With 500 million daily active users on Instagram stories and Adam Mosseri - Head of Instagram - announcing the focus on video, Instagram stories are an opportunity you can’t afford to ignore.
If your Instagram feed is a movie premiere, Instagram stories are the bloopers and trailers. They show what makes your brand YOUR brand. This is a key ingredient in building a brand people love to engage with and buy from.
In this article I'll cover
- 9 Instagram Stories best practices every content creator should know
- 3 Must-Try Types of Instagram Stories Every Brand Needs to Make
9 Instagram Stories Best Practices Every Content Creator Should Know
After making literally over 3,000+ pieces of video content, I want to share the REAL zero-fluff tips that will help you become a strong story content creator. This is not meant to be a "quick and easy" type of guide. But you WILL see results if you practice the things I outline here and in my other posts covering:
- 7 Common But Avoidable Content Problems (And How to Fix Them)
- 5 Video Content Creation Rules I Stand By
1. Reverse engineer how to build your story by thinking of what the desired outcome is
Avoid hitting recording and going blank by mapping out your story. Not only will this help you press record on your video with confidence but it will increase your engagement (if you are actually sharing something of value).
So how exactly do you do this?
Let’s say I want to get email sign ups with a new lead magnet I’ve built, like a social media calendar template.
Instead of posting just one story telling people to swipe up or hit the link in bio I would first ask myself:
- What problems is my social media content planning template solving?
- Out of all the problems the template solves, which presents the most painful pain point?
- Why should people get my template? Is there something about the template itself or my particular experience that makes this special or presents a unique perspective?
- How can I organize these points into a story where I address the pain point in the first few seconds of the first story followed by extra context before pitching the call to action?
Next time you make a story, take a moment before to collect your thoughts. You’ll notice with time this will become like second nature. After years of doing this I feel like I just communicate most of everything I say like it’s content.
Direct, concise, and interesting.
One of my co-workers told me they felt like when I talk I'm making an engaging video post because of the way I organize my ideas and the flow of my body language 😂 So when I say this will make you a more effective communicator outside of just video, believe it!
2. Use Stories as a Test for Evergreen Content
We’ve all made a post we thought would be great but actually flopped. While we can’t always guarantee a post will be a winner, we can validate a topic before investing more time into it.
Think of content as a dinner party.
Instagram stories are the drinks. They’re the social lubricants. Conversation starters if you will. Offer a variety of “drinks” on your stories and see which ones people gravitate towards and get drunk on. These will be the topics worth exploring more deeply in more in-depth Instagram content.
So if you’ve been on the fence about something, create it in story format first. Gauge its success by factors like how many DMs you received, exits (this means it was not of interest), or even interactions on stickers such as polls, quizzes, sliders, and questions.
3. Incorporate Pattern Interrupt to Improve Viewer Retention
I’m not ashamed to say I have stopped watching someone’s stories because it’s just their face on their screen. No text, no music, no GIFS, no stickers. Nothing but a face and their desire to be heard.
Nobody wants to see the same thing for 3+ consecutive stories.
Break up the visual monotony using pattern interrupt. This is a popular technique to grab and retain viewers attention to increase video watch time. When we see the same thing for a while our brains get bored. But when you break up the visuals it fools your brain into thinking it’s looking at something new.
For example, if you're teaching something, rather than talk for 2 minutes straight you could throw in some poll, quiz, or question stickers. This then creates an opportunity for you to follow up and start a conversation with participants based on whatever they answered.
Another example is a simple zoom in and zoom out to emphasize something you’ve said. YouTubers like Sunny Lenarduzzi are great at this.
4. Use New Instagram Story Features
Usually when Instagram launches a new feature and you are quick to implement it your account is more likely to get a boost in reach.
This is because Instagram wants users to receive more social proof of their new features in action so more people use them. And this is something that happens on other platforms too like TikTok in its early adoption days.
For example, right now Reels are still relatively new. Instagram is pushing to be more TikTok-esque with the UI changes positioning Reels at the forefront of the platform. This is why it's so easy to get a load of views on Reels right now. And this is why you should try new features when they come out.
Always be an early adopter of new features. Care less about the awkward first-timer results and more on the long-term strategy and its benefits as you adapt, adjust, and pivot.
5. Prepare People Mentally to Engage BEFORE Showing a Sticker
Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to engage with you. Always reduce anything you say or request to as few and simple terms or steps as possible.
Content is an experience designed by you.
When it comes to using questions for Instagram stories, let people know a few stories before it's coming up. This prepares them mentally to think of their question and pay closer attention.
It also makes it easier to engage because they will only have to do the following:
- Think as they are watching what they'll say
- Stop on the quiz or question sticker to prepared to respond
- Watch stories
- Get the sudden request on the story to read a question or do a quiz
- Think, become frustrated because it's too much to do in one go, and exit
As for how to use Instagram polls, this one doesn't usually need teasing. This is due to the more black and white nature of the sticker.
Whereas, on quizzes and questions, people have to process a much more complex train of thought to consider multiple options.
6. Use the Closed Caption Sticker
If you have the closed caption sticker but don’t use it you’re cheating yourself and your audience. Please use this if you have it.
Why It’s Good for You
- Views increased by 40% on captioned videos in a study done by PLYMedia
- 80% of people in the PLYMedia study were more likely to finish a video with captions
- 37% of people report turning the sound on because captions allowed them to understand the video might be interesting to them (Verizon Media Sound and Video)
- 29% of people say they continue watching video without sound because captions help them understand (Verizon Media Sound and Video)
- 8% in ad recall if you’re an advertiser using captions (Verizon Media Sound and Video)
- While this doesn’t apply to Instagram - on other platforms like YouTube adding closed captions provides video SEO benefits.
Why It’s Nice for Others
5% of the world’s population is deaf or hard of hearing. And even more watch stories with sound off. Adding captions helps people be included in the conversation. Also, as a Spanish-speaker myself, I have always used subtitles since a young age. It's a big part of what helped me learn English back when Spanish used to be my first language. Even though I am 100% fluent in English now, I find it difficult to follow movies and shows without captions so surely I can't be the only non-native English speaker with this experience.
Beware though to be careful about adding a logo along with captions. Content where a logo was added on top of captions reports a 12% decrease in being memorable due to making it feel more like advertising. Again, take this with a grain of salt. It depends on many factors.
7. Refer to people as “you” so they feel you’re speaking directly to them
If you invite another couple to a dinner party and want to bond with them on an individual level that won’t happen if you address them as a unit. Instead, I need to speak directly to one of them by referring to them as you.
Same goes for stories. You won’t usually make people feel seen and heard if you refer to your audience as a group. People care about themselves so go all out on the you, you, you’s.
8. Keep Instagram Story designs as natural as possible (most of the time)
You know that super cool-looking story you saw with the graphics and effects the creator said took them a 2 to 3 app combo to make? Yeah, forget that. The first rule of making Instagram stories like a pro is to ditch over-complicated processes that don't contribute to the impact of a story.
What good is a beautiful-looking story if it doesn't inspire action?
There's a reason why sponsored stories (ads) disguise themselves as looking like a regular story - they feel natural and convert better. People want to connect with people. Keep your story designs simple and just use the in-app tools.
Quick Tips to Design Simple Yet On-Brand Instagram Stories
- Use your brand colors
- Stick to the same 1-2 fonts
- Show yourself on camera
If you want to glam it up, usually a special event is the best time to do so. It disrupts the pattern of what your usual stories are like. This creates intrigue and that’s a great thing for you!
9. Post important stuff early on (think of stories like TV)
Your first stories in a sequence will have the most views. The longer your sequence the more drop-offs. So whatever you want to highlight, position this at the start of your stories for the day.
Throughout the day, think of your stories like a TV show with commercial breaks. Except that the commercial breaks are bloopers showing the other sides of yourself. It’s a break from being in teach, teach, teach, sell, sell, sell mode and instead being more like:
- Teach for 3-5 Stories
- Pitch something
- Show or share something about your life or personality
3 Must-Try Types of Instagram Stories Every Person and Brand Needs to Make
Try these story ideas to make rich story content.
1. Host Story Events to Keep People Coming Back
If you’re having trouble getting people to come back to your page, give them a reason to.
Creating events for your stories trains your audience on what they can expect from you and when. A word of caution, don’t promise things you aren’t sure you can actually stay on schedule to deliver as inconsistency can and will break trust.
When I started and had under a hundred followers, I hosted a tutorial on my stories every Tuesday. People could vote for the next topic and I would tag and DM them so:
- They knew I heard them and got excited about it
- Told their followers about this awesome account of mine that answered their questions
- People realize I am responsive by seeing me reply to others therefore they follow other people’s lead to engage with me too
Ideas for Story Events
- Host a tutorial on a set day every week and use the countdown timer sticker so people can set an alert notification. You can set this as a highlight on your profile or as text on your bio so people know what’s on the schedule.
- Invite a guest to take over your stories. and share something interesting with your audience. They send you pre-recorded story content, tell their audience to come check you out, and both of you benefit from the reach.
- Hold Q&A’s whether they’re AMA (ask me anything) or have a topic as a theme to the questions. You can then answer the questions at a set time and set a countdown sticker and repurpose your answers as Reels! Kill two birds with one stone 😏
2. Weave Your Personal Experiences Into Your Brand Stories
I like to think of the feed as a more focused place. It’s where you’ll see the topics I’m all about and can dig in to learn something right away.
Stories are where I still teach but also share more of my personality and life experiences that have molded me into who I am today.
I find my most loyal followers connect with me beyond the tips I share.
- They like my sense of humor
- They connect with me as a fellow Latina
- They relate to my journey with depression
- They relate to the “embarrassing” mistakes I make and share about as a content creator
- They share their own favorite songs with me after I’ve shared my own taste in music
Most brands think they’re done when they’ve sold something.
But there’s more to it.
For example, when I was running stories over at VEED I noticed the stories that got more replies were the ones I injected with my own experiences as a content creator. I could just tell people “hey, here’s how to add subtitles to a video”
I could tell them why subtitles mattered to me personally and how they helped me. Being a content creator myself, others related to my words.
Because even as a brand account, there are people like myself who make up the company. And as people who make up the brand, we have experiences to weave into the stories the brand can tell.
3. Prepare Your Profile Highlights
Highlights are a pain but they’re like an extension of the bio shedding insight into why people should listen to you. In fact, I’m currently due to update my highlights this weekend or the next once I’m done with my website redesign.
We are all selling something whether it’s a product, service or idea.
But your voice alone is not loud enough. If you have feedback, share it. Create a highlight with the best and most recent reviews. I don’t sell a product or service of my own but I am “selling” my ideas.
When people subscribe to my newsletter, they are asked why they signed up for it? And people will message me to tell me why they like my content. I ask for their permission to use their feedback if I choose to highlight their testimonial. I keep it simple to just a screenshot or else too polished of a graphic feels fake and forced.
I’m not a fan of video testimonials UNLESS someone feels like sending me a video without me asking.
Besides testimonial highlights, you can also create stories that’ll become highlights about:
- Who you are (tell your story)
- Products or services (one highlight per product or service)
- Frequently asked questions
- Lifestyle highlight (your home office, doggo, anything)
- Gear (if people ask you what you use, drop the products and affiliate links)
5 of my favorite video editing tools for making Instagram Stories
Normally I use the in-app stories editor because it's practical and effective. But in the rare occasion I venture outside Instagram to edit on another app, here are 5 of my go-to tools each for different use cases.
1. Instagram Stories In-App Editor
There’s no beating the simplicity and effectiveness of the app. Don’t make the mistake of confusing meticulously designed stories as being better stories.
2. Inshot App (iOS and Android)
I primarily use it for their function allowing you to speed up video while maintaining the original pitch so you don’t sound like you just sucked an entire balloon full of helium.
Sometimes I record videos of myself outside of the app that have story potential. This is usually when I’ll go to Inshot to speed it up a tad and trim out the fluff (if any).
I don’t use Canva to actually edit a video. I use it to create overlays, backgrounds, and color picker screenshots for my videos. Here’s what I mean.
Unfortunately, this is not possible with Android devices. I own an iPhone so I can copy and paste a graphic from my photo album, open stories, and then paste it over my story easily.
What I do on Canva is design frames or backgrounds for my stories so they have a more on-brand look to them while still being relatively simple. And since I can copy/paste images, I have a screenshot of my brand colors that I paste onto stories so I can then use the eyedropper color select tool to change my text added within stories to my brand colors.
4. Remix by Buffer
Since stories are a great testing ground, I love sharing thoughts people might resonate with so I know whether or not it’s worth digging more into.
Remix by Buffer lets me copy the URL of a tweet and turn it into a beautiful graphic. It’s incredibly easy to do and even faster than doing it on Canva if you can believe that!
Overlay a poll sticker asking people a simple this or that type of question and if you get more replies than usual you know you have a potentially great future post topic.
Yes I work at VEED but I used to be their customer before they became my client and eventually I became their employee.
I don’t use VEED often for stories because it’s just not practical to go from mobile to desktop for a disappearing post format.
I do use VEED for my highlights quite often. The stories that go on my highlights are high quality than my usual day to day. Like I mentioned before, the highlights are like an extension to my bio. They need to be great!
With VEED, I….
- Automatically add subtitles to my videos with the click of a button
- Clean up my background sound with the clean audio button
- Add sound effects and control the volume of background music (if any)
- Overlay images over my video like a review
- Have all of my brand fonts and colors available to me with my brand kit
I hope this guide brought you immense value today. I hope there was at least 1 thing maybe you hadn’t heard or read about elsewhere. If so, I’d love to hear what it was so feel free to tweet me or share a screenshot of your fave bit in a story and tag me.
Remember, this is just a guide. With time, you will continue to learn more and more about your audience. My content (or anyone else’s) is not a one-size-fits-all sort of thing. Don’t be afraid to try the things I’ve shared or even to just try something new. But most importantly…
Have fun creating!