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Instagram Stories: The Complete Guide to Use IG Stories to Boost Engagement for Your Brand

Ash Read
Ash Read Editorial @ Buffer
Instagram Stories: The Complete Guide to Use IG Stories to Boost Engagement for Your Brand

14 min read
You will learn

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 brands 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 ecommerce brand, a content creator, or a small business, your Instagram Story is a great medium for you to build brand awareness.

Schedule your Instagram posts, carousels, stories, and reels with Buffer
Visually plan your content calendar and make your profile a "must-follow" with Buffer's suite of Instagram scheduling and analytics tools.

What is an Instagram Story?

An Instagram Story is an in-app 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.

[source] When you post a story, a colorful circle appears around your profile picture, indicating it’s tappable, and your profile picture gets added to the top of your followers’ home screens. When a follower taps on your profile picture, your Story opens up.

IG stories are a perfect way for 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. Brands also use their Stories to show customer appreciation by re-sharing their followers’ stories and posts in their own Stories.

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. You can create and post a Story in three easy steps.

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 get to the Instagram camera by tapping the “plus” button found at the top right-hand corner of your 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. You’ll notice this interface is similar to Snapchat.

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:

  • Standard. A regular photo or video.
  • Text Create. A photo with text 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.
  • Boomerang. A really short video that plays forward and backward on a loop.
  • Layout. A collage of different photos.
  • Photobooth. Four continuous shots that get stitched together into one Story.
  • Multi-capture. A Story made up of multiple photos taken in quick succession.
  • Level. A photo or video that’s perfectly level, according to Instagram, usually for Stories featuring landscapes and horizons.
  • Hands-free. Record your Story hands-free with this convenient feature.

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.

If you want to create Stories even faster, you can create your content ahead of time in bulk and schedule those stories 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.

What are IG Story Highlights?

Instagram Story Highlights are collections of 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. Brands have used their Highlights to present important information (e.g., restaurant menus, product lists, etc.) upfront. Highlights are also a great way to keep testimonials on your account. When you re-share customers’ Stories about how happy they are with your product, instead of letting those testimonials disappear, save them in a Highlight Bubble.  

Alongside Highlights, Instagram also introduced the Story Archive. After your Story disappears from your profile, it is automatically stored in your Story Archive, which only you can access within your settings. From the Archive, you can save your expired Stories to your device, rewatch them, or add them to a Story Highlight.

To create an Instagram Highlight, you need to:

  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 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 a premade cover from your device’s album or selecting a different Story for your cover.

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 Features that 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 conversions).

Instagram has made it even easier for brands to harness the power of Stories and create engaging content. The next time you post a new story, considering using the following features:

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.

There are different kinds of Instagram Story Stickers—Both Shelly Clouds and Awesome Maps are using the Poll Sticker to gauge their audience’s preferences.

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 Captions Sticker—to make it easier for Instagrammers with professional and business accounts to increase accessibility and engage their Story viewers. Here are some of our favorite stickers for small business owners:

1. Add Yours Sticker

Instagram’s Add Yours Sticker was released in November 2021. It allows creators to make public threads to connect content with a similar theme. When more users add their Story 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. It is currently only available in English-speaking countries, but Instagram plans to roll it out across different languages soon.

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.

4. Support Small Businesses Sticker

The Support Small Business Sticker allows personal, professional, and business accounts to tag small businesses in their Stories through a clickable icon that also shows a preview of the small business’s account.

5. Donation Sticker

[source] Parents together uses its Instagram Stories to encourage donations for their fundraising drive.

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

6. Quiz Sticker

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

7. Question Sticker

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

8. Poll Sticker

The Poll Sticker lets your followers choose between two options you can customize: yes or no, A or B, basketball or soccer, 😃or 😭.

9. 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 - create a brand moment
  4. Time and/or Weather Sticker - add to personalize your content
  5. Gif Sticker - adds an interactive element
  6. Mention Sticker - tag a user account

The Instagram Story Link Sticker replaces swipe up

On October 27, 2021, the Story Link Sticker officially replaced the swipe-up feature. This sticker makes links highly visible, and they can be placed anywhere on your Story.

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, announced that the platform would retire the old swipe-up feature in favor of linkable stickers. Source: Twitter

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, saying:

“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 Sticker to your story:

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

IG Stories Analytics

If your account is a professional or business account, you can access Instagram analytics. Your profile analytics and Stories analytics are different, but both contain important data that can help you create more of the content your followers love.

[source] These are Story analytics from a marketing coach, Elise Darma.

You can access your IG stories analytics by tapping the “seen by” icon on the lower-left corner of your story post. From your analytics, you will see:

  • How many Instagrammers 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.

A winning Instagram Story strategy for your business

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 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 between one to seven Stories each day

Our research says to post one to seven Stories per day, but Instagram says two Stories per day is ideal to foster growth on the app. So you might need to experiment to find out what works for your brand.

However, our research says keeping a high completion rate (over 70 percent) means posting anywhere between one and seven stories per day.

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.

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

As you can see, story completion rates are highest between 4-6 am, 8-10 am, 12-2 pm, and 8-10 pm (Eastern Time). But keep in mind that your account has its own set of unique followers, so only you can gauge, based on analytics, when you should post your Stories to get the best results.

3. Take advantage of creative features and tools

Use the in-app features and save yourself time, money, and energy when designing Stories. No need to use Photoshop or another expensive third-party software with a steep learning curve.

It's important to note that the Instagram algorithm won’t promote content from other apps. For example, in February 2021, Instagram shared they are 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. All the more reason to stick with in-app tools.

4. Go Live on Instagram, Occasionally

Instagram Live is a kind of Story that you film, as the name suggests, live. Your followers can passively watch your Live, interact with you in real time through chat, or request to join you so you can host the Live together.

Create Instagram Lives when you have a special announcement to make, want to host an event (e.g., a Q&A session or office hours), or want to connect with your audience on an even more personal level. When you start a Live session, your followers get notified, so more people watch and join your session.

5. Use Stories 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.

When we used Instagram Stories ads to promote our blog posts, we found 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.)

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 really pop

Instagram Story templates are a convenient option if you want to create high quality and aesthetically pleasing Stories quickly. With a template, you essentially have a pre-made, ready to go graphic to upload onto Stories. It’s essentially a convenient hack to create professional looking Stories in minutes. Once you upload your template onto Instagram, you can still overlay it with all of the native Instagram Story features.

With Buffer’s Stories Creator – a lightweight and free tool –  can create your own Instagram Story template by uploading a picture from your camera roll, or you can use one of five customizable templates.

Check out our blog post about Instagram Story templates for more inspiration.

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. At Buffer, we enable you to 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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