Traditional social media encourages us to put our best selves out there, because what we publish stays out there. But now there’s a new breed of content on the scene with a 24-hour life span that encourages sharing in a more authentic way.
These disappearing photos and videos popularized by Snapchat, and now available via Instagram Stories, might be here today and gone tomorrow, but they’ll likely find a long-term place in your business' marketing mix.
Instagram Stories, in particular, are quickly gaining ground as a way to keep your most loyal followers engaged (which Snapchat already offered), while leaving your content open for new audiences to discover.
Stories have changed the way we use Instagram, turning the platform into something more than just your online photo album.
Why Bother With Instagram Stories For Your Business?
Why spend any time at all on content that will just erase itself in 24 hours? In short, because it offers an addictive way for people (and brands) to share with others.
In one study that interviewed 25 college students, researchers from Cornell University found that participants enjoyed Snapchat because it was fun, felt smaller than other communication channels and the ephemeral format made it less formal. Consumers likely enjoy Instagram Stories for similar reasons (they have a lot in common after all).
The authenticity that comes with ephemerality applies to brands too.
But there are plenty more reasons for marketers and entrepreneurs to be excited about Instagram Stories:
- An active user base: Instagram reported 250 million daily users for Stories.
- Effortless creation: No one expects you to spend half an hour on a post that’s not going to be around after tomorrow. While Instagram posts require the perfect lighting, angles, and hashtags, a good Story just requires a quick idea or an interesting moment, and some creativity.
- A testing ground for ideas: Instagram Stories are not as exposed as regular Instagram posts and that makes them great for testing ideas you’re not completely sure about. If it gets good reception (positive replies and people watch your entire Story all the way through without dropping off), you can consider reposting it as a permanent Instagram post or adapting the idea for another channel.
- An armoury of features: Like Snapchat you have tools for drawing, placing stickers, adding augmented reality filters, and more.
- The opportunity to drive traffic: Instagram is rolling out the ability to add links to your Stories. Right now this feature is only available for verified accounts, but you can also direct viewers to the link in your bio.
And we've still only scratched the surface. Here's how you can integrate Instagram Stories as a marketing channel for your business.
Think Less About “Posting”, More About “Programming”
Just because Instagram Stories don’t stick around forever, doesn’t mean they don’t require some thought and planning. While many people will post at random, brands should think about their Instagram Story as they would any other content channel: ahead of time.
Brands should think about their Instagram Story as they would any other content channel: ahead of time.
Consider treating your Story like a TV network with scheduled programming for the week, or even recurring “episodes” that happen on certain days. Thinking in advance about what kind of content you’ll be sharing and how your Story will flow will help you craft a more addictive and consistent experience for your viewers.
You can even tease what will be happening and when so your followers know to tune in.
Get Creative With Your Instagram Stories
Instagram gives you a fair amount of features that you can apply to your posts, and encourages you to create content within its own editor. But you can still quite easily just upload content you’ve created elsewhere.
Unlike the dimensions for standard square Instagram posts, Stories are shot vertically and so photos and videos should be sized accordingly at 1080 pixels wide and 1920 pixels tall.
You can only add media from the last 24 hours to your Instagram Story, but anything added to your camera roll recently should show up when you swipe up in the Stories camera view.
That said, you can have a lot of fun with how you create this content.
You can design quick “title cards” and other graphics in Canva or even Keynote/Powerpoint that you can upload as the intro, call to action, or individual slides within your Story.
While Instagram doesn’t offer as many options as Snapchat in terms of creativity, it does give you everything you need to combine text, pictures, videos, doodles, and create contrast.
Repost Content From Instagram and Other Channels
Because of the temporary nature of your Instagram Story, you can repost existing content or content you’ve created for other channels without messing up the consistency you’ve established across your existing gallery of Instagram posts.
If you have a Snapchat presence already, for example, there’s very little stopping you from porting some of that content over to Instagram.
Even if you don’t have a Snapchat strategy, you can still take advantage of its more robust creative options like AR filters and Bitmojis. Just access the Snap you want to export from your Memories, tap the menu button in the top right, and hit Save to Camera Roll so you can give it a second life as an Instagram Story in front of a new potential audience.
Here's the infamous hotdog guy World Lens from Snapchat being incorporated into an Instagram Story.
If you have Instagram followers sending you user-generated content—pictures or videos of them with your products—you can share those in your Instagram Story as well, and give them a shoutout by mentioning their handle. I'm sure they'll be pleasantly surprised!
Use the Right Tags for the Right Reasons
With traditional Instagram posts, you can generally increase your exposure if you add a bunch of the right hashtags. But with Stories, hashtags are more likely to take viewers away from your content and to others' posts.
Hashtags in Stories are best used only if you own them—if you’re running a contest or you’re getting customers to submit photos of themselves using your product under a branded hashtag. This way, if the hashtag is used in a Story it will at least take people to a collection of posts that are related to your brand.
Location tags, on the other hand, are what will help you get discovered in location-level Stories (e.g. New York City or a popular restaurant in your neighbourhood). Regularly tagging your location in your Story posts when it’s relevant can be a good way to help it get seen by other people who might be checking in on that particular spot.
You can add a location or hashtag to your photo or video in the Stickers menu.
Mentions are also a good way to give certain members of your audience a shoutout for submitting a post or video, recognize a partner brand, or just delight your most loyal fans.
Use Instagram Live to Support Your Stories
Instagram Live is fun to watch when it's someone else's show, but a little intimidating to start yourself since it's recorded and goes out in real-time.
Live video in general gives you less control because it’s on-the-spot, but its an interactive format that offers a lot of versatility.
One of the advantages of Instagram Live is that your followers get notified when you start one (unless they’ve turned off notifications). Once you've finished your live stream, you also have the option of uploading it to your Story for the next 24 hours.
If you have a decent-sized following, consider giving Instagram Live a try. Uploading it to your Story changes the icon so that it stands apart from the rest of the Stories at the top of that app, as these Live videos generally happen far less frequently.
Remember, though, that this is an interactive format and that means regularly acknowledging comments from your live audience and inviting them to participate in some way. It might also take some time for your audience to join before you can start, so be sure to prepare for a preamble to buy yourself a few moments.
Some Instagram Live ideas include:
- Running a contest or inviting your audience to bet on an outcome.
- Hosting a Q&A or AMA (Ask Me Anything).
- Covering an event or sharing an interesting moment.
- Hosting a talk show.
- Vlogging live.
It's easy to shy away from this part of the app, but Instagram Live is definitely a worthwhile engagement tool for accounts with a sizeable following and loyal fans, like Black Jaguar White Tiger pictured below.
Draw Traffic to Your Website
Compared to most social media platforms, Instagram gives you a lot less in the way of opportunities to drive traffic back to your site. Your bio is usually the only real estate you have to link out from, and it can be hard to direct people’s attention there.
Luckily, you can apply two basic conversion principles to get the job done: Affordance and a call to action.
Affordance provides a sensory signal to the user indicating where their attention should be and what action they can take. Beyond just telling your audience to check the link in your bio, consider mentioning your own account (@yourhandle), or using an arrow to point to your avatar in the top left of your Story, both of which lead to your bio.
A call to action, on the other hand, is a direct instruction as to what action you'd like your audience to take ("Check out more pics at #yourcampaign" or "Swipe up to scoop this product"). Without an explicit CTA, your audience's default action will likely be to continue swiping to the next post.
You can also share a discount code for your products to sweeten the deal, grabbing their attention while you have it and directing it to your website.
With a verified account however, your job might be a lot easier since Instagram has begun rolling out a swipe up feature that lets viewers visit links from within your Story. These "swipe up links" will likely be more widely available in the future, so stay tuned for that.
Remember that you only have your audience's attention for brief moments at a time, so when you want them to take a specific action, be direct about it.
The Best Way to Understand Stories Is to Dive In
No matter how many new social channels or features we see, the same prerequisite for success applies: You need to get your hands dirty learning the ins and outs.
Stories are still a relatively new and still-evolving content format, but they encourage authenticity and creativity while provoking our fear of missing out like nothing else.
Are you using Stories as part of your Instagram strategy? What's your experience been so far? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
And of course, follow us on Instagram @Shopify to catch our own Stories!
Special shoutout to Liz Bertorelli, Social Media Producer for Instagram at Shopify, for sharing her tips and experience with the Stories format.