If you’re like most businesses, Instagram stories might be one of those features that tends to fall to the wayside. Only about a third of businesses on Instagram use stories to promote their products. It’s not exactly difficult to understand what marketers are thinking:
“Instagram feed posts are (virtually) forever. So why spend time and resources to build something that has a 24-hour expiration date?”
If you’re still struggling to see the point of Instagram stories, here’s a question: if you had a valuable opportunity to reach a sizable audience (one where millennials and Gen Z are bound to take notice) sitting in front of you, why not take it?
In reality, there’s actually quite a bit that marketers can accomplish using stories on Instagram. Here are 6 of the key social media goals achievable by way of a solid Instagram story strategy.
Expand Your Reach
Like tagged feed posts, Instagram stories are discoverable. As long as your profile is set to “public”, your stories can find their way onto the Discover tab and be found organically by your target audience.
In other words: your stories are another valuable opportunity for you and your brand to get in front of new users.
The key to getting your stories discovered is essentially the same as promoting your feed posts: use tags liberally. Hashtags, geo-tags, and profile tags will help you bring your stories onto the discovery tab.
Incorporating these elements into your stories, however, is a little trickier than including them on your feed posts. Here are my tips for adding them in while maintaining the aesthetic of your brand:
Hashtags. For brands and businesses trying to grow a following from humble beginnings, tags are important—and in most cases, the more the merrier. But while dropping a comment with 10-30 hashtags on a feed post is easy, it’s harder to get that many tags onto a story without it looking crazy. Luckily, the Instagram algorithm will still register your story hashtags even when they’re hidden in plain sight.
As I shared recently on our Instagram page, you can type in an entire paragraph of hashtags and hide them behind other design elements, like stickers or other images. Camouflaging the text is also an option: just use the eyedropper tool to pick a color from your background and use it as your text color. Given that the text is still big enough to read, it doesn’t matter if users can see them or not. Instagram will, and that’s all that really matters.
Location tags. Instagram has a cute sticker available to help you tag your location in a story. The great thing about tagging your location: your story might appear in a local stories compilation on the Discover tab! That means that, if a user were to search for that particular location on Instagram, your story will appear at the top of the search results, along with stories shared by other users using a geo-tag for a nearby location.
Profile tags. More good news for anyone looking to expand their Instagram reach: the Instagram algorithm typically ranks content higher when it’s been shared between profiles (i.e. sent to another user as a direct message and replied to).
Say you see a post you want to share with your friend. You hit the paper airplane icon on the post and DM it to someone you follow. In response, your friend views the post, likes it, and replies to your message. These actions all help signal to the IG algorithm that the post was high-quality. In return, it will reward the post with a better ranking.
So, what exactly does this have to do with profile tags on a story? Well, you may have noticed that, when you tag someone in a story, IG will automatically send your story to that profile in a DM. From there, that person can view the story (earning it one extra view), share your story to theirs (helping you get multiple more views!), or like the message & send you a thank you note for the tag.
There’s not really a downside to tagging other profiles in stories (as long as it’s relevant). Plus, we’d bet on the possibility that any messages you get in response to the story will earn it a higher ranking, just like a feed post would.
Engage Followers With Interactive Content
Instagram has done marketers a huge favor by stocking their story design toolkit with a plethora of interactive stickers. These features enable brands to quickly, easily, and effectively invite their target audience to engage with their content. To name a few:
Gives viewers the option to choose between two different concepts. Great for posing Yes/No questions.
Allows brands to pose open-ended questions or to ask for suggestions from their audience.
It’s like the poll sticker except for a few key differences: you get to share up to four options and only one of them will be deemed the correct answer.
All three of these interactive stickers provide you with a chance to be thought-provoking, engaging...and also allow you to learn more about your followers.
Curious about your target audience’s interests? Give them the opportunity to share those preferences with you using stories.
You can also use them to test whether or not your content is well-liked by your audience. Even better, ask them directly what kind of content they’d like to see.
Stories can be interactive in other ways too—i.e. without using Instagram’s native features. Extremely popular on the platform as of late are story questionnaire templates. Typically, these are graphics with empty spaces that allow viewers to screenshot them, add their own answers, and post them to their story.
As a way of crediting the original poster, these templates usually have the designer’s Instagram handle written on them—a great strategy for brands and businesses to steal as a brand awareness mechanism. Odds are, whoever sees your template and likes it will pop your handle into their search bar in an attempt to find more templates!
Take Advantage Of The 24-Hour Shelf Life
With all the pressure we put on social media today, actually “publishing” a post can be a little daunting. On Instagram, where profiles are often judged in the 1-2 seconds a user takes to glance over their post grid, there’s a lot to consider before hitting the Share button: Does this post fit in with the rest of my grid? Is the caption clever enough? Did I use enough hashtags?
But Instagram stories are a different story (sorry, I promise I won’t make that joke again). Feed posts will stick to your profile unless you say otherwise (you can either hide them from the public in your Archive or delete them outright). Stories are temporary by design.
So, why not use stories as a testing ground? It’s the perfect place to diverge from what you do on your feed. The 24-hour limit on stories also makes them seem more casual than a feed post. They feel a bit more spontaneous, and stories are often the place where personal users, influencers, and brands alike share more personable and less polished content.
So don’t be afraid to showcase the lighthearted side of your brand. Get your team in front of the camera, showcase some behind the scenes moments, or pose fun questions to your followers. Whether or not what you share is successful, it will be gone in 24 hours.
Speaking of the time-sensitive nature of stories...
Share Timely (and even live) Updates
The immediacy that story updates can have are great for allowing content creators to be in the moment with their followers.
That’s partially because of where stories are showcased on a user’s feed. New ones pop up right at the top of the screen. So, when you need information to reach your followers ASAP, sometimes your best bet is sharing a story—rather than risking your message getting buried among other feed posts.
Cult-favorite makeup brand Colourpop Cosmetics hit the nail on the head with their story strategy when one of their highly anticipated lines was immediately sold out online. Marketing Director Jordynn Wynn took to stories to alert customers that the brand was aware of the line’s status. The update also helped inform any fans that missed out on the launch that they are working to coordinate another in the future.
It’s also worth noting that Jordynn thanked Colourpop’s fans for their support of the line—which is another effective way to give your audience some love. Thanking your followers in real time can help your audience feel seen, appreciated, and part of a warm and friendly community. Don’t underestimate the power of a quick selfie video to get face time with your fans!
Post Consistently To Get To The Top Of Your Fans’ Feeds
When you frequently watch the stories of a particular user, you might find that they keep popping up to the front of your stories collection at the top of your feed. Coincidence? We think not. This is another instance of the Instagram algorithm delivering content to you based on your previous activity on the app.
By our calculations, that means that, if brands and businesses share stories consistently and thereby consistently appear on the top of their audience’s feeds, there’s a greater chance that those audience members will tune into those stories regularly. And if those audience members tune into those stories daily, your brand might just earn a top spot on their feed!
Moral of the story: have a consistent schedule. If you can, share a little something to stories day by day. Here are strategies you can use in a pinch to get something on your story:
Share a feed post to stories
It could be one of your own that you’d like to give a little extra push, or one from a different source that fits nicely with your brand image.
Share a memory from your story archive
Whenever you share a story, you’ll be able to access it after it expires in your Archive and re-post it. Nothing wrong with a little #ThrowbackThursday action.
Snap a quick photo at your place of work
It doesn’t need to be perfectly posed, and your followers might appreciate your transparency.
Say hello to your followers and wish them well
With the editing capabilities available natively on Instagram, you can draft an eye-catching message to greet your followers with if you’re ever short on content.
However, we know that not all businesses can spare a moment to share something every day. If you fall into this category, see if you can attract your followers using an appointment viewing strategy instead. Consider sharing content on the same days every week. If you’re consistent enough, your followers might come to expect (and even seek out!) that content when the right day rolls around each week.
At Altos, we use Tuesdays as an opportunity to share helpful tidbits of marketing advice using #TipTuesdays. Every Tuesday, we share a new tip to a fairly regular following that tunes in each week.
Interested in seeing more tips? Check the highlights on our Instagram page! Cue the segue to our final piece of story advice...
Showcase Your Brand To New Followers With Highlights
I know I only just finished explaining the pros of the 24-hour life of a story. But occasionally, those stories are worth keeping around for a bit longer, especially as a means for introducing your brand to potential fans.
Your highlights—curated collections of saved stories that appear at the top of your profile—are among the first things a new user witnesses on your profile. Naturally, a user unfamiliar with your brand might be inclined to tap on one of your story highlights to learn more about who you are and what you do.
That being said, consider treating your highlights like the About page of your website. Share stories with helpful information about your business with the intention of adding them to these curated collections.
Use highlights to showcase your top products or services, frequently asked questions about your brand, your team, or reviews and kind words from your loyal fans. Format your highlights to give your potential new fans a quick look into your business that shows them everything they need to know.
Ready to Tell Your Story?
A wise athlete (or was it Hilary Duff?) once said “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” That goes for your marketing strategy as well as anything else. So, give Instagram stories a try and see what a few 24-hour slides can do for your brand presence.
P.S. We’re here to help if you ever need some professional brainstorming for your next great Instagram story.
- Megan O'Keefe
- Social Media & Content Specalist