The Complete Guide to Instagram Stories

Smartphone showcasing Instagram Stories
Smartphone showcasing Instagram Stories

Brands who are familiar with the Instagram app will no doubt also be familiar with Instagram Stories (also known colloquially as IG Stories). 

Since the boom of Snapchat, video marketing has slowly but surely become a fundamental aspect of any truly great social media marketing strategy. More importantly, the use of Stories and vertical video across social media has rapidly increased with brands aiming to create engaging and interactive content. This is evident in the advent of YouTube Stories and Facebook Stories as well as the popularity of TikTok, although none match the scale of Instagram Stories in terms of marketing prowess. However, IG Stories are much more than just a tool for video marketing.

Why Instagram Stories? 

Instagram has over a billion monthly active users, 86.6% of whom post stories daily. This creates huge potential for brands looking to get their content out to the masses. According to a study conducted by Instagram, 39% of respondents are more interested in a brand/product after watching an Instagram story that features it. In addition, over a third of the most-viewed Stories are from businesses. Consumers don’t just look at them either; 15–25% of them swipe up on a link within a brand’s story. 

This goes to show that Instagram Stories can be a powerful selling tool for brands looking to expand beyond increasing their visibility on the app. 

Worldwide Daily Active Users of Instagram Stories, Whatsapp Status, Facebook Stories and Snapchat from 2015 to 2019

What are Instagram Stories?

Instagram Stories are photos and videos posted by Instagram accounts that disappear after 24 hours. These posts live in the account’s archives after they expire. They may also be hosted on the user's profile page as a Highlight with a customizable thumbnail image. Because of their short lifespan and the added functions within the feature (i.e., stickers, polls, GIFs, etc.), they can come across as more authentic and engaging to viewers. 

Stories live in a bar on top of your Instagram feed, and new posts are indicated by a colorful ring around a user’s profile photo. This content appears in full-screen once clicked and will play automatically in chronological order. Unlike Instagram posts, users are not able to like or publicly comment on a story, although private comments and reactions can be made via Instagram Direct. Interactions made on the feature, such as replies to questions and polls, however, can be publicly shared. Stories themselves can be shared by followers of an account and if a user has allowed it in their settings. You can also see who has viewed your Instagram Story in the bottom left corner of your screen.

How to create Instagram Stories

Now that you understand the what Instagram Stories are, let’s walk through how to use them:

The basics:

  • Instagram Story Dimensions: they have an optimal resolution of 1080x1920, although there is an approximate safety zone (minus your profile icon and the messaging bar) of around 1080x1400.
  • Instagram Story Size: video files should be under 4GB.
  • Instagram Story Length: under 15 seconds per post, although long videos will automatically be split into 15-second snippets once uploaded.

How to add to Instagram Stories:

  • Upload a photo or video from your phone — you may add multiple photos to a single Instagram Story by including them as a sticker. Otherwise, selecting multiple photos from your camera roll results in them being posted sequentially.
  • Taking a photo or video on Instagram Stories — to record a video or take a photo, click on the white circle at the bottom of the screen. You may toggle between different filters and functions (such as hands-free or boomerang) at the bottom of the screen. 
  • Reposting another story or feed post — you may repost stories and posts from other accounts that have allowed this in their settings. Reposted stories and posts appear as a sticker on your story. 
The image sticker allows you to post multiple photos within the same Story. Top left from L to R: download Story, Story filters, links, stickers, drawings, and text.

Regardless of how you choose to add to Instagram Stories, you are able to add text, drawings, stickers, gifs, filters, links, and even music (depending on your locale) to your stories. Simply toggle between them on the top left of your screen. 

How can brands use Instagram Stories? 

Instagram Stories are a great way for brands to engage with their audience and reiterate their brand image. They allow brands to work with influencers and other key opinion leaders, showcase their culture and employees in a relatable manner, or advertise their products and services.

Unique features on Instagram Stories

Most Instagram Stories features are available to all users, including:

Instagram Stories features: question stickers, giphy gifs, Memories function

  • Posts of photos and videos (within 15 seconds in length)
  • Live video streaming
  • Instagram Stories Highlights on your profile page, what are collections of stories available even after expiration
  • Stickers, gifs, polls, live chats, questions, emoji sliders, and other interactive functions
  • AR filters
  • Account mentions and location tags

However, if you’re on a business account, there are a few additional features you can tap into: 

Madewell's Instagram Stories ad features shoppable products

  • Shoppable product stickers
  • ‘Swipe Up’ feature, which allows you to add links to your Stories — but only if you have over 10k followers!
  • Advertisements on Instagram Stories — accessible via Facebook’s Ads Manager 

Making full use of Instagram Stories

If you’re wondering how brands come up with beautiful, consistent Instagram Stories time after time, look no further than Instagram Story templates. Brands often use templates to beautify their Instagram Story backgrounds and introduce branded elements and fonts. Looking to create your own templates? Here are some useful apps you can consider:

Instagram Stories template creation app Over allows users to choose from multiple types of Stories layouts

Marketers can also simplify their Instagram marketing with tools that can help them to schedule their Instagram Stories. Some tools that offer this include: 

Examples of what can brands post on Instagram Stories

Behind-the-Scenes Footage

This is one of the best ways for brands to showcase their products and personnel without coming across as too pushy. Behind-the-scenes footage can come in the form of:

  • Showing how your product is made and used in an informal or candid setting
  • Sharing tips and tricks on topics within your brand’s expertise (e.g. styling advice, marketing how-tos, or even addressing commonly asked questions via the Questions or Polls sticker)
  • Event coverage and highlights
  • Giving an office tour or involving your staff through an Instagram takeover
  • Utilizing stories about you: with an ‘Add to Story’ button now available, you can repost stories from your followers that mention or showcase your brand and products
@amazonthedrop asks its followers a question on Instagram Stories

Ads and Promotions

One of the more straightforward means of using Instagram Stories involves publishing ads or promotions on the platform. The key part of running stories ads is creating the ad creative — the image or video itself. If you post your usual Instagram “feed” content on stories, the ads will likely look out of place. You want to create posts formatted with a vertical screen in mind. This will help to make your content look native to audiences on the app. 

Spotify and Starbucks collaborate on a series of ads featuring artists such as Lady Gaga, Chance the Rapper and Metallica

In the case of Instagram Stories, shorter is in fact better. The best performing story ads tend to be 1.3 seconds shorter per scene than lower-performing ads. As such, you should avoid jamming your ad full of information — stick to short phrases, eye-catching visuals, and a strong call-to-action instead.

Influencers

Influencer marketing shouldn’t end with just sponsored feed posts. Influencers can publish short reviews for you, answer questions, showcase behind-the-scenes footage, take over your account, launch exclusive collaborations, or appear in your ads — all from Instagram Stories!

Everlane works with fashion influencer @himichelleli on a brand takeover

Influencer campaigns can also help lead interested users directly to a product page. For example, major fashion label Michael Kors made use of New York Fashion Week to invite different influencers to model their clothing. These influencers were photographed roaming the streets of New York City in their outfits, which the brand then added to their Stories.

Michael Kors features famous influencers in their brand ad for NYFW

Michael Kors’ Instagram Stories ads featuring prominent influencers

A built-in link directed subscribers to the brand’s website, where they could purchase the outfit worn by each influencer.

Consumer engagement

Brands should make full use of Instagram’s roster of features to drive engagement. A story differs from other social media offerings for one main reason — it offers the opportunity for real-time interaction. From countdowns to questions, stories offer brands the opportunity to connect with Instagram users on a daily basis. 

Emoji sliders, question stickers, polls, quizzes, and a live chat room all provide the opportunity for Instagram users to express their opinions and learn from your content. Brands, of course, have control over what questions they want to ask or have users vote on, which means that they can use them to create greater anticipation around an upcoming event or product launch. 

In addition, brands should never forget to geotag their posts (say, when showcasing an event) so that their work is discoverable in the feed of that particular location. They should also add relevant hashtags to their posts for the same reason. However, brands should be careful not to overload their content with hashtags so that their taxonomy remains effective.

 

Lush Cosmetics' series of quizzes on the composition of their products

HubSpot uses Instagram Stories to direct users to their content

Of course, these are just the evergreen features within Instagram Stories. The Instagram app often incorporates new features to match the movements and initiatives they support. An example of this is the Stay Home sticker which encourages users to abide by social distancing measures and the rainbow ring around stories in support of Pride Month. 

Notably, the app also has many new features that help support businesses in the wake of COVID-19. This includes stickers and profile features that allow users to purchase gift cards or order food from selected businesses, and stickers that allow users to showcase their support for small businesses. 

Instagram's 'Support Small Businesses' sticker

Users can buy Little Lemon's gift cards from their profile or Stories

Promoting good content

Instagram Stories can be a great platform for brands looking to repurpose their top-performing content. The scrollable nature of Stories means they can act as a vehicle for page-by-page content, much like Instagram’s carousel posts. Blog posts, infographics, videos, FAQs, and other educational snippets are perfect for this medium. Brands should be careful not to include too many stories at once — users may get overwhelmed and skip them instead!

A great example of this is how news outlets utilize Instagram Stories. The New York Times often uses Stories as a means of showcasing the news in a more visual manner. 

The New York Times' story on how to reuse food scraps

Similarly, the Harvard Business Review also uses Instagram Stories to showcase top tips and summaries gleaned from their articles. On their Instagram page, their link in bio connects their Instagram posts and Stories directly to the corresponding articles on their site. 

The Harvard Business review uses Stories to educate users on burnout

What next?

By now, we’ve fully espoused why Instagram Stories are a great way for brands to make full use of their existing Instagram audience and to connect with potential customers. However, posting content is only one half of the equation. Marketers must prove that their efforts lead to tangible results. This is especially important in the case of influencer campaigns, which can last for an extended period of time and involve multiple influencers and accounts.

Beyond viewing reach and engagement numbers, how else can they calculate their success? Besides, don’t Instagram Stories expire after 24 hours?

With more data going private and ephemeral content not lasting more than a day, measuring Stories’ campaigns meant that brands had to manually check their influencers’ Stories. This is time-consuming and can be next to impossible if you have more than a handful of influencers to track. In addition, marketers have to be on top of their conversations with influencers to keep track of their work and requirements. 

Meltwater’s Social Influencer Tool integrates stories tracking to help marketers with their campaign and reporting needs. 

If an influencer with whom you collaborate mentions your brand or hashtag in their Story, you will be able to view the content of that Story even after the 24-hour limit and subsequently analyze their performance with indicators such as unique views and received messages.

To measure the performance of the Stories posted by influencers, they must have an Instagram Business account. The vast majority of influencers already have one. Otherwise, they can easily convert their Instagram account to a Business account by following these simple steps.

With Meltwater’s Social Influencer Tool, you can:

  • Discover the influencers that are already talking about you — our influencer search engine includes 500 million profiles so that you can find ones that fit your brand. Search for influencers by their influence score, niche, and much more.
  • Optimise your campaigns: A dedicated workflow to activate your chosen influencers. Get their contact information, manage your outreach and export data.
  • Measure results: Analyze the impact of your campaigns, follow updates from your influencers, and measure your ROI in real time.

Interested to find out more? Fill in our form at the bottom of this post!

Meltwater's Social Influencer tool snippet

In a nutshell

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with our complete guide to Instagram Stories, you’re more than ready to kickstart your Stories marketing campaign. 

Remember — Instagram Stories don’t have to be an echo of your posts. Experiment with different tools and functions to find the content type that best resonates with your audience. Don’t be afraid to trial and error — you’ll find the key to your success in no time! Looking for more tips and tricks for Instagram marketing? Check out our Marketer's Guide to Instagram.