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Instagram Stories: The Complete Guide to Using Stories

Ash Read
Ash Read Editorial @ Buffer
Instagram Stories: The Complete Guide to Using Stories

13 min read
You will learn


We’ll walk you through the ins and outs of stories, from how to get started and post your first story to advanced strategies for creating content that will make your business stand out on Instagram.

You will learn

  • How to get started with Stories and stickers
  • Tips on how to make sure your Stories are on-brand and stylish
  • The data that tells you what's working and what's not

Instagram Stories lets Instagram accounts post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours.

Stories were launched in August 2016, and now more than 500 million Instagrammers use stories daily. If you’ve ever thought about experimenting with stories to boost your reach or engagement, now is the perfect time.

Want to learn how to use stories?

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of stories, from how to get started and post your first story to advanced strategies for creating content that will make your business stand out on Instagram.

Let’s get started…

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is instagram-stories.jpg

Buffer for Instagram now comes with stories scheduling! Plan, preview, and schedule your Instagram Stories on web or mobile. Get started now with a 14-day free trial.

How to use Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories appear in a bar at the top of your feed — and all Instagram accounts will be able to share stories, from your best friends to your favorite popular accounts. When there’s something new to see, their profile photo will have a colorful ring around it.

To view someone’s story, you simply need to tap on their profile photo, and their story will appear full-screen, showing you all of the content they’ve posted in the last 24hrs, the content will play in chronological order from oldest to newest.

Once you’re viewing a story, you can tap to go back and forward or swipe to jump to another person’s story. Unlike regular posts, there are no likes or public comments.


How to post Instagram Stories

To create a story on Instagram, you have to tap the camera icon at the top left-hand corner of the screen, or you can reveal the story camera by simply swiping left.

Once the story camera is open you can take a photo or record a video, just as you would normally on Instagram. After you’ve recorded your video or taken a photo, you can use a range of filters and also add text and drawings to your content.

Pro-Tip: How to add content from your Camera Roll

There’s a cool Instagram stories feature that allows you to upload content created within the last 24hrs from your smartphone camera roll. To do this, simply swipe up on the stories camera, and you’ll see the latest content from your camera roll appear at the bottom of your screen. From here, simply select the content you’d like to add to your story.

How to use Instagram Stories stickers

Instagram Stories stickers are super versatile and enable you to add extra context to your Instagram Stories content.

To add stickers to your story, take a photo or video and then tap the Stickers button (a smiley face in the top right of the screen) to find customizable stickers for weather, the current time, location and more.

Resizing and moving stickers: You can move stickers by dragging them across your screen and resize them by pinching or expanding it with two fingers.

How to add a location sticker

To add your location to your Instagram Stories posts, tap the Stickers button and then select the ‘Location’ option.

You’ll now be presented with a list of nearby locations and a search bar to help you filter and find the right location:

Next, simply tap the location you want to add and it’ll be added to your stories post. Once the location is on your stories screen you can tap it to change the color of the sticker.

How to add a hashtag sticker

You can add a hashtag to your Instagram story by tapping the hashtag sticker. Once selected, you’ll be prompted to write your hashtag:

Location and Hashtag Stories on Explore

When you search for a hashtag or location on Instagram, you may see a story ring at the top of the page filled with stories using that hashtag or shared from that location.

If your profile is set to public and you add a hashtag or location, your stories may also be featured on the Explore tab.

How to add a poll sticker

Instagram Stories also a neat interactive poll sticker that lets you ask a question and see results from your friends and followers as they vote.

After you’ve taken a photo or video for your story, open up the Stickers menu and select the “poll” sticker.

Once you’ve tapped the “poll” sticker, Instagram will prompt you to write a question and customize the poll choices. After you’ve created your poll, post your story and your followers will be able to vote right away.

Once someone has voted on your poll, they’ll see which choice is in the lead at any given moment. And if they watch your story again later, they’ll see the latest results.

How to add a countdown sticker

Build excitement for a big event or product release with your followers using the countdown sticker.

To add a countdown sticker to your story:

  1. Select ‘Countdown’ from the sticker tray after taking a photo or video
  2. Name your countdown
  3. Add an end date or time and customize the color
  4. Share to your story.

Once you’ve created a countdown sticker, it will stay in your sticker tray to reuse in future stories until the countdown is complete. If one of your followers taps on your countdown they will get a notification when the countdown ends.

Other sticker options

There are plenty of stickers available to add to your Instagram Stories, these include:

  • Time: Add the current time to your story
  • Temperature: Include the temperature in your story
  • GIF: Search Giphy and embed a GIF within your story
  • @Mention: Tag another Instagram user
  • Questions: Ask your audience a question, responses are sent to you as DMs
  • Chat: Start conversations with a group of friends right from your story
  • Music: Share your favorite songs to your story
  • Quiz: Create multiple choice quiz questions for your audience to answer
  • Emoji Slider: Ask questions in a fun way. Choose an emoji that represents your question and your audience can just drag the emoji to the left or right to show how they feel
Instagram Stories Emoji Slider sticker

Instagram Stories Highlights

In 2017, Instagram introduced Stories Highlights as a way to keep your stories around for more than 24 hours.

Stories Highlights appear on your profile below your bio:

Alongside Highlights, Instagram also introduced the stories archive. Stories you post are now automatically saved to your archive when they expire, so you can repost your favorite stories at any time.

To create a highlight:

  • Tap the “New” circle at the far left
  • No you can choose any stories from your archive
  • Select a cover for your Highlight and give it a name

Once you’re done, your highlight will appear as a circle on your profile. You can have as many highlights as you like, and they will stay on your profile until you remove them. To edit or remove a highlight, just tap and hold that highlight on your profile.

Choosing who can see your Stories

Privacy settings

Your story follows the privacy settings of your account. If you set your account to private, your story is visible only to your followers. However, you can also easily hide your entire story from anyone you don’t want to see it, even if they follow you.

Close friends

You can make a close friends list on Instagram and Stories with just the people you’ve added. To add people to your list, go to your profile and tap on “Close Friends” in the side menu. Only you can see your close friends list and no one can request to be added, so you can feel comfortable adjusting it at any time.

Creating an Instagram Stories strategy for your business 

As with all aspects of social media marketing, you’ll need an Instagram Stories strategy to be successful and achieve your goals.

But where should you start?

Here are a few tips to help…

1. Post between one to seven Stories each day

We conducted some research into how people are engaging with Instagram stories and found that posting between one to seven stories is best for keeping a high completion rate (over 70 percent).

Completion rate is determined by calculating the number of times your Stories were watched from the first Story frame all the way to the last Story frame within the given 24-hour time period.

This means that if you post between one to seven stories, the chances are 70 percent of your audience will stick around until the end of your last post.

However, if you do want to post longer stories, the drop off isn’t too bad. You can still see completion rates above 50 percent for posts longer than 20 stories.

2. Post Stories at optimal times

Given that stories only last for 24hrs, you’ll want to maximize the reach of that content when you post it.

The best time to post will vary for every account based on its audience and when they are most active, but to give you an idea of where to start we studied the average completion rate of stories across the day.

3. Build 1:1 relationships with your audience

When social media first hit the mainstream, there was a lot of buzz and excitement about being able to talk directly with your favorite celebrities and brands. Stories give brands the chance to get back to the roots of social media, and engage with their followers on a 1:1 basis.

For example, we could see brands running Q&A sessions via Stories with people sending questions via Instagram Direct, or question stickers, and the brand answering them within their stories.

4. Post consistently

Consistency is key to social media success. And that’s especially true for stories. Because stories only last 24hrs, you need to post new content daily to keep your audience engaged.

We found that the more Stories top Instagram accounts post, the more median reach and impressions they get.

This doesn’t mean you should churn out stories content for the sake of it, but if you want to increase your reach and impressions on Instagram, well thought-out and structured stories could be a great way to go.

5. Use Stories ads to boost reach, engagement and conversions

When we used Instagram Stories ads to promote our blog posts, we found that they outperformed our Facebook feed ads.

Our Instagram Stories ads cost just $0.06 per click!

(On Facebook, our feed ads usually cost around $0.30 – $0.60 per click.)

Since Stories ads are still relatively new, we think it’s a great time to get started and make the most of it. We’re thrilled to help you with this.

Stories ads appear full-screen on mobile devices and run in-between users’ Stories. For example, here are a few ads we’ve recently spotted on Instagram:

If you have never created Stories ads before, here’s a starter guide, including the ad specs and tips for creating ad creatives. All you need to get started is a Facebook ads account!

Scheduling Instagram Stories 

If you’re managing a business or creator account on Instagram, you might want to schedule your stories in advance to ensure you’re always sharing fresh, engaging content with your audience.

Whether you want to boost engagement, take your followers behind-the-scenes or promote your latest product releases and sales, you can do it all with Instagram Stories.

Here’s how to schedule Instagram Stories with Buffer:

1. Connect your Instagram account and head to your Stories Queue

Stories have their own queue within the Buffer dashboard, select your Instagram account and then open the stories tab.

2. Upload your content

Tap ‘Add to Story’ from your queue and then Select Add Media Files to upload your Story images and videos.

3. Schedule your story

Use the Schedule Story button to open up the time and date picker. Choose the day and time that you want to post the Story, and we’ll send a push notification to mobile device with everything you need to complete the post in Instagram.

Bonus: With Buffer you can also re-arrange and preview your Stories, so that you’ll know they’ll be posted in the right order and pre-write your captions. Check out our complete guide to scheduling Instagram Stories here.

Try Buffer for Instagram Stories for free now with a 14-day trial.

Instagram Stories analytics

How to check who’s seen your story

Once your story is posted you can also view some basic analytics, to show you how many times each post in your story has been viewed and who has viewed it. When watching your own story, swipe up to check out this data and who’s seen each photo and video.

Creator Studio Insights

Instagram accounts can now be connected to Facebook Creator Studio, a tool that gives you the chance to dig into your Instagram Stories data.

Head to Creator Studio, select your Instagram account and then open this Content library tab. This section gives an overview of all your Instagram video, photo, carousel, stories and IGTV posts.

Each of your individual stories posts will be listed within the Content Library and you can view data such as impressions, replies and clicks for each post.

In-depth Stories analytics from Buffer

Buffer Analyze shares reach and completion rate for individual Instagram Stories and overall metrics, such as total impressions and average reach, for all the Instagram Stories you have posted within chosen period.

Check out Buffer Analyze and start a free trial here.

Designing content for Instagram Stories 

Instagram Stories dimensions

The ideal dimensions for Instagram Stories are 1080px wide by 1920px tall. An aspect ratio of 9:16.

These dimensions will help if you want to create a custom video or graphic to really make your Instagram Stories stand out.

Instagram Stories design tips

1. Keep it simple

To tell a powerful story, simplicity is best.

The Guardian found that, for their Instagram Stories, simple static graphics and quick explainer videos outperformed their professionally-produced videos.

2. Maintain a consistent theme

The second principle is to be consistent.

Keeping to a consistent theme makes it easier to create Stories images as you do not have to re-invent the wheel every time you create a new one. It also helps you create a style that will help your followers recognize your brand instantly.

Here are a few things to pay attention to:

  1. Style of images or videos
  2. Color combinations
  3. Layout
  4. Fonts

Here are some examples from The North Face, where they used the same font, font color, and style of images:

3. Experiment with interactive stickers

Instagram offers three cool stickers that you can use to drive engagement on your Instagram Stories:

  1. Poll
  2. Emoji slider
  3. Questions

These features make it super easy for your followers to interact with you. Test them in your Instagram Stories to see what engagement you can get. Here are a few examples:

4. Use design tools to help you

There are many great design tools and resources available if you wish to create Instagram Stories videos or customize your Instagram Stories graphics. Our favorite is our Stories Creator, a free, lightweight tool that enables you to create thumb-stopping content for Stories.

Instagram Stories ideas: 5 ways brands can use Stories

When I’m creating Stories images, I always find it helpful to look at examples from other companies for inspiration.

Here are five examples that have inspired me — I hope you’ll find them useful too:

1. Create a quiz

Airbnb uses stories as a way to create fun, and engaging travel-related quizzes. It also uses stickers to enable people to guess the location:

2. Promote deals and articles

Hopper uses Instagram Stories (and the ‘Swipe Up’ feature) to create awareness of its latest offers and content:

3. Repurposing content

The New York Public Library has uses Instagram Stories to share iconic stories in a new medium.

4. Content your audience will screenshot

Stories may last only 24hrs, but you can create content your audience will want to screenshot and keep on their camera roll for reference. This will help your brand to stay top-of-mind. Jamie Oliver does this with recipes.

5. Showcase products

Stories are incredibly engaging and great place to share more about your business and products with your audience. Warby Parker does this really nicely.

Take your Instagram Stories to the next level with Buffer

Stories have become an incredibly important part of Instagram marketing strategy, and here at Buffer we enable you to plan, preview, and schedule your Instagram Stories ahead of time, so that you have everything ready to post with a single push notification.

Get started for free now:

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