Unsuccessful in purchasing Snapchat, but wanting to capture its functionality, Instagram introduced Instagram Stories in August 2016.
What are Instagram Stories?
Instagram Stories are visual with the “stories” live for a period of 24 hours and then they disappear. Images and short video comprise the story in a vertical format. Text or doodles can be added over the images. Filters, music and stickers can be added as well as geotags.
The stories appear at the top of a user’s Instagram page not in the tiled photo gallery. A circle around someone’s public picture signifies that there is an active story that they have posted. And, if the Instagram owner wants to keep the story permanently on their page, the story can be posted to their profile page as a highlight.
Instagram Stories offer the advantage of being featured at the top of a follower’s home feed. Its appearance on a follower’s feed isn’t dependent on a complicated algorithm where how fast your Instagram post gets engagement matters. By using Instagram Stories, they go to the top of the line. By adding a location sticker or a hashtag, even users who don’t follow you, have the ability to see your story. That’s a big plus.
With Instagram Stories you have the capability to know the number of times your story has been seen and the names of those who have seen it. If your Instagram account is a business profile, you can also view analytics on your Stories. There are a number of stats that you can access such as reach, impressions, completion rate, etc.
Instagram Stories have grown exponentially in its short history. Citing accurate data on the number of Instagram Stories users is difficult because of the rapid growth, but it would appear that Instagram Stories has some 400-500 million daily users, which is more than twice the number of Snapchat users for their entire app. According to an article in recode.net, 31% of Instagram users post a story once a month and 47% of Instagram users watch Instagram Stories at least weekly. Some data suggests that users spend as much time on stories as the main feed.
Who Uses Instagram Stories?
In researching Instagram Stories, I learned that Instagram Stories came into being because users felt intimidated by Instagram. Users felt their photos had to be perfect to post on Instagram. Instagram Stories were created to capture everyday life and not perfection.
It is estimated that for every three Instagram stories, two are posted by individuals and one is posted by a business. Given that Instagram was created more for individuals and individuals outweigh the number of businesses that is not a surprising statistic.
Individuals use Instagram Stories for anything and everything: what they ate for lunch, the party they attended, their fabulous new car, the great apartment they rented, their Christmas gifts, their vegetable garden, their fashion sense, the life-changing trip they went on, the new job they landed, etc.
Businesses use Instagram Stories to promote their products, to give a behind the scenes look at how their business works, to feature a live event, to ask questions, conduct polls or run a contest. They are being used by some big name brands such as National Geographic, J. Crew, the Gap, Airbnb, Lowes, Nordstrom Rack, Converse, Whole Foods, Aldo, and Mercedes Benz, just to name some.
Apps to Create Instagram Stories
What is surprising is the reason Instagram Stories was created seems to have been abandoned, at least in part. Why? Look at all the apps that exist and continue to be created to build upon the functionality in Instagram Stories and “take your story to the next level”. The apps are used to make Instagram Stories eye-catching, to have someone go “Wow”, to ensure the audience engages with the content. This applies to stories created by individuals and businesses.
There are all kinds of apps available to download to help create the picture-perfect Instagram Story. Most are available on both iPhone and Android, but some are only available for one format. These are just a few, but there are many others:
- Unfold – for story templates
- Canva – for customized story templates to your brand
- Word Swag – for beautiful fonts
- Hype-Type – for animating words
- Over – for overlaying text and graphics on photos and video
- InShot – for editing photos and video
- CutStory – for cropping longer videos into 15 second clips
How Could a Small Business Use Instagram Stories?
Before a small business starts to use Instagram Stories, they need to determine what their goals are in using Instagram Stories. Then they can determine content. For example, some small business owners use Instagram Stories to gain insight into their product from their followers, showcase their employees and their partners, promote their business and have a bit of fun.
Lets look at a few examples of how a smaller business can use Instagram Stories to start a conversation with their followers.
Poll (using Instagram Stories’ Poll Sticker)
A poll is a great way to interact with followers, maybe help a small business make some decisions and increase engagement at the same time. Polls can be used to gain information on existing or new products or it can be just for fun. A poll allows you to ask a question and for your followers to vote. Essentially the vote is yes or no but you can customize the poll choices on screen to be what you want. Those who vote can see the results on their screen after voting. As the story creator, you can track voting as well but you do have to cull the voting results before the story expires as the voting results will disappear too!
Questions (using Instagram Stories’ Question Sticker)
This is a feature that can be used by businesses to ask their followers questions or for their followers to ask questions of the business. It is a great way to have engagement with a business’ customer base. Because a business shows that they care enough to ask their customers their opinion and to answer their customer’s questions, it presents the business in a good light and translates into customer loyalty.
Contests (using Instagram Stories’ Question Sticker)
A business can give away products or services they offer using Instagram Stories. Using the Question sticker in Instagram, they can create a 24 hour contest. A sense of urgency and fun is created when an Instagram Story is used, because it only exists for 24 hours. A photo of the prize in an Instagram Story, and asking users to reply to the story with their e-mail address to enter is simple. The business owner then needs to select the winner and announce it.
Businesses also have the option to run a contest on their main profile but use Instagram Stories to promote it. Because of the algorithm used by Instagram, many of a business’ followers might not see a post announcing a giveaway in their feeds. But Stories push to the top of their feeds. The Story could tell a business’ followers about the contest and how to enter. The business can also use hashtags like “#contest” to extend the Story’s reach.
How Often and When Should a Small Business Owner Post an Instagram Story?
In term of how often a small business owner posts an Instagram Story that is something he/she has to determine as part of the business’ overall social media strategy as well as everything else that needs to be done to keep the business a success. Maybe you do one or two stories a week.
Because Instagram Stories live for 24 hours, a business owner doesn’t need to be concerned about when the post occurs, but it wouldn’t hurt to post when the business’ audience is normally most active on social media or if the business is looking for immediate engagement on a topic.
Do you use Instagram Stories as an Individual or as a Business? What kinds of Stories do you post? Do you combine your Stories into Highlights?