Humans are natural storytellers. It’s how we make sense of the world, how we engage with and entertain our peers, and how we connect. But we’ve come a long way from the campfire. The storytelling circle of today is, quite literally, at our fingertips. It’s called Instagram Stories, and in the age of social media, this is the best way to be seen (and heard). In this article, we outline how to use Instagram Stories effectively and give you some tips along the way.
More than 1.2 billion active monthly users are coming around the digital water cooler that is Instagram. And over 500 million of them are using Instagram Stories every day. One-third of the most popular Stories are posted by businesses, focusing their marketing prowess on these 15-second videos (or 10-second images) with a shelf life of 24 hours.
But why use Instagram Stories? Well, for starters, they are a simple, speedy way to showcase you or your brand’s personality. With transparency being a major factor in building trust with your audience, Insta Stories offer a casual, endearing invitation behind the scenes.
Stories are also a failsafe way to test new ideas and content with your following. They’re experimental and fun. Even with their fleeting nature, their impact lives on.
In fact, in 2021, Instagram Stories brought almost 50% of users to another website to make a purchase. So, if you’re not already spinning a yarn through this medium, you should be. You are? Great. But amid 200 million active business accounts, how is your content going to cut through? Here, we’ll explore how to make stunning Instagram Stories to elevate your brand.
Images: Mimco, Sportsgirl, and The New Yorker champion their brand aesthetic across Instagram Stories.
Sure, Instagram has an in-app Story builder with various features and modes, but from a business perspective, a simple way to stand out and keep your messaging sleek, on-brand, and consistent is to create Instagram Stories using Canva templates.
Templates make it easy to batch-produce on-brand content and strategize, plan, and schedule your IG Stories. They’re also a huge time-saver. Setting up templates—a specific one for quotes, another for sales, and so on—is a savvy way to streamline your social media output. It also enables you to outsource Story creation to other team members.
Canva is home to millions of professionally designed templates that are ready to roll and be customized to match your brand aesthetic.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to create a beautiful Story on Instagram using Canva (prefer a visual guide? Watch this fun video tutorial).
Design tip: When editing your Instagram Stories, consider the flow of content. How will the string of graphics look together, especially when there’s video content?
Try designing your first Canva-made Instagram Story. Create clean, image-centric quote posts with the Polaroid Minimalist Modern Your Story template, or go minimal and dress the Green and Cream Instagram Story template.
Apart from eye-catching photos and entertaining videos, you can take engagement to the next level with interactive elements like Instagram Story Stickers. To use Stickers, tap the Sticker icon (square smiley icon) on the upper right-hand corner of the Instagram Story board. This toggles the sticker tray:
In 2018, Instagram budded up with GIPHY to create a library of GIFs designed to shine, flash, and shimmy across our Stories. To add GIFs to your Instagram Story, tap the Sticker icon, then select GIF. A search bar will appear, where you can search for any GIF from the vast GIF library.
Strategic as they are amusing, a thoughtfully added GIF will direct the viewer’s eye to certain elements on your Story. Use them to highlight text, call users to an action (like “Sound On” GIFs), or guide them to a certain part of the Story (using, for example, arrow GIFs).
Take a cue from Parents Magazine, which has made its customized GIF stickers a talking point.
Thanks to Facebook’s partnerships with every major record label in the biz, Instagram now allows users to add music to their Instagram Stories, with hits from the lyrical likes of Bruno Mars, Calvin Harris, Ed Sheeran, and more. It’s important to note, however, that this feature is only available in certain countries.
To put music on an Instagram Story, select the Music sticker. From there, you can search songs by name, mood, or genre. You can also tap the Play button opposite each track to give it a listen before adding it to your Story.
Once you’ve selected a track, use the slider to fast-forward or rewind the song and choose the exact verse that fits your Story. Then tap Done. Don’t forget to include a “Sound On” sticker or GIF, so your Story viewers won’t miss a beat.
Want to showcase your newest tracks? Try editing the Aerial Ocean Photo Your Story template—the perfect background for a chill tune. Or bring your theme song to life with the Black and White Modern Travel Vacation Story template.
In the olden days (a couple of years ago), we had the “Swipe Up” feature, which allowed users to add links to their Stories. However, it was only available to verified Instagram accounts and those with over 10,000 followers.
Thankfully, Instagram retired this feature and rolled out Link stickers in its place. Now everyone—even those with a very small following—to put links, so make the most of it! To add links to your Instagram Story, just tap the Link sticker and add the URL of the destination. It can be your new blog post, article, or product page.
You can move the link around the screen. See how BuzzFeed’s official Instagram account posted a link on their Instagram Story:
If you’re a verified shopping account, you can turn your Stories into a mini-mart using Product stickers. These dramatically simplify the shopping experience for your Story viewers. They see, they tap, they shop.
To add Product stickers to your Instagram Stories, tap the Product icon on the sticker tray. Your shop’s catalog will then appear. Select the product you want to feature, then tap Done. Easy-peasy. Launching new products is a breeze.
The Product tag will look like this, as featured on Instagram’s Help Center.
Questions trigger a natural answering reflex in humans (a.k.a. automatic engagement). To ask your followers a question, select Questions on the sticker tray and type in your question.
Instagram Story Questions are a great way to spark conversations with your audience, gather questions for a live Q&A, run Instagram Stories content, or share FAQs and useful information.
Check out these Q&A samples featured by the Evening Standard to get ideas for questions to ask on your Instagram Story.
It’s hard to swipe past an invitation to throw in your two cents! So Instagram rolled out two different poll styles you can add to your Stories: A two-option Poll or a cute Emoji Slider.
On top of encouraging interaction, polls are a great way to ask your followers for feedback (who doesn’t love a little bit of free market research?).
Give your Story viewers a fun challenge and test their knowledge on your brand, products, topics related to your niche, or anything under the sun. To make an Instagram Story quiz, select the Quiz sticker, come up with a multiple-choice question, and provide the choices. Click on the Letter icons to designate the correct answer.
Apart from engagement, your brand can use the data from quizzes on your own Stories to plan your content. Check out the fun quiz Stories on Canva’s Instagram page. Aren’t they hard to resist?
Keep your audience on their toes by hyping them up with countdowns to your next product launch, sale, or new branch opening. That way, they can mark their calendars and block time out of their schedule to join.
To add a countdown to your Instagram Story, look for the Countdown sticker, name the special event, and set the date and time. It’s an exciting way to play the waiting game.
Another brilliant Instagram Story idea is using the Mention sticker, which allows you to tag a friend or kindred brand on your Instagram Story. Click the @Mention sticker and type the username. Once tagged, the user receives a notification.
It may seem like a small gesture, but it works wonders in building a sense of community. So encourage your followers to tag you using the Mention sticker. It doesn’t hurt that these mentions look good on a Story. Check out these sleek tags on the official Instagram account.
Want to increase your brand awareness and bring followers to your door? Tell them where you are! The Location sticker makes your Story discoverable under the Location Tag search, so Instagram users can come flocking to your site.
To add your location to an Instagram Story, tap the Location sticker, type your location, and choose from the search results. Your location will appear alongside a pin. Here’s how we added location tags to our Sydney and Manila Instagram Stories.
In 2021, Instagram rolled out “Add Yours” stickers, where users can create and join public threads.
Most people use Add Yours to follow a prompt. To join an Add Yours thread on Stories, click the Add Yours button on a Story you’re following. Follow the prompt and add your own photos. This creates a new Story and extends the chain.
But why join a thread if you can make your own? Start a fresh chain by tapping the Add Yours sticker and writing your prompt. Encourage your followers to participate and see who among them joins in on the fun. Here’s a stellar example from Instagram’s Twitter account.
A Story may last only a day, but filing it under Highlights will make it last forever. Instagram Story Highlights are made up of Stories that you can curate under specific themes. Unlike ordinary Stories, Highlights stick around and live on in your Instagram profile. They can be used to showcase your products, share tutorial content, or create trailers for your account.
To create a Highlights album, tap the + icon on the Story Highlights section of your profile. You will then be taken to a gallery of your past Stories. Choose the Stories you want to file under this album, then tap Next. Give the album a name, choose a nice album cover image, and you’re done. You’ve preserved your Stories forever!
Go the extra mile and create custom album covers for your Instagram Story Highlights. Edit any of the pretty Instagram Story Highlights cover templates from Canva.
Out-of-the-box designs will make you stand out from your competitors, but they still have to follow basic design principles. Clutter and a lack of visual balance may throw your followers off.
So take the time to polish your work as you bring your Instagram Story ideas to life. Keep these basic design principles in mind:
Keep the color palette distinct and cohesive by using your brand colors as the background or accent colors.
Like movie trailers, teasers tickle your follower’s fancy. So don’t hesitate to make the most of the content you made and repost them on your Stories. Any user curious enough to check your post, Reel, or IGTV video will click on your Story, and they’ll be redirected to that fresh piece of content.
Instagram Stories don’t need to be a chore, and beautifully crafted templates make them even less so. You really can’t go wrong when any missteps melt away after 24 hours, so have fun and see what gets your audience going.
The first version of this story was written by Melanie Dimmitt. We've updated it to include new Instagram Story features.