

    Create highlights

    Highlights allow you to showcase your Stories long after those 24 hours are up. You can have different themed groups on your profile where you feature what are essentially archived Stories that users can view at any time. 

    Create highlights

    Look for common themes in your Stories. Do you regularly feature UGC, product announcements, Q&As with guests, and live events? These could each be their own individual Highlights, allowing your Stories to live on beyond their otherwise-short expiration date.

    To get the most out of your Highlights, make sure that you’re choosing strong images for each; this can increase clicks and views dramatically. 

    Tag users when relevant

    Did you know that users can share your Story, as long as you have a public account? This is an outstanding opportunity for increased visibility with an added bonus of UGC tossed in.

    You can use the Mention sticker to tag users when relevant. This may include thanking an industry influencer for helping with a Q&A, or thanking users for sharing their outstanding UGC. 

    Tag users when relevant

    If anyone ever mentions your brand, you’ll receive a notification in your message inbox. If their account is public, you can share this, too. 

    Keep them creative

    Stories should always be visually stunning, whether they’re an image or a video. Creativity is going to be best here, and quirkiness is okay, too. Choose bright, bold colors, draw right onto the image, and always add text for context if needed. 

    Keep them creative

    Always include a relevant link 

    Instagram accounts with over 10,000 followers or verified business accounts can add links to their Stories. If you have this feature, use it.

    Always include a relevant link 

    Links can and should direct users to your home page, key landing pages, and any other relevant information they need. This is an outstanding way to promote blog posts and lead magnets that are otherwise difficult to drive clicks to on Instagram, where your only other link is in your profile bio. 

    Consider expanding into Stories Ads for more reach

    Loving Stories and want to reach new users who aren’t already following you at a rapid pace? Consider branching out into paid Instagram Stories, which is part of Facebook’s ad platform. 

    Stories ads are relatively affordable, typically costing less than in-feed placements, and they come with the advantage of dominating a user’s attention as they take up the full screen. 

    Final Thoughts

    Instagram Stories are a big deal. They’re a focal point of the platform, and even though the content disappears after only 24 hours (minus highlights), campaigns that regularly utilize Stories content can see a major impact long-term. 

    All businesses and social media marketers should be using Instagram Stories at least twice per week, with many brands even using the platform daily. Remember to test different content to see what works, and adapt accordingly. 

    Want to learn more about how you can excel with social media marketing? Social Media College offers a number of different in-depth courses to prepare you for a career in social media marketing. Take our quiz to find out which course is right for you. 

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    About the author 

    Ana Gotter

    Ana is a strategic content marketer specialising in business, finance, and marketing writing, though she's worked across a range of industries. She works from her home in Orlando with her three dogs.

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