If you want to grow your business using social media, Instagram is the place to be. It’s a great platform on which to build your audience and reach a lot of new customers, whether or not you have tons of followers.
The way to “win” Instagram? Consistently create and post content that has value.
But the content you publish shouldn’t be limited to your regular feed; you should also create content for Instagram Stories.
According to Instagram, 500 million+ brands use Stories every single day.
For those who don’t know, Instagram Stories are (editable) photos or videos that are posted by different accounts and vanish after 24 hours. Because Stories don’t appear in users’ regular Instagram feeds (they show up at the top), they’re a great tool for business owners to use whenever they feel like having something to post, without overwhelming their followers with content.
But with all these millions of brands on Instagram, how can you get your Stories to stand out?
In this post, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about creating engaging Stories AND best practices to help you get it done.
3 Rules to Get More Engagement from Instagram Stories
Before we get into the specifics of how and what to post, let’s talk about some key ingredients to include in every one of your Stories.
Social media expert Vanessa Lau has a method behind each of her Stories that helps her get more views and engagement from her audience. (If you’ve read some of our other blog posts, you know that we love her over here at Thrive!) According to her, you should focus on these 3 things:
- Key Takeaway
#1 Key Takeaway: Whenever you have an idea for a new Story, always immediately ask yourself: What’s the key takeaway of this post? How will it provide value to my followers?
For example: National Geographic uses Stories to educate their audience about conservation efforts being made around the world, and each one of their Stories is geared towards this goal.
Remember that your audience has to connect to your Stories in some way, or you’ll be just another brand crowding their Stories feed. So, think about key takeaways that will be valuable to your specific audience.
#2 Relatability: Once you understand what your key takeaway is, you need to find a way to let your audience know how it’s relevant to them. Relatability doesn’t mean you have to spell out in each post what you’re doing, but they should be able to connect the dots themselves.
Let’s take that same National Geographic Story about plastic in the ocean; they brought awareness to their audience about something that they may have already known but didn’t actively think about, ultimately driving them to take action. This brings us to #3:
#3 Call-to-Action (CTA): If you’ve managed to come up with a Story that has a relevant takeaway and gets your audience interested, they’ll be more likely to take action. Your job is to tell them which action to take.
Make sure the CTA is applicable to your post, so that there’s a natural transition between the Story you’re telling and the thing you want your audience to do.
“SwipeUp to take your pledge” directly follows an emotional appeal to choose the planet.
Without a CTA, your Stories are little more than pretty images/videos that your audience will click past. So, whether you ask your audience to visit a landing page, sign up for a newsletter, read a blog post or simply follow your account for more Stories like this, make sure to have the next step clearly laid out for them.
You can include CTAs in your Stories by:
- Creating Instagram Stories ads (they have built-in CTAs for you to choose from)
- Using Instagram Shopping if you sell products or goods
- Adding a “Swipe Up” link for accounts with 10,000 followers or more
- Simply adding text through the Stories interface that tells your followers to do something!
Now that you have the general idea behind your Stories down, here are some actionable steps to take in order to create Stories that look good, sound good, and appeal to your audience.
Tips and Tricks for Creating Powerful Instagram Stories
For those who don’t know, here’s how to access and make Instagram Stories:
- Go into Instagram, and click on the camera icon in the top left corner.
- Click on the white circle at the bottom of your screen to take a picture, hold the circle to record a video, or swipe your finger up to select visuals that you already made.
- Click on the images/videos you want to post, and use the icons on the top of the screen to add text, filters, stickers, locations, etc.
The beauty of the Story format is that you don’t have to be a professional photographer/videographer to start creating good content. In addition to Instagram’s built-in filters, various layouts and Create Mode, there are a ton of apps that can help you create gorgeous Stories, such as:
- StoryArt (easy-to-use preset templates + design effects)
- InShot (for video editing, adding music, etc.)
- Unfold (minimalist and elegant templates)
You can see here for a complete list.
(And, if you’re a Tailor Brands user, you can always use the design tool in your studio to easily create Stories that are on-brand!)
Now that that’s out of the way, check out this video for some key Stories best practices, or keep reading for an in-depth look at how it’s done.
General Story content tips
Get your message out there in the first 3 seconds: Pictures are worth a thousand words, but only if the viewer spends enough time looking at it. Stats from Facebook suggest that users scroll 41% faster through mobile feeds than desktop, so it’s super important to get your message across in just 3 seconds.
This might mean moving your most exciting or visually-appealing frame to the beginning of your Story, or having an image that’s clear to understand – and intriguing enough that your viewers will want to click through to the next one.
Nail down your brand identity: This is one of the key steps to getting your Story on Instagram’s “Explore” page (which is equivalent to seeing your brand on a social media billboard).
We talk a lot about why having a brand identity is important and how to make it happen, but the main takeaway is that it helps your audience start to recognize your brand before they even see your name!
Having a clear brand identity means using consistent:
- Colors (in line with your brand message)
- Fonts (not more than 2-3)
- Imagery (happy people, natural backgrounds, etc.)
You might want to create a brand style guide to make sure your brand identity is cohesive (especially if you have more than one person managing your social media accounts). And, if you’re using an app, it’s easier to stick with the same types of design templates and elements for a consistent look and feel.
Tell a story: They didn’t get the name “Stories” for nothing! The goal of your Stories (and really, all of your branding efforts!) should be to engage your audience’s emotions. This is the best way to hold their attention, and it’s also what will make them fall in love with your brand.
The best way to form emotional connections? Storytelling.
Your story could be about anything, whether the narrative of your brand or why you hold certain beliefs or values. Remember that National Geographic example we spoke about earlier? With just 3 images, they told a story about ocean pollution and what their viewers can do to help.
Use the Story format to your advantage; you can upload multiple images or videos in a row, and you’ll make a bigger impact on your audience if they’re waiting to hear what happens next.
Tag other accounts: Mentioning other accounts in your Stories is an awesome way to become part of an Instagram community.
You can collaborate with other brands who market to a similar audience to yours, or repost content from other accounts that is in line with your brand. The more you tag other accounts, the more other accounts are likely to tag you down the line (but make sure not to be spammy! Only tag accounts that are relevant to your actual Story.)
This is also a great opportunity to use UGC – User-Generated Content – by featuring users wearing/using your products, talking about your brand, or doing cool things that are related to your niche.
Not only will your audience enjoy this (who doesn’t love being featured?) but it’s a great way to spread brand awareness. Chances are, if you tag your users in a Story, they’ll repost the Story to their own feed for all their followers to see.
Let it be organic: As business-owners-turned-content-creators, most of us have the tendency to overthink every single thing we post. And, while it’s important to have a content strategy for our actual social media/Instagram feeds, Stories can be more natural.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and be authentic. Stories with a “DIY look” (which, let’s be honest, most of us will find easier to create) actually have a 63% chance of driving higher conversion rates at purchase and checkout, so you have a ton of room to experiment with the type of content you create and how you engage your audience.
However, remember that above all, your Stories should still provide value. We’re not talking about posting every random thought that comes to your head.
Instead, upload posts that are directly related to your business or niche, an interesting idea or thought you had, a product you’re excited to launch, a fact in your industry that your audience might not know – the opportunities are endless.
Focus on speed: Trust us when we say your viewers’ attention will easily get diverted.
Single images are displayed for 5 seconds on Stories, so it’s important to try and show multiple scenes at a time in order to keep viewers’ attention. Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to mean a lot of work for you; you can keep the same image but have the background color change, or change the angle of the image of a product shot, etc.
Take this Story from TopShop Canada, where they cycle through a bunch of shots all featuring the same pair of jeans in different locations/scenarios:
Shoot videos on your camera app: Again, you don’t need to be a professional videographer to create cool videos. Chances are, your smartphone comes with a pretty high-level camera, and it’s better to shoot outside of the Instagram app so you can better control the exposure and focus.
Here’s what else you need to know about Story videos:
- Instagram Stories are consumed vertically, so make sure to flip that camera when you’re shooting.
- Instagram only allows for 15-second clips before splitting up your video. You can use this to your advantage by creating 15-second teasers for a product or service you’re releasing; or, tell more of a “long-form” Story by splitting it up into 15-second chunks. (Again, shooting videos on your camera app – as opposed to within Instagram – will make it easier to do several takes until you get your Story exactly right.)
- The maximum video duration for ads is 120 seconds instead of 15 (but viewers can choose to click past, so make sure it’s engaging if you’re going for a long video).
Pay attention to size and spacing.
The two main things to know here are:
- The recommended aspect ratio is 9:16
- Don’t add text/logos/images to the top and bottom 250 pixels of your Story; i.e. leave around 14% of space on both ends, so it doesn’t overlap with Instagram’s interface.
Don’t forget to use sound. More than half of Instagram viewers watch Stories with the sound on. This means you have an opportunity to add an extra level of engagement, whether through putting simple music on in the background of photos or having people talk directly to your audience in videos.
And, like we mentioned above, apps like InShot will help you add music and sound to your video. Of course, if you have audio equipment – use it! You can hook up an external microphone to improve the video’s quality, or plug your microphone into an adapter that hooks up to your phone.
You can also add music to your Story simply by using the music sticker. On that note:
Add stickers: While not a must, stickers are a fun Instagram addition that also give you a lot of extra opportunities to create stand-out Stories.
The main stickers to be aware of are:
- Hashtags and locations – help you increase your reach and make your content discoverable to a wider audience. (You can learn how to choose great Instagram hashtags here.)
- Gifs, emojis, and music – add to the aesthetic of your post
- Polls, questions, and countdowns – encourage your audience to engage and respond
Here’s how to add stickers to your Stories:
- Upload a photo or video to your Story.
- Look at the top of your screen and tap the square, smiling icon with the folded corner.
- Choose the sticker type you’re looking for!
Stickers are a language of their own, so try to play around and experiment to get the lay of the land before you start using them regularly.
Bonus: Create highlights: Guess what? Even though Stories disappear after 24 hours, you can keep yours on your Instagram profile forever.
All you have to do is create highlights. This is a great place to keep your best content, and Stories that got excellent engagement. You can separate each highlight based on subject matter, and add as many Stories as you want (including new ones as you keep posting).
Here’s how to create Instagram Stories highlights:
- Open the Story
- On the bottom right corner, click the heart icon (over where it says “Highlight”)
- Either click an existing highlight to immediately add the Story, or create a new one by tapping “New”.
Over to You
You now have everything you need to start posting Stories on Instagram! Have you tried any of these tips and tricks, or posted a Story that went over really well with your audience? Let us know in the comments below 🙂