Instagram Stories 101: Your Complete Guide

This in-depth guide will show you how to use Instagram Stories so you can get started and gain engagement.

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When Instagram Stories first launched in 2016, it was an instant hit, soaring to over 100 million daily active users within just two months. Today, Instagram stories boast over 500 million daily active users.

A recent survey by Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, over 2 in 3 respondents said that they have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Instagram Stories. These numbers make Instagram Stories a channel that both established and emerging brands simply cannot ignore.

Here, we share the basics of how to use Instagram Stories, then move on to some Instagram Stories tips and tricks to help you stand out from the crowd.

What Are Instagram Stories and Why Do They Matter?

Instagram Stories enables users to post pictures and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Your followers can watch these posts in slideshow format, thus making it possible for more real-time sharing which is relevant to that particular moment.

With the usual filter options still intact such as texts, drawing, and stickers, these features can be creatively used when posting Stories. You can also share important highlights regarding your business with followers.

People are not just using Instagram Stories to connect with friends. According to Instagram, a third of the most viewed Stories come from businesses. These impressive engagement numbers not only prove the popularity of the app itself, but also demonstrate the wealth of opportunities brands now have to engage followers and generate ROI through Instagram Stories.

How to Use Instagram Stories

Delighted by Instagram Stories when it comes to engaging with friends but feeling unsure of where to start in terms of promoting your brand?

The key is to stay relevant to your audience, provide value and always encourage user engagement. The brevity of these Stories in Instagram calls for proper timing when posting, adding relevant photos/videos and lots of creativity.

With that in mind, we take you through the basics of Instagram Stories, and how you can maximise all the features to help you guarantee your success!

How to Add a Story to Instagram

First things first: Here’s how to add a story to Instagram:

  1. Open the Instagram app.
  2. Tap the camera icon in the top-left corner.
  3. Tap the white circle at the bottom of the screen to take a picture, or press and hold the white circle to take a video.
  4. If you’d rather use a photo or video you already recorded, tap the square gallery icon on the bottom left of your screen, or swipe up anywhere on the screen.

Once your Instagram Story is live, a pink circle will flash up around your Instagram profile picture, displayed alongside other Instagram stories at the top of Instagram’s main feed.

Once you have a bit of experience with Instagram Stories, you can start experimenting with different formats. You can create a Type, Live, Boomerang, Superzoom, Focus, Rewind, or Hands-Free post by selecting one of these options at the bottom of your Android or Iphone screen before you tap the white circle.

How Long Do Instagram Stories Last?

Instagram Stories last 24 hours on your profile before disappearing, and the maximum Instagram video story length is 60 seconds but it is segmented into 15-second clips. That means, for a 60-second video, you’ll have to share four stories.

You can also use a third-party app to segment a longer video into 15-second increments to add to your The following guidelines will show you exactly how to upload longer videos on your Instagram story

How to Record or Upload Longer Instagram Story Videos

  1.  Tap at the bottom of the screen, then tap Video.
  2. Tap and hold to begin recording.
  3. To take multiple clips for your video, lift your finger off to pause. When you’re ready to record your next clip, tap and hold the record button again.
  4. To delete a previous clip in your video, tap Delete and tap to confirm.

Instagram’s carousel feature also allows you to post up to 10 videos or photos to your Instagram stories. This means you could post a 25-minute video segmented into 10 clips, and post up to 100 stories per day if you needed to.

Apps such as Continual For Instagram and Story Splitter (available on iOS), or Story Cutter (available on Android) give you more control over editing your Instagram story video to ensure you only upload the best four 15-second clips to add to your story.

If you want to record an event in real-time, you may also want to consider sharing live videos to your Instagram stories, which can be up to 60 minutes in length. Although Live video uploads used to be ephemeral, now Instagram offers replays for your followers for 24 hours after you’ve finished recording and will appear right alongside your other Instagram Stories.

What Are Instagram Story Dimensions?

Instagram story dimensions are 1080px by 1920px. This means that your image or video should be 1080 pixels wide and 1920 pixels in height. This is also known as an aspect ratio of 9:16. Below is a template that you can download and feature in your social media content style guide.

If you are using Instagram Story Ads, you should consider leaving roughly 250 pixels of the top and bottom of the image free from text and logos to avoid covering key elements such as your profile icon or the ‘Swipe Up’ call-to-action. This means, if your image is 1080×1920, you should ensure key elements appear within a 1080×1420 title-safe area.

If you take your photos outside the app, shoot your Instagram Stories content vertically so it will take up as much room on the screen as possible.

How to Save the Best for Later With Instagram Story Highlights

Instagram Stories Highlights are an incredible tool for businesses to showcase and promote their brand. Your highlights live front-and-center on your Instagram profile, so they’re perfect for helping new visitors discover what your company is all about.

But just like your Instagram Stories, it’s worth spending time planning and strategising how to use them to your advantage!

How Do Instagram Story Highlights Work?

Unlike regular Instagram Stories that vanish after 24 hours, Instagram Stories Highlights can live permanently on your profile. They’re like curated collections of Instagram Stories that your followers — both old and new — can tap into and watch any time they like.

And because of their prime location directly under your bio and above your Instagram feed, it’s the perfect place to direct followers to your most valuable and interesting content.

Therefore, Instagram Story Highlights are extremely valuable because they allow brands to easily curate and showcase the content they want users to see first.

How to Use Instagram Story Highlights

If you haven’t done so already, you need to first turn on Instagram’s auto-archiving feature, which allows you to automatically save (or “archive”) your stories into the cloud, so they won’t be lost forever if you forget to save them to your camera roll.

To turn on Instagram Stories auto-archiving feature, simply:

  1. Head over to your Instagram profile, open your settings, tap on Privacy and Security, and then Story Controls.
  2. Toggle the Save to Archive option to ‘On’.

Once you do this, your Instagram Stories should automatically save to your archive. You can view your archived posts by tapping the “clock” icon in the top-left corner of your Instagram profile. You will then be able to create your first Instagram Story Highlight,
To create an Instagram Story Highlight, simply:

  1. Go to your Instagram profile and on the down-arrow next to “Story Highlights”
  2. Tap the “New” or “+” button.
  3. Select the Instagram Stories that you want to add to your highlight.
  4. When prompted to choose a title and select your cover photo, choose a thumbnail from one of the stories in your highlight or upload an image from your camera roll

Once you’re all set up, you can edit or remove a highlight by tapping and holding that highlight on your profile. From here, you can change the name, edit the cover, and add/remove stories to your highlights.

How to Use Instagram Story Stickers and Get Noticed

Within Instagram Stories, there are all sorts of fun stickers you can use. Below is a breakdown of what they are, and how you can add them to your next Instagram story:

  • Location
  • Poll
  • Gif
  • Questions – Directed at users or vice-versa
  • Tagging (Mentions & Hashtags)
  • Music

Other Instagram story stickers include ‘Chat Now’ and ‘Donation’, which can also be used to invite direct messaging from users, and to promote causes you care about; both of which foster increased levels of engagement with your brand.

Adding a sticker to your Instagram Story is easy, you simply need to:

  1. Snap or upload a photo, video or boomerang.
  2. Click on the ‘sticker’ icon (that little smiley face on the upper right.)

3. Click on the relevant sticker you want to feature, like an Instagram story poll for example.

4. The relevant sticker will pop up on your screen. You’ll be able to tap, type, drag and customise it from there.

Instagram Story Locations for Local Exposure

Using Location stickers not only makes your story discoverable under the location tag search to new users, but it can also help your story get pulled into a larger location story on the explore feed.

This not only clues your followers in on where you are, but it also gives your engagement a big boost. Posts tagged with a location experience 79% higher engagement than posts without a location.

You can use location stickers to raise awareness about an event you are hosting in the local area, or combine a location sticker with a poll to get feedback from your local audience prior to a store or product launch.

Create An Instagram Story Poll to Generate Feedback

Another interesting Instagram Story sticker is the Poll option. There are tons of different ways you can use this feature to encourage interactions and generate engagement. For example, Buzzfeed encourages people to interact with their brand by publishing quizzes.

Image Source: @Buzzfeed
Polls are an effective tactic to involve your followers in your decision-making and emphasise that you have a two-sided relationship—rather than constantly broadcasting your own messages.

Make a Great Impression by Putting Gifs on your Instagram Story

If you’ve been looking for a way to make your Instagram Stories more creative, attention-grabbing, and engaging, then GIF stickers might be the answer.

Image Source: Instagram

There are many creative ways in which you can use Instagram Story Gifs to promote your brand or drive traffic to your brand. For example, you could use Gifs to upgrade your product shots, drive traffic to website links in your bio, or persuade users to keep tapping through your story, like modern comforter brand, Buffy in the image below

Image Source: @buffy

If you have a verified Instagram account, you could also look at creating your own branded Gifs through Giphy, or to draw attention to your website links within Instagram Story Ads.

Generate Conversations by Asking Instagram Story Questions

Whether you want to collect feedback on your products or gather ideas, the Questions sticker on Instagram stories has an ‘Ask Me Anything’ format, and the feature is an excellent opportunity for businesses to get in touch with their followers and start conversations.

You can ask them what’s their feedback regarding the new projects you have or what they think about your services. You could also announce upcoming products and launches, and let them decide what should be the order. In this way, you will see what your audience needs.

Influencers and celebrities often use the Question feature to conduct Q&As with their fans. For instance, Ali Fedotowsky, a blogger and former Bachelorette, will typically tell her followers to “Ask me stuff :)” at the end of the day.

Tag or Mention on Instagram Stories to Increase Visibility

With this feature, you have the ability to share the Instagram Stories where you are mentioned. If you are mentioned in someone’s story, Instagram will give you a notification which allows you to share that content as your own story.

There are many ways that you can use mentions and tagging to boost your visibility, such as sharing every story where you have been tagged or partnering with an Influencer so that their audience can view your content.

If you’re feeling really brave, you could even give a shoutout to your competitors, like beauty Influencer and Youtuber, Emily Valentine in the image above. This may seem counterintuitive to promoting your brand, but it’s a great way to build relationships and also increase your visibility.

Bring Your Instagram Story to Life by Adding Music

Instagram’s ‘Music’ sticker works for both videos and photos and lets you select from thousands of music tracks that fit the mood of your story — everything from Frank Sinatra to Lana Del Rey.

Instagram also recently updated the feature to enable users to add lyrics, which can make Instagram Stories more inclusive, engaging and fun.

However, Instagram’s music feature is only available in select countries, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Sweden and the US.

Instagram Story Ads in a Nutshell

If you have a verified Instagram account with 10,000 followers, congratulations! Welcome to the world of Instagram Story Ads.

In this section, we will cover the features you can access with sponsored advertising through Instagram Stories (including the ability to link through to your website or online store), and how to get the best ROI out of your next campaign.

An extension to Instagram Stories, your Ads will be displayed atop your News Feed and look very similar to organic posts, with the exception of the ‘Sponsored’ denotation and presumed increase in production value. Story Ads also give you the ability to link within your post, and users can simply swipe up to view your content.

The ‘See More’ link is a great way to drive traffic to a specific piece of content, a new product or a store page on your website. For example, as you can see in the picture above WeWork used a series of Instagram stories to direct followers to a post announcing their reimagined WeMRKT, a market showcasing member products.

Getting Started With Instagram Story Ads

Before you start advertising with Instagram Stories, it’s important to understand the basic rules of creating Instagram Story Ads first. Let’s take a look at the basic steps to create Ads for Instagram Stories:

  1. Establish your campaign objectives, such as generating sign-ups for an upcoming event
  2. Use templates to build your Ad content library
  3. Use the recommended Ad dimensions, as shown above.
  4. Set your target audience, by geography or industry, for example
  5. Choose your Ad placement, or which devices will host your Ads
  6. Create a compelling call to action that drives people to your website

Remember, brands lose around 20% of their audience by the second frame, so you need to make every second count. Keep your messaging clear and concise so it’s easily digestible and always place your text strategically over a white background or near the ‘Swipe Up’ link in the middle of the screen. This will deter views from the ‘Sponsored label.

You should always maintain brand visibility throughout the entire duration of your campaign. This will allow people to pin-point your brand more easily and is also a more consistent experience for users.

These basic rules and best practices can help you get started with successful Instagram Story ads that convert. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there. Keep testing and trying out different ad formats, messaging, visuals, targeting options, etc. to see what works best for your brand.

How to Schedule Instagram Stories

There are tons of creative brands and businesses competing for viewers’ attention, and while having awesome content will help you cut through the noise, you also want to be consistent and make sure you’re reaching your audience at a time that best suits them.

Using your Instagram analytics, you can discover when your audience is most active on the platform. You can then use a third-party tool, such as Buffer or Later to plan and schedule your Instagram Stories to help you reach your audience at those times.

Another great way to ensure you stick to an Instagram Story schedule is to start a series. Take Bustle for example. They run a ‘Beauty Call’ series where two Bustle staffers review different beauty products. Depending on capacity, you could either allocate these stories to specific days of the week or post them daily.
Before you get started with scheduling Instagram Stories, you should try to build a content library with templates so that you can easily and consistently produce content.

Third-party tools such as Canva also have Instagram Story templates and highlight covers that you can customise and publish for free.

Measuring Your Instagram Stories Performance

There are a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) that allow brands to understand how their audience responds to their Instagram Stories.

Understanding and measuring these KPI’s will allow you to tackle pain points, analyse Instragam Stories that drive the most engagement, segment your audience and deliver the right message to the right people, and increase brand awareness.

Organic Instagram Stories Metrics

Number of views

When you click on your own Story, the eye icon tells you how many people viewed a particular story. Clicking the eye icon will show you exactly who the viewers are – an extremely helpful tool to help you target a specific type of audience.

Percentage of views

Essentially, this tells you what percent of your followers are viewing your Stories. All it takes is some basic math. What this metric does is give you an idea of how many of your followers have adopted Instagram’s Stories feature.

If you find that only a small percentage of your followers view your Stories, then maybe you should cut back on the number of stories you post, and focus more on regular posts.

Posting time is a huge factor in posting your Instagram stories.

Number of replies

Viewers can’t comment on Stories, but they can do something better—send you a direct message. Make sure you reply back to every message to encourage them to keep engaging with you, and keep track of these.

Instagram Story Ads Metrics

Swipe-through rates

Since Instagram Story Ads were produced, swipe-through rates have ranged between 15 and 15%, which is an incredible conversion rate. By using third-party software (like Google Analytics), you can track just how much traffic is driven by Instagram Story Ads to your website.

Instagram Ads insights

Story Ads have all the benefits of targeted reach to drive traffic and conversions. More importantly, business profile users can see how their Ads perform in the Insights section. And with Ads Manager and Power Editor, additional metrics like reach, impressions and video metrics can be gleaned.

And Finally, Never Forget the True Purpose of Instagram Stories

The real objective of Stories goes beyond the number of views or swipe-through rates. It’s about how many of your audiences you’re able to build strong connections with.

While Instagram Stories open the door for users to engage with your brand, getting them to stay in touch through other channels should be the ultimate goal.

Instagram Stories is one aspect of Instagram marketing. To take full advantage of Instagram and learn how highly experienced marketing experts and social media influencers use the platform, then enrol onto our new course Influencers Teach Instagram.

This CPD accredited course is taught leading influencers including award-winning men’s fashion influencer Rowan Row who has over 1.1 million followers on Instagram and renowned makeup artist and influencer Jagoda Furtado who has over 275k followers and is followed by Huda Beauty, Anastasia Beverley Hills and Rihanna’s Fenty.

For more information, please get in contact with IIEPD.

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