Instagram has quickly become one of the most important social media platforms for small business owners. With more than 1 billion active users each month, Instagram provides a tremendous opportunity for businesses looking to reach a new, relevant audience.
While you do have the option to create static posts on Instagram, one of the fun features that started on the platform (and has since expanded into Facebook) is stories. While a post is displayed in your followers’ feeds and remains on your profile forever, a story is ephemeral—it only lasts for 24 hours.
Some business owners are at a loss for how best to use stories. What type of content should you share there? When do you choose a story over a regular post? And how do you get the greatest reach for the content you do share in stories?
Here, I’ll walk you through best practices when it comes to using Instagram stories for your small business.
Supplement Your Posts
The biggest question for a lot of small business owners is determining what belongs in a story versus a traditional post. It’s best to remember that posts are forever. So, the type of content that you share in a post should be totally in-line with your brand. Plus, it should provide long-term value for anyone who views it, whether that’s today or two years from now.
Let’s say you own a bakery. Among other things (like culture posts, which give viewers a real look at the behind-the-scenes of your business), it makes sense to share edited photos of the finished baked goods in your posts. Sharing that content in posts gets prospects’ mouths watering and lets them know the kind of baked goods to expect if they stop by your shop.
In the story, though, you can be a little more irreverent. Show the work that went into getting the picture-perfect post, where your apron is covered in flour and your kids are running around the shop in the background. Or take pictures throughout the baking process, showing the step-by-step creation in stories and revealing the final product in a post.
Stories are also a great way to advertise short-term offers. Let’s say you own a retail store and have big sales coming up for Black Friday. Rather than clogging up your posts with advertisements for the sale, consider creating one post announcing the sale, to serve as anchor content for your stories, and then get into the details about what will be on sale in stories.
Use a Mix of Photos and Video
You can post either photos or videos in stories. While it’s often easier to capture a still image, it’s a good idea to share a mix of both types of content.
Sharing content regularly on stories is a great way to stay top-of-mind with your followers. The way that stories are displayed on Instagram means that people will often scroll through the stories of everyone they follow all at once. And because the queue of stories is at the top of the Instagram app, if you’re regularly producing stories, your business is often greeting viewers every time they log in. So if sharing still images in stories makes it possible for you to share a steadier stream of content there, then that’s a good way to go.
But video does have the ability to create an even deeper, more personal connection with your audience. It really brings what’s happening in your business to life, and it boosts those know, like, and trust factors, that make up the early stages of the marketing hourglass. So consider incorporating video into your stories as many times per week as you can.
Utilize Stickers Wisely
Once you create your content—be it video or photo—to share on stories, you can dress things up with stickers. Some of the stickers are gifs and images that are fun ways to add visual interest to your posts.
Other stickers, though, can serve a greater purpose in spreading the word about your business. You can include hashtag stickers on posts, which can open your content up to a broader audience. By including hashtags, your content becomes discoverable by any Instagram users who have searched for or follow that hashtag. If you’re strategic about the hashtags you use, you can gain new followers in the process.
You can also create your own hashtag to promote a specific event or product within your business. For example, if you’re throwing a conference, featuring industry experts and great speakers, consider creating a hashtag for the event. You can use the hashtag in the lead-up to the event to spread the word about tickets. You can use it during the event to share live content from the stage and behind-the-scenes interviews with speakers. And you can use it after the event to share meaningful recaps and continue to get even more life out of the content you captured on the event day.
Location stickers are critical for businesses that have brick and mortar locations. These stickers allow you to tag your business by name. Then when someone clicks on the location sticker, all other posts where your business was tagged with your location will appear. This means that anyone clicking the sticker will not only see your content, but also user-generated content from others who have visited your business.
Finally, there are mention stickers, which allow you to tag another business or person in your story. Mentioning influencers on relevant content might catch their eye and get them to re-share your story.
Get People Talking
Instagram stories shouldn’t be a one-way conversation. Instead, they’re an opportunity to engage your followers in a real dialogue.
That’s where some other stories features come in. It’s possible for you to create polls through Instagram stories. You can ask viewers to select which product they like best out a handful of options. Maybe you start a contest to name your newest product, which you’re about to announce. Or perhaps you create a poll asking viewers what their biggest questions are about your area of expertise.
People love taking quick, fun polls online, and this is often a great first step in engaging your audience. From there, you want to take the results and broaden the conversation. For example, if you asked about favorite products, create a video post where you share which product won out and demonstrate some of the best features of the winning item.
If you created a naming contest, announce the winner in a video. Then, share some photos of them stopping by your store to pick up their prize. Or, if you asked viewers to submit questions, use them to create a live Instagram video where you answer these questions and any that come in in real-time.
Take Advantage of the Highlights Feature
Instagram stories only last for 24 hours, but there is a way to preserve them forever on your profile. While this won’t be appropriate for all stories, for those with meatier content or information that is relevant long-term, it makes sense to save them as highlights.
The highlights feature appears below your profile picture and above your regular Instagram posts. You can create categories for your highlights, which allows viewers to easily find the type of content they’re looking for (see this example of stories highlights on SEMrush’s Instagram page below).
As you can see, they created highlights for a number of industry awards events that they host. Plus, they saved information about topics that are relevant to their audience, like voice search. Saving these stories in highlights allows them to continue to share the content with new visitors after the 24-hour window has passed.
Create Ads Alongside Organic Content
Running Instagram story ads is a great way to supplement the organic content you create on the platform. The rules of the game here are much the same as they are with advertising on other social media platforms.
Begin by setting one clear, measurable goal for each ad. From there, you can hone in on the best audience for that ad. Then, create content that will resonate with those people and drive that one conversion goal. And once your campaign is up and running, track results. That allows you to understand what’s working, what didn’t go as planned, and how you can improve next time.
Instagram stories are a unique way to stay top-of-mind with your audience and generate content that gets people talking. When you follow these best practices for creating stories, you set your business up for success on Instagram.
Here’s a great primer on Instagram Audience targeting from TuffGrowth.
If you liked this post, check out our Small Business Guide to Social Media.