And How to Use Them to Market Your Business
It doesn’t seem like that long ago that everyone touted Facebook’s newsfeed and Instagram’s feed as the new world for marketers to go forth and conquer.
How quickly times change.
Initially dismissed as the playground of Millennials, “stories” have grown to become a viable media format in their own right.
Not bad for a format that mostly consists of photos, pithy text overlays, and concise videos that sometimes disappear within 24 hours of being posted.
Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox predicted at this year’s F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference:
The increase in the Stories format is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends sometime next year.
This is a surprising admission from a company that has put an incredible amount of effort trying to make its newsfeed as sticky as possible.
It’s even more surprising when you consider that Instagram (also owned by Facebook) only added Stories two years ago, in 2016. The addition of Instagram Stories was mostly seen as a “hey us too” catch-up move to SnapChat.
Today, Instagram Stories has more than double the number of daily users than SnapChat, based on numbers announced in June of 2018:
The company, owned by Facebook, announced on Thursday that more than 400 million people use the popular feature each day, up from 250 million one year ago. That makes Stories more than twice as popular as Snapchat, which saw 191 million active users in the last quarter, according to the most recent earnings report from parent company Snap.
Let’s take a look at how some popular brands are using Stories and then we’ll discuss best practices and tips to help you get started with Stories for your own brand.
Examples of brands using Stories effectively
Brands have flocked to Stories, and there are many examples of companies using the format to great effect.
Shoe company Converse integrates Stories tightly with its other Instagram posts, as they’ve done here with the recent launch of a new shoe collaboration.
Nordstrom Rack is another fashion brand that uses Stories effectively to highlight products and promotions.
They don’t merely just post photos of their products. They include behind-the-scenes clips from photo shoots and boomerangs (short looping video clips) of their clothes in action.
The fact that Stories are consumed as tiny, fleeting bursts of content makes it easy for a brand like Nordstrom Rack to get a lot of product in front of its followers quickly.
And the fact that Stories are visible for just 24 hours before disappearing means that brands can keep up a steady stream of new content without creating a massive backlog of posts for customers to wade through.
Nike is one of the most popular clothing brands on Instagram with almost 80 million followers. The sporting company leverages this popularity well with savvy, well-designed Story posts that (appropriately) encourages customers to “just do it” and participate.
A recent example: the sports brand recently launched a design competition for its new Air Max shoes. Through well-designed videos and slideshows, the brand inspired followers to involve themselves in the production process for this new product. This gave followers a reason to keep coming back to vote for their favorites and submit ideas.
By making its customers’ ideas a key part of this campaign, and taking advantage of Story’s frequently updated nature, Nike was able to create a contest that made customers feel like the brand valued their ideas and creativity.
Stories aren’t just for clothing brands. The venerable publisher is renowned for its stunning imagery and its deep commitment to environmental and humanitarian causes.
This reputation has led it to become to one of the most popular accounts on Instagram, with nearly 90 million followers.
The publisher uses Stories to educate its followers through the use of beautiful photos and videos.
The stories don’t end on Instagram, though. @NatGeo takes great advantage of the ability to “swipe up” on Stories, which sends users on to more in-depth reporting and articles on its website.
This is one of the most potent differentiators between Stories and regular Instagram posts. As of now, you cannot create a call to action or “next step” from a regular Instagram post. Each Story post can have its own “swipe up” destination, which creates even more opportunities for marketers to engage with customers.
New York Times
The long-running newspaper uses Stories in exciting ways. One particularly smart way is the section they call “Good News”.
The paper puts together brief slideshows with overlaid text that gives followers a quick burst of good news, with a call-to-action at the end of each one to read the full story on the main site.
This is just one of many different Story “sections” @NYTimes has on its profile. It’s a smart way to take advantage of Story’s 24-hour lifespan to transform the format into social media versions of the daily newspaper.
How to leverage Stories to market your business
If you’re considering using Stories as a marketing tool, we wanted to share some best practices and tips.
Our advice is specific for Instagram success stories, but there are more similarities than differences between Instagram’s version of Stories, SnapChat’s, Facebook’s, or WhatsApp’s [which are called “Statuses”]. Most of the best practices and tips we’ve assembled here apply on other social networks as well.
Integrate your Stories and Posts
Even though Story’s short lifespan can be a big plus, it does mean that followers might miss a particular story if they don’t happen to check out your profile while it’s available.
For Stories you don’t want followers to miss, do an announcement as a regular Instagram Post letting people know ahead of time when the Story will go up.
It’s also possible now to save a particularly good Story as an image or a video slideshow and repost it to your regular feed. Use this feature judiciously, as it’s a good idea to keep some separation between your regular posts and Stories to differentiate them.
This flexibility means you aren’t stuck having to invest time and effort in a powerful Story only to have it disappear into the ether 24 hours after you post it.
Cheerios users Instagram Stories to send positive personal messages to its followers
Get your @ On
Just like regular posts, you can @-mention users in your Stories. So use it! Part of the power of social media is making connections and lavishing attention on others, and your followers will love being mentioned in your Stories.
Once again, the temporary nature of Stories is a big plus here as it not only means you have lots of opportunities to @-mention followers, it also means the mentions won’t persist as they do on your regular feed.
This makes @-mentioning safer (because it’s not a permanent connection), and means you can rest assured that your brand will not be permanently tied to a particular follower.
Just as with any other social media feature, however, it’s best not to overuse this one. Make it count, and make it special.
Interested in other ways of increasing your customer engagement on social media? Read 7 proven ways to rise above the social media noise and better engage your audience on social networks.
You could, if you wanted to, spend a ton of time on your Story posts. Because they live for such a short period, however, no one expects that you do.
This opens up the possibilities. You might want to invest time to get your regular Instagram posts right, but all you need for a Story post is a good idea and some creativity.
The New York Times “Good News” posts we mentioned earlier are a good example. They tend to reuse existing imagery from the newspaper with a short blurb on each one that briefly tells the story.
It probably didn’t take very long to assemble each story, but the payoff (via the call-to-action to read the full story at the end of each one) is big enough that putting a few minutes here and there makes creating them worthwhile.
You can do the same thing. Reuse imagery you already have (such as catalog photos, or clips of existing videos) and take advantage of the built-in editing and text tools to quickly add text to them.
It’s okay to have the occasional Story that doesn’t quite land right, knowing that 24-hours later is another chance to try again.
But remember to connect these stories to your brand. It might be fun to share various photos and videos, but if they are completely disconnected from your brand, how would this help you to market your business?
Be sure that the name of your company and your company’s logo are visible in the stories you share. And consider your brand’s colors to maintain consistency with your website and other social channels.
Consider Stories like a channel
Just because Stories don’t stick around for very long doesn’t mean you can post without giving it too much thought.
One way to use Stories effectively is to treat the feature like it was a TV network. You might want to “schedule” certain Stories or types of Stories to appear on specific days, or try grouping posts into themes or recurring “episodes.”
Think in advance about how your Stories will flow together, and how they relate to other marketing events or campaigns so that there’s a cohesiveness to what you’re posting.
Repost from other channels
As we mentioned, Stories tend to be very similar from social media network to network. Nothing is stopping you from cross-posting a Story you’ve created for SnapChat on Instagram, or vice-versa.
Facebook even has built-in Story sharing from Instagram, which makes cross-posting easy and painless.
Even with Instagram’s 1 billion active users (!), there are still many people who are only on Facebook, so posting Stories on multiple sites isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It’s also possible to save a SnapChat post as a video that you can then repost on Instagram and Facebook. So if you wanted to share Stories between those sites, it’s also easy.
Another benefit of reposting your content on other channels is that you are certain to maintain consistency in your posts from one network to another.
Consistency is vital if you want to build consumers’ trust.
As we wrote previously:
Customers can’t get to know (and trust) your business if they don’t have the opportunity to experience your brand in a consistent manner. Here are some compelling ways that consistent branding ban strengthen your business:
- Easy brand recognition leads to positive associations.
- Consistency provides an advantage over the competition.
- Increased perceived value leads to higher sales.
Inconsistent messaging inevitably leads to confusion about your brand’s identity.
Making sure each story posted has a similar look and feel will help build your branding voice into one your customers know and trust.
Include a call to action
As we mentioned earlier, the “swipe up” feature in Instagram’s Stories is a powerful way to direct traffic off of Instagram to your site.
When you post a story, consider where you might want to send followers. If you’re posting about one of your products, for example, send users from that Story to the product page on your site.
Another effective way to use swipe up is to stick it at the end of a sequence of Story posts. Then you can use the posts as a way of building up interest or give followers a reason to swipe, so by the time they get to the end they’re more motivated to continue to wherever you want to send them.
An example of how a poll can be integrated into a Story post
There are a lot of different features you can integrate into a story post to make them more exciting and more engaging.
Besides tagging and @-mentioning others, Instagram has new features like polls and questions that you can add to a Story post. Ask followers to vote for their favorite, or get them to send you a short text reply to a question.
You can also tag stories with a location, repost other Instagram posts as a Story (which sends followers to that post if they swipe up), and get followers to send you a direct message in response to a Story.
The latter is a great way to solicit feedback from followers, and also make your Stories more interactive.
MeUndies uses text-only stories to not only make shout-outs to followers, it also uses them to promote hashtag campaigns such as #MePlusWe.
Instagram recently added the ability to have text-only Story posts. This is a great way to integrate more text content into a sequence of Story posts to help tie them together or to tell a brief story in words rather than pictures.
Many brands are using text-only Story posts with #hashtags and other links to help propel a narrative forward, explain a new technique or teach followers something, and many other things.
Did we say that Stories are ephemeral? This is true, but if you have a particular Story that you want to stick around for longer, now you can!
Story highlights stay on your profile as long as you want, which gives you a lot of flexibility. Besides “pinning” a Story so it doesn’t disappear after 24 hours, you can use Highlights to create simple story categories similar to what the New York Times has done with their “Good News” Stories.
You’ll probably want to use this feature strategically, and not overwhelm your profile with a lot of highlighted stories. A large content creator like the New York Times can get away with more highlights, but most brands should highlight fewer stories. Make them count.
Want to expand the reach of your Story audience?
If you are a small business and don’t have the budget of a larger company, consider working with a micro-influencer (people who have between 10,000 and 100,000 followers).
As we wrote:
With high engagement rates and lower fees, micro influencers are an excellent choice for businesses just starting to expand their brand’s reach.
Micro-influencers give smaller businesses another great advantage by allowing those businesses to target smaller, more unique audiences.
When you ask brands and marketers for the best platform for influencer marketing, the vast majority of them will answer Instagram. Many surveys support this view – they are frequently citing Instagram as the No. 1 platform for 92% influencers.
That makes it a great choice to integrate into any Story-related marketing outreach.
Stories represent a new and exciting way to present content, run marketing and advertising campaigns, and interact with your social media followers.
Social media is all about connection, intimacy, and storytelling. It’s no surprise that Stories have taken off the way they have.
Whether you’re a small business, a start-up, or an established brand, Stories are quickly becoming the de-facto way to reach your customers with quick, easily-digestible bits of content.
After all, marketing and branding are all about telling the story of your business. Stories are a powerful, accessible way to do just that.