After launching in August 2016, Instagram Stories beat the cult-favorite Snapchat to be recognized as the most popular video story app used by both brands and consumers. With more than 200 million active users per month (2017), Instagram Stories has quickly demonstrated how brands, especially B2C businesses, can leverage ephemeral photos and videos to not only engage with their target audience, but also achieve their marketing objectives. From local, family-run shops to well-known, influential brands, businesses across the globe are using the immersive format and creative tools to encourage action and create deeper, more meaningful relationships with their potential/existing customers.

Why your business should be using Instagram stories

Today, almost 50% of businesses worldwide post at least one Instagram story every month, and nearly one-third of all the most-viewed Instagram stories are from businesses. A recent marketing report by Later that collected responses from more than 3,500 businesses, influencers and agencies, discovered that brands were actively using Instagram stories to promote their products or services (64%), build a more engaged community (63%), direct traffic to their website (47%), collect follower feedback (32%), drive more eCommerce sales (25%) and much more. Not only this, 76% of businesses that are not investing in creating content for Instagram Stories at the moment agreed to include it in their marketing strategy for 2018 to enhance their conversion-focused capabilities.

Even though only 24% of businesses are currently focussing on engagement generated through Instagram Stories, with the most common reason being that its engagement metrics are not as tangible to referral traffic or follower count, establishing clear KPIs and goals is important, if you’re looking to make the most of the feature.

With the increase in the number of customer-centric platforms, why should an average business add Instagram Stories to the list of social media content they spend time on? Moreover, how does Facebook, a platform used by millions of businesses to connect with their customer base, compare to Instagram in terms of content marketing for B2B and B2C brands? The answer is simple: Despite being 10 years younger than Facebook, where only 32% of people engage with brands on a regular basis, Instagram captures 58x more engagement per follower. Since 68% of Instagram users are more than happy to connect with brands, using Instagram Stories for your businesses merely serves as the icing on the cake.

That being said, let’s not forget that the concept of ‘storytelling’ in marketing is lauded for turning your visitors into leads, your leads into customers, and finally, your customers into loyal brand advocates. 62% of B2B marketers agreed that storytelling was an effective content marketing tactic, that boosted brand conversions for them by 30%. Apart from being notorious for their engagement with their 800 million active users, readers that were directed to a website from the platform stay 40% longer than those from Twitter and 45% longer than those from Facebook. The readers-cum-visitors also spend an average of 192 seconds on the website, which is approximately 3 minutes more than any of the other popular marketing channels.

What to put in your Instagram stories

Instagram stories occupy the entire mobile screen, offering you a distraction-less canvas to showcase your creativity, create brand awareness, generate leads, or drive traffic, amongst other things. Unlike the traditional Instagram feed, Instagram Stories lacks permanence, so the content you post remains viewable only for 24 hours. However, you can archive some of your stories, by saving them to Instagram Highlights, which can be pinned to your profile with customized name and icons. Here are a few ways in which you can leverage IS and the various features it offers to engage with your audience:

Demonstrate your creative process with behind-the-scenes content:

Sharing your workspace, including what goes behind creating a final product, can be a compelling way to convey the power of your brand and the sort of services you’re proficient enough to provide. Consider arranging a special feature wherein you show off an early design sketch or give viewers a sneak peak of the manufacturing plant responsible for bringing your product to life. For example, Pencils of Promise, a non-profit organization focussing on education in developing countries, gave their followers a small detour of their NYC office. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) followed one of their sportsmen to the supermarket in an interactive story where he talked about his food-intake during training days.

According to a common misconception, generating leads or creating brand awareness through Instagram for B2B companies is easier said than done, given that most of their products or services aren’t as ‘visual’ or ‘tangible’ as, say, a Lifestyle brand. Here’s exactly where the multinational conglomerate General Electric changed things, by taking their viewers on an actual volcano-exploration in Nicaragua, where their team landed for data-collection.

Instagram also offers a ‘Speed’ tool for Stories, where you can experiment with creating short narratives that showcase your brand, and your product development process. For example, Lowe’s, a U.S. retail-chain of home improvement and appliance stores, created a story of a nifty home improvement project for viewers to re-create in their living space.

Announce a special offer or discount to create FOMO

The time-critical quality of an Instagram Story instils a sense of urgency and ‘fear of missing out (FOMO)’ in your customers, leading to more sales. As a result, when you use IS to share special offers, sale information, or limited-period discount, your customers are more likely to pay attention and act on the message. For example, you can post a ‘coupon code’ that offers 10% discount that expires after the 24-hour Instagram Story period, where the viewer can ‘Swipe Up’ to go to your website or a landing page.

Organize a ‘takeover’ to increase follower count

A takeover basically involves a person (usually, an influencer) or another brand ‘taking over’ the Instagram of a business for a specific duration of time, wherein they are responsible for creating and posting content on the account that’s taken over. Takeovers are a fun exercise that allows brands and/or influencers to connect with each other, and mutually benefit from each others’ audience, while delivering fresh, new content for the viewers.

During a takeover, you can have an influencer talk about your new range of products, create a buzz for an upcoming launch or host a Q&A. For example, Jaime King, American actress and model, took over Harper Bazaar’s Instagram during the Dior Cruise Show where she chatted up the viewers while getting ready and attending the event.

Ask for customer feedback by adding a poll

Instagram introduced the ‘Poll’ sticker for Stories back in 2017, and it has been a hit with brands and users alike. With the ‘Poll’ functionality, you can ask a question in your story, customize the choices for the customers to pick, and examine real-time results. For example, Rothy’s, a San Francisco based startup that sells shoes, posted a poll to evaluate customer preferences about their new ballet flats. On the other hand, Mailchimp, a marketing automation platform, put up a tongue-in-the-cheek poll, asking their viewers to pick a Mascot for their brand.

Make use of Geofilters to reach new customers 

Geofilters are Instagram stickers that can be added to your story to denote your current location, which are then curated for the users worldwide to search for in the ‘Explore’ tab. When you click on a ‘location’ sticker on someone’s Instagram Story, the geo filter will take you to ‘Places’ page on Instagram, which contains a long reel of stories from other users that have been tagged with the same location.

Use Instagram Highlights to tell your brand story

Unlike traditional Instagram Stories that disappear after 24 hours, Instagram Highlights are basically IS that can be saved and pinned to your profile. You can use Instagram Highlights for:

  • Adding a creative ‘about me’ section:
    Show a quick snapshot of your brand and what products or services you offer in a fun, conversational tone to give your profile visitors and new followers a glimpse of who you are.
  • Introduce your team:
    Introduce your followers to your office culture and the faces behind your brand by uploading picture and videos from around your office, just like NASA did.
  • Post tutorials or seasonal tips:
    Depending on what your brand is about, you can create snippets of  DIY, tech-related, life hacks or other educational videos to give your followers a taste of the type of content you publish.

Tools to help you with Instagram Stories

Creating professional-looking templates with minimum effort becomes easy when you have multiple design tools available in the market for customizing every aspect of your IS. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Easil:

Price: Basic plan is free. Paid plans start at $7.50 per month

Perfect for creating high-quality marketing materials, Easil is a browser-based design platform that offers a variety of templates for your stories. Whether you’re looking to create an eye-catching image promoting an ongoing sales, or an Instagram takeover, Easil comes with a separate section for relevant pre-made templates that can be edited and customized to suit your needs.

  1. Hype Type:

Price: Free with in-app purchases.

Available for iOS and Android, Hype Type lets you add music clips and fun typography to your stories. Once you install the mobile app, create your story using Hype Type and simply swipe through the several font types and your favorite soundtracks that can be added to your story with a few taps.

  1. Unfold:

Price: Free.

Best suited for creating fashion, travel and lifestyle content, Unfold allows you to create multi-page Stories by offering stylized, minimalistic, pre-built templates that make your content look professional and polished with very little effort. You can create your story in one go, by editing fonts, adding borders, and customizing copy, before uploading it straight to Instagram.

  1. Quik:

Price: Free.

Created by GoPro and available for iOS/Android, Quik is a video editing app that optimizes your videos for vertical display, while offering pre-defined transitions, soundtracks and graphics on the side for a high-quality video experience.

  1. Adobe Spark Post:

Price: Freemium, with a $9.99 per month for a premium plan.

If you like to be more hands-on with the graphic design process for your IS, then opt for Adobe Spark Post which allows you to upload your own brand assets, like fonts or logos, and change the font, text colour and placement, as per your requirements. You can also choose an in-built marketing template with a bunch of graphics, backgrounds and fonts.

  1. Storeo:

Price: Free with in-app purchases.

Available only for iOS users, Storeo helps you create 15-second clips of longer videos by seamlessly cropping them to fit your brand’s Instagram Story. The intuitive app comes with a helpful instruction guide that helps you set up your camera, photos and mic.

Remember, tracking your Instagram Story analytics is important to get a detailed understanding of your audience, evaluating your overall performance, and optimizing your content for future posts. Similar to your Instagram post and account analytics, you can find analytics for your Instagram Stories under the “Insights” button in your Business Profile. You can also swipe up on a specific Instagram Story to access success metrics, such as:

  • Impressions:  Total number of views on your individual story.
  • Reach: Number of visits a unique account viewed each of your stories.
    Quick note: If the total number of your impressions is higher than your total reach, then your story was replayed several times by the same Instagram account. Your impressions can be higher than your reach, but the vice versa never happens.
  • Taps Forward: Total number of times someone jumped to the next story in the queue by tapping on the right side.
  • Taps Backward: Total number of times someone jumped to the previous story in the queue by tapping on the left side.
  • Exits: Total number of times a viewer has swiped out of your Instagram story.
  • Swipe-Ups: Total number of times the viewers swiped up on an Instagram Story to be redirected to a landing page.
  • Replies: The total number of times the viewers responded to your story. The responses will show up in your inbox.
  • Sticker Taps: Total number of people that clicked on your Instagram story stickers and geofilters.

Whether it is for an entire marketing campaign or single post, knowing the numbers behind your Instagram Stories will help you assess engagement more closely, and create content or campaigns with a more effective branding going further. With photos and videos extensively shared and viewed on IS, brands must zero-in on the kind of content that resonates well with their audience.

With photos and videos extensively shared and viewed through Instagram Stories, brands must zero-in on the kind of content that resonates well with their audience. If you’re just beginning to delve into the advantages of using IS for your business, then A/B testing all your posts is a good way to gauge the kind of content that works in your use case. Eventually, you’ll be able to showcase the personality, vision and voice of your brand effectively by grabbing the attention of frequent mobile phone users who spend a considerable amount of their time scrolling through their feed and consuming content.