How Can Instagram Stories Be Used as a Marketing Tool

Instagram Stories, once seen as little more than an attempt from Facebook Inc to cover ground soundly occupied by Snapchat, has become one of social media’s big successes - increasing the time spent on-app by users from 24 minutes to 32. However, it is still easy for brands to neglect Stories in favour of creating the perfect Instagram feed, and in this both marketers and business owners may have been missing a trick.

The personal tone and many functionalities included in Stories (complete with gifs, video, music, questions, polls and much more) can feel a little overwhelming, but these features actually offer some great opportunities. If you think of the Instagram feed as your shopfront - highly curated and colour coordinated to perfection - then Stories gives your followers a peak behind the curtain, where they can experience your brand in a more authentic, spontaneous and interactive way.

Success Stories

So, what exactly are Instagram Stories? While they include many different features, they are most simply explained as sequential pieces of either visual or video content that disappear after 24 hours to an Instagram user's private archives. They has proved an extremely popular format for the users of this app, and it appears these users have also welcomed seeing stories from their preferred brands:

Around half of Instagram’s monthly users post Stories, with 500 million people creating an astonishing 1 billion Stories every day.

A recent survey commissioned by Facebook Inc found that 62% of respondents became more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Stories.

Brands have responded by posting an average of 2.5 Instagram Stories a week and 4 million advertise through this medium.

TechCrunch reports that one in five Instagram Stories shared by a brand receives a Direct reply -- giving brands a direct line to connect with their audience and learn more about them.

It’s understandable that brands tend to aim to be strict with brand and aesthetic guidelines in-feed, as the overall “look” of a Instagram page can make a huge difference to the impression your business makes and how likely users are to follow you. Stories, on the other hand, are impermanent and often less formal, giving brands the chance to be more creative, less rigid and ultimately show their “human” side - which is something audiences can really respond to.

Fighting the Decline

Another compelling reason to use Instagram Stories lies in the continuing decline of Instagram engagement. Before the algorithm changes of 2016 and rise of Tic Toc, all users on Instagram enjoyed high engagement rates, but as Instagram attempted to crack down on bots and give people a more authentic experience, this slowly began to change - and unfortunately, this decline doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

In 2019, Trust Insights conducted a study where they analyzed 1.4 million Instagram posts from 3.600 brand profiles. They found that in April, Instagram user engagement was 1.54%, but only three months later, it was 0.9%. Even influencers have been affected, with analysis showing that fashion influencers' engagement rate went from 4.3% in February to 2.4% by June.

This doesn’t mean, as might be assumed, that the platform itself is in decline - in fact, while growth has slowed, it is still gaining new users. The drop in engagement is instead primarily the result of Instagram trying to improve the user experience, where they switched from a chronological feed (where organic posts showed up in a user’s feed in the order they were posted) to one based on “relevance” - essentially, prioritising the posts the algorithm determines a user is more likely to enjoy.

How the Algorithm Works

When someone new follows you, your content will appear for a short time near the top of their Instagram feed. This means you have a short window in which to capture their attention, and if they interact with your content - by watching, replying, double-tapping posts and commenting - it will indicate to the Instagram algorithm that you are of interest to that particular user and your content will remain a priority in their news feed.

If the user fails to engage with your content, however, Instagram will quickly assess that it has little value to that user, and it will fall down the feed. And unfortunately, it appears that this can become something of an algorithm death spiral.

If your new followers (and the small proportion of people that Instagram will show your content to due to historic interest in your brand) don’t interact with your in-feed content, it will quickly become devalued, and less likely to appear in either the Explore tab or timelines of other users. Thus, engagement inexorably falls.

The seeming vagaries of this algorithm, bestowing it’s baffling gifts and punishments like a particularly capricious deity, can leave plenty of digital marketers and business owners pulling their hair out. But Instagram Stories offers every Instagram user another means through which to reach their audience.

Marketing With Instagram Stories

There are a huge amount of ways you can creatively utilise Instagram Stories, with features include:

Sharing Feed Posts

Whether it’s alerting your followers to a new post in your feed or creating relationships with an influencer by sharing their work, sharing feed posts to your stories is perhaps one of the simplest ways to use this platform.


Stickers

Stickers are fun visual additions that can be cleverly used to enhance your brand aesthetic and create the impression you want. Stickers include gifs, countdowns and polls, while businesses can also use product stickers to sell spotlighted items.

They’re constantly changing, but the best way to stay up to date with new developments is to use them - and generally speaking, a little tends to go a long way. Once you embrace stickers, you'll quickly find that their surprising versatility offers many opportunities for creative marketing.

Music

Announced in 2018, Instagram’s “music sticker” works for both videos and photos and lets you select from thousands of music tracks to enhance the atmosphere of your Story, whether that’s a bit of Abba or some tunes from Cardi B. The music also appears as text, which “sings” along to the audio.

Video

Video on Instagram stories is another adaptable and engaging way to reach your followers. Whether it's a selfie-mode announcement or a carefully designed animation, the scope of Instagram video stories is huge, and you can use it for formal campaigns or little sneak-peaks to life in your workplace.

Videos on Stories appear as 15 second clips and appear sequentially. Users have the options to tap through your Stories to view them more quickly, which offers scope for interesting storytelling, perhaps by placing messages on each new frame, or creating interesting visual illusions. If you are new to Stories, it's worth sitting down to see how other brands have utilised the platform, to give you an idea of what's possible and provide inspiration for your own ideas.

Instagram Stories can be a lot of fun, but you shouldn't let their often informal nature distract you from the potential they have to make truly interesting and memorable marketing campaigns. By using Instagram Stories as a marketing tool, you can introduce your followers to a fuller vision of your brand, and make sure they remain loyal both as customers and social media followers for years to come.