Digital Skills Series: An Introduction to Instagram Stories for Business

If you’ve been anywhere near social media in the past 6 months, you’re probably already pretty familiar with Instagram Stories. They’re an incredibly versatile and dynamic way of creating and sharing unique content with your audience and according to Instagram themselves, one third1 of their most viewed Stories were created by businesses.

So, how do you get in on the action? Instagram Stories offer small businesses an enormous number of opportunities, from promoting products and engaging with customers, to curating and shaping your brand image. Because the Stories platform has so much potential, it’s really important to get to grips with the basics, ensuring you're setting your business up for long term success in the future.

What are Instagram Stories?

Launched in 2016, Instagram Stories are used by around 500 million users each day. If you’re brand new to the platform, you can find them in a bar at the top of your feed, represented by circular profile icons. Stories can be video clips or images, and last 24 hours from the moment they’re posted. You can have up to 100 story clips active at any one time and the maximum length of each individual story can be 15 seconds.

But it doesn’t end there! Alongside the ability to post multiple video clips and images throughout the day, Stories have a whole range of features that you can use to enhance each that you post. A lot of these come in the form of stickers, which allow you to add elements like hashtags, polls and questions. These elements transform your story from a passive experience into an active one, allowing the audience to engage with your business directly and potentially improving your story’s chances of being picked up by Instagram’s algorithm. Often, these additional features become crucial in boosting engagement, or even generating sales (as we’ll see later with product stickers).

Creating an authentic voice for small businesses

The real power of Instagram Stories isn’t just in what, or how often you post. It’s one of the few social media features that actively encourages organic engagement with an audience, using features like hashtags, polls and questions to generate rapport between the poster and the viewers. If users like your Stories, ask questions or respond to polls, you see this engagement pop up instantly in your message inbox. It’s then really easy to create another story that directly responds to your audience, making them feel like they’re talking directly to a person, rather than an abstract brand or business.

Why does this matter so much? Well, there’s an increasing expectation on businesses to have an authentic and approachable social media presence, particularly when it comes to social issues. Almost 85%2 of 18-34 year olds prefer to buy from brands that share their value systems, and when a majority of this demographic uses social media regularly, a platform like Instagram Stories becomes the perfect place for small businesses to highlight their own value systems and connect with a like-minded audience. The authentic, unscripted feel of a story makes it the perfect medium to connect with your followers on issues your business is passionate about supporting.

Social Commerce and Instagram Stories

On the other side of the coin, Instagram Stories are fast becoming an integral part of social commerce (buying products directly from social media). 60%3 of Instagram users say they’ve discovered a new product whilst browsing the platform, which has undoubtedly fuelled the adoption of Instagram Shopping amongst businesses. Newer features like product stickers in Stories are also helping to streamline the buying journey on the platform, giving businesses yet more incentives to invest time and money into social commerce on Instagram.

For small businesses, the only real barrier to entry is having an eligible product to sell and a recognised website which you can sell from. Instagram are even enabling businesses to import their product catalogues directly from third party e-commerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, saving on the headache of manually creating a new one. As soon as your Instagram shop is set up and authorised, you can also begin adding product stickers to your stories, giving you the power to promote and share key products to a much wider audience on the platform. What’s more, if you have over 10,000 followers, you can utilise the ‘Swipe Up’ feature which allows you to attach any link to your stories, including links to your product websites. If social commerce and Instagram shopping sounds like something that your business could really benefit from, view the full set up guide.

Tips for creating your business’s first Story

We’ve covered what Instagram Stories are, why they’re such good drivers of engagement and even how you can begin to monetise them in tandem with an Instagram shop. But when it comes to creating a Story, especially if you’re new to the platform, what kind of content should you be aiming for?

Although the specifics will vary from business to business, there are definitely some principles to help you maximise your chance of generating positive engagement. First and foremost, make sure you're promoting what makes your business unique! If you create a product using a traditional method, why not do a behind the scenes look at that process? If you make cakes, grind speciality coffee or bake bread, why not ask your audience what their favourite flavours / varieties are with a poll or question sticker? Focusing on what you produce is a fantastic way to introduce your Instagram shop too, featuring a specific product and then linking to where your audience can buy it.

On a more technical level, it’s really important to actively encourage engagement with your stories using features like questions and polls, as this type of engagement will help the Instagram algorithm better promote your stories to the right audiences in future. Posting at regular times will also help, as your audience will begin to look out for your stories each week. You could even create weekly features using hashtags to help develop a relationship with your regular audience. As well as developing an understanding of what kind of story content generates the best results, you can also use the Story analytics feature available to Instagram Business accounts. This feature will give you a wealth of insights, from the total reach to the kind of action your audience took on viewing your Story. Armed with this information, it’s even easier to begin planning and creating the kind of content that will benefit your business the most!

With the rise of social commerce and Instagram shopping, there’s never been a better time for small businesses to take the plunge and reap the benefits of Instagram Stories. We hope this latest article in our Digital Skills Series will help you as you develop your social media strategy in 2021.

1 Instagram internal data, June 2017

2 ‘5 consumer trends brands and retailers should lean into next year’, Bazaarvoice, Jan 2021

3 ‘Why Instagram?’ Instagram for Business,

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