How to use Instagram Stories to reach your audience

Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré

Instagram launched Stories just two years ago on August 2016, in a blatant effort to steal some of Snapchat’s thunder. It worked. In just over a year, Instagram Stories had more than 300 million daily users. And now, top influencers tend to prefer Instagram Stories over Snapchat Stories.

If you haven’t used them yet, Instagram Stories work like this:

  • You use them with pictures and videos from your computer or smartphone camera, or GIFs
  • You can edit those pictures or videos on the dashboard with words, “stickers” or drawings
  • You can arrange pictures and videos in the order you want them to be seen
  • Stories disappear after 24 hours, but within those 24 hours, they’re posted at the top of your followers’ feeds
  • Basic analytics will show you how many views you’ve received, and who viewed it

(Need a guided walkthrough with pictures? Check out this Buffer article.)

For Instagram, adding Stories means people stay on the platform longer - more than 30 minutes per day for users under 25, and more than 24 minutes each day for older users.

For business owners and marketers, that means access to 300 million users who are each on the platform for around 30 minutes. The question is:

Will they spend some of those minutes watching your story?

Considering that stories enjoy a whopping 24 hours of life at the top of their feeds before they disappear, your odds are good - but only if you capture their attention.

Here are 10 Instagram Story tips to make sure they do.

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

Instagram launched an interactive poll feature to their Stories last year, so why not use it to ask your audience what kind of content they’d enjoy the most? Or just ask fun, quick “this or that” questions that get people interacting with you. You’ll increase audience engagement, get ideas, and be able to tailor your efforts more closely to what your people want.

02. Tell the Behind-the-Scenes Story with Stories

Get personal, talk about yourself, your day, your product, your customers’ experiences, how you make it, how you use it. 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

03: Choose: Teaser or long-form

Video Stories last 15 seconds (images for 7 seconds) which means you have a very short period of time to do… something. That might be a teaser of an upcoming product release, a ‘slice of life’ moment, or… you an use a series of 15-second videos to create ‘episodes’ of a longer story. Anthropologie recently posted a series of user-generated images using their hashtag #myAnthropologie.

Anthropologie Instagram Stories

04. Support your stories by going live

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

05. 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.

06. Add links to your Stories

Business profiles with 10k or more followers have the option to add links to their Stories. 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.”

Not quite to 10K yet? You can still send people to the link in your bio and give them the important info they need to know with using text and doodles on your images, or design a custom template on Canva.

Call attention by using bright colors highlighting your offerings with the Orange Photo Sale Men's Fashion Instagram Story and Pink with Photo Sale Kids' Fashion/Stuff Instagram Story templates.

07. 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.

08. 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 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.

Call attention to your event with these eye-catching templates, Blue and Peach Classes Workshop Announcement New Story and Red and Cream Kids' Fashion Sale Instagram Story

09. 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. Bonus points 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.

10. Create outside the smartphone box

Almost everyone uses their smartphone to do their stories, but some brands choose to stand out by using tools like Canva to create images, and then upload them to Stories. The premade layouts will help you get the aspect ratio right every time, and you can use both your own images, and images from Canva’s media library.

Stand out from the crowd by using templates link White and Pink Simple Shoes Sale Story or the Charcoal and Yellow Plans / Quotes Roadtrip Story.

BONUS TIP

Maximize your investment in creating Instagram Stories by using tools that make them multi-task on your website, like Snappd and EmbedStories.