April 7, 2020

One of the reasons Instagram Stories are so popular is that there are so many creative things you can do with them. And I can’t possibly share all those unique and effective ideas here. But I’d like to give you some general guidelines that you can use to create better Instagram Stories. Ones that get more views, more interactions, and thereby show up higher in the priority placement of your viewers feeds!

Instagram Stories offer a lot of opportunity for creativity and what you decide to create is essentially limited only to your imagination. So please take these guidelines as a starting point and then use your creative facilities to go be amazing with your own ideas!

Instagram Stories are all formatted in a vertical 9:16 ratio, or a dimension of 1080 pixels wide by 1920 pixels high.

The Three Types of Stories

Stories are designed as short form content where a photo post will play for 6 seconds and a video will play for up to 15 seconds, depending on the length recorded. You can also create text based posts where you use a specific background color option and start the Story with a text placement. These also play for 6 seconds.

When it comes to Stories there isn’t one preference over another in the type of content to create. It comes down to how you best serve your audience and how you can create quality content that conveys your message. This often includes a combination of photos, videos, and even text posts within one Story sequence.

A simple photo upload, video recording (or upload), or a text post is the most basic level of Story you can create. But a photo or video can be resized by pinching and moving, augmented with doodles, text boxes, gifs, and more.

In this example from @Octonation, a square video was added to the Story and shrunk down to a smaller size. Then he added doodles with the pen tools, a gif for the “wow” and the arrows, and text for the “OctoTV” and “On” buttons to turn the whole thing into a TV in your Story.

And a video can include text overlays or animations to add dimension and interest throughout the entire video. Fast moving videos that play on short attention spans can be very effective. Creative video strategies like this example from Amanda Robinson, The Digital Gal, can be created in various video editing software tools and then uploaded to your Instagram Stories.

Tools to Create Better Stories

Although you can create Stories directly in the Instagram app, taking photos or videos or creating text posts, you can also create your posts with external tools or software and simply upload the photo or video file to your Instagram Stories.

Amy Porterfield is an example of someone who creates beautiful graphics that are aligned with her brand style and personality but are formatted and designed for Instagram Stories.

A great tool for this is Canva or Easil. They have a wide variety of templates, formatted for 9:16 sized images where you can change out photos, edit the text, and personalize the templates to fit your brand. They’re quick and easy to use to create beautiful images for Stories.

For video templates, Wave.video and InVideo are easy to use tools that allows you to quickly create 9:16 vertical videos. You can use templates and modify them to your content needs. And they offer a variety of royalty free images, videos, and music to create videos that are personalized and reflective of your brand.

Optimize Your Stories for More Engagement

I love how the use of gifs and stickers can make content more fun and interesting. Stories can be much more engaging, and drive more results to achieve your goals, when you incorporate the right stickers and features into your Stories.

Some of the stickers that are best suited for driving engagement include:

  • Music sticker
  • Poll sticker
  • Questions sticker
  • Countdown sticker
  • Emoji slider sticker
  • Quiz sticker

Incorporating these stickers into your Stories provides direct engagement methods for your viewers to respond to your Stories. This keeps your content active and higher in their feeds, but also gives you a lot of insight into your customers.

In my Story post of first class flight, I added the song “Glamorous” by Fergie that tied into the theme. The song sticker adds the music, the lyrics, and the song details to make it lively and entertaining. Adding a plane gif added a little extra movement to the post but the music kept this post engaged with my audience.

The Poll, Questions, and Quiz stickers are hands on tools to connect directly with your audience. Viewers can make a selection, add their feedback, ask a question, answer a question, and more. These stickers are valuable for all brands but can come in handy for B2B brands to better connect with their followers.

One example of this done well is the TSA who allow followers to ask a variety of questions and then they post some of the best or most relevant inquiries along with the responses to their Story sequence. [Side note: I’ve long touted the TSA Instagram account as a great example to look at]

The Countdown sticker allows you to set a time for an upcoming event and your followers can tap on the sticker to receive a reminder when the timer expires. This is a great tool for training events, podcast releases, and other activities you want your customers to show up for.

Finally, the emoji slider sticker is a fun, goofy sticker that can be used creatively to get people to generate responses and engagement. In all honesty, I don’t find much use for this sticker. But, in this example from my Instagram account, I held up the empty wine glass, turned the emoji slider on its side, and used text to ask the question of how much wine people wanted that night. I received a lot of responses to the sticker which then allowed me to respond to those people with direct messages and engage in personal conversations.

Stickers are not the only way to optimize your Story content for engagement, but they are powerful tools to use and you should find ways to incorporate them. Some additional engagement tips to consider include:

  • Keeping the content on the Story post easy to watch or read. Stories move quickly and if the content is too cluttered or too busy, people will tap through or miss the message.
  • Use bold colors or contrasting colors to allow key messages to stand out.
  • Using arrow gifs or other tactics to encourage followers to navigate to the next Story for “more” so that you keep up the retention.

One final engagement strategy to consider is the “Swipe up” link for Stories. If you are a Business or Creator profile with over 10k followers, or if you are a verified account, you have the option to add any URL to any Story post. Even if you don’t meet this criteria, however, if you use IGTV videos, you can add a link to your Stories to send people to your IGTV videos.

This swipe up link is a very helpful engagement tactic as well as a valuable business tool to send viewers to an online destination outside of your Stories. If you do use the swipe up function, include a gif to remind people to swipe, or put and arrow or circle at the bottom of the Story where the “see more” instruction appears. Give your audience a good clear indication to follow that action!

Optimizing Your Instagram Stories for Reach

So far, we’ve covered a lot of tactics and strategies to help you create Stories. But it’s also important to think about how to get more people to see those Stories!

There are a few strategies you can use to optimize your Stories for increased reach and exposure on Instagram. When it comes to your existing followers, consider the following tips:

  • Post at dates and times that are ideal for more views. You can review your Story insights to better determine this time or day for your account.
  • Be responsive to people who leave comments or questions on stickers or who send you direct messages on Instagram in response to a Story. Instagram does measure this engagement and the more you keep your followers engaged with your Stories, the higher you will rank in their Story feed placement.

To reach more non-followers and new Instagram users with your Stories, there are a variety of tactics you can use.

Location tags. These are one of the secrets to getting lots of new exposure! When you add a location tag to your Story, there’s a chance that it could appear in the search results for that location and others. The key to success here is to use the smallest possible location. For example, use a location sticker for a very specific building, park, intersection, or business. The Instagram maps know that the individual location is near surrounding locations, in a certain neighborhood, in a city, and in a county, etc. By tagging the smaller location, you have the potential to show up in the broader searches too. But if you tag the city name, you won’t show up in smaller locations within the city.

In this example, I tagged the National University campus location but also showed up in three other location searches related to the area where I tagged.

Hashtags. Just as we know hashtags are powerful for reach on feed posts, they can be very helpful with Instagram Stories. There are some limitations, however, that you should be aware of. If you use the Hashtag sticker, you can only add one hashtag sticker per Story post. Each post in the sequence could have a different hashtag though. If you use the text box to add hashtags, I can only promise you that Instagram will only count the first three you include, so it may not worth it to use more than three. (For the record, Instagram allows you to use 10 hashtags in the text box but over multiple studies, not all ten always work.) You also don’t want to “hide” your hashtags in your Stories. They need to be clearly legible and visible or Instagram won’t render them as functional hashtags.

When you use hashtags in a Story post, you want to generally go as broad as possible. For example, using #Flowers is likely better than using #SummerGardenIdeas. Not that the latter hashtag isn’t valuable, but Stories only live for 24 hours so you only have that small window of opportunity to appear in search. If you’re using hyper targeted hashtags, they may only get a few views in the 24 hour period. In contrast, with a popular hashtag that gets a lot of views, you increase your odds of appearing in that search and getting more views on your Story. If you’re using an event hashtag or something timely, using that more narrow hashtag is completely acceptable because others are looking for it around that same time frame.

A caveat to Stories appearing in hashtag searches is that there is no guarantee you will appear in a hashtag search. Regardless of how many Stories are created with a certain hashtag, Instagram limits the number of results shown to each user based on various algorithmic criteria. Why? Because no one wants to tap through 400 Story posts in a search result.

Tag users. If you want more people to see your content, give more people a reason to share it! If you tag users in your Stories, assuming they’re actually a part of that Story post, they can share your Story to theirs, giving you more exposure. In this example, both the restaurant and the shopping center where the restaurant is located are tagged in the Story as users so both of those accounts can share that back to their audiences.

Shareable content. Speaking of sharing, Stories that you view have the little paper plane icon for sharing located at the bottom of the Story. This allows users to share that Story directly with another user via a direct message. If you’re sharing highly valuable or entertaining content that your audience wants to share, they will! And when the recipient gets the DM, they can view your Story directly.

Again, I point out that these are just a few ideas of creative Stories. This is far from a robust list and I’m sure you’ve seen some amazing Stories yourself. Take the things you’ve seen as inspiration, take your creative musings, and design some fun and interactive Stories that will both entertain your audience and benefit your brand.

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. Your site is awesome. Thanks for all of this helpful content that is right in our wheel house. Question, do you think there is a virtuous feedback cycle if you’re using a somewhat popular Instagram site to support your Website — in terms of SEO. And, if you agree, do you have any advice on how to make that cycle more successful/optimized.

    1. There isn’t any data that I’m aware of that supports this. Instagram doesn’t perform well in terms of searchability and SEO so I don’t see any direct tie to it supporting a website or other platform in that way.

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