The ultimate guide to creating Instagram Stories

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From a marketing perspective, posting regularly on Instagram Stories can increase your presence beyond the now-crowded photo feed of your audience. All content on Instagram(opens in a new tab or window) is an opportunity for relationship building but Stories, the content that your audience chooses to consume and disappears after 24 hours, is different. Stories are quick and short-lived moments, a place where your audience's time is respected, helping them feel in control of the narrative you've built. It’s the perfect place to keep your audience captivated when the algorithm wreaks havoc on your static content, as well as being a great place for experimentation and new types of engagement and conversations with your customers.

Make Instagram Stories(opens in a new tab or window) that facilitate an immersive, authentic two-way conversation. Here are tips and tricks that will help you do all that and more.

Why should I create Instagram Stories?

Because you want to tap into a daily user network of 500 million global users, that’s why. Instagram users like Stories for its exclusive, ephemeral-feel content, giving them a glimpse into a ‘different’ side of a brand. Because they only appear on your page for 24 hours, they’re also a great opportunity to try out new ways of connecting and, because of their more ‘authentic’ feel, don’t have to demand perfection like other digital assets. It’s just another string to your content bow and it’s one that’s growing in popularity with every passing day.

How to design an Instagram Story

Image by Robert Katzki via Unsplash

Keep inside the Instagram Story dimensions

The first rule of thumb for creating engaging and well-designed Instagram Stories is to keep within the dimensions. Although it sounds simple and straightforward, it could mean the difference between an effective piece of content and one that makes your brand look disorganized and a little chaotic.

Where brands often get caught is that while Instagram Story dimensions are 1080 × 1920 pixels, there are other icons to contend with when considering your design, including ‘swipe up’ options and the story progression bar that features at the top. For this reason, you should always leave 250 pixels at the top and bottom to account for this.

Use on-brand colors and graphics

Image by @urbangrowers

Forest green is the color of social media choice for Urban Growers, an Australian urban farming venture, for obvious reasons. In Stories, it’s used as the background color for slides, in the text for slide heads and also as the background color for video text boxes. Using this color throughout their Stories creates a sense of continuity, cleverly linking back to the ethos of the company.

When creating your Stories, you should think about how the colors you incorporate into your slides link to each other but also your brand. This continuity isn’t just in obvious places of color choice such as slide backgrounds but also in the same details of your template: arrows, stickers, icons and other small details can also carry your color of choice. Don’t be afraid to customize your slides to fit a specific aesthetic—use that rainbow tool to find the exact shade that sits under your branding umbrella.

Incorporate Instagram Story stickers

The benefit of the non-permanent nature of Instagram Stories is the freedom it gives brands to experiment and test audiences without permanently affecting their profile. Don’t be afraid to try new things, especially when it comes to stickers. The range of available stickers can help to create a sense of urgency around your message or product, or also act as an anchor to particular audiences regarding location and time.

Stickers such as polls or questions are also fun calls to action, asking your audience to connect and engage in a much more forward way. To see how to apply stickers to your Stories, see below.

Add a call-to-action

Although your content might be working to build brand awareness and a stronger sense of who you are, you’ll often want to get your followers to take action as a result of viewing your Story—buying your product or taking up the offer of a discount, for example. The best way to spur your followers into action is to add a call to action.

There is the ‘see more’ option that can drive to a selected page, but you can also incorporate these into your Story design before uploading them. Some templates(opens in a new tab or window) already include a script in a bold, eye-catching way that’s easily editable to carry your call-to-action message, and some templates incorporate functions such as polls(opens in a new tab or window) cleverly within the design so you don’t have to fiddle with text boxes in the app.

Add a hashtag

Hashtags are like little breadcrumbs leading new followers right to your content. Need some help finding the catchiest ones? Try Magic Write’s free Instagram hashtag generator(opens in a new tab or window)—a game-changer that lets you brainstorm a range of hashtag ideas in seconds. Start with a text prompt and watch as multiple hashtag ideas appear. Choose the one that fits your event, product, or campaign. Use up to 50 queries for free and unlock more with a Canva Pro subscription.

How to post an Instagram Story

  1. First, either tap the camera icon in the top left or swipe right from anywhere in your Feed.
  2. Then, press the circle to take a photo or hold it down for a video or, choose an asset from your photo library by simply swiping up.
  3. You can add text, stickers, or drawings to your asset by pressing any of the buttons in the top right of your screen. If you want to remove something you’ve just added, drag the element down to the bin at the bottom.
  4. To share, press ‘send to’, then select ‘my story’.

How to add stickers and text to an Instagram Story

Instagram Story stickers are an additional way to personalize your posts and add your own unique stamp to your content. There’s a wide range of stickers you can add including simple text, GIFs, questions that receive instant DM responses, time and temperature tags, music and emoji(opens in a new tab or window) slider overlays, @mentions to tag other users and quiz questions. Here’s how to add them to your content.

  1. After you’ve chosen your video or photo, tap the smiley face button on the top right screen (known as the ‘stickers’ button).
  2. If you want to move the sticker, simply drag it wherever you like on the screen. If you want to make it smaller or bigger, pinch the graphic and resize accordingly.
  3. To add alocation sticker, tap the ‘stickers’ button and select the ‘location’ option. Tap the specific location you want to add.
  4. To add a hashtag sticker, tap the ‘stickers’ button, then select the ‘hashtag’ option. You can then type your hashtag directly.
  5. To add a countdown sticker, tap the ‘stickers’ button, then select the ‘countdown’ option. Add an end date to the sticker.
  6. To add a poll sticker, tap the ‘stickers’ button, then select the ‘toll’ sticker. Here, you can write your question and create your poll options.

How to use Instagram Stories Highlights

  1. Tap the ‘Story Highlights’ section below your username and bio on your profile page.
  2. Press the plus button.
  3. Select the story or stories you want to add to highlights by tapping them, then tap Next.
  4. Tap Edit Cover > Choose a cover photo > Tap Done.
  5. Type a story name for your highlight, then tap ‘add’ or ‘done’. To add more photos or videos to your highlight at any time, tap and hold on the highlight, then tap Edit Highlight.

How to create custom Instagram Stories Highlight covers

Image by @sephora

  1. Select the stories you want to add to a highlight.
  2. You’ll then be prompted to choose a title and cover photo for your highlight. Tap ‘edit cover’, then tap the photo icon to upload an image from your camera roll.
  3. To make the icon bigger or smaller, pinch and drag the image to reposition.
  4. To change the cover of an existing Highlight, open the Highlight roll, tap the ellipsis in the bottom right corner, then select ‘edit highlight’. Tap on the photo icon in the bottom left corner to select an image from your camera roll.

How to use Instagram Stories analytics

Analytics in Instagram Stories can be accessed by viewing your Story, where all insights attached to the particular slide or video is displayed below. Insights here include how many people have viewed the Story, how many shares it has received and overall impressions.

If you’re posting to a wealth of followers and have a business profile, you can gain specific insights by connecting to Creator Studio, a place where creators can manage the monetization, measurement, and posting of all their work on Instagram. Here, influencers will be able to access specifics such as when their followers are online and overviews of age and gender demographics.

The best brands on Instagram Stories

New York Public Library

Image via @New York Public Library

The New York Public Library(opens in a new tab or window) has started using Instagram Stories to publish full-length novels, one chapter at a time.

Why it works: From a branding perspective, what’s more on-brand for one of the largest libraries in the US than using the Instagram Stories platform to literally share a story? By sharing books in their entirety, NYPL is staying true to its brand mission of inspiring more people to read. It also works from a design perspective; NYPL keeps most of its Instagram Story designs simple with text on a neutral background, while wisely adding visual interest in between chapters with a custom illustration.


Image by @Converse

Converse(opens in a new tab or window) uses Instagram Stories to promote their latest products and campaigns.

Why it works: You can tell people about an upcoming product launch, but that will never be as effective as showing them. Converse used Instagram Stories as a way to give their followers a sneak preview of their new sneaker line. By sharing colorful, interactive graphics and product shots, Converse was able to get people excited about their new kicks in the days leading up to the launch. This is an awesome strategy for building buzz around a new product and ultimately, driving sales.

Ideas for engaging Instagram Stories

Use the Poll feature to ask your audience what they want to see

Want to know what kind of content your audience would enjoy the most? Ask them. You’ll increase audience engagement, get ideas, and be able to tailor your efforts more closely to what your people want.

Tell the Behind-the-Scenes Story

It might be as simple as showing how to cook your latest recipe, your ab workout, or your process for putting together a beautiful tablescape. Why not host a DIY session? Whatever it is you do, let people see you do it.

Make your behind-the-scenes story eye-catching with these templates from Canva: Red Flower Illustration Dog Photo Showing Off Pets Story and Pink Cream Food State Fairs Story

Teaser or long-form video

Video Stories last 15 seconds (images for seven seconds) which means you have a very short period to make an impact. That might be a teaser of an upcoming product release, a ‘slice of life’ moment, or a series of 15-second videos to create ‘episodes’ of a longer story. You can maximize the short time by using a video editor(opens in a new tab or window) to add effects, elements, and transitions to make a lasting impression.

Support your Stories by going live

You can sprinkle your regular posts and Instagram stories with Instagram Live videos, which get heightened attention because they’re spontaneous and informal. Also, your followers get notifications when you go live.

Use your highlight reel

Even though Stories only appear for 24 hours, you can choose ‘highlights’ that last until you delete them. Highlight reels can be found on your Instagram profile below your bio and above your feed. What should you include in your reel? Posts that have garnered the most engagement. And don’t forget to change the cover, name, and image in each highlight to reflect your brand.

Add links to your Stories

Business profiles with 10k or more followers have the option to add links to their Stories(opens in a new tab or window). Users can then 'swipe up' to visit the linked pages. Note that not all users are swipe-up savvy, so use the text or doodle features to tell them to “Swipe Up to Read More.”

Add tags

You can tag yourself in Stories to send users to your profile where they can find the link to your website. And you can also tag brands and other people you mention in your stories (and hopefully they’ll share your post). Besame Cosmetics just launched an Agent Carter-themed line and have been sharing user-generated unboxing videos in Stories, always being sure to tag the lovely creators.

Use Stories to promote your blog or event

Some entrepreneurs publish a Story to promote every single blog post, almost like a mini-launch. Other businesses, like Shutterstock, put calls-to-action in their Highlights that ask viewers to “click the link in the bio(opens in a new tab or window) to read the full story.” You can treat your blog posts like events - and, of course, you can use Insta Stories to publicize actual events.

Swap Stories

These are like guest posts, but for Instagram Stories. It is also known as a 'takeover'. Essentially, you agree to do a Story for another business on Instagram, and they return the favor, so both of you gain exposure to the other’s audience. You’ll get bonus points (and a boost in followers) if you can swap Stories with an influencer who has more than 10K followers because then you can use their swipe-up feature to send people directly to your site.

Get inspired by custom Stories templates

Not sure where to start? We’ve got a few ideas.

Photo-centric template

If you want to showcase or build buzz for a new product, try a photo-centric Instagram Stories template. These are templates that have a photo as the main focal point that allows you to bring attention to your product photos and then use other design accents (like text or graphics) to add visual interest.

Why it works: A photo is (literally) front and center with this template, but the other design accents (like the hand-drawn flowers and textured paper elements) keep this from looking like other, more generic story feeds.

Who it works for: This template would be a great fit for a trendy apparel brand looking to showcase new items.

Photo and text combo

Why it works: Sometimes, it’s not enough to just include a photo, you also want to include some information to lure your audience into action. This template showcases your product but also leaves room for a call to action.

Who it works for: Because you can easily swap in your own photos and brand colors, this universal Instagram Stories template works for just about every brand under the sun.

Multi-photo layout

Why it works: Sometimes, one photo just isn’t enough to get the look and feel of your product across—and in those cases, you need a template that’s designed to showcase multiple shots. With this template, you can feature multiple product shots—but thanks to the layout (which includes different photo sizes and a white border to create contrast), they’ll all get equal attention.

Announcement Story

If you want to grab attention, an announcement is a way to go about it. Who can resist a sale or having a sneak peek at something new?

Why it works: If you’re having a sale, you need to tell people—and these templates allow you to do that in a simple, straightforward way. The color blocking adds visual interest (and allows your Instagram Story to feel on-brand) while the white block highlights any pertinent sale information (like “50% off all dresses today only!” or “Sale ends 5/21”).

People-centric Instagram Story

At its core, social media is all about building relationships—and that includes relationships between brands and their audiences. And if you want to use Instagram Stories to strengthen the relationship with your followers or customers, every story can’t be all about your product—it has to also be about your people.

Featuring real people on your Instagram Story, whether it’s a photo of your executive team having fun in the office or a quick video interview with one of your customers raving about your products, is a way to (literally) put a face to your brand—which can help to create a more personal relationship with your followers.

Why it works: With space for two photos, the black-and-white color palette lends a sophisticated look to both the images and the template as a whole—while the blurred edges of each photo add visual interest (and keep the final story from veering into “boring” territory).

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