Most of us, unless living in denial of social media, follow at least one Instagram influencer or brand that we admire. You know the page, with the perfect pictures of beautiful people and places, the witty copy and strategic hashtags (especially when promoting a brand) and the oh-so-unobtainable lifestyle. And when you snag a look at the followers, your heart sinks further. But a vast audience doesn’t have to be unobtainable and, when using Instagram Stories, there are many ways in which an individual or brand can have just that. 

But what are Instagram Stories?

If you are familiar with Snapchat, Instagram Stories won’t seem like too much of a stretch. But let’s pretend for a moment that you have no idea what we mean. Instagram Stories consist of posted content that disappears within 24 hours but is viewable to everyone in your audience. 

Now you might be wondering how a disappearing story could make your audience grow. Well, it is—and it isn’t—that simple. Instagram Stories, when done right, can be a strategic brand move. They give your audience a glimpse into a different side of your brand and encourage engagement. 

As a brand, your Instagram might be a highlight reel of your recent blog posts, company achievements, or engagements with the latest trends in your industry. Your Stories can build upon this, while giving you more creative ways to boost engagement. You can include polls for your audience, ask them questions, link to giveaways, sales or products and feature your team or consumers/members for a more broad view of your brand. 

Let’s get started. 

Give your followers a glimpse of reality 

Social media is not known for giving a perfectly honest view of reality. Sometimes it’s a lie of omission, whereas other times it’s just a flat out lie. However, Stories allow you to show your followers how your brand operates in the background and showcase your brand practices and people. puts it this way: “Personalize the experience of your viewers with behind-the-scenes Stories which help you humanize your brand and connect with your audiences at a deeper level.” One way you can do this is showing a behind the scenes look at how you create your product, how you source your material, or a small clip of the creation process. Another option is to have your founder or another team member hop on and give a tour or talk about your product/service or showcase a new event that you are hosting. When in doubt, you can always enter the conversation about an industry topic or trend that your users would find interesting. 

Take advantage of polls, links, and open questions

Instagram Stories have a wide variety of tools not available through other aspects of Instagram. For example, the ability to ask a question of your followers and collect their answers, adding links, and creating fun or serious polls. The objective here is to make it interactive.

Stories are your opportunity to engage with consumers differently and to invite them into the discussion. You can even combine this with our first suggestion by having a member of your team open up the debate to user questions and then answering them live through a series of Stories posts.

Instagram released the polling feature in 2017 and, according to their blog: “After you’ve shared your poll, your friends and followers can immediately start voting and see real-time results. Once someone has voted on your poll, they’ll see which choice is in the lead at any given moment. And if they watch your Story again later, they’ll see the latest results.” Polling can be especially useful when launching new product options and seeing in real-time which your audience prefers. Or to inject some personality into your Stories (i.e., asking your followers if they like your founder’s new handlebar mustache or not). 

Besides the polling, making use of links in Stories can make the user experience friendlier for your followers. For example, let’s say you have a sale on your top-selling products. You can make a post about it (and definitely should), but users can quickly scroll past it. To increase engagement, you can add a link to your Stories and showcase why this your best selling product. Links can also help grow your audience by introducing more people to your products/services, blog posts, and other essential aspects of your brand. 

Use a variety of content (from within and without) 

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as user-generated content (UGC). Featuring users via hashtags and mentions allows you to showcase people who genuinely love and use your brand. After which, these featured users are more likely to engage with your brand in the future. 

The content from outside of your brand can vary greatly. You can share mentions from users, enlist the help of an Instagram Influencer, or even allow someone to take over your account. These variations ensure that you are hitting all the angles that your followers want to see. If done correctly, the content that you share feels just as on-brand as the content you create yourself. Consistency is key here. 

One of the many ways to feature a specific user is to host a Takeover on your Stories. Takeovers typically include your business partnering with an influencer or another consumer that aligns with your product or the message you are trying to get across. Often, the person taking over a brand’s Stories will have a broad audience and will cross-post their work with their brand to their own followers. Such links mean that you will likely get higher brand engagement, which is a great way to cultivate organic followers.  This blog from features guidelines to hosting a takeover, such as making a list of possible takeover candidates, pitching to those people, setting guidelines for content, and promoting the takeover on social channels. 

Make use of keywords, hashtags, and trends 

As with any good piece of content, some research is necessary. Keyword and hashtag research is a great place to start when building out your Instagram Stories. It also helps to look into general content trends that apply to the content you are pushing out. Instagram Stories makes use of this by allowing brands to mention users, pull in trending and unique hashtags, and build their stories around keywords and trends. 

By using a hashtag or geolocating your post, you can increase the range of your social post and, as a result, often grow your audience. These markers draw in consumers that you might not otherwise reach and make your content go further than skipping this step does. Another great tip from the Semrush blog (linked at the beginning of this paragraph) is to make sure to tag yourself in your Stories, which can drive consumers back to your profile and lets them see what else your brand represents. 

Link users back to Stories 

Links are where you make it all connect. A goal of your content should be to make sure it gets in front of the people you most want to see it. One of the best ways to do this is to use your many content platforms to your advantage. Within Instagram, the easiest way to do this is to point users to your stories via your posts. It can get slightly sticky so try to follow along. 

Let’s say you’re a local ice cream shop. You could start with a post about National Ice Cream Day that tells users they can find more awesome content in your Stories. When users get there, you can feature a poll of their favorite ice cream and, in the end, have users swipe up for a coupon to use in your scoop shop. These meandering links and posts help your brand stay consistent and interconnected, but it’s equally important not to overdo it. If you feel that you are oversaying something, you probably are. When linking, use your judgement and keep the experience user-friendly.

Don’t forget design 

Some of the most-watched Instagram Stories are such because of how pleasing they are to the eye. Instagram’s platform is very much image-forward, which can put you behind multiple steps if you are not focused on your design. Part of this step involves storyboarding how you want your account to look. If you have the perfect grid but are abandoning the finesse in your Stories, that may be one reason why your following is lacking. But what if you don’t have an in-house designer? Sites like Canva, Easil, or PicMonkey offer Instagram Story Templates which take away the heavy-handed design work and allow you to focus on the content you want your users to see. And, of course, hiring an agency (like Savy) can further help with this crucial step and allow you to put out your best content. 

Whichever path you choose, it’s important to maintain consistency. If you break your own rules, such as with a takeover, do so intentionally to avoid creating a jarring experience to your user. Templates or storyboarded design allows you to keep with a similar theme so your content can shine through. 

Study your Instagram metrics 

Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to make sure that you are utilizing your hard work to the fullest. Instagram, like most Internet-based sites, has metrics running on the backend that you can use to understand your audience better and grow it further. Interaction stats here show replies to your Story, site visits from your Story and clicks on geotags, hashtags, and mentions. These stats can be used to see Story engagement and success—making it easier to replicate for future Stories. 

Discovery stats refer to mentions and follows that you garner from your Story. It can also be a significant mood boost to see how many times your Story was viewed (because who doesn’t need a mid-week pat on the back?). Lastly, Navigation stats refer to the physical path users used for your Story—back and forward taps within your Story, swipes to the next brand’s Story, and exits to your Story altogether. These stats can also help you understand where you’ve lost your audience, what content they wanted to view again, or if you did not grab their attention from the get-go.

Keep the content alive with an Instagram Stories Highlight

Instagram Stories indeed disappear when used in their most basic form. But  there is a function called Highlight that you can use to feature your favorite Stories more permanently on your account. These Highlights are featured right above your posts, so they are often one of the first things people see when they land on your account. Strategically it is best to feature only valuable and pertinent content here. If you are running a new campaign, for example, you can switch on the Instagram Stories Archive feature and add relevant stories to your Highlights. This feature allows you to promote directly on your profile to continue the hype and engagement for your products. 

Whereas consumers view your Stories in a long list of other brands that a particular user follows, clicks on your Highlights are for your brand only. The goal of Highlighting is to, well, highlight. Focus on content that you believe users should see first like current campaigns, trends, takeovers, and events. If you did your research on analytics, this is also where you can use it to see which types of stories your audience engages with the most and why. 

Instagram Stories are an easy, engaging way to grow your audience

Whether you are an Instagram beginner or pro, Stories can help take your account and your brand to the next level by increasing your audience and brand engagement. If you still feel lost after reading the tips above, hiring an agency like Savy can help you work through the ins and outs of metrics, design, and copy of Stories to best engage with your target. After all, it’s no easy task to grow your followers organically, but it is well worth it in the end.