kay, so you’ve got Instagram down… or so you thought. You’ve created a cohesive and smart feed that includes on-brand photos, graphics, and videos. Then, you took your skills to the next level when they introduced IGTV and thought, “That’s gotta be it, right?”
Now, it’s time to master Insta Stories and Highlights if you want your brand to remain competitive. Luckily, we can help.
An Instagram story is a 15-second, interactive, and highly engaging photo or video that appears on the top of the app's home screen or if you click on an account’s profile photo for 24 hours. The feature was launched in 2016 as a way to compete with Snapchat’s story function — and it worked! Within eight months, more users were using Insta Stories over Snap Stories and brands took notice of the popularity of the platform’s feature and began using it as a platform for highly experimental and creative campaigns.
A year later, Instagram launched Highlights so Stories could be saved permanently on a user’s profile and organized into categories surrounding a topic, event, or specific campaign.
From launching new campaigns to incorporating user-generated content, brands are using this Instagram feature to increase engagement and interest among followers. Our Marketer’s Guide to Instagram Stories will take you through how brands have been using the feature successfully, what you shouldn’t do with Stories, and how you can leverage its tools to work for your brand.
Successful Instagram Story Campaigns
For marketers, the power of Instagram Stories lies in its user-friendly and highly interactive features. From geotags to the Swipe Up feature (for accounts with more than 10,000 followers or a verified checkmark) to GIF stickers, brands that successfully incorporate these features into their Instagram Stories see better engagement and higher impact.
Below are eight innovative and creative ways we’ve seen brands use Instagram Stories to increase ROI, engagement, and CTR and what you can learn from them.
1. Nike Run Club
Nike is not only one of the leading brands in the shoe industry but often leads the charge for creating innovative and engaging social media campaigns as well. On Instagram, the brand has several additional pages that cater to more niche audiences such as the Nike Run Club.
Both @nikerunning’s main feed and Stories interweave Nike products, activism, and athlete-studded content. Nike Run Club published a series of Stories to market its customizable shoe line, Nike By You. Instead of just telling its audience about the line, it used storytelling to show how the Red Run Club in Tokyo customized its own shoe. While most of the content was a blend of still photographs and creative text, one Story featured an unboxing of the shoe and bold text that declared what designs and colors their custom shoe was designed with.
The Story also used the Swipe Up feature and Mention stickers so users can easily access both the brand’s website and Red Run Club’s page.
Nike is a master as creating content that, while about the brand and its products, is more about the story surrounding the product. Other brands can utilize this same storytelling-driven marketing approach in their own Stories to appeal to their key audiences.
While @hellofresh’s account mainly posts photos of its many mouth-watering meals, the meal-kit company uses Stories to share downloadable wallpapers, behind the scenes videos of dishes, and other user-generated content.
HelloFresh’s U.S. page ran a campaign through Stories that elevated Black-owned businesses and other voices in the food industry in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The Story also used the Question Sticker to gain feedback from its customers about the Black voices they’re supporting.
Many young consumers, especially those who are either Millennials or Gen Zers, say they’re more likely to purchase from brands that do social good. Brands can use Stories to highlight important social issues and use their platform to elevate other nonprofits, people, or businesses in similar spaces. Incorporating the Question sticker is another great way to not only learn more about your audience, but learn from them, too, and let them know you’re listening.
Airbnb often uses the Location or Hashtag stickers to highlight some of its most popular vacation rentals in Stories, but recently the vacation rental company began incorporating sound through its Soundscapes Stories. These graphic and audio-driven Stories invite followers to take a trip to the Mojave Desert, one of the brand’s “favorite places in the world,” through sounds such as tumbleweeds, crickets, and braying donkeys.
While the Stories themselves don’t feature any vacation rentals, @airbnb used the Swipe Up feature to direct users to a page highlighting five hosts in the region.
On a platform that’s inundated with image-driven content, Stories like these stand out. According to Instagram, over 60% of users watch Stories with the sound on so brands that not only use high-quality audio content but make it the focal point of the Story are likely to see more engagement.
4. Atlantic Records
Atlantic Records has an active Instagram account and regularly uses Stories to preview or highlight new music and videos, celebrate awards, and give birthday shoutouts to its many artists.
The American record label, which represents musicians ranging from Lizzo and Wiz Khalifa to Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, also used Stories to post content concerning #BlackOutTuesday — a social trend that began in the music industry. On its Story, @atlanticrecords posted tips for protesters, quizzes for Black Music Month, and playlists featuring Black artists.
Even if you’re not a record label, marketers can use Stories to announce new products to increase hype and generate buzz surrounding the release. Brands can also use Stories’ interactive stickers, such as the quiz sticker, to engage with followers and inform them of issues your brand cares about.
5. The North Face
Promoting the outdoor recreation product company’s image of adventure and exploration, The North Face’s Instagram page is filled with beautifully shot landscapes, extreme athletes, and environmental activism-centered posts. @thenorthface uses Stories to build its brand through short, highly-engaging videos of its sponsored athletes, sporting events, and posts about new gear.
The brand is also took an active role in the presidential election and encouraged its followers to vote through creative copywriting and visual storytelling. Its VOTE Highlight leveraged the North Face’s sponsored athletes and their accomplishments — such as Emily Harrington’s feat of climbing 26,906 feet and then skiing down it — and used the Swipe Up feature to direct viewers to a page where they could register to be a poll worker.
Using creative copy to play off of the brand’s image while also promoting the upcoming election is a perfect example of combining current events with your brand. Brands trying to reach a younger audience should also take note, as Millenials and Gen Z will make up to 37% of eligible voters this upcoming election and are increasingly using social media to stay up to date on the news.
Target regularly posts on its main page and utilizes Instagram Stories to promote products, announce sales, and launch series focused on specific topics.
A while back, @target ran a series called Real Talk where it partnered with business owners and other influencers to discuss important topics. One episode in particular featured Monique Rodriguez and Shontay Lundy, founders of Mielle Organics and Black Girl Sunscreen, respectively, to discuss building relationships, finding Black mentors, and empowering women. These short-form video Q&As engage new and younger audiences while giving them useful information.
Create campaigns that allow your brand to collaborate with other experts in the space and use Stories to post video Q&As with them. Not only is this a way to align your brand with a social cause and engage with current or trending events, but you can also gain the support of those you collaborate with, too, and reach a new audience.
The videos also included subtitles for each clip which makes it accessible to those who are either deaf or hard of hearing, or those who choose not to watch without sound. This small but easy additional feature will make your content more accessible to a wider audience and sends out a message that you value those who are in those communities.
Dunkin’ Donuts Instagram page features a mix of colorful product advertisements, graphics, and user-generated content. The popular coffee and donut company also uses its Stories to promote giveaways and partner with influencers.
The company promoted its partnership with social media influencer and dancer Charli D’Amelio who created a specialized drink. During the campagin, it reposted @dunkin customers who ordered the drink and using Stories to encourage users to participate in a contest where the winner got to “sip with Charli.”
Brands should use Instagram Stories to launch giveaways and post important updates that may get lost on their regular feed. They can also use the feature to repost stories that mention them or their products to increase user engagement and cultivate brand loyalty.
8. The New York Times
Known for its hard-hitting journalism and visual stories, the @nytimes Instagram feed is filled with photos and headlines from its publication. Its use of Stories, however, is where the publication shines, combining beautiful imagery with condensed text to inform its followers of what’s going on in the world.
The New York Times also uses Stories to come up with creative ways to visualize its text-heavy content including quizzes, graphs, and maps. It posted a Story called “Air Under Lockdown” that explored how air pollution changed during the pandemic.
Using floating black dots to represent levels of pollution in different cities around the world layered on top of short text bubbles, the Story was visually engaging and informative. It also encouraged viewers to use an Instagram filter created directly for this Story to visualize how air pollution changed due to the lockdowns.
If your company exists in the media sphere or uses text-heavy content, then follow in the steps of The New York Times. Combine beautiful imagery with moving text or short video clips and the Swipe Up feature to direct them to the full story in order to capture your audience’s attention and increase traffic. And don’t be afraid to use Stories to experiment with other new features such as customized filters and stickers.
Using branded stickers and filters helps your brand name circulate among first your followers, then then their followers so you can increase your reach. Depending on the sticker or filter, these features can also bring additional awareness to a cause or story.
Instagram Stories Don’ts
Even brands whose Instagram Stories flop are important to note, as we can learn something from them, too. Take a look below to see our top three tips on what NOT to do with Instagram Stories and what could’ve gone better.
1. Don’t Use Unreadable Text
Instagram Stories offers a bunch of fun and colorful text fonts to use. It’s important to make text stand out among backgrounds and photos. Make sure it’s easy to read and doesn’t clash with the other media you featured on your page.
Key Takeaways: Make sure all the information on your Stories is easy to read, taking into consideration text color, font, and other distractions. This also extends to the amount of text you want to feature. If you have a lot you want to say, try breaking the text up into several Story slides or simplifying it so your viewers have the time to understand what you want to convey.
2. Not Making Content Accessible for All
Having content with good, quality sound is an important part of running a successful Stories campaign as Instagram reports that more than half of Stories are viewed with the sound on. However, making sure your content is accessible to audiences who are deaf, hard of hearing, or may not understand the language well is very important. This allows Instagrammers in these communities know that your brand values them and cultivates a sense of trust between you and them. Plus, those communities will be more likely to visit your page or website for content over accounts that aren’t as accessible.
Key Takeaways: Make sure your videos always have easy-to-read captions. It’s also a good idea to use text anyway. Short, narrative Stories with photos, videos, and text are the most popular type of Story with 35% of users saying they’re more likely to watch it until the end.
3. Don’t Post Low-Quality Content
Producing high-quality content and video is key to keeping audiences engaged until the end of your Story. Many brands such as Hydro Flask use Stories to highlight user-generated content. While this is a great way to increase engagement and develop a personal connection with your followers, make sure the videos you feature are steady, well lit, and something people would be interested in watching for up to 15 seconds.
KeyTakeaways: Featuring user-generated content on Stories is highly recommended, but make sure the content matches the look and feel of your brand’s page. Another important thing to note: be wary of using low-quality videos or images. Low-quality content can lead views to click away from your Stories, resulting in higher drop-off rates and missed engagement opportunities.
Instagram Stories Dos
Now that you know what you shouldn't do, let’s quickly recap three things your brand should do if you want to make the most of Stories.
1. Do Make Use of Stickers
Utilizing the Poll, Question, or Quiz stickers are all ways your brand can drive audience engagement and even serve as an unofficial and easy way to gain insight into certain demographics. These interactive Stories are more likely to capture Instrgrammers attention longer, with 15% saying that they’re more likely to tap until the end, according to a poll by HubSpot.
2. Do Use the Swipe Up Feature
For business accounts with more than 10,000 followers or a verified checkmark, the Swipe Up feature is one of the most powerful tools on Instagram Stories with swat.io reporting that, since its launch, the feature has led to swipe-through rates between 15% and 25%. Through it, you can promote blog posts, online articles, products, events, and videos and increase your brand’s ROI.
3. Do Use Stories to Experiment
Lastly, use Stories to flex your creative skills and try things out you normally wouldn’t post on your main feed. If a Story bombs and doesn’t receive a lot of engagement, the 24-hour lifespan means that it won’t be there forever and you can move on to bigger and better campaigns. Conversely, if it does perform well, you can model future campaigns after the Story or save it as a Highlight to prolong its reach and make it easy for audiences to engage with.
Instagram Stories Ads
The beauty and versatility of Instagram Stories can only go as far as your reach. Because users have to either actively follow you for your Stories to appear on their home page or go to your brand’s main page, this limits the number of people seeing your content.
Enter Instagram Business Ads. Brands can buy ad space to expose their content users who may not know of them and target new markets. These ads will appear seamlessly between other Instagram Stories and help brands with target audience reach, increase video views, drive traffic, swipe to create conversions, drive app installs, and increase brand awareness.
In addition to all we’ve discussed here, Instagram launched Reels which is another way to get your content in front of Instagrammers who aren’t aware of your brand and don’t follow you. The short-form feature is considered to be a TikTok rival and our Ultimate Guide to Instagram Reels goes more in-depth on ways your brand can use it.
Using Instagram Stories is a great way to create engaging content that builds upon your brand, while also testing out more innovative efforts. Use Stories’ many features, such as the Mention, Location, Poll, and Question stickers, as well as the Swipe Up feature, will get users to directly interact with your brand and drive traffic to your website. These can also be used as simple and quick tools to measure and analyze your audience’s reaction toward new campaigns or products.
When creating your brand’s own Stories, don’t forget to keep in mind those dos and don’ts to ensure that your content is accessible to all and easy to understand or view so it’ll be more likely to see engagement.
Top brands keep proving that they can adapt and change to whatever new feature Insta throws at them, and we hope this guide gives you some good inspo and tools to create your own killer Stories. So, what are you waiting for?