When Instagram unveiled Stories, I rolled my eyes and thought “I can’t believe they’ve cloned another Snapchat feature.” A few people I follow jumped on Stories immediately, yet I dug my heels in protest as Facebook continued to roll out Stories to Messenger and the Facebook mobile app immediately after. I wasn’t the only one who thought that the spread of the Stories format felt forced.
But now I have a confession: I’m in love with Instagram Stories.
How it works
Instagram Stories is a function within the Instagram app, so if you already have it on your device you’re ready to go.
The point of the Stories feature is to post photos and short videos from your day. Everything you post to your story will be available to your followers for the next 24 hours – after that it disappears forever. (Your Stories will save to your phone’s photo library by default if you want to keep them.)
You can create a story by swiping right on your main Instagram feed and taking a picture with your phone’s camera, or you can upload any photo on your device that was taken within the past 24 hours. Although these restrictions may seem limiting, the emphasis is on sharing content from “today”, rather than uploading slightly older content like you might do on the main Instagram feed. #ThrowbackThursday is not welcome here.
Creating Stories content
There are several options for creating content for your Story. You can take standard photos and record regular ol’ videos, record “Boomerang” videos (where the video plays back and forth on a loop), record Reverse videos (the video plays backwards), or start a live video stream. You can also upload a photo or video from your phone’s photo library that was created within the past 24 hours, letting you post more curated content to your story.
The main appeal of Instagram Stories for many users are the fun modifications you can make to the photos and videos you can add. As you’ll see in the picture above, you can use the app’s built-in face detection technology to super-impose various effects and filters over anyone you’re pointing the camera at. (Probably yourself.)
Additionally, Instagram Stories comes with several text and drawing tools for annotating and captioning your photos and videos. In the sample above I’ve drawn on my Boomerang video. I’ve also “pinned” an emoji to the duck – Instagram analyses the video and does some clever motion tracking to attach your various additions to the content beneath. You can do this for text, emoji and stickers.
Speaking of Stickers, Instagram Stories is full of them. The stickers change regularly and some will change based on your location, the temperature, and which day of the week it is. When I was in Boston earlier in the month Instagram was showing me lots of Pride stickers as part of the celebrations there. Just like the face filters, there’s a very specific demographic for these.
When you’re ready to post your content you’ll be asked whether you want to add it to your story or if you want to send it to somebody directly. If you send it directly you’ll be doing so using Instagram’s Direct chat feature and nobody else will be able to see it.
One final thing worth noting is that any videos you add to your story have a length limit of 15 seconds. Boomerang videos, which are created within the app, last approximately six seconds.
Where do Stories appear?
Instagram Stories are embedded within the standard Instagram app which means that everybody who uses Instagram already has access to Stories.
You can watch other people’s stories through the story icons at the top of your Instagram feed, or by tapping on the profile picture of a user you follow. Users with new stories have a pink/orange circle around their profile picture.
Because Instagram Stories don’t take up any “scroll space” on the main feed, and because content expires after a certain time period, it’s easy to post Stories far more often than you would for standard posts to Instagram. After all, if you post multiple Instagram posts in a row your followers will get annoyed with you for spamming them. Stories are much less invasive.
Additionally, Instagram Stories are primarily seen by people who follow you – although you can add hashtags and location tags to your stories, which will increase the chances of your story showing in the Explore tab for all users.
This, combined with mandatory content expiration after 24 hours, allows you to be a little more candid with what you’re posting. You don’t need to worry about people finding your Instagram Stories in a few months or years, and you don’ t have to think quite so much about who your post is going to reach without you knowing.
When it comes to engagement Instagram Stories are a little more slimmed down than standard Instagram posts. You can see how many people have seen your story and you can see a list of who, specifically, that includes. Depending on your privacy settings, fellow Instagrammers can also reply to your story and start a conversation through Instagram Direct, the messaging side of the app. That’s all there is to it – there are no likes or comments for Stories. All engagement is kept private.
If you want you can turn your story into a full Instagram post, download it to your phone’s photo library or delete it. You can also hide your story from specific people like your Mum, your boss, or a creepy stalker.
As I mentioned earlier, Instagram Stories are primarily going to be seen by your existing followers. You can add hashtags and location tags to your posts which will help them show up in the Explore tab when people search those terms.
One word of warning though is that your followers aren’t guaranteed to see your content. Just like the main news feed, exposure to Instagram Stories is governed by an algorithm which prioritises content from accounts that users engage with the most. If your followers aren’t engaged with your account your story won’t have much presence in their queues.
Using Instagram Stories for business
Even if you’re already using Instagram, Instagram Stories is a very different format within the Instagram ecosystem that needs thought and consideration before your business dives in. Is there a way that you could use this tool in a way that benefits your business while also providing benefit to the people who are exposed to the content? And do you have the resources available to use it on a regular basis?
The emphasis with Instagram Stories is creating and sharing fun content. Your followers probably won’t react well to content that’s little more than a corporate push-down unless they’re really invested in your company.
On the other hand, Instagram Stories could represent a great opportunity to create short, throwaway content that’s fun and authentic. Taco Bell is an example of a brand that has used Instagram Stories well.
The main things to consider with Instagram Stories are:
- Keep the content fun and lighthearted
- Make the content authentic – don’t worry about creating overly polished content
- Think about your audience and what they want to see – don’t simply push corporate messages
- Make it easy for followers to send you a message, then respond quickly if they do
- Don’t commit to Instagram Stories unless you can sustain your strategy – unlike other networks, you can’t automate Instagram easily
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