Instagram has gone from startup darling, to Facebook’s big purchase, to marketing powerhouse in 6 years. While Facebook promised to mostly leave Instagram alone when it first purchased the app in 2012, more recently Facebook’s influence has started to appear.
From ads built through Facebook’s powerful Ad Manager to the introduction of an algorithmic feed, and the release of a few new apps to directly integrate with Instagram; the app is becoming a more important channel for brands looking to expand their social marketing presence.
Instagram has released a handful of new products and tools for users over the past few months. One of the most talked-about is Instagram Stories, which includes a few different ways to invite your followers into your brand’s personality.
Instagram Stories are a new way for users to share pictures that a user might not want to remain on their profile indefinitely. Instead, Stories are shared with followers at the top of the regular feed and are deleted automatically after 24 hours. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
The biggest difference between posting a regular photo or video versus a Story is that Stories are ephemeral and users can enhance the images with more than just filters. Instagram Stories are, as many have pointed out, a direct competitor of Snapchat as users can add text and stickers, draw on them, and even include a link or mention other users.
It’s the last two features that help Instagram’s version stand out, though.
With the ability to add links and mention users Instagram creates a culture of inclusion, rather than secrecy and exclusion that is often the draw of Snapchat. Instagram Stories are also searchable and appear publicly on a profile if a profile is set to public. This stands in contrast to Snapchat, which doesn’t have “profiles” for users to see previous content or view Stories. You must follow someone on Snapchat to discover his or her content.
Alongside Stories, Instagram also released Instagram Live as a way for users to live stream video to followers in the moment. In the ever-increasing live-streaming arms race, this is another platform for Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, to corner more of the market. And, since Instagram is a platform specifically used for sharing photos and videos, the move makes sense.
Instagram Live is an even more ephemeral experience than Stories in that the live video disappears from your feed when the video ends. Stories have a shelf-life of 24 hours.
More recently, Instagram moved Boomerang directly into the app. Boomerang started as a separate app to create a short 1-3 second burst of pictures that would look forward and backward. Now, though, users can create a Boomerang directly in a Story.
One feature that gets missed, but is a big improvement over the current video recording, is the “Hands Free” option. No, this isn’t voice activated or anything. What it means is that you don’t need to use your hand the entire time you’re recording a video — just like the regular camera on your phone operates. You click once to start recording and click a second time to end. That’s it.
You’re creating Stories, but how do you gain a larger audience? Unlike regular Instagram posts, you can’t rely on hashtags and tagging as many people as regular images. There are a few tactics and strategies to consider, though.
About to have an event? Post an announcement image to your regular feed letting users know to be on the lookout for the upcoming Stories that are sure to come.
Create a great Story? Before you post it, press the “save” button in the lower right and post it again as a regular image. You can save images after posting them by opening your Story and swiping up. If you’ve posted more than one image, it will save as a video slideshow.
Alongside other popular trending Stories in the Explore page are the “Top Live” posts. As we’ve talked about quite a bit on our blog, live video is becoming an arms race and Instagram is pushing it just as hard.
If you’re going live and providing great content, more people are going to tune in. These videos often rotate as more viewers tune in, and live videos end. So by going live often, you’re giving yourself a chance to appear and gain more followers:
It’s no secret that people love attention, especially on social media. Give the people what they want by using the mention feature in your Instagram Stories. You can tag customers, followers, or those who inspire you with a personalized message. This sends a notification to the user who will more than likely see the content. Be careful with this one, though. You don’t want to wear out your welcome by over-tagging people.
This one seems pretty straightforward because it is. The more followers you have, the more potential your Instagram Stories have to be seen. Follow other users, use relevant hashtags on regular posts, and engage with the content of those you would like to follow you back.
Again, not groundbreaking but still the best way to organically grow your following. The more accounts that are watching your Stories, sending messages, and engaging with them in other ways, the better chance your brand’s account has of appearing on the “Explore” page alongside other trending Stories:
This one is more indirect, but running ads is a good way to increase both followers and engagement on your account. Plus, it can provide a boost to your algorithmic score. In turn, this can make it more likely that your Stories will appear on the Explore page.
One of the most important reasons for businesses to use Instagram Stories is relevancy in your followers’ feeds. Since Instagram updated the feed to be algorithmic in June of 2016, having stories always appear at the top of a follower’s feed helps your brand remain top-of-mind. Popular Stories also appear at the top of the Explore page, helping gain an even wider reach:
Going “live” has a similar impact as users will receive a push-notification if they haven’t turned live notifications off. Instagram even has a “best of live” that appears alongside other stories if no one in your network is live at that moment.
Use this knowledge to develop a strategy for promoting your brand, inviting followers behind the scenes, and broadening your audience with high-quality live video and stories. Many other companies are already excelling at Instagram Story marketing.
There are many creative ways brands are using Instagram already. Ultimately, it comes down to what your campaign goals are for Instagram.
Step one is to define your goals, and then you can look at how a few larger brands are addressing these challenges.
One of the biggest advantages that brands have over regular accounts is the ability to link to an outside web page. This feature is not yet available to individual accounts but is something many brands are recognizing as a way to grab an audience that is already engaging with the brand directly and direct them to a specific blog post, website, or post-click landing page.
It’s important to note that links can only be included in an Instagram Story, not a live video. Don’t let that stop you from getting creative in your video, though. You can still tell viewers to visit a link in your profile bio, write a URL and show it on-screen, or even tell them the URL if it isn’t too complex. If you do this, make sure to have the URL be short so viewers can remember it and visit the page later.
Let’s take a look at how a few companies are using Stories right now.
J.Crew has started using Instagram Stories to promote featured blog posts by including a few images to introduce the article’s premise and sending viewers to the post. This story illustrates how a brand can get creative with its CTA.
J. Crew’s Story was three images in total, with the third asking users to Swipe Up to read the blog as the CTA. When a company adds a link to an image, the “See More” and upward pointing caret are added by default. However, J.Crew recognizes that this is a poor CTA experience, so they supplemented it with the text and coloring features:
Hint Water shows that healthy living isn’t just a marketing tactic. The company is committed to healthy living and taking care of mind and body with a yoga session, accompanied by Hint, of course:
Cheerios uses Instagram Stories to give shout outs to its followers with personal messages. This kind of engagement is sure to brighten their day and can only help grow Cheerios’ followers:
Vogue Magazine took advantage of a newsworthy event happening live. In order to bring more attention to the photographers capturing the historic moment, Vogue created a story with a few images and a prompt to see the full gallery of images on its website:
Give followers an incentive for being a loyal follower, like Pacific Northwest Wonderland did in its Story. While they didn’t take advantage of a link to a post-click landing page for the promotion (lost opportunity!), they did give back a little something to its followers:
Everyone loves to see the behind the scenes lives of celebrities. Real Salt Lake gives fans a glimpse into the life of their athletes with a story that shows a few different players working hard on their strength and conditioning training. Doing this helps the audience feel closer to the action and like they’re part of the team:
Getting started with Instagram Stories is quite simple, but here are the steps to get rolling.
And that’s it! You have added to your story.
Whether you’re a casual Instagram user or leading a social media team looking for more ways to engage your audience, Instagram Stories can benefit you and your company.
Now is the time to capitalize on a well-thought-out strategy before your competitors do. Engage your audience more with Instagram Stories and be sure to drive them to a relevant, dedicated post-click landing page.