How to Use Instagram Stories for Marketing (And Why You Should)

how to use instagram stories

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 on Instagram in the form of 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.

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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.

how to use instagram stories for marketing

Source: @mvmt

But there are plenty more reasons for marketers and entrepreneurs to be excited about Instagram Stories:

  • An active user base: Instagram reported 300 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.
  • Swipe-up links: If you have more than 10K followers on Instagram and a business account, you can link out from your Stories.
  • Another way to get discovered: You can hashtag and geotag Stories for the chance to get into the Featured Stories for the tags you choose and amplify your reach.

But we've still only scratched the surface. Here are some ways you can integrate Instagram Stories as a marketing channel for your business.

How to Use 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.

To use Instagram Stories:

  1. Click on the camera icon in the top left or the '+' on your profile picture.
  2. Tap the white circle in the middle to take a picture, hold it for a video, or tap the gallery icon in the left corner (or just swipe up) to use existing media on your phone.
  3. Edit your photo or video using Instagram's various editing options.
  4. Tap the "Your Story" button to post to your public Story, "Send to" to send it privately to your followers via a Direct Message, or "Save" to download it to your phone for later.

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.

Anything added to your camera roll should show up when you swipe up in the Stories camera view.

Besides photos and videos, Stories give you a variety of modes to create in other formats:

  • Type: Text-based posts in a variety of styles against a colored background.
  • Live: In the moment live streams where your audience can comment in real-time. You can post them as a Story after.
  • Boomerang: Create a 1-second looping videos.
  • Focus: Take portraits that blur out the background and keep your subject's face in focus.
  • Superzoom: Dramatically zoom in on your subject from afar, often used for a funny effect.
  • Rewind: Record a video that will play back in reverse. 
  • Hands-free: Record a video without having to hold down the record button. 

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.

You can quickly edit together a bunch of clips using a video editing app like Quik by GoPro (free). Just remember that you can only upload 15 seconds of video at a time or it will get cut off.

Like Snapchat, Instagram Stories offer you a ton of ways to get creative. You can combine text, pictures, videos, stickers, filters, interactive polls, and doodles to produce fun and interesting content.

Use all the options at your disposal to bring your content to life. 

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.

how to use instagram stories

You can even tease what will be happening and when so your followers know to tune in.

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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.

how to use instagram stories for marketing

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. Chances are 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 (@username) 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. They'll receive a notification in their Direct Messages.

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.

Drive Traffic to Your Website

Your Instagram 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.

Once you hit 10k followers with a Instagram Business account, you get access to swipe-up links, which make it even easier to drive traffic wherever you want it to go. 

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. 

Curate Stories into Highlights 

Stories might have a short shelf life but they can live on as Story Highlights that you can pin to your profile.

These highlights are made up of Stories you can curate under specific themes and title in meaningful ways.

You can use Highlights to:

  • Create trailers for your account.
  • Show off your customers.
  • Showcase product features.
  • Directly address new followers with a pitch about your content and account (you can label it "Start here").
  • Advertise a sale.

instagram stories highlights

Dissect your Stories with Instagram Analytics

With a personal account, it can be hard to tell how your Stories are actually performing. You don't have many signals to work with except for Views (you can see who has viewed viewed your Story by swiping up on it) and replies (when a viewer messages you through your Story).

But with a business account, you get a wide range of signals for a much more meaningful feedback loop from your Stories. 

You get metrics like impressions, reach, but also actions taken on your Stories, such as how many people tapped through, replied, or bounced away. 

instagram stories analyticsUse this insight to figure out where you're getting the most engagement, where you're losing attention, if your Stories are too long or too short, and make your content better over time.

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.