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How to Use Your Instagram Stories like a Pro

How to make the most of your Instagram stories

Since 2016, Instagram lets users post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours. Nowadays more than 500 million Instagrammers use stories daily. If you’ve ever thought about experimenting with stories to boost your reach or engagement, now is the perfect time to consider your story strategy. I cover why you should use stories, how to analyse them, what content strategy to consider and how to expand your reach.

Why Instagram stories?

Instagram stories don’t show up in the Instagram news feed and only last 24hrs. This means that you can post easily and rapidly to your followers without worrying too much about the longevity of a post, the fit in your overall feed or bombarding your followers with content. Also, compared to the polished nature of newsfeed picture, the vibe is definitely a little more rough around the edges.


So, you can breathe a sigh of relief, you don’t need to invest in fancy equipment, courses or personal staff to create engaging stories. Even billion-dollar companies are posting iPhone videos occasionally.


Key Instagram Stories Statistics in 2022

Here are some key Instagram Stories Statistics in 2022 (Earthweb).

  • More than 500 million Instagram users use Instagram stories every day.

  • 86.6% of Instagram users post Instagram stories every day.

  • 60% of millennials view Instagram stories or publish them.

  • American brands allocate 31% of their budget for Instagram for ads on Instagram stories.

  • 61% of Instagram users have used the ‘support small companies’ sticker in their Instagram stories.

The reach rate for Instagram stories is between 1.5% and 6.2%, and this is compared to 12% to 25% for Instagram posts. Interestingly, accounts with fewer than 10,000 followers enjoy a higher reach rate (6.2%) while the ones with more than 200,000 reach just an average of 1.5% of their followers (source: Rival IQ).



Pay Attention to What You Are Doing with Stories

It's probably a good idea to start paying a little attention to what you’re doing (or not doing) with stories. As you probably know, Instagram stories appear in a bar at the top of your feed. Everyone is able to share stories, whether they are bloggers, business, private accounts, it doesn’t matter. When anyone you follow shares something new, their profile photo will have a colourful ring around it. You click on the profile photo and voilà, there appears all of the content they’ve posted in the last 24hr in chronological order from oldest to newest. Once you’re viewing a story, you can tap to go back and forward or swipe to jump to another person’s story. Unlike regular posts, there are no likes or public comments.


So, posting stories keeps your profile at the top of your followers’ feeds, which is what you want, right? Then it’s up to you to create Instagram stories that are so engaging that it keeps your followers coming back for more. Encouraging followers to reply is a great way to boost your overall engagement. Pay close attention to what content drives your audience to connect with you, and continue to take advantage of these opportunities to connect with your followers in the future. Stories are a great way to visually share real moments. People love stories because they're a playful and authentic peek behind the curtain into your life.


The way I use Instagram stories

I use stories all the time. I find them a quick way to interact with my followers without always overthinking it. If I stuff up a story (which I do regularly), I simply delete it and post another one.


I use stories to:

  • Share content that didn’t quite make my feed

  • Share pictures that I love but traditionally don’t perform well on my feed (for example close ups)

  • To build more of a story around my collaborations and invite product purchase

  • To share jokes, news items, funny pictures that evoke an emotion (but may have nothing to do with my feed)

  • To share my current style situation at home which isn’t always styled, sleek or polished

  • To share what I am doing, including videos of myself (so my followers get to know me in a way that doesn’t happen via my feed that generally only contains pictures of my interior)

  • To share another user’s content

  • To ask questions, invite comments, create polls and invite feedback

  • To ask viewers to read my blogs

This is Why I Like Stories

I like stories. I like the variety. If it is just an extension of your feed it may get boring, unless you offer lots of new info. If there is no ‘story within your stories’, it also gets boring. And people quickly swipe through. Pretty pictures can be found on your feed. It’s about finding the right balance between communicating what you stand for, and striking a chord with your followers. I’m in a dilemma on what to recommend; polished, good-looking stories that are so pleasing to the eye, or the more insta-reality shots that show a more vulnerable you. The answer is probably a bit of both.


When I am showing off whatever is on my feed in more detail, I like my stories to look professional. The same goes for collaborations; I like making an effort for my clients. In these types of stories, I am targeting new followers; those who get drawn in by what I have to offer on my feed and landed on my stories, and get curious enough to then hopefully press the ‘follow’ button. I am also targeting readers of my website, and invite them to click further and visit my own content, rather than just my content on the instagram platform. The more raw, unpolished stories are intended for my long-term followers, to have a laugh, a chat, and give them a little insight into my daily life.


How do you know if you’re using stories like a pro? Analytics.

Two words: your analytics.


Please note: before you start looking for the Insights section, make sure your profile is set to a business account or a makers account (the latter is my preferred option if you’re a blogger / influencer, see my article 6 Tips to Boost Your Instagram Account & Grow). Once you do this you will get the Insights option in your Instagram profile.


There are a few ways how you can view your stories statistics, depending if you want to view the insights for the current/live story or you want to check historical data about the previous stories.


To access the Instagram stats of the active story, follow these steps:

  • Tap on the current story

  • Swipe up the story you are viewing

  • It will open a bottom drawer view with the story insights

  • Tap the (eye) icon to view the actual Instagram users who have viewed the story

  • Tap the (chart) icon to view the insights for the story

If you want to access the insights for Instagram Highlights, the above steps are the same. Just go to your profile and tap on a Highlight, swipe up and tap the chart icon explained before.


To view Instagram stories analytics and insights for all your previous stories, follow these steps:

  • Go to your profile

  • Tap the top right (menu) icon

  • Tap the Insights menu item

Next, you can see how to access the historical data about all your stories. Just follow these steps:

  • In the Insights screen, go to 'Content You Shared'

  • Click on the Stories section

In this section, you are able to view insights for each particular story (in subsequent chapters I will cover what they actually mean!). You will notice that in this layout the stories are organised based on the slides and a metric is displayed in the bottom middle. Each metric can be changed by clicking on the drop down menu. You can also access story stats through your archive, and tap the eye icon.


Back Up Your Story Stats if They're Important

I discovered last year (to my shock-horror), that Instagram decided to no longer display detail story stats post 48hrs with all stats displayed per story. Try and explain that to your clients, who you’ve promised to provide screen shots of the details on how your stories covering their products performed.


Instagram also had a bug that changed story views the longer it was since they had been life. I have seen stats reduced from over 2k viewers per story down to 400, even though the story had been off air for weeks. Disaster. And cause for heated discussions with unhappy clients who, in turn, had to report on their return on investment.


I have a couple of best-practice tips to avoid any of these types of scenarios:

  • If stories are an important element of your collaboration agreement, ALWAYS screenshot your stats shortly after the 24hrs has passed. That way you’re sure you’ll always have the right data.

  • Use Facebook Creator Studio and link it to Instagram for stats on all your Instagram content, including stories. It’s brilliant, and web-based, which makes life so much easier sometimes, if you like working from your computer instead of always having to do everything from your phone.

  • Propose collaborations with companies that use third-party apps that link into your story content behind the scenes, and view the stats themselves from afar.

Facebook Creator Studio is a Good Back-Up Analytics Tool

Did you know that the Facebook / Instagram Creator Studio dashboard is packed with the analytics influencers are looking for. This data will give influencers insights to daily and weekly analytics, and will work across posts, IGTV and Instagram Stories.


Go to: https://business.facebook.com/creatorstudio/ to get started. You can also use this website to schedule and manage your newsfeed content from your desktop or download the app to plan for content when and where you want.



How to interpret your analytics

Let’s dive a little deeper into your story insights. Instagram divides your story insights into sections such as reach, engagement and navigation. All matter for difference reasons.

Reach measures the number of accounts that view your Instagram story with the impressions indicating the total number of times your story was viewed. Instagram cautions that this metric is an estimate, and may not always be exact.


Under engagement, story interactions measure the actions people take when they engage with your account, while navigation tells you something about the completion rate of your story. You can find the following stats with useful info:

  • Replies: The number of times people reply to your story (similar to engagements for photos and videos, replies are the number of times someone has directly responded to a portion of your story but unlike comments within your feed, these responses end up in your inbox and don’t appear publicly)

  • Link Clicks: The number of times people click the link in your story

  • Sticker Taps: The number of times people have tapped on a geotag, hashtag, mention, or product sticker on your story

  • Profile Visits: The number of times people visit your profile from your story

  • Follows: The number of accounts that started following you

Why do these stats matter? These analytics measure viewer engagement with your stories. Positive replies and profile visits are a good indicator that viewers like what they see and are keen to share and learn more. A good way to boost interaction metrics is by sharing a poll, questions, or emoji slider sticker. These stickers offer quick and easy ways for viewers to engage, and also deliver valuable feedback to brands. Particularly the questions that just require a click (e.g. yes/no) are often fun for your readers to participate in, because they see the results of the poll instantly.


Reach and impression metrics are key to helping you appreciate the scope of your audience. These metrics can be used to calculate the rate of engagement with your stories content. More importantly, they track how many people are discovering your content.


New followers gained through stories show you how stories are contributing to your visibility and reach. Using stickers can increase the discoverability of Instagram stories. They can help stories show up in more searches, or be included in larger stories that are curated around certain stickers.


Navigation stats track the overall completion rate of your Instagram Story. Under Navigation, you’ll see the total number of navigational actions people have taken from your story:

  • Back: The number of taps to see the previous story. When a viewer taps backwards, it can mean they think content is worth re-watching or that it caught their attention while they were speed tapping through their Stories. If a post has a lot of taps backward, make note of the type of content and keep testing it in your future Stories.

  • Forward: The number of taps to see the next story (before the current story was completed). Taps Forward is the number of times a viewer tapped the right side of the screen to jump to the next story in the queue. Since a lot of people “speed tap” their way through watching Instagram Stories, Taps Backward, Next Story, and Exits are all better indications of how your Stories are performing.

  • Next Story: The number of swipes to the next account’s story and is more of an indicator that the viewer was over watching your story and wanted to skip to the next one. This data can help you determine how long your optimal Instagram Stories posts should be, whether it’s 3 slides or 13 slides.

  • Exited: The number of times people closed your story. While this is a similar metric to ‘next story’, exits have a less negative connotation. For example, if someone exits your story, it could just mean that the viewer was running out of time to watch stories. Also, if you included a link in your story, they may have swiped up to learn more.

Like other engagement analytics, navigational stats also track actions viewers take, but they tend to be less positive. The more people who forward, exit, and skip your story for the next one, the more likely it is your content isn’t connecting. If a lot of people are clicking back, it could mean they want another look, or they feel like they missed something. Including a call to action in your Instagram stories can help audiences stick with them.


Who has viewed your story?

Click on the little eye and find out! If your story gets featured in a hashtag or location story by Instagram, you can also track the number of viewers who viewed it through the Instagram explore page. When your story is added to the search results for a location, Instagram let you know by sending you a notification, or you can view it at the top of your story stats. When someone views your story from a hashtag or location page, you’ll see the name of that page when looking at who watched your story your Instagram Stories analytics.


Using Links in your Instagram Stories

If you’re collaborating with businesses (or are a business yourself), you’re often asked to add a specific link to your stories. The reason they’re doing this is because they want to know what internet traffic towards their site is coming directly from your instagram account, thus measuring return on investment. Adding this link used to only be available to business or makers account with more than 10k followers but as of the end of last year everyone can add a link sticker to their stories. This is also useful if you want to link blog articles, or recent purchases or basically anything from the internet you wish to share.


As Instagram Stories continues to grow in popularity, it’s important to look at your feed and stories as two separate platforms. While the strategy and content for your feed and stories should work together, it’s important to track traffic and other important KPIs separately to figure out what works best for each of these channels. Work out how to use stories to our advantage and don’t solely rely on the pictures and reels in your main feed.


If you really want to go a little OTT with your story analytics, or if you have a large website with many visitors, you could consider creating trackable links to add to your stories. They’re a great way to help you determine exactly where your traffic is coming from. You set this up in Google Analytics of your site by using UTM tagging (UTM is short for ‘Urchin Tracking Module’). In other words: a UTM is the piece of unique code you’ll add on to the end of your URL. With UTM tagging, you can make sure Google Analytics is tracking your Instagram traffic with complete accuracy.


Now, I could pretend to understand exactly how this works, and bamboozle you with coding language. Truth is, I have no idea! Luckily Google wouldn’t be Google if they hadn’t created a tool Google’s (Campaign URL Builder) that would do all that work for you. Phew. All you have to do is decide what website or specific webpage you want to send your followers to. It’s best to send your audience to a website they can take a “next step” — whether that be signing up for a service, making a purchase, read your blog, or to simply continue the conversation.


Timing and duration of your story; what works best?

Buffer.com conducted research into how people are engaging with instagram stories which resulted in some interesting findings and conclusions.


Post between one to seven stories each day:

Posting between one to seven stories is best for keeping a high completion rate (over 70 percent). Completion rate is determined by calculating the number of times your stories were watched from the first story frame all the way to the last story frame within the given 24-hour time period. This means that if you post between one to seven stories, the chances are 70 percent of your audience will stick around until the end of your last post. However, if you do want to post longer stories, the drop off isn’t too bad. You can still see completion rates above 50 percent for posts longer than 20 stories.


Post stories at optimal times:

Given that stories only last for 24hrs, you’ll want to maximise the reach of that content when you post it. The best time to post will vary for every account based on its audience and when they are most active. In all fairness, I should probably pay more attention to when I post my stories. I usually let it coincide with my feed post and then when I think of it. I can probably gain some traction by optimising my timing strategy.


Post consistently:

Consistency is key to social media success. And that’s especially true for stories. Because stories only last 24hrs, you need to post new content daily to keep your audience engaged. The more stories top Instagram accounts post, the more median reach and impressions they get. This doesn’t mean you should go nuts and publish stories the sake of it, but if you want to increase your reach and impressions on Instagram, well thought-out and structured stories could be a great way to go.


Are hashtags as important as in your newsfeed?


Short answer: no. Read on for the longer answer.


When you add a hashtag to Instagram stories, you can place the hashtag in a sticker, in text, or by way of a location tag. The hashtag goes directly on the image and can be formatted just like all text and stickers. When posted in text, linked hashtags are often underlined (don't forget to click on them in the list, else they don't work). Adding a hashtag to your story makes it discoverable to a wider audience, as it may be selected by the Instagram algorithm to appear on the page for that hashtag. If it does, you’ll know because that hashtag’s page will show up in your list of viewers in your analytics.

Having said that, in my experience (and as my research suggests that isn’t unlike other user’s experience), they do not make up the bulk of your viewers. By a long shot. When you place hashtags in your Instagram story, your images or video will not always be accepted into the hashtag aggregation, even if your profile is set to public. Hashtags in stories therefore do not appear to be terribly useful. Therefore, one option is to just not worry about them.


So why would you consider using hashtags in stories? Keeping all of the above in mind, adding hashtags to your stories is worth a try, most of all because it's easy and not that much extra effort. With hashtags, you have the potential to reach thousands of Instagrammers in your region, within your industry, of a similar mindset, or across the globe. The question is not if you should use hashtags in your Instagram story, but how.


You could opt for one (or multiple) of the following story hashtag strategies:


Geographically:

In this case I am considering the location tag as a hashtag because why not. It acts the same way with the exception that you can only add 1 to a story. But I have noticed a fair few viewers of my location story so I’d say go for it. You could always hide the sticker. This tag is also your best bet to make it into an aggregated story, particularly useful if you’re seeking a local audience.


Supportively:

Use a campaign hashtag to generate a buzz. You’ll often see this in give aways or a public affairs message. I’m not sure how effective this is as you’re in fact asking Instagram to create an aggregated story based on your own created hashtag. But hey, all credit to you if it works!


Strategically:

Find your niche and make use of it. To me this is a useful one. My nice is interior and I find that when I utilise hashtags specific to my niche, particularly those my followers follow, I have more chances of being featured in an aggregated story.


Creatively:

Tell a story with hashtags. Surprise people. Engage people.


Excessively OR Sparingly:

You could opt for either! As number of hashtags don’t really seem to matter as much you could decide that they say something about you as a person, a brand or a personality. Do you go over the top, and scream your message off the roof tops? Get noticed by bold use of hash tags? Or are you going to subtle, let the image speak for itself and hope your message comes across that way?


Now what? Create Amazing Instagram Story Content

The world is your oyster! You have virtually unlimited options to go nuts with stories. Almost anything goes. Decide what matters to you on the day, what commitments you have, which strategy you wish to pursue, and post accordingly.


You can create a quiz – they’re always fun to participate in. You can promote deals and articles, and they don’t always have to be yours either. If you read my 6 Tips to Boost Your Instagram Account & Grow I tell you about sharing other people’s content to increase your own engagement. You can repurpose great content. You spend ages taking gorgeous pictures, why not recycle them? Particularly those close ups you wish to share but don’t quite fit in your feed. And have you considered sharing content your audience will screenshot? Just tell them to! Stories may last only 24hrs, but you can create content your audience will want to screenshot and keep on their camera roll for reference. This will help your stay top-of-mind.


Instagram Stories Need to be Engaging & Speedy

One thing to keep in mind is speed: people consume stories content much faster than other mediums. Therefore, it is important you create ads that capture the audience's attention from the first frame and use speed to keep their attention. Use it to your advantage and build your story upon clicks!


Create stories with multiple scenes. Stories that have short, concise scenes perform better than long, slow scenes. Get to the point and make it easier for viewers to consume.


Did you know that 70% of Instagram stories are viewed with sound? Statistics show that Instagram users like to watch Instagram stories with the sound on. Use it to your advantage.


  • Enhance with motion and music: Ads that use motion and music perform better. Consider adding motion and music to your static images.

  • Go pro or laid back depending on your objective: Both organic videos shot by a mobile phone or professional studio shots work for stories. Mobile shots outperform studio shots for ad recall and intent, while studio shots tend to drive higher brand awareness..

Save the best to last! Create Instagram Profile Highlights

You’ve just made all this effort to make the most fabulous stories as part of an amazing story strategy, and then they disappear after a day! Good news, in 2017, Instagram introduced stories highlights as a way to keep your stories around for more than 24 hours. Stories highlights appear on your profile below your bio, instantly giving your profile a boost as well, if you make clever use of them.

To create a highlight:

  • Tap the ‘New’ circle at the far left

  • Now you can choose any stories from your archive

  • Select a cover for your Highlight and give it a name. Personally, I like customised covers so it’s a nice clean look on your profile. Take a look at my profile to see what I’ve done with highlights.

Note: you can also create highlights straight from live stories by selecting the ‘highlight’ button in the bottom of your screen.


Once you’re done, your highlight will appear as a circle on your profile. You can have as many highlights as you like, and they will stay on your profile until you remove them. To edit or remove a highlight, just tap and hold that highlight on your profile. Keep in mind that you cannot manually change the order of story highlights. Whatever highlight you added last, will appear first on your profile. So, in order to change the order, you may have to add extra pages.


Have fun!

Stories are generally great entertainment, and allow for instant gratification. As you hopefully would have realised upon reading this article, Instagram is not just limited to your news feed and getting likes. There are many more ways to grow your engagement and reach. Stories is one of them.


I hope I have given you inspiration to play around with your stories, and use them to their fullest potential. I would love to hear how you have implemented any of my tips.


Happy Posting!

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Hi! Thanks for stopping by.

I am Marieke, a Dutch Australian interior designer, business executive, tutor, content creator and social media influencer.

 

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