Social Media Marketing Company

Making Sense of Instagram Stories – For Digital Marketers there is a Bigger Story

NOTE: This article was originally published on the Huffington Post in August 2016.

For digital marketers and search engine optimization consultants, the news that Instagram released a product called Instagram Stories should be well known by now. As I dove into the Stories feature, I discovered that there is a bigger “story” so let’s take a look.

Stories is a new feature that sits at the top of your newsfeed allowing you to inject a “stream” of photos or videos which like Snapchat expire after 24 hours. Since these pictures and videos cannot be viewed beyond a 24-hour period, many have cried “copycat,” as the similarities to Snapchat are stunning. But as creators know, Snapchat doesn’t make life easy since the app does not feature a user suggestion page or a simple way to share snaps. This makes it difficult for brands and personalities to grow their audiences (and go viral).

Instagram, it appears, is addressing this gap by putting a new spin on the storytelling platform with an improved user interface and “discovery” portal. It’s this portal where regular users may now be found, rather than publishers or featured and sponsored events only.

It’s not hard to imagine with the improvements Instagram made over the Snapchat experience, that influencer’s who were considering jumping onto Snapchat no longer feel the need. I don’t see brands and influencers on Snapchat today jumping ship completely. But I do believe that those who were on the edge of joining will conclude they no longer have the urgent need to start snapping. 

Is this a huge risk to Snapchat as some like TechCrunch have suggested?

In short, no. Evan Spiegel and his team are panicked. But I have to think they aren’t happy about the situation either since Instagram has a more defined ad tool with audience data, analytics, and API. After all, there are a lot of brands who have grown large Instagram audiences, and who can now turn on Stories to create a compelling live experience.

Watch this tutorial on how to use the Instagram Stories feature.

What does Stories mean for Content Marketers?

A recent study in The Information found the average number of Instagram posts per user has declined since 2013. While for the same period of 2013 to 2015 video consumption on Snapchat hit over 10 billion views per day logging a 25 percent increase between February 2016 and April 2016. And according to Instagram’s blog post introducing Stories: “With Instagram Stories, you don’t have to worry about overposting. Instead, you can share as much as you want throughout the day — with as much creativity as you want.” 

If we break this all down, it means content marketers have yet another vehicle to use to seed, drip, or flood the market with their messages. 

Could Stories Become a “brand-to-consumer” Messenger App?

When social media launched into the mainstream, people were excited about the opportunity to talk directly with their favorite celebrities and brands as well as their friends. This is fanning the huge rise in social messaging platforms, from Facebook’s Messenger and Whatsapp growing to over 1 billion users each, to Snapchat becoming a dominant platform for person-to-person picture and video sharing including messaging among teenagers.

“With Instagram Stories brands can engage their audience one-on-one.”

With Stories, Instagram may be about to make a move into the messaging space. If Instagram cracks social messaging, the app will become much more than sharing. Which backed by an array of in-the-moment stories and conversations, means Instagram could become its own legitimate social network. Perhaps this is what Zuck and Systrom planned all along? 

I can see brand marketing teams running Q&A sessions via Stories with users/customers/sales prospects sending in questions via Instagram Direct, and the brand answering them inside their story. Stories will also be an excellent vehicle to send 1:1 video messages to customers, fans and followers. The possibility to knock down the wall between the ‘B’ and ‘C’ (business and consumer) with Instagram Stories is pretty exciting.

Stories = New Engagement Opportunities

Stories could be an ideal way to add authenticity and engagement to the content that appears in feeds. If the Instagram feed today has become a place for only highly polished, pre-produced photos and video, with Stories, brands can take their followers on a journey, telling the story behind posts in their feed. 

As an example, imagine if Puma ran a promotion featuring a well-known athlete that popped up in the Instagram feed, with an offer to get up close and personal in the locker room or courtside after a big game or event. It’s not hard to think that Puma could benefit by receiving hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views.

The cool thing is that this technique could be adopted by brands of all sizes or companies from any industry. A car dealer could take you on a test drive of a hot new model. And a chef could post a picture of a new dish, and by so doing further create buzz by having a well-known food blogger review it. The possibilities are endless which is why content marketing can be an amazingly powerful brand and messaging extension.

Stories Can Power a Rise to the Top of the Feed

All content and social media marketers should be aware of the algorithm change Instagram recently announced. This adds a filter to the Instagram feed and shows users at the top of their feed the posts they’ll most likely be interested in seeing. 

Instagram co-founder, Kevin Systrom, when he was speaking with the New York Times, referenced that some users miss 70% of their feed: “What this is about is making sure that the 30 percent you see is the best 30 percent possible.” Which seems like a curious statement as I would think that the company would be concerned about the 70% of content that is getting “lost.” Rather it seems that they have accepted this fact and are focused on improving the ability of the app to surfacing quality content (over quantity).

Stories will be a good way for brands to stay top-of-mind on the platform even if their content today isn’t at the top of the user’s feed. Experimentation with stories, and being a stand-out early adopter, could help brands to capture their follower’s attention and boost engagement across the platform. 

Stories, is the Perfect App for Content Creators, or is it More Suited for Content Consumers?

Instagram will likely get credit for catering to content consumers more than Snapchat, but it seems not to want to abandon creator’s, too.

By keeping follower data front and center, Instagram solved a problem for people wanting to share a form of content not initially supported. Now, not only can you create time-limited video content, you can also check out exactly who’s seeing what, and when. And more easily than you can in the platform that invented it may I add. 

Snapchat innovated by creating a new kind of user behavior, not just a new type of content. They didn’t only invent snaps, but they taught the world how to “snap” and now that this behavior is commonplace, Instagram is building on the “language.”

Snapchat’s website states on any given day they reach 41% of all 18 to 34 year-olds in the United States. And according to a recent study, 32% of US teens list Instagram as their most important social network, which is notable for a few reasons. First, regardless of how we look at Instagram, nearly one-third of their users see them as a social network. Second, Snapchat is already skewing slightly older. If you resisted joining Snapchat or Instagram up to this point, it’s time to revisit this decision. 

Instagram Stories is not perfect, and it’s easy to label it a knock-off. But, I predict that if Instagram’s bet pays off, Stories will be the go-to destination for short-lived content, of the type that Snapchat defines in their app.

Marketers, Listen Up, there is Something you Need to be Paying Attention To!

Instagram Stories with Photos and Videos that disappear after 24 hours mimics Snapchat’s main feature. But in addition to the benefits of making your content more “discoverable” organically, Stories also provides the opportunity to create highly focused campaigns and social contests. Due to the 24-hour viewability window of Stories, your followers will have a sense of urgency regarding content consumption which could enable you to post experimental content, and if successful, roll it out broadly on your “regular” profiles and social accounts. 

“Post offbeat branded content and request private feedback to watch your individual engagement soar.”

When an Instagram user follows your brand, the account will show up with a colorful ring around it signifying the release of new Instagram Story content. The takeaway? It is time to increase your follower count so you can be top-of-feed and top-of-mind on as many feeds as possible. This will give you unprecedented ability to place organic content in front of users. Something that will be increasingly valuable as more and more social networks become pay-to-play. And there are no ‘likes’ or ‘public’ comments with Stories so users can only respond by sending a private message to the publisher’s account via Instagram Direct. 

Stories Are Ideal for Local Businesses

Local and small businesses have an advantage when it comes to new marketing apps and tools like Instagram Stories. It’s advisable to tweak your strategy as you progress and learn because larger companies will struggle when it comes to creating a platform strategy and content. This means smaller organizations can quickly capture an edge as they experiment with new marketing approaches and tools.

Small businesses with fewer resources to apply to social media will need to uncover the optimum balance between Stories and more permanent posts. Regardless, the primary focus should remain on cultivating the community through ongoing dialogue and engagement. Ultimately this means deciding which content deserves the urgency of Stories, and which requires the characteristics of the traditional feed. 

Social media managers must consider that though similarities with Snapchat exist, the reach isn’t the same. Don’t assume the Instagram Stories audience will look just like Snapchat’s audience. A noteworthy aspect of the release is the number of users currently on Instagram versus Snapchat, as well as the demographic differences. For Instagram’s audience, Stories allows them to stay on the platform rather than learn a new one. Stories is a good way to test content, discover what works, and adapt as needed.

A recent case study of Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat came from Nike who was able to generate 800,000 views in 24 hours for an Instagram Story. In comparison, on Snapchat, Nike’s best video received just 66,000 views. How did Instagram beat out Snapchat by more than 10X? 

One observation is that on Snapchat, heart icons are missing for people to express approval. And, it’s hard to follow accounts as users must know the exact name of the person or business in order to discover them. In addition, Instagram offers compliance for alcohol brands which is key because of government regulations that restrict viewing of alcoholic advertising to people of only legal age (21 or older in the US) or older.

How to Use Instagram Stories to Grow Your Business 

Local business owners are stretched as there is never enough time for activities that fall outside the core of developing and delivering their goods and services. Let’s take a look at how a small business owner might use Instagram Stories as a way to not lose touch with their customers.  

One way is to use Stories at an event to show what happens during the preparation period. If you have a big annual promotion that involves setting up a special event or arranging for larger than normal shipments, this can be the perfect trigger to grab your phone and walk into the middle of the hustle and bustle or chaos of the preparation.

Talk to your people and have them do a brief impromptu interview on what they are doing to “make the event happen.” On the lead up to an event and post-event, you can repurpose key parts of the story to accompany social media content from your blog. One secret to squeezing in content creation into an otherwise busy schedule is to stop thinking of each piece as a magnum opus.

By creating many small snippets that can be used individually, or assembled into a larger whole, you don’t have to set aside large blocks of time for “content creation.” Instead, content should be created organically throughout the normal course of your business day. Whether you post each snip as it is created, or later edit a few together, it depends on your strategy and purpose for the content. Also, the distribution channel may influence your approach.

Instagram Stories and Snapchat are certainly best for real-time “in the now” video and pictorial postings, whereas YouTube in comparison, is likely a better forum for search engine marketing-oriented content that will have a life beyond the next 24 to 72 hours.

An important caveat is that frequency matters on short lifecycle platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, and you should be careful to not fully duplicate your content across social networks. But if you have adopted the practice of creating many short snippets throughout the day, the odds are that you have many usable differentiated pieces from the same event. 

The most successful social media marketers all started with one subscriber or follower. But how to promote your Instagram Stories is a legitimate question. One of the best methods I’ve seen is to use other media and social channels to encourage people to follow you. 

A turbo charge tip is to invite brands or partners with a mutual interest in your success to take over your Instagram Story for the day. Most small business owners feel overwhelmed at the thought of needing to keep pace with content creation. But, you don’t have to be the sole producer as there are sources right outside your door happy to promote your business. Many brands are already doing this with their Instagram accounts and extending the practice to Stories is not a big leap. 

Instagram Stories for Digital Marketers

For search and digital marketers looking to test Instagram Stories, there are few things to consider. 

First, you will need to provide a balance between planned, produced and raw content. If your community expects polished content don’t be afraid to test your audience to see what resonates, but be sure to ease your audience into new content types. This is where behind-the-scenes footage can serve as an ideal content type. By definition, “behind the scenes” is where the interest is likely short lived and perfect for the Stories format.

Second, prioritize the feed. Instagram encourages brands to prioritize the feed as the community looks to brands for high-quality content. Your Instagram feed is where fan engagement and reach is guaranteed for organic and paid social traffic. 

Third, evaluate the role of platforms. With Stories, the lines between Instagram and Snapchat are blurred. You will need to evaluate the role each platform plays in your social ecosystem tapestry. For example, you may want to post to Snapchat “in the moment” interviews, while Instagram is a better platform for scripted or prepared experiences.

Fourth, measure performance and know your metrics. If you are using Instagram Business Profiles (and you should be), you’ll want to spend time in the analytics, particularly examining reach and impressions. Stories are not expected to affect content in the feed but it will be worth monitoring whether Stories is attracting a new audience or creating additional engagement with your current audience. 

What’s your Story?

We are in the golden age of internet marketing as the leading platforms continue to develop ever more powerful ways to connect with an audience. I would love to hear how you plan to utilize Stories to grow your business, further penetrate a market, or expand your social marketing and content initiatives.

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