Beginner Guide

Instagram Stories: The complete guide for your brand

Instagram Stories have become a big deal. They’ve become so popular that 83% of marketers said they plan to use Stories for influencer marketing. They’re tap-friendly and time-sensitive, which makes them highly appealing to the average Instagram user.

Moreover, changes to the Instagram algorithm has put a damper on organic reach. As a workaround, brands are using Stories as a low-hanging opportunity for visibility and engagement.

But if you’re still struggling to make sense of Stories, we get it. That’s why we put together this detailed guide breaking down how to use Instagram Stories. Read on to learn about how to view, create and use Instagram Stories to improve your brand’s Instagram marketing.

Table of Contents:

  • What are Instagram Stories
  • Why use Instagram Stories
  • How to view Instagram Stories
  • How to make an Instagram Story
  • How to use Instagram Stories as a brand
  • Instagram story tips

What are Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are a feed of photos (or videos) that disappear from your profile after 24 hours. Your Stories content is separate from your traditional feed.

Stories act as a sort of slideshow, with each photo or video uploaded to your feed representing a new slide. Photos present themselves for seven seconds by default, while videos can be up to fifteen seconds long.

Whenever you publish a new Story, a purple and orange ring appears around your profile picture. This signals to your followers that you have fresh content to check out.

While Stories expire after a day, you can save your best slideshows as Stories Highlights. These Highlights then appear on your profile right above your regular feed.

Instagram page for the Drunk Elephant brand with an active Instagram Story and several Highlights
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Users can reply to your Stories via DMs or through interactive elements such as polls and stickers. Meanwhile, unique captions, overlays and custom music give your Stories a creative touch.

Think of Stories as a sort of secondary, exclusive feed of content for your most dedicated followers.

Why use Instagram Stories

The benefits of integrating Stories into your content strategy are well-documented.

It goes beyond getting your brand in front of the right audience. In fact, recent Instagram stats note that 50% of Instagram users have visited a website to make a purchase after seeing it in Stories.

Here are some key reasons why Stories should be a top priority for growing a company account.

IG Stories put you front-and-center in followers’ feeds

This is the big one. Whenever you post a new Story to Instagram, you automatically “skip the line” in your followers’ feeds.

That’s because the Stories feed is always right there and above the fold on the Instagram home screen.

So, if you’re consistently publishing Stories, you’re always on your customers’ minds.

Considering how the Instagram algorithm is constantly changing, the Stories feed is prime real estate for brands. It allows you to get more eyes on your content without having to worry about reach.

Stories are perfect for humanizing your brand

Keep in mind that most Instagram Stories are off-the-cuff and informal, even from brands. This represents a stark contrast from the more “optimized” or salesy content you might see on your main feed.

Snap a selfie of your team? Want to share a quick personal anecdote? Go for it. Stories are the ideal place to talk to your customers like people for the sake of showing off your brand’s voice and personality.

Insta Stories offer endless opportunities to engage

The features baked into Stories are ideal for brands that want to go back and forth with followers while having a bit of fun. Polls and quizzes. Custom stickers and music. #hashtags and @mentions. The list goes on and on.

stickers dashboard on Instagram Stories showing several different stickers
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With a bit of creativity, Stories empower you to engage followers and get them talking in just a couple of taps.

How to view Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are prominently visible at the top of the screen. They’re often the first thing people see when they open the app, making them more likely to drive views and engagements. Let’s take a look at how you can view Instagram Stories.

Step 1: Go to your Instagram home screen

Once you open your Instagram app, navigate to the home screen by tapping on the home icon at the bottom of your screen.

On your home screen, you’ll see a number of profile pictures with orange and purple circles along the top. Each of these circular icons indicates that the user has an active Story you can view.

showing stories content at top of feed
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Step 2: Tap on the Story you want to view

Tap on any of the circular icons from your Stories feed. This will open up the Story that the user has posted.

Step 3: Tap left, right or hold to explore

Once you open up a Story, you can tap and hold to pause the Story and view it for as long as you like. Tap on the right side of the screen to view the next Story and tap left to go back to the previous Story.

Swiping left will let you automatically skip to the next user’s Story. Swipe right to go back to the previous user’s Story.

How to make an Instagram Story

It’s easy to start creating an Instagram Story. The challenge is creating one that engages your audience. But first, let’s look at the basic steps to make an Instagram Story.

Step 1: From your Instagram home page, tap on your profile picture at the top left-hand corner. This will open up the option to add to your Story.

Step 2: Tap on the “Camera” button in the “Add to Story” window to start creating a new Story. Or choose an image or video from your camera roll to add to your Story. Alternatively, you can swipe right from your home screen to open the Instagram camera app. From here, you can instantly record a video or capture a photo to add to your Story.

add to story page on Instagram displaying images from the camera roll and a camera button
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Step 3: If you’re capturing a new photo or video, choose a filter at the bottom of the screen. You can even decide on a capture mode for the photo or video. Tap on the arrow from the side panel to expand your options. Then choose whether you want to use boomerang, layout, hands-free or dual. The “Create” button lets you create a new text Story.

Instagram Stories camera app with toolbar highlighted at the right-hand panel of the screen
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Step 4: Once you’ve decided on a filter and a capture mode, tap the “camera button” to take a photo. Tap and hold if you want to record a new video.

Step 5: After you’ve captured the photo or video, tap on the text icon at the top to add text to your Story. Type in your message and the text will appear as an overlay. You can change the font and text color, and even add text effects to get your message across clearly.

Instagram Stories creation window with "Text example" written on the screen
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Step 6: Tap on the sticker icon to edit your Story with relevant stickers. From the sticker dashboard, you can add location tags, mention tags, music, polls, links, hashtags and countdown timers. Or if you want to add a sticker relevant to your message, type in a keyword from the search bar at the top and choose the sticker you want.

Step 7: Once you’re done editing the Story and adding the necessary stickers, tap on the arrow button at the bottom of the screen. Then choose the option to share to “Your Story.” Instagram even gives you the option to share a Story with a select group of people you’ve added to your Close Friends list. Tap on “Share” and the Story will instantly go live.

Instagram Story sharing page with the option to share to "Your Story" selected
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How to use Instagram Stories

When you’re using Instagram for business, Stories should be integral to your strategy.

But coming up with content can be daunting for first-timers.

Don’t sweat it. Below, we’ve provided a few actionable tips on how to use Instagram Stories as a part of your social media marketing strategy.

Guides and inspiration for Instagram Stories

Learn more about the important details that will help you maximize your brand’s use of Instagram Stories with these guides:

  • How to use Instagram Stories analytics
  • How to add links to Instagram Stories
  • Instagram Story ads: Rules and best practices for impressive results

Educate your audience with how-to’s and tutorials

The sequential format of Stories makes them perfect for step-by-step, how-to-style content. From recipes to beauty tutorials, you can create bite-sized educational content that’s highly engaging. These are an easy alternative to traditional videos and blog posts.

Go back and forth with polls, quizzes and questions

Stories are a great place to carry on conversations with your customers.

Features such as polls and quizzes make doing so seamless and fun. Benefit Cosmetics regularly uses polls, quizzes, questions and voting stickers in its Stories. This serves as a fun and easy way to engage the brand’s audience.

Story from Benefit Cosmetics with an emoji slider giving the option to point to three different products
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Make announcements and break your own news

Some brands use Stories as a space to make announcements. This is a smart move for the sake of keeping your followers in the loop about what your business is up to.

Highlight the latest posts in your main feed

This is an example of how to use Stories to bypass the Instagram algorithm.

Let’s say you have an awesome new post in your main feed. Hyping it up via Stories is totally fair game to maximize your reach.

Depending on how often you post to Instagram, don’t be too aggressive about announcing your posts. Try to reserve doing so for your most important announcements and offers.

Now that Instagram allows every user to add links to Stories, you can make the most of this feature to promote new content from outside Instagram. Use this feature to share your latest blog posts, press releases and other important content.

Post teasers of upcoming content or products

If nothing else, Stories encourage you to tease what you have coming down the pipeline. Maybe you’re excited about a new collaboration. Perhaps you’re about to drop a new product.

Stories allow you to spread your message far and wide. Creative stickers and countdowns make it easy to create a sense of anticipation.

Promote time-sensitive offers and deals

Just as you’d promote an offer via Instagram, you can do the same via Stories. This is perfect for ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores alike. You can use your Stories to promote limited-time deals or simply to highlight a current sale.

Share user-generated content and customer photos

Many brands share Stories dedicated to their followers’ user-generated content.

Using Stories to do so allows you to either create a dedicated customer slideshow. And you won’t have to worry about clogging up your main feed with UGC.

Plus, reposting content into Stories is even easier than traditional methods of regramming.

Take your followers behind-the-scenes

Part of the beauty of Instagram Stories is that they don’t have to be big, polished productions. In fact, many brands create Stories that are on the fly and unfiltered.

Think of different ways to use Stories to take your followers along for the ride. You could post event photos and “day in the life” content that highlights your typical routine.

Instagram story tips

While Instagram Stories don’t require a ton of optimization per se, you shouldn’t just start blasting them at random.

To wrap things up, let’s look at seven key best practices of Instagram Stories as you integrate them into your content strategy.

1. Leverage stickers in your Story

Instagram offers a ton of stickers that you can use to customize your Story. With these, you can add fun graphics and GIFs to jazz up your Stories. Additionally, let’s take a look at the key types of stickers and what you can do with them.

  • Location – This sticker lets you add a location tag to your Story. Tap on the sticker icon and search for the place you want to tag. Select the location and this will automatically add the location to the Story.
Instagram Story tagged with Disneyland Paris on an orange and yellow background
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  • @Mention – This lets you mention other accounts and users in your Story. Select the sticker and enter the username of the person or account you want to tag.
  • Add Yours – The “Add Yours” sticker lets you create a prompt and add a photo based on the prompt. When other users view your Story, they can tap on the prompt to contribute their own photo.
  • Questions – This lets you collect questions from your followers. Some even use this to ask a question and collect answers.
  • Music – With this sticker, you can choose your favorite music to add to the Story. This is a great way to keep your Story interesting with fun audio tracks from the Instagram music library.
  • Poll – This sticker lets you create a poll and provide up to four answers/options. Users can cast their vote by selecting the option they want best.
  • Quiz – The quiz sticker works almost like the poll feature, except you need to select one correct answer. This is a fun way to keep your audience engaged through Stories.
Instagram poll asking "What's my biggest fear?" with four possible answers
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  • Emoji slider – The emoji slider is a type of voting sticker. You enter a prompt or question, and users have to slide the emoji to provide an answer. For example, they may share how excited they are about an upcoming launch.
  • Link – This sticker lets you add an external link to your Story. Tap on the icon and enter the URL, which will appear as a link in your Story. You can customize the text that will show up in place of the naked URL.
  • #Hashtag – The hashtag sticker is pretty self-explanatory. It allows you to add a hashtag to your Story, which users can tap on like a regular Instagram hashtag in feed posts.
  • Countdown – This sticker lets you add a countdown timer to your Story. You can name the countdown and set an end date and time. This is perfect for counting down to an upcoming event such as a product launch or a sale.
Countdown sticker for a "Big Sale" with the date set for 20 December 2022
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2. Mention and engage with other users in your Story

Mentioning other users is a great way to ensure that people see your Story and engage with it. You can mention influencers, customers, employees or even other brand accounts. This is perfect for starting conversations and getting others to hear what you have to say.

To mention another account, use the @Mention sticker from your sticker dashboard. Alternatively, you can tap on the Story to start typing and enter the “@” symbol to mention another account.

Story creation window with a mention of Sprout Social
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If you’re in luck, the tagged users might even share the Story with their own followers. This allows you to get more views for your Stories.

3. Allow users to share your Story

Speaking of other users sharing your Story, give your followers the freedom to share your Story with their friends. This would enable them to share the Story via DMs, enabling you to get more Story views.

To allow other users to share your Story, go to your Privacy settings. Select “Story” and under “Sharing,” slide on the option to allow sharing to Messages.

Instagram Story privacy settings with the option to allow sharing to messages turned on
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4. Get creative with Instagram Story features

One of the best parts about Instagram Stories is the ability to get as creative as you want. Since it offers so many cool features, tools and stickers, you can have fun with them to come up with eye-catching and original content.

For instance, the pen tool lets you draw directly on your Story. This allows you to highlight some parts of the text or even point to specific details in your photo. You can change the color and pen style as needed.

Instagram Story creation window with pen tool highlighted at the top
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Instagram even lets you create custom ink and background colors. So you can choose the perfect shade to match your branding guidelines or creative vision.

Just choose a photo from your camera roll that contains your desired color. Then open the pen app by selecting the “Draw” icon. Tap on the color picker icon at the bottom of the screen and drag the picker to your desired color.

If you want to use this new custom color as a background color, tap and hold the screen. This will change the entire background to the color of your choice.

a set of two screens - one showing a custom ink color scribbled on the screen and the other showing an entire background colored with the custom color
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5. Figure out your publishing frequency

A key upside of Stories is that you can publish them frequently without worrying about spamming your followers.

That said, there’s no denying investment of time and resources that goes into publishing anything on a daily or near-daily basis. Consider Stories as a supplement to your regular posts without sacrificing content quality.

Once you’ve figured out the ideal publishing frequency for your Stories, follow it consistently. Additionally, it’s important to publish your Stories at the right time when people are more likely to take notice. Try to find out the best time to post to your Instagram Stories and plan your publishing schedule accordingly.

6. Take full advantage of creative features, tools and formats

Beyond what we’ve discussed already, Instagram is consistently rolling out new features and functions to Stories.

For the sake of finding fresh opportunities to engage customers and keep up with trends, we recommend keeping a close eye on such updates.

The recent updates that Instagram has implemented to compete with TikTok are a good example. For example, you can upload trending music to your Stories and cross-post your Reels.

7. Keep a close eye on your Instagram Stories engagement

Watching your social analytics is a no-brainer, but Stories are often treated as an afterthought when it comes to tracking data.

That’s because Stories are so simple, right? What’s there to glean from a few seconds of content?

However, consider how tracking Instagram Stories analytics can clue you in on insights such as:

  • Which types of Stories receive the most views, replies and engagement
  • How often you should publish Stories based on firsthand data
  • How engaged your total audience is versus your Stories viewers

The good news is that Sprout Social can highlight all of the above in a simple, easy-to-read dashboard. These data points let you fine-tune your content strategy. So you can publish Stories that really resonate with your audience.

Sprout Social's Instagram Stories performance report showing a graph tracking different metrics for Story replies, taps back, taps forward, and story exists
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But of course, you can’t understand what’s working and what isn’t until you start publishing Stories on the regular.

And with that, we wrap up our guide!

Are you making the most of your Instagram Stories?

There’s no doubt about it: Stories should be central to your Instagram strategy.

Given so much creative freedom, publishing your initial Stories might require a bit of trial and error.

But by sticking to the tips and best practices above, you can get started with Stories with a sense of confidence.

Check out how you can work smarter and gain powerful Instagram insights with Sprout’s Instagram management tools.


The post Instagram Stories: The complete guide for your brand appeared first on Sprout Social.

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