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Trying to figure out the hype behind Instagram Stories?

While Stories began as a trend to compete with Snapchat, they’ve evolved into one of the most popular features of social media at large.

And the sooner you understand the power of Stories, the faster you can grow your Instagram presence. It’s no coincidence that the top 25% of brands publish Instagram Stories every other day.

If you’re afraid you’ve missed the boat on Stories or don’t quite understand them, don’t sweat it. 

This quick primer will break down the basics of how to use Instagram Stories to boost your audience engagement.

What Are Instagram Stories?

Instagram Stories are a publishing option for photos and bite-sized videos that stay active on your account for 24 hours. Content published as Stories is presented as a series of frames. Stories are confined to a feed that is separate from the rest of your Instagram content.

What Are Instagram Stories

There are loads of unique, interactive elements baked into Instagram Stories, allowing businesses to produce engaging, playful content. These features include custom text, .GIFs, stickers, and more.

Stickers for Instagram Stories

You can access your Story camera directly from your Home feed or upload existing content from your camera roll into Stories. From behind-the-scenes snapshots to exclusive offers and more, Stories provide a ton of creative freedom to brands looking to publish engaging content beyond their main feed.

Why Instagram Stories Are So Important For Brands

At a glance, Stories might not feel like a big deal. Heck, they may seem downright confusing. 

Why put so much effort into a piece of content that “disappears” after a day? 

In short, social marketers  realized that consumers are naturally attracted to time-sensitive, ephemeral content. This sort of content gets buzz from its “FOMO factor,” enticing Instagram users to click-through or else miss out on a post forever.

The numbers don’t lie when it comes to both the popularity and impact of Instagram Stories as over half a billion are published daily.

According to Instagram themselves, one-third of the most-viewed Stories come from businesses. Meanwhile, their data also notes that one-in-five Stories result in a direct message from users. 

Below are some of the main reasons why Stories are so valuable and drive so much engagement.

Stories Allow You to “Skip the Line” and Increase Your Brands Visibility

The Instagram algorithm is becoming more competitive by the day, resulting in many brands’ content getting buried.

But consider that Instagram Stories boast an average reach rate of 9% (for accounts with less than 10,000 followers). This is a massive boost compared to what even the most popular accounts get see in their Instagram feed.

Note that each time you post an Instagram Story, you essentially climb to the front page of your followers’ feeds. Accounts with an active Story are denoted by the pink ring on their profile picture.

Instagram Stories Feed at the top of the home feed

Increased visibility from Stories means more eyes on your account and in-feed content. Especially if your fans are following hundreds or thousands of accounts, Stories are arguably the best way to keep yourself fresh in the minds of your target audience.

Stories Encourage You to Go Back-and-Forth with Your Followers

Stories are interactive by nature. Many brands use them as a space to pick their followers’ brains and provide timely updates. For example, a restaurant might use Stories to announce their holiday hours or poll followers on their favorite dishes.

Coupled with Instagram stories stickers and calls-to-action, you have a laid-back channel where you can talk to your most engaged followers directly.

Increasing engagement with Instagram Stories
How to engage with your audience through Instagram Stories

Stories Don’t Need to be Polished or Optimized

Unlike in-feed content which forces you to agonize over every detail and hashtag, Stories are typically unpolished and off-the-cuff. For example, a simple smartphone snapshot or video is totally fair game as the basis for your Story. This is great news if you’re a small business or a brand on a shoestring budget.

Instagram Stories show behind the scenes
Instagram Stories show an authentic behind the scenes photoshoot

9 Tips and Best Practices for Growing with Instagram Stories

Whether you’re totally new to Stories or just want to tune up your content strategy, below are nine tips to get you going as you make your way around the platform.

1. Make a Point to Publish Stories Frequently

No surprises here. Consistency counts when it comes to Instagram and Stories are no exception. Publishing content regularly not only gives you more chances to engage with followers but also gives them something to look forward to day after day.

The advantage of Instagram Stories is that you can publish more than once per day without having to worry much about spamming your followers or filling up their feeds. 

The possibilities are seemingly endless when it comes to Stories content, meaning you have plenty of freedom and flexibility to meet your publishing quota. Below are some examples of ideas for Instagram Stories that you can brainstorm alongside your current content calendar:

  • How-to’s and tutorials
  • Q&As and “Question of the Day” posts
  • Announcements, teasers, and previews
  • Customer photos and success stories
  • Contests (see below)
  • Memes and image macros
  • Behind-the-scenes photos of your business
  • Employee photos and “day-in-the-life” posts
Publish Instagram Stories Frequently

2. Couple Your Stories with Opportunities to Engage (Stickers, CTAs)

Scoring engagement is a huge potential upside of using Instagram Stories, but garnering reactions definitely doesn’t happen by accident.

If greater social engagement is your end-game, test-drive these tactics:

  • Ask questions (ideally using the Questions sticker as seen below)
  • Include some sort of call-to-action (“Link in bio” or a Story links)
  • Incorporate elements such as a poll sticker or slider to give users something to tap through
Instagram Stories Questions Sticker
Using a Call to Action on your Instagram Stories

The idea here is simple: by encouraging engagement, you get people to stick around on your Stories longer. If you ask meaningful questions or publish thought-provoking or eye-popping content, that engagement is more likely to leave a lasting impression.

3. Show Off User-Generated Content and Customer Photos

Stories are a prime place to both gather and publish user-generated content without worrying about overwhelming your main feed with it.

For example, you can explore tagged posts or users that shout-out your hashtag to find people to feature through your Instagram Stories. Plenty of ecommerce brands have a dedicated Stories feed just for UGC:

Use Instagram Stories to Share User-Generated Content

Beyond photos, you can also use Instagram Stories to promote your customer testimonials or positive reviews.

Use Instagram Stories to share customer testimonials
Instagram Highlights Testimonials

Promoting UGC lets customers know that you’re willing to show them some love. This can also help you attract brand advocates and influencers who might be interested in working together or get featured in your feed.

4. Strive to Make Your Stories as Human as Possible

Much of the appeal of Instagram Stories is that they often feel less polished or promotional than a traditional post.

In other words, Stories are your opportunities to present the human side of your brand. That’s perhaps why so many Stories feature customers and employees rather than a lifeless product photo. 

Remember: not every story needs to be perfect. In fact, off-the-cuff and “straight from my smartphone” vibes are arguably better for Stories content.

Make your Instagram Stories as authentic as possible

5. Save Your Best Content for Later with Stories Highlights 

Keep in mind that Instagram allows you to create Stories Highlights. These are saved Stories that remain static on your profile for people to check out later.

Use Instagram Highlights for your Stories

Highlights are ideal for high-effort Stories or events (like an Instagram Live video) that you don’t want to disappear. You can also create different “buckets” for your saved Stories so you can stick to regular themes. For example, a food brand might publish recipes on Mondays, tips on Tuesdays, and follower photos on Wednesdays. Having these themes in mind can help you stay consistent.

6. Use Stories to Hype Up Your Latest Feed Posts (and Vice-Versa)

Let’s say you have a new in-feed post or campaign that you want to put front-and-center for your followers. Rather than hope it gets picked up by the algorithm, you can use Instagram Stories to create a sense of hype. “New Post” stickers are popular among brands and influencers to point followers to fresh content.

Instagram Stories GIF stickers

And on the flip side, don’t be afraid to occasionally remind followers to check out your Stories through posts in your main feed. 

7. Publish Exclusive Content, Offers, and Announcements

Again, don’t forget the power of FOMO.

Many eCommerce brands use Stories as a space for exclusive offers, deals, and product drops. Periodically posting promotions and discounts specific to Stories gives your followers all the more reason to check-in regularly. Want to post a daily deal or flash sale? Stories are the perfect place to do so.

7. Publish Exclusive Content, Offers, and Announcements

Again, don’t forget the power of FOMO.

Many eCommerce brands use Stories as a space for exclusive offers, deals, and product drops. Periodically posting promotions and discounts specific to Stories gives your followers all the more reason to check-in regularly. Want to post a daily deal or flash sale? Stories are the perfect place to do so.

Use Instagram Stories Swipe Up for exclusive deals
Instagram Stories Swipe Up

8. Put Your Brand’s Trademark on Your Stories

If you want to level up the visuals of your Stories beyond Instagram’s default features, go for it. Consider using a third-party design app like Canva or Crello to create Stories templates that you can customize with your brand’s color scheme and creatives. In addition to visuals, make sure your Stories communicate your brand voice and don’t feel identical to your competitors’ posts.

9. Get Featured in Instagram Stories Other Than Your Own

As a long-term strategy, start thinking about steps you can take to get your brand features in the Stories of your fans, followers, and other brand advocates.

For example, Stories are the bread and butter of Instagram influencers. It’s common for influencers to shout-out promos and discount codes on behalf of brands.

Getting mentioned in Instagram Stories

And given the sky-high level of engagement for influencer accounts and Stories alike, running promos through influencer Stories is a brilliant move for up-and-coming companies. 

Is Your Brand Taking Full Advantage of Instagram Stories?

If you want to maximize your reach and amplify your brand’s presence on Instagram, Stories can do the trick. Despite popular belief, it’s not too late to get on board. The tips above can help you build a foundation of Instagram Stories content to keep your followers engaged for the long-term.