How to use Instagram stories for business

✍🏻 Glenn Diaz

Published: Tuesday, Feb 21

Instagram Stories allow you to share a stream of impromptu memories that disappear after 24 hours. They’re ideal for sharing spontaneous moments, engaging your audience with contests and questions, and even selling on Instagram.

How can businesses harness the power of Instagram Stories to promote themselves? Read on for our take on it.

What are Instagram Stories for business?

To understand the popularity of Instagram Stories, we must first understand the rise of Snapchat.

Snapchat’s growth has been largely driven by the “My Story” feature, introduced in October 2013. This feature allows anyone to share a series of photos that disappear within 24 hours.

Since the photos don’t appear in your friends’ feeds (unlike Instagram or Facebook), you have much more leeway to share random moments. This takes the pressure of making “perfect” posts out of content creation, which makes sharing much easier.

Since the launch of the “My Story” feature, sharing on Snapchat has skyrocketed. So it’s no wonder that Instagram and Facebook (as well as other social media platforms) ended up adopting this format.

What is the benefit of Instagram stories?

“But why are Instagram Stories better than posts – is that true?” – you might be wondering. Let’s take a closer look at some differences between regular posts and Stories.

The traditional Instagram model used to focus a lot on capturing “perfect” moments. Image filters, user tagging, and description-centric formatting put considerable pressure on users to share high-quality photos.

Also, since every photo you shared on Instagram ended up in your followers’ feeds, there was an implicit expectation that your photos were worthy of sharing, a far cry from the free, “as it happens” nature of Stories.

If your Instagram grid is a diary of the best moments of your life, Stories are a reflection of the chaos of day-to-day life. The two can coexist, but the Stories format makes it much easier to share the ins and outs of your daily life without unnecessarily interrupting your friends.

Instagram took the best of two worlds and merged them into one sharing platform. Today, you can use “regular” Instagram to share your best moments, and Stories to share your everyday life.

How Instagram Stories work

If you open Instagram, you will see a bar at the top of your feed. This is the “Stories” section. If you click on any of the icons that appear here, you will access the Stories section of that page.

To post your Instagram story, tap the camera icon at the top left of the screen or swipe right from anywhere in the News Feed.

Tap the circle icon at the bottom of the screen to take a photo, or press and hold to record a video. To choose a photo or video from your phone’s gallery, swipe up anywhere on the screen.

You can then add text, emojis, gifs and/or various interactive stickers (such as questions or quizzes). It is also possible to tag people, places and even products in your Stories.

Once you are done, tap “Your Story” at the bottom left to add your story to your followers’ story feeds.

You can change your story settings by going into your profile and tapping Settings → Privacy → Story. Here you can decide who you want to show the story to. Of course, if you have a business, you probably want your photos to be visible to everyone.

You can also save Featured Stories that appear below your bio. Featured stories remain visible until you delete them, even after the original story has disappeared.

Is there a limit on Instagram Stories?

You have a limit of 15 seconds per individual Story. If you upload a video longer than 15 seconds, it will be split into 15-second chunks for you. You cannot post more than 100 Stories in 24 hours.

How often should a business post Instagram Stories?

More is more with Stories! It’s best to post to Stories as often as possible, even multiple times a day. By posting Instagram Stories more frequently, you have a better chance of appearing at the top of the Stories feed. That means you have more chances of getting discovered throughout the day.

How does Instagram’s algorithm work with Stories?

Instagram wants to make sure it always shows users the latest stories from their favorite profiles. Accounts that post regularly appear at the top of users’ feed if they watch and interact with these profiles. This also tells the algorithm that these profiles regularly post quality content that interests their followers.

How to make Stories more engaging?

The more engagement your Stories have, the higher they will rank in the platform’s algorithm. You can boost audience engagement with Instagram Stories stickers. The best ones to interact with followers are polls, emoji sliders and question stickers.

Also, remind your followers that they can react to your Stories by sending “quick emoji reactions.” That’s another way to show the app that your content is worth pushing.

Instagram Stories vs. Regular Instagram

The question now is: how do Instagram Stories differ from regular Instagram Stories? Here’s how:

Stories don’t appear in the feed.

All the photos you add to your Stories will not appear in the normal feed. They will only appear when someone taps your profile picture at the top of their feed.

This means you can share dozens of photos without worrying about cluttering your followers’ feeds.

Stories are ephemeral

Each image or video in the feed only lasts 24 hours. The ephemeral nature of Stories encourages casual sharing. Since images won’t live forever on your profile, you can safely share almost anything (within good taste, of course).

This is a big change from the nature of regular Instagram updates.

You can see who saw each part of your story

Think of this as built-in engagement analytics: Instagram will show you who has seen different updates to your story.

This is great for segmenting your audience. You can easily classify followers who view all parts of your story as “highly engaged”, while those who abandon after 1 or 2 updates would have low engagement.

You can edit images with emojis, text, gifs, tags and stickers.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it can have a big impact on how your followers interact with your stories.

Better narration

You can use all these additional effects – stickers, text, emojis, etc. – to create better stories with minimal text.

More casual updates

Regular Instagram is very focused on perfecting every moment. You take the right photo, use the right filters, and share it with the right filters. There’s no sense of serendipity in any of these updates.

On the other hand, emojis, finger painting, etc. make Instagram Stories a much more casual sharing platform. Instead of spending hours searching for the right filter, you can add quirky emojis and play with finger painting before sharing your updates.

This completely changes the high-stakes expectations of a post on the network. Instead of perfection, your followers on Stories want serendipity.

How to use Instagram Stories to grow your business?

Instagram Stories is a fantastic tool for branding and promoting your business. So how do you leverage Instagram Stories?

The platform is perfect for letting your hair down – metaphorically speaking – and showcasing what your brand is all about. Instead of the carefully controlled brand narrative promoted by your competitors, you can use Instagram Stories to create a more intimate, personal and effervescent brand voice.

Wondering how to make a professional Instagram story? Let’s look at a few ways to do it

Build anticipation for a new release or new content

The 24-hour format of Instagram Stories is perfect for building anticipation. Instead of “coming soon” photos cluttering your feed, you can tease your followers with new product previews.

For example, artist Tommy Siegel used stories to get the word out about his new book: he posted stories from his customers who had pre-ordered the book. He also announced a book launch party live on Instagram.

Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to new product launches; you can also use Stories to build anticipation for new content.

Run limited-edition sales and presales

Another great way to use the 24-hour format is to run limited-edition sales on select products. For example, JCrew ran a limited 24-hour sale on its new pink sunglasses via Instagram Stories:

The story shared multiple images of models wearing the pink sunglasses. Among the photos were images informing followers about the new sunglasses and the limited sale on Instagram of 50 pairs of glasses.

This sale format works for two reasons:

Scarcity: In the example above, the sale was limited to only the first 50 pairs. This creates scarcity – one of the pillars of persuasion – and encourages action.

Urgency: Because the sale is limited to 24 hours, it creates a natural incentive to take action (just as in the JCrew example above).

Share behind-the-scenes stories about your brand

What’s a typical day like at your company? What kind of people are behind the things you create? What kind of offices do they work in? What kind of food do they have in the cafeteria?

They may be simple questions, but answering them does something amazing: it makes your brand more “human”.

Instagram Stories is a perfect tool for sharing these “behind the scenes” stories. Instead of adding carefully crafted marketing stories to your feed, use the Stories feature to share a normal day in your business.

Vogue knows that every fashion lover would love to see a sneak peek of a runway show behind the scenes. They use Instagram Stories to meet their audience’s expectations for exclusive behind-the-scenes content that only they can deliver.

Share exclusive content

You can turn Instagram Stories into a platform where you reward your most engaged followers with exclusive content.

This is content that doesn’t appear on any other social profile. It’s live for only 24 hours and visible only to people who actively engage with your brand on Instagram.

For example, Mercedes-Benz shared gorgeous images of a test drive of its G-Class SUV. These photos showed behind-the-scenes footage of how Mercedes puts their cars through their paces along with stunning images of the German countryside in the rain.

This is a perfect example of how exclusive behind-the-scenes images can promote loyalty and engagement. You can make your followers feel “special” by sharing updates that no one else can see.

Another tactic is to cross-post on Instagram Stories with a profile that has a similar audience. This way, your unique content attracts new followers who might be interested in your profile.

The best way to cross-promote is to run a contest or competition, and let followers choose the winner. For example, the Museum of Modern Art partnered with the Victoria and Albert Museum to run a contest:

Get user feedback

What kind of stories should you share? What should you focus on in your social media updates? Do your followers prefer to see images or videos in your stories?

As it turns out, the best people to answer these questions are your own followers. For example, when TacoBell launched its first Instagram Story, it asked its followers directly, “What would you like to see in our Instagram Story?”

Stories are the perfect medium to ask this question, as they don’t interrupt your regular feed. You can safely seek user feedback within Stories while leaving your main feed as polished as ever.

You can also use Instagram Stories to get feedback on your products or events. For example, Poosh uses question stickers that raise important questions:

Reminds users of other events, applications and pages

Do you have a new app, a sale or a contest going on? Instagram Stories is the right platform to promote them. Ikea Australia announces a new product and creates a contest on Twitter where a user can win it:

Leverage Stories editing tools to experiment with content

Emojis, text, brushes, stickers: the editing tools in Instagram Stories are extensive and can help you experiment with new content formats and styles.

ASOS uses poll stickers to engage followers and ask them which outfits they like best:

There’s plenty of room to be creative with these editing tools. And since there’s no pressure to “perfect” your updates, you can experiment with riskier narrative angles.

Share user-generated content

It’s easy to share real-world engagement on social media, so do it. Repost customer images in your Stories to show what your products look like in real life. Take a cue from Puma:

Create a special hashtag and add it to your bio to let customers know how to tag their posts with your products. This way, you’ll create a steady stream of new story content with follower engagement.

Your Turn: Why are Instagram stories good for business?

Try some of the tactics we’ve listed above to turn your stories into growth engines. Use exclusive content to promote loyalty, behind-the-scenes images to build your brand, and offer limited-time offers to attract and convert users.

Do you actively use Instagram Stories to promote your store? How does it help your business? Share your experience and tips in the comments below.

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