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Instagram Stories: The Complete Guide to Using IG Stories to Boost Engagement + Reach

Kirsti Lang
Kirsti Lang Content Writer @ Buffer
Instagram Stories: The Complete Guide to Using IG Stories to Boost Engagement + Reach

13 min read
You will learn

Instagram Stories are one of the first things I tap on when I open the app. I love seeing the more authentic, in-the-moment content creators and brands post there, rather than the polished Instagram feed. 

Many Instagrammers will spend hours creating beautiful Instagram Reels and photo posts, but ignore their Instagram Stories — and they’re missing a trick here.

The Instagram Stories feed appears right at the top of your followers’ screens when they open the app. And if they’re anything like me, tapping on the lit-up profile pictures is tough not to do. 

There are currently over 500 million people creating and watching Instagram Stories on their mobile devices every day. And one in three people has said they become more interested in brands and products after seeing stories about those brands that feature those products. In short, IG Stories boost your reach and engagement and, in some cases, influence purchasing behavior.

Instagram Stories help you connect and engage with your target audience in an authentic way to build relationships that increase customer loyalty.

In fact, the Instagram Story feature was built to help Instagrammers share quick photos and videos with their followers to highlight what makes them unique. Plus, stories give your audience a small peek into what goes on behind the scenes — and followers love that. 

Whether you’re an e-commerce brand, a content creator, an influencer, or a small business, Instagram Stories is a great medium for you to build brand awareness.

Hey! Did you know you can lan, prep, and schedule your Instagram Stories in advance? Here’s how →

What is an Instagram Story?

An Instagram Story is a feature that allows users to post photos or videos that automatically disappear within 24 hours. They appear in a vertical format and are fast, memorable, and fun by design.

When you post a story, a colorful ring appears around your profile picture, telling your followers they can tap on your profile photo to see what you’ve just posted. Your profile picture with the colorful ring around it also gets added to the top row of your followers’ home screens — making it the first thing they see.

IG stories are a perfect way for creators and brands to experiment with different kinds of content because, unlike your permanent curated feed, stories disappear in 24 hours. 

Small business owners use their stories to post everything from unedited videos of their everyday lives to photos of their new products and short clips of them answering FAQs.

Creators and influencers may want to leverage stories slightly different, by taking followers along for a day in their lives, showing behind-the-scenes, or just chatting to followers about an experience they may relate to.

How to post a story on Instagram

Now that you know what a story is, it's time to get into how you can post your own. Here’s a tutorial to walk you through posting your Instagram Story. 

Step 1: Go to your home page and swipe left from any point on the screen to open the Instagram camera application. You can also access the Instagram camera by tapping the “+” button at the bottom of the screen and then tapping “Story.”

Step 2: Within the camera application, you can choose to either create brand new content for your story by tapping the white circle at the bottom-middle portion of the screen, or upload photo or video content you’ve previously created by tapping the album icon on the lower-left portion of your screen. 

If you choose to upload an existing photo, take note that Instagram Story dimensions are 1080px by 1920px. If you choose to create new content on the spot, you can create different types of stories, as listed below. 

Step 3: Once you’ve created your story, you can add stickers, emojis, and filters to it, draw on it, add text to it, and more. You can even mention or tag people or engage your followers through polls, quizzes, and other fun features (we’ll get into all these options in a moment).

If you want to create stories even faster, you can create your content ahead of time in bulk and schedule those stories with in advance with Buffer’s planning and scheduling application. Buffer's Story tools will show you what your story is going to look like when it's live and let you schedule it ahead of time, too.

Different types of Instagram Stories

Instagram recently axed a couple of its old story-sharing options (R.I.P Photobooth and Hands-free), but there are still five different IG Story types to play with. For more variety, scroll down to our section on stickers.

1. Standard: A regular photo or video, which is the default Instagram Story option. In this mode, you can use Instagram Story filters, which will appear at the bottom of the app. 

2. Create: Text or stickers (we’ll talk about the sticker options below) on a solid background. Instagram has a ton of fun options for the various texts, including different fonts. Accounts usually use text stories to pose a question, tell a story, or create mini-blogs within their Instagram Stories.

3. Boomerang: A really short video that plays forward and backward on a loop.

4. Layout: A collage of different photos.

5. Dual: A feature that uses both your front and back camera to snap a pic, so your followers can see you and what you’re working on. Those familiar with the BeReal app will find this feature very familiar. 

What are IG Story Highlights?

Instagram Story Highlights are collections of Instagram Stories that you curate, and they’re located at the top of your profile in the form of tappable circles. They were introduced in 2017 as a way for users to keep their favorite or most relevant stories around for more than 24 hours.

Story highlights appear directly below your bio, so they are one of the first things your followers see when they go onto your profile. 

For brands, these highlights are a great place to save important information (e.g., restaurant menus, product lists, etc.) upfront. They’re also a good spot for testimonials and case studies — when you re-share customers’ stories about how happy they are with your product or service, instead of letting those testimonials disappear, save them in a story highlight.  

As a creator, you may want to save highlights about important life events, brand partnerships, or affiliate shopping links so your followers can easily find products you love. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating your own Instagram Story Highlights:

  1. Go to your profile page by tapping your profile photo located at the lower-right corner of your screen.
  2. Tap the ‘New’ circle located right underneath your bio to the left.
  3. Choose some Instagram Stories from your archive and then tap the ‘Next’ button on the top-right corner of your screen.
  4. Give your highlight a name.
  5. Optional: Edit your highlight cover by either uploading an image from your device’s camera roll or choosing one of your featured stories.

Once you’re done, your Instagram Highlight will appear as a bubble 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.

Instagram Story Stickers to boost engagement

Instagram Stories are so powerful because they build loyalty and increase engagement by humanizing your brand.

Your followers probably already love your brand — sharing true, relatable, or interesting stories through a series of Insta Stories will encourage them to keep coming back to your Instagram account and interacting with your content (which eventually leads to more engagement or conversions).

Now, Instagram has made it even easier for creators and brands to harness the power of stories and create engaging content: stickers.

What are Instagram Story Stickers?

Instagram Story Stickers are cartoons, GIFs, or text you can place over your stories to make them more engaging and interactive. You can use stickers to add some text to your videos to tell a story or add a poll to a photo of your new products to ask your followers which ones they're most excited about.

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

You can move stickers by dragging them across your screen and resizing them by pinching or expanding them with two fingers.Instagram has also launched new types of stickers — like the shop sticker and saptions sticker — to help Instagrammers with professional and business accounts increase accessibility and engage their story viewers. 

Here are some of my favorites:

1. ‘Add Yours’ sticker

Instagram’s ‘Add Yours’ sticker allows creators to make public threads to connect content with a similar theme. When more users add their Stories to the sticker, it creates a content chain. 

The main goal of the Add Yours sticker is to encourage collaboration between users. It also helps brands become discovered: if you click the sticker in someone’s story, Instagram will show you everyone who has contributed to a thread.

2. Stories captions sticker

Instagram introduced the stories captions sticker to increase the accessibility of their platform. You can add automated text captions to your stories by simply adding this sticker.

Note that this feature is currently only available in some languages and locations.

Source: @mollyburkeofficial

3. Shopping sticker

If you have Instagram Shopping set up for your business account, you can use the shopping sticker to add clickable product icons to your story

Source: @baumundpferdgarten

4. Donation sticker

The donation sticker is an interactive sticker Instagrammers use to encourage donations to a specific cause. People who tap the sticker can donate within Instagram to the linked cause.

ParentsTogether uses its Instagram Stories to encourage donations for its fundraising drive.

5. Quiz sticker

The quiz sticker lets you add an interactive, multiple-choice-type question to your Insta Stories so you can ask your followers fun questions and see which ones get the right answer.

6. Questions sticker

The question sticker has a blank that lets your followers answer a question you pose. It can help you gather some insights into what your followers or customers love, what they're interested in, what they'd like to see, and more.

7. Poll sticker

The Poll Sticker allows you to ask your followers a question, giving them four poll options to choose from. All the sections are fully customizable, and you can easily share the results to your story, too. 

8. Countdown sticker

If you want a product launch or event at the forefront of your follower’s minds, include this sticker so they can quickly tap to get a reminder for the date.

Some other fun stickers you can use are:

  1. Location sticker: Tag your location
  2. Music sticker: Add a song
  3. Hashtag sticker: Tap into a trending Intagram hashtag or create your own
  4. Time and/or weather sticker: Add to personalize your content
  5. GIF sticker: Adds a fun, interactive element
  6. Mention sticker: Tag a user account

The Instagram Story link sticker replaces 'swipe up'

You no longer need to have over 10,000 followers to share a link in your Insta Stories! As of 2021, the Instagram Story link sticker officially replaced the swipe-up feature. This sticker makes links highly visible, and they can be placed anywhere on your Story.

The switch from swipe up to a sticker was good news for content marketers and small business owners, since it meant you no longer needed 10k followers to link to a website.

In a statement, Instagram shared their reasoning behind the change:

“We made this decision based on feedback we heard from the community about how impactful it would be for creators and businesses of all sizes to benefit from link sharing to grow in the same way larger accounts do.”

How to add a link to your Instagram Story

  1. Go to your Instagram Stories sticker tray and tap the sticker that reads “link.
  2. Paste your link into the link field.
  3. If you have a long or unwieldy URL, tap the “Customize sticker text” button to type in any text you’d like.
  4. Change the color of your sticker by tapping on it.

Instagram Story Analytics

If you have an Instagram Creator or Business account, you can access Instagram analytics. Your profile analytics and story analytics are different, but both contain important data that can help you create more of the content your followers love.

You can access your IG Story analytics for a specific story by tapping the story, then the ‘Activity’ icon on the lower-left corner of your story post. From there, tap on the bar graph button on the left. 

From your analytics, you will see:

  • How many followers and non-followers your story has reached
  • How people interacted with your story (i.e., tap next, finish the story, go back, tap a sticker, exit)
  • How many Instagram Story views you received
  • How many people followed you after viewing that Story

You can find out which pieces of content are the most engaging based on Instagram’s Story analytics. If you need more in-depth information, you can check out Buffer’s Story analytics dashboard.

Instagram Insights

You’ll be able to access all this data and more via Instagram Insights, where all the metrics for your Instagram posts — stories, carousels, reels, and more. Yes, you’ll even find stats for Instagram Stories that have already expired. To get to your insights:

  • Tap on your photo on the bottom right of your app to get to your profile
  • Tap the ‘Professional dashboard’ button beneath your bio 
  • For metrics specific to your Instagram Stories, tap on ‘Content you shared
  • Tap the ‘All’ button on the top left, then tap ‘Stories
  • Your stories will automatically be arranged by reach, from highest to lowest. Tap on a specific story to get more data, such as reach, likes, replies, shares, and more.

A winning Instagram Story strategy

Spontaneously creating Instagram Stories and sharing snippets of your life with your followers is a great way to build engagement and start learning about the feature, but to really grow with IG Stories, you need a solid strategy.On average, social media campaigns on Instagram see about a 20% increase in reach when Instagram Stories are involved. Use the Instagram algorithm to your advantage by using stories to drive interactions with your followers. Little changes, like frequency of posting, using in-app features, and posting at certain times of the day, will help your algorithmic ranking.

1. Post Instagram stories daily

Our Instagram Stories research suggests that posting between one and seven Insta Stories per day will yield the best results. Over 70 percent of accounts who posted within this range had a high stories completion rate. 

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.

If you post longer stories, the drop-off isn’t too bad. You can still see completion rates above 50 percent for Stories that are made up of more than 20 photos and videos.

2. Post stories consistently and at optimal times

Consistency is key to social media, and the Instagram algorithm agrees. Given that stories only last for 24 hours, you want to maximize the reach of that content. Consider posting your story content a few times in one day and sharing your photos and videos in bite-sized chunks. 

Another factor to consider is posting your story content at the times when your followers are most active on the app.

According to our analysis of the best time to post on Instagram, between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays is best for engagement, but there are other hotspots to take advantage of during the week, too.

3. Take advantage of creative features and tools

As you'll have seen above, Instagram has tons of fun story features. It's worthwhile to create your stories right on Instagram where possible.

Why? Instagram's algorithm won’t promote content from other apps. For example, in February 2021, Instagram shared that it is de-prioritizing content that features a TikTok watermark. So, if you cross-post a TikTok to IG Reels or Stories, it's going to get less visibility than something created natively in the Instagram app.

If you're keen to schedule your stories in advance, fear not — Buffer's notification publishing will allow you to make a few quick tweaks in Instagram before the story is published (like adding music or a poll, for example).

4. Use Instagram Story Ads to boost reach, engagement, and conversions

Stories created for ad placements help small business owners drive awareness for their brand by sending traffic to a website or an in-app shop.

Story ad placements take up a user's full screen, which means you can eliminate competing distractions like notifications and in-feed content from other brands.

Here are a few ads we’ve recently spotted on Instagram:

To save you time on content creation, make use of existing stories saved in your highlights. If you have an IG shop, you can use product links so users can purchase your products directly through the ad.

Check out our starter guide. It includes ad specs and tips for creating ad creatives. All you need to get started is a Facebook ads account!

6. Use Instagram Story templates to make your story pop

There are perks to tapping into templates to create visually appealing Instagram Stories. For one thing, you can batch create them (making it oh-so-much easier to schedule your stories in advance).

It’s also a great way to maintain brand consistency that you can even carry across your Instagram Reels and carousel posts. Check out these 11 places to find scrollstopping Instagram templates. (Spoiler: Canva is not the only place for great free ones.)

Take your Instagram Stories to the next level with Buffer

Stories have become an incredibly important part of brand awareness and should absolutely be included in your Instagram marketing strategy.

With Buffer, you can plan, preview, and schedule your Instagram Stories ahead of time, so you have everything ready to post with a single push notification.

Get started for free now

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