Instagram is one of the leading social networks around and has helped businesses to boost their engagement rates, increase their reach, make sales and build profits.

Just a few days ago as the calendar flipped over to August 2016,  Instagram unveiled a new feature called Instagram Stories.

Instagram Stories allows you to capture real-time images and videos and share them as a “story” for just 24 hours.

Although the feature is uncannily similar to SnapChat, it has already taken off and businesses are scrambling to come up with creative ways on how they can use it to grow their brand.

While Instagram Stories is likely to grow and evolve over the coming months, here is all you need to know to get started with using Instagram’s latest and newest feature.

The Basics: What is Instagram Stories?

Instagram has developed the reputation of being a place to share glamorous and well-edited images. Users often upload pretty pictures, choose a filter and edit the photo so it looks appealing and eye-catching.

Often a lot of thought goes into posting an Instagram image, unlike a platform such as SnapChat, which favours taking unedited images that are more “in the moment”.

Instagram Stories however, now offers users a way to post images and 10 second videos that are less about editing and fancy filters and more about sharing your story.

Instagram stories allow users to post in a separate feed as many times as they like in order to tell their story. These images or videos then appear at the top of the Instagram home screen rather than in the typical feed.

This means that users can create a story with multiple photos or videos, without worrying about clogging up the feed of their followers.

According to the Instagram blog-

“Instagram Stories is a new feature that lets you share all the moments of your day, not just the ones you want to keep on your profile. With Instagram Stories you don’t have to worry about over posting. Instead you can share as much as you want throughout the day- with as much creativity as you want.”

Like SnapChat, Instagram Stories also allows you to insert text and drawings over your images in order to bring your story to life.

They also disappear within 24 hours, which is very similar to SnapChat and is a huge part of what has made SnapChat so appealing to users.

To view a story on Instagram, all you need to do is tap on the profile button that appears at the top of your Instagram feed. You can then tap or swipe to view multiple stories from other users.

Currently, you can’t comment on people’s Instagram Stories but you can send them a private message.

Instagram Stories is likely to grow and change as more users get familiar with it, but for now, it definitely can be a marketers playground.

Getting Started: How to Use Instagram Stories Effectively

When it comes to using Instagram Stories, it is important to keep in mind how it all works.

Instagram Stories allow you to-

  • Upload unedited images
  • Insert text, drawings and emoji onto videos and images
  • Create short, 10 second videos
  • Post multiple times per day
  • Have your story disappear within 24 hours

By keeping these factors in mind, it should help you to start brainstorming creative ways that your brand can use the feature.

We have some of our own creative ideas to share with you, but before we launch into those, let us first look at how to use the new feature in easy to follow, step by step instructions.

Your Step by Step Guide to Using Instagram Stories

  1. To post an Instagram Story tap the cross icon which is located in the upper left hand corner of your screen.
  2. To take a photo, simply tap the round white button at the bottom of your screen. To take a video, simply hold down on the same button. Videos can currently be only 10 seconds.
  3. You may also notice a lightning icon to the left of the round white button. Tapping this button will turn the flash on.
  4. You may also notice a two arrow circle icon button located to the right of the round white button. Tapping this button will turn on your front facing or selfie camera. To change back to the rear camera, simply tap the button again.
  5. Once you have your photo or video, you can also insert a drawing or doodle. To do this, simply tap the pen icon located to the right of your screen.
  6. Once you tap the pen icon, three different styles of pen will appear at the top of your screen. Select the appropriate pen and colour. The colour palette will appear at the bottom of the screen.
  7. To insert text into your image, simply click the “Aa” icon which is located to the right of your screen. This will open your keyboard and allow you to insert text and emoji.
  8. When you are done, simply click on the checkmark icon to upload your story. You can also click the Cancel button on the left side of the screen to start over or delete your image or video.
  9. Once your story is live you can also save it to your camera roll by opening your story and tapping on the three dot icon located on the right hand side and then clicking “save image”.
  10. You can also view who has seen your story by swiping up and then viewing the photo or video.
  11. You can also block people from seeing your story by tapping the “X” icon next to their name.
  12. To keep your story private, you can also adjust your privacy settings by going to “settings” in the upper right hand corner of your profile.
  13. Your story will be automatically deleted after a 24 hour time period.

Overall, Instagram Stories are very easy to use and while the feature is relatively new, it is likely that businesses who are using it are experiencing higher than normal engagement rates.

Instagram already has 300 million active daily users, so by getting your story out there sooner rather than later, your business really sets to benefit.

Let’s Get Technical: The Top Things Marketers Need to Know About Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories currently has amazing potential, but who knows how long it is going to last?

In order to make the most out of your Instagram marketing strategy, uploading daily stories is definitely the way to go.

Currently, the only way for marketers to monitor the success of their stories is to see how many views each story gets.

You can use this view calculator to see who your most dedicated fans are and what content seems to engage your audience the most.

For example, Nike generated over 800,000 views for their first Instagram story. This allowed them to see just how engaged their audience is and what potential they truly have.

According to Laundry Service, who is responsible for Nike’s Social Media, Instagram Stories is a huge opportunity to communicate with fans in a different way.

Even in the 24 hours that Nike’s first story went up, having 800,000 views was in their words, nothing short of staggering.

While Instagram Stories is very similar to SnapChat, it still lacks the amazing database of Instagram. Comparatively, SnapChat only has 150 million daily users as compared to Instagram which has 300 million daily users.

But where does that leave SnapChat now that Instagram Stories is basically a replica of what people love about SnapChat?

According to Dan Grossman from Vayner Media, “Instagram is a follower platform whereas SnapChat is more of a best friend platform.”

This essentially means that brands and businesses can perform better on Instagram as compared to SnapChat, which is much more difficult to build an audience from.

“SnapChat hasn’t encouraged brands to build up huge followings”, continued Grossman. It is also harder for businesses to monitor engagement on SnapChat and to promote or advertise to their followers.

Nick Sheingold from Laundry Service also agrees stating-

“We know users love SnapChat, and since the Instagram experience is so similar it makes it a little easier for brands. They don’t have to develop a totally new strategy. There are a lot of things SnapChat still brings to the table. Users are obsessed with the platform and its ad suite and products are still the best creatively in the industry.”

Many are speculating now however, that Instagram will also start to adopt some of the filters, images and facial recognition technologies that SnapChat currently has in place.

In fact, the CEO of Instagram Kevin Systrom has even openly stated that SnapChat deserves a lot of the credit for Instagram Stories-

“Let’s talk about the big thing. Snapchat pioneered a lot of this format. Whole parts of the concept, the implementation, down to the details….they deserve the credit.”

Systrom then continued to comment on how everyone copies each other when it comes to social media and that it is more about the “format and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it” rather than the concept itself.

In an interview with Tech Crunch, Systrom stated-

“When you are an innovator, that’s awesome. Just like Instagram deserves all the credit for bringing filters to the forefront. This isn’t about who invented something. This is about format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.

Innovation happens in the Valley, and people invent formats, and that’s great. And then what you see is those formats proliferate. So @ usernames were invented on Twitter. Hashtags were invented on Twitter. Instagram has those. Filtered photos were not invented on Instagram.

And I think what you see is that every company looks around and adopts the best of the best formats or state-of-the-art technology. Snapchat adopted face filters that existed elsewhere first, right? And slideshows existed in other places, too. Flipagram was doing it for a while. So I think that’s the interesting part of the Valley. You can’t just recreate another product. But you can say ‘what’s really awesome about a format? And does it apply to our network?’

Don’t you think that Snapchat’s done a really awesome job? And Facebook’s done a great job. And Instagram’s done a great job. I think all of these companies have done a great job. Some people invent stuff. We’ve invented things.

Gmail was not the first email client. Google Maps was certainly not the first map. The iPhone was definitely not the first phone. The question is what do you do with that format? What do you do with that idea? Do you build on it? Do you add new things? Are you trying to bring it in a new direction?

We’re bringing some new creative outlets with ‘neon drawing.’ You have different ways of navigating back and forth with this. You have a completely different audience. If you’re a business, if you’re a celebrity, if you’re an interest-based account, you can have a giant audience. It’s going to feel very different. I don’t believe these two things are substitutes, and that’s okay.”

While Systrom does bring up some valid points, it does seem uncanny considering Facebook, who owns Instagram, once tried to acquire SnapChat for 3 billion dollars.

It remains to be seen whether Instagram Stories is bad news for SnapChat, but the top things that marketers need to keep in mind is this-

  • Instagram has 300 million daily users
  • Leverage these users by posting daily stories
  • Use creative text, doodles and emoji to enhance your story
  • Monitor and track who is viewing your story

This move by Instagram also highlights the growing shift in the world of advertising. Instead of bombarding users with pushy advertising, brands instead need to get more creative and showcase a lifestyle rather than a product.

It also helps support the growing emergence of telling stories as part of an effective marketing strategy.

According to Craig Elimeliah, a director of creative technology, “today’s marketers need to be able to tell deeper more authentic stories. Less stylised content can be an effective form of storytelling on a platform that is primarily serving up content that is created by its users.”

By getting creative and sharing a story instead of a pushy sales tactic, brands can develop a stronger and more meaningful connection with their audience. This in turn, can lead to more sales and more growth.

Getting Creative: Inspirational Ways to Use Instagram Stories

Now that you know how Instagram works, it is time to think about getting creative. This is going to help increase engagement rates and is going to help your brand to really grow and flourish on social media.

Instagram has a lot of potential and its user base is only growing. To make the most of the 300 million users that flock to the app every day, here are some creative ideas-

  • Share behind the scenes photos from your office, warehouse or factory to show your followers what your day is like
  • Share images of what your brand is working on, such as latest projects, prototypes or competitions
  • Upload images of your brand doing what it does best or showcase your brands products or services
  • Post inspirational videos that help to inspire your audience
  • Post short videos with advice on a particular topic or product that your audience would be interested in
  • Share short stories from your staff and the people behind your brand
  • Draw fun doodles and artwork over your photos to help add emotion to your photos
  • Post emotionally driven content that is relatable to your audience such as a picture of your dog at work, birthday celebration in the office etc.
  • Post videos with short actionable advice that is relevant to your niche
  • Share a video on a upcoming event, product or webinar you are hosting
  • Post an obscure image and then type a question asking your fans to guess what it is (you can get them to reply on Facebook or private message through Instagram)
  • Use stories to run daily promotions such as offering coupon codes and discounts
  • Promote other social feeds by sharing screen shot images
  • Post an image and type an inspirational quote over it
  • Create a video showcasing one of your popular products or services
  • Share images from your day to day on how you run your business or any special routines that you have
  • Show a preview of a video, webinar or podcast and offer a way for them to get the full version
  • Have a thought leader or influencer do a “takeover” of your Instagram Story account for a day
  • Take candid or spontaneous images to help build up the image of your brand
  • Run a question and answer session that inspires your audience to get engaged

As you can see, there are so many ways that you can use Instagram Stories in a creative and thought-provoking way.

According to Jenny Marder, a social media director, small businesses have the real advantage when it comes to using Instagram Stories-

“Small businesses have an advantage when it comes to new tools like Instagram Stories. My advice is to use them and tweak your strategy along the way. Small businesses often tend to have fewer resources and on the ground efforts for social, so finding the balance between stories and more permanent posts will be critical.”

As a business, whether big or small, the main focus should really be to grow your audience by developing an ongoing dialogue with your current fans and followers.

At the end of the day, this is essentially what is going to drive engagement rates and get your brand recognised.

“For small businesses and new brands trying to find their voice on social, Instagram stories will be a great way to test content, find out what works and adapt very quickly.”- Andrew Caravella, VP of Marketing at Sprout Social.

Wrapping it All Up: Instagram Stories In Conclusion

There is no doubt that Instagram’s newest feature, Instagram Stories offers many opportunities for businesses young and old.

By getting ahead of the curve and using Instagram Stories sooner rather than later, your brand also has a unique opportunity to be seen by some of the 300 million daily active users.

Creating an Instagram Story is easy to do and allows you to post multiple images and videos per day without clogging up the feed of your followers.

It also allows you to get more creative by inserting drawings, text, emoji and doodles over your images and videos.

Instagram Stories also allows you to create more life-like and unpolished images so you can present a more genuine and truthful representation of your brand.

All of the videos and images are also deleted after 24 hours, which allows you to keep your content bold and fresh.

Instagram Stories is fairly similar to SnapChat, however with Instagram’s larger database, it could very well offer businesses a better and more lucrative opportunity.

Acquiring customers on SnapChat is also much more challenging as compared to Instagram.

There are many creative ways to use Instagram Stories and really the sky is the limit.

You can use the feature to engage with your audience, connect with your followers and promote your products and services in a variety if ways.

You can also use Instagram Stories to run promotions, offer coupon codes and special discounts.

For inspiration, you may want to check out popular Instagram accounts such as Nike, to see how they are using Instagram Stories to connect with their followers.

While Instagram Stories is new, it is the perfect time for your brand to start experimenting with different ideas and techniques.

Get creative and see what your brand can come up with when it comes to this latest social feature.

It remains to be seen whether Instagram Stories is here to stay, but right now it offers a lot of potential to help grow your brand and business.

Are you using Instagram Stories? Feel free to share some of your experiences with this latest feature.