Hands-on guide to Instagram Stories for companies: content formats, style advice, advertising options + 25 practical examples
Stories are the cream of the social media crop – they are personal, allow consuming maximum amount of content with minimum attention and satisfy humans’ natural inquisitiveness and slight voyeuristic inclination at the same time. Whether or not your business is using Instagram yet, it’s not too late to jump on the Stories bandwagon.
Stories are drawing huge audiences daily, are easy to produce and consume, so let’s take a deep dive into the format and survey all aspects of the emerging giant up close.
We’ve arranged all the sections of the post pyramid-style, so that everything you need to know to fully take advantage of each next section is laid out in the sections prior to it. Go from basics to advanced in 20 minutes or skip the parts you already know to focus on bare-bone essentials:
A. Why use Instagram Stories
Stories sharing is set to surpass feed posts volume this year, but if you need more arguments before investing your time and resources in your company’s Story game, we’ve got you covered!
Stories are the future
Instagram Stories at a glance:
- 400 million daily users
- Built-in sense of urgency (disappear after 24 hours)
- Easy to produce and consume
- Low content fatigue
Instagram Stories have been growing in popularity ever since they first launched in August of 2016. A little over a year later – in November 2017 – Instagram Story daily users number reached astounding 300 million.
Last year, the number of daily Story users saw a 30%+ increase, up to 400 million daily users by June of 2018.
What makes Stories so enticing? They are set up to be unfailingly relevant by duration limits and shelf life – each Story can be up to 15 seconds long and only stays on the platform for 24 hours after posting.
Unlike other social media formats – posts, links and status updates, – the ephemeral nature of a Story is targeted not only at users’ FOMO (I wish I’d been there!), but creates a sense of urgency to check interesting updates asap. Stories become an event in and of themselves – check an update from a brand, celebrity or a personal account NOW, before it disappears forever (unless included in highlights, but more on that later).
Images from Instagram’s official Year in Review 2018 video
Easy to produce & consume
Relaxed, informal style of the majority of Instagram Story updates provides for an easy production of content for Stories. Brands can add text or stickers to their images directly in the app interface, film short updates with their phones or include lower quality shots or videos as long as they provide immediate value to their followers.
This is a low-effort, high return medium as long as brands understand the needs of their target audience and don’t spam aimlessly.
Since users can skip or tap through Stories they aren’t that interested in or only watch ones from accounts they want to stay updated on right now, Stories are easy to consume and rarely get boring – more on the latter in the section below:
One of the strongest suits of Stories is versatility. When watching their Story feed, users have rich variety of fresh, of-the-moment content to choose from at any given time. This translates into low content fatigue, even if a user is following many accounts that provide similar content.
Think the once trendy photography accounts with all the beautiful countryside, nature and city aesthetic shots that once took your breath away but got repetitive and all blurred into one faster than you would’ve expected. You might not be able to tell feed updates of one travel photography account you follow from the next, but Stories are personal and become a signature that sets a profile apart.
B. 5 basic content formats for Stories
There are five main content formats users can post to Stories:
- video updates
- text posts
- link updates
- multi-Story stories
Let’s look at the key properties of each and study a few examples.
Video updates can be up to 15 seconds long and can either be recorded through the app or pre-made and uploaded from users’ phone gallery. Aspect ratio is 9:16 and the recommended dimensions are 1080 by 1920 pixels.
Just like Story pioneer Snapchat, Instagram has a variety of face filters to make talking-head type Story updates fun and goofy.
To post a longer video to one’s Story, user would have to do a Live cast – such streams can be up to 60 minutes long. Users have the option to keep them on their profile for 24 hours, if needed.
Photo updates to a business’ Story are often pictures of products, events or even screenshots with text and still or animated stickers to highlight the key message.
A single image update makes up for an around 6 seconds long Story. Non-vertical images will be automatically supplemented with a matching background (perfect space for adding text).
Another way to make a Story update is plain text. Since the image with the text on it is only shown to users for a few seconds, most text posts are short and to the point or broken up into several Story updates.
For such text updates users either add text on an image outside Instagram and share a ready image through the platform, like this Story from Wikipedia:
or type the text in directly through the app, like this Story from Nutella:
Instagram allows accounts with 10,000+ followers as well as verified accounts to add links to their Story updates.
Companies are typically linking to articles or product/landing pages, which users can then go to by swiping up within the app:
Another popular way to post content in the Story format is a multi-Story update. Most often accounts simply cut a single video into several 15-second pieces, but creating several connected video or photo cards that together make up a coherent story is becoming more and more popular:
C. 12 Story types every social media manager needs to know
As discussed in the beginning of the present article, Stories have low content fatigue because they are so versatile. And it’s not just about each brand, celebrity, influencer or meme account being able to stand out by personalizing their Stories so much. The thing is, there are so many kinds of Story updates one can employ even within one page that content one user is exposed to stays fresh and varied simply due to that.
Here are the 12 key Story types any brand should have in their arsenal:
- backstage peeks
- brief interviews
- event teasers/glimpses
- unboxing videos
- product sampling/demonstrations
- taking questions from users
D. Figuring out your Story voice
Just like the rest of your brand communications, your company Story voice needs to both resonate with your audience, product/services and company image while staying relevant to the platform vibe – Instagram, obviously – at the same time.
You main goal here is to tread the line between keeping Story updates recognizable (and thus anticipated) and venturing into the territory of repetitive and dull updates. You want to avoid your subscribers wanting to skip your Story every time and inevitably mute you, if not unfollow altogether.
Find your style
Your Story style does not need to be as calculated as a feed ‘theme’, but you’ll benefit from defining your strongest Story-making points and leaning heavily on them. Consider the type of updates your company wants to share via Stories and the type of content you can feasibly provide, and then focus on studying the feedback.
Monitor your Story stats as well as Story comments and responses to single out the type of content your subscribers are fans of. Selecting three to four main Story types that get the most positive response will help you create a predictable pattern your users will enjoy while not getting monotonous to the point of giving your followers a sense of deja vu.
One example of how a Story voice can seriously elevate an account is Hollywood actor Busy Philipps. See, multi-Story vlog-style talking head type of updates for sure are not everyone’s cup of tea, but the star made them her own. Her Instagram is full of such Stories, and the exposure she received from the popularity of her updates is massive.
Philipps likes to share multi-Story updates talking about daily struggles, current affairs, giving a peek into her daily routines and challenges, the life highs and, sometimes, the lows of a B-list celebrity in LA.
Busy’s Stories aren’t just a curious depiction of her life fascinating her 1.5 million followers, her updates have actually made news (and some money for the actor – in one of her Stories the actor confessed to earning more through Instagram than acting in 2016). The phenomenal success of Philipps’ Story updates made headlines at The Guardian, AdWeek, and The New Yorker.
And while we all know the old joke about the artist who died of exposure, the result of Busy’s efforts is nothing short of excellent – in the fall of 2018 the actor landed her very own talk show Busy Tonight.
E. Three ways to reach wider audiences with your Story
If you intend to use Instagram Stories for business, your Story reach is essential to securing that coveted high ROI. In addition to the straightforward approach of improving Story views through profile growth and follower engagement, there are four additional ways to expanding your Story audience:
- Location stickers
Every Story you post is saved to your profile’s private Archive. You can add any or all of them to Story Highlights (you can create multiples and title each individually). Highlights are displayed under profile bio, and users can watch them long after the expiration period of 24 hours has passed.
Highlights are a sure way to give your content more exposure but keep in mind that including all of your Story updates to Highlights might devalue the sense of urgency to check out your updates before they expire.
In 2017, Instagram launched Story search by hashtag. That, along with hashtagged Stories being featured on the Explore page, helped individual Stories be discovered by a wider audience than just an account’s follower list plus lurkers.
Later that year users got an option to follow hashtags along with regular profiles.
All of the new features helped Stories expand their reach. Consider using relevant hashtags to improve your Story’s visibility:
Geotagging Instagram posts has long been a reliable way to attract audiences interested in a specific location. Instagram has introduced location stickers for geotagging Stories in December of 2016, updating them them with cute custom stickers for various locations in 2017.
Location stickers allow users to browse Stories posted from a certain location by tapping the location icon on the geotag page for their selected region and watching the Stories stream just like they would on their app home page for the accounts they follow.
Finally, if you want your updates to reach even wider audiences, you’ll need to pay for Instagram Story Ads.
Right now, Story ads appear after every other native Instagram Story on users’ feed (as per our own casual observations), and as long as such ads fit the interests of the viewer, they can be pretty effective for building brand awareness or attracting traffic to a page/website.
Story ads appear with a disclaimer ‘Sponsored’ under the username of the advertiser:
F. Quick look at advertising in Stories
Your advertising options in Stories aren’t limited to the obvious single photo or video update. You can create a multi-Story ad – a ‘carousel’. Unlike Facebook, Instagram Story carousel is a chain of photos or videos that will be played to the target audience automatically, without them needing to scroll the carousel manually. Users do have the option of tapping through the advertised content and, essentially, skipping the ad.
There are two types of carousel ads in Stories: unprompted and prompted ads. Unprompted ads allow up to 3 cards per Story ad, prompted Story ads only show one with a Keep watching tag, which opens a collection of up to 10 ad cards.
The data is not surprising – Story ads are mixed in with the native content users actually want to see (and hear!) from the accounts they follow. Stories from friends, family, celebs, and influencers are often behind-the-scenes style updates or video selfies, where sound on is required to fully appreciate context and atmosphere (or just hear the actual spoken message for the talking head type of updates).
G. Brands and profiles to watch for Story ideas and pointers
Regardless of how confident you feel about doing Stories for your personal or business profiles, we recommend you continuously study popular business and brand accounts for tips, ideas and trends. Checking out Stories by top accounts will help you learn as well as stay on top of all the countless new features Instagram unveils for this ever evolving format (think recent additions, like poll and question stickers, shoppable Stories or new face filters).
Below we share some of the accounts whose Story updates we’ve been loving to get you started on your journey.
Beauty and fashion magazine Allure likes to post product reviews, exclusive first-look updates by beauty brands and simple, seconds-long makeup, skin and hair care tutorials:
Coach’ Stories often feature celeb brand ambassadors like Black Panther star Michael B. Jordan and pop singer Selena Gomez, as well as many other familiar faces.
L’Oreal Skin shares their product collections, gives fashion week updates and holds Q&A sessions in their Stories:
The brand also uses Stories to tease followers about new products – a popular way to get subscribers hyped up for a product launch:
Another profile to take a closer look at is @ocasio2018. Youngest woman to serve in Congress in the history of the United States Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is arguably the most valuable political brand on Instagram right now.
The democrat first attracted attention to her profile when she started posting Stories about the Congress onboarding, helping make the process transparent for the public. Her engaging Stories keep subscribers, lurkers and media updated about the 29 year old’s journey in American politics:
Check out Crello designs and templates in action on our official Instagram profile:
H. Utilizing Story templates
Speaking of Crello, using ready-made templates for your Stories can be an easy solution if you don’t have much content or ideas to share in your Stories or want to try out something different with your updates.
Templates help add a touch of designer flair, when needed. Crello static templates for Instagram Stories are free to edit and download. Browse categories to find images by topic or customize any template you like by changing background images or template colors to match your industry or brand style.
Select a template, edit text and make slight adjustments to the layout, and you are good to go:
Templates can also be handy if you want to create flashier Stories with video or animated elements without having to record your own, well, video or can’t find the right animated sticker in the built-in gallery of the app.
Here’s one of the templates from our collection:
I. Evaluating results
To get built-in analytics for your Instagram Stories (and the whole profile, of course), switch to a business profile. Just go to your account setting and select Switch to Business Profile.
Instagram Insights allow you to view analytics for each Story and better estimate the effectiveness of your updates and the type of content your audience prefers.
The stats you can get from Insights are:
- the number of impressions per Story
- four Story interaction statistics: taps forward, taps back, replies and exits
Note that Story views are presented as Impressions and Reach. Reach is a more general number that shows the total amount of profiles that viewed any part of your Story. Impressions concern each individual card within a Story – say, you post five photos, and some users only look through the first one or two, while others tap or wait to see the rest. In this hypothetical scenario, for every user opening your Story you’ll get one point for Reach and between 1 and 5 Impressions.
Story interaction statistics reveal these user behaviors:
- Back: Numbers show how many times users tapped back to rewatch your Story card (indicates interest = good)
- Forward: Tap forward helps users advance within your Story without skipping it (individual Story cards might be too long but still kept the user engaged and interested in what’s next = good for photo updates, anything else was too long or boring)
- Next Story: Data for number of swipes forwards which stand for user skipping your whole Story altogether (users said Bye, Felicia to your update = not good)
- Exited: User returns to home feed (could be anything, to be honest, but they didn’t watch your Story till the end, so there’s that)
Analyzing insight information for each of your Stories will help determine the Story voice your audience prefers and lean into select types of Story content more confidently, once you observe good response rate and overall engagement.
For more on Instagram Insights, check out our separate post on the topic here.
Stories is a great way for businesses to give their most active followers and fans something more to engage with and consume. Entertaining and thought-out Stories can show off a brand’s light-hearted side and help connect with audiences on a more authentic and relaxed level – akin to grabbing a cup of coffee or hanging out at a fun event.
Stories reveal the people/person behind the curtain and help subscribers relate to a brand on a more personal level. Besides, watching Stories makes users feel included in the events and lives of the accounts they are interested in.
Share your experience with Stories for business in the comments below!