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Instagram Stories 360: Everything a Small Business Owner Needs to Know

Instagram Stories 360: Everything a Small Business Owner Needs to Know

People either love or hate Instagram stories. But no matter what your feelings are about them, IG stories can be an indispensable tool when it comes to social media strategizing for your small business. A quick look at stats on the matter is enough to turn even the biggest Instagram stories skeptic into a willing participant. But don’t just take our word for it, see for yourself:  

As of 2022, 58% of users say that they’ve become more interested in a brand after seeing it on IG stories. Instagram actually makes a quarter of its ad revenue worldwide through IG stories. Brands that invest in making awesome IG stories see increased traffic, which leads to more customers. Without a doubt, using insta stories to promote your brand can help get people to notice your brand. So you might as well test the waters out and give it a try!

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In this guide, we’ll be going over everything related to Instagram stories and how they can help you grow your business. Whatever your view on this form of marketing, we’ll be sharing with you how IG stories are a valuable tool for promoting your business. 

What are Instagram Stories?

In August 2016, the Instagram platform introduced a new feature for users to share snapshots of their day with followers. The posts only last for 24 hours. Because the feature was so similar to Snapchat, many users initially criticized Instagram for adding it. In the end, though, IG stories became an integral part of Instagram’s overall user interface, and many people’s favorite feature. 

After a short adaptation period, many users became downright addicted to adding images and videos to their stories for followers to see. The knowledge that each post disappears in a day helps disperse users’ content updates between posts and stories, providing them more variety in engaging with the app, both as posters and content watchers.

Therefore, IG stories brought a whole new level of active engagement to Instagram without overwhelming followers. It also presented the perfect opportunity to share a more personal and off-the-cuff type of content, without the formality of grid posting. 

Since IG stories were first launched and introduced, the feature has rapidly evolved into a lot more than just videos and random pictures. Nowadays, IG stories allow users to run polls, do Q&As, add hashtags, create photo grids, add music, save key information about their business on their profile highlights, and even sell products.

Using poll stickers encourages followers to interact with your stories and promotes your products

Why Consider Instagram Stories for Business?

Without a doubt, IG stories are an easy, convenient, and rewarding way to connect with your audience and promote your brand. 

Here are a few reasons why we love IG stories:

Instagram Stories are Free

Unlike many other advertising or marketing strategies, this is one of the most inexpensive and easy to test formats for fledgling small businesses. There’s no need to print out tons of copies of a flier or spend thousands of dollars on paid ads. Using IG stories is free! If you want, you can boost them with paid promotion as an add-on. 

IG stories follow a simple and inexpensive format, and if you’re not happy with the results of your post, no worries! It will disappear in twenty-four hours. If you’re really impatient, you can also delete misguided content, allowing you to test out multiple types of posts in a short timeframe.

Sharing customer feedback to your story? Don’t forget to tag the product! 

Existing and Continuously Growing Audience

When you decide to utilize IG stories as part of your social media efforts, you can attract an audience already familiar with products or brands like yours. This works best if you already have an account with a reliable follower count because then you don’t have to start from scratch. You can simply begin sharing IG stories with your existing followers, who will then share your business with their followers, and so on. 

Overall, Instagram has millions of users—a number expected to keep growing—ready to find brands they love and build loyalty with. Make yours be one of them! 

Great for Interaction and Building Trust

IG stories have become a great way to reach new customers and communicate with your audience through unique and creative means. Unlike feed posts, Instagram stories offer more room to be personal and ask your audience direct questions about who they are and what they want, which can be invaluable information for growing your small business. 

Through the use of polls, swipe-ups, and other tools, brands engage with their followers and make them feel like a part of the company. 

Use polls in stories to let customers share their opinion on your products

Increased Brand Awareness and Visibility

IG stories work as the perfect medium to drive traffic to your business. Through hashtags, geotags, storytelling, sponsored posts, and so much more, you can easily reach a wider audience. 

All you have to do is make it easy for your followers to share any announcements with their friends and family. Through your story, your followers can effortlessly ask questions or send reactions. Then, they can share your IG stories with other users. Aka, free advertising! 

Plus, your stories are shared on Instagram’s Explore Page. The Explore Page features posts from accounts that users may not follow but could be interesting to them. Getting your content to the Explore page helps you reach an even broader audience without any additional costs.

Choosing the right hashtag is key to getting featured on the Explore Page. Instagram will show your IG stories to users that follow the hashtags you use, both on the Explore Page and on their feeds. Make sure to look into what hashtags similar businesses use to reach your ideal audience.  

To see the Explore Page, click the the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the app screen

How do Instagram Stories Work?

Unlike regular posts shared to the Instagram news feed, IG stories are not permanent and have limited sharing. You are allowed only up to 100 frames of content per day. Each story or slide has a 15-second limit, with anything beyond that limit appearing on the next frame or slide. 

When a user or brand creates an IG story, it will appear at the top of their followers’ feed, along with stories posted by other accounts they follow. Users can access someone’s stories by going to their profile and tapping the profile picture. 

When it comes to story visibility, depending on a user’s interaction with a brand, a story will either appear within the first 5 bubbles or at the back of the story section. This is why it’s so crucial to actively post stories so that you stay visible to your followers.

How the Instagram Story Algorithm Works

The more you post, the more users interact with your stories, and the higher you’ll be in your follower’s algorithm feed. For each user, the algorithm generates a personal and customized feed based on the content and accounts they interact with the most. 

When an influencer, business, or brand fails to post on a regular basis, the algorithm flags them as inconsistent and as a result, does not tag them as relevant to followers. The IG stories then end up at the back of the followers’ stories queue. 

When working with the Instagram algorithm, it’s best to plan content ahead or split it into different days. Being consistent is the key! It won’t work to post a bunch of stories in a single day and then disappear for a week or month without posting anything. 

When it comes to IG stories, posting every day is perfectly ok and usually recommended. Unlike feed posts, more is better. The most active brands get the best results when they post a minimum of 17 stories per month. This is something to consider when making sure you’re not under (or over) posting.

How Much is Too Much When it Comes to Posting on Instagram Stories?

100 photos or videos is the maximum number of Instagram Stories that can be posted within 24 hours. However, just like under-posting, over-posting can be a problem. As you might already know, or as you become familiar with the platform, there are certain expectations and guidelines users have created concerning businesses, mostly subconsciously. 

As a small business owner or service provider, your followers have personal limits as to what they consider rude or spammy. This is why it is crucial you find the sweet spot between staying relevant and overwhelming followers. 

Keeping a good balance of content will ensure you’re gaining and (most importantly) keeping followers. The last thing you want to do is irritate users and lose yourself a bunch of followers. And in a worst-case scenario, you can end up muted or blocked by your target audience.  

Even if IG stories offer more space and time to share your content without spamming your followers, there are still certain factors or guidelines to go by.

Avoid Spamming Your Followers

It’s always better to post something (even if it’s not that interesting) than to post nothing. However, when posting consistently, make sure to add value to post and encourage viewers to check back for more. 

Share useful tips in your stories to provide value to your followers

Limit Promotional Content

As a rule of thumb, you want to avoid posting too much content that feels like you’re pushing for a sale. But a promotional post now and then that feels exciting and interactive is good. 

Ultimately, it’s always best to limit this type of content and avoid spamming your audience. Trust us, you certainly don’t want to earn yourself a record of unfollows. 

You can share insights about your business instead of “Buy Now” posts

Don’t Ignore the Stats

A great advantage of IG stories and having a business account is the easy access to your stories’ performance data. If you notice viewers are skipping over a specific type of story or theme, consider changing your content plan. Pay close attention to the type of content your audience is engaging with and reacting to, and plan ahead to add more of it. 

Nevertheless, when it comes to story sharing and keeping up with the algorithm, daily posting is key. Really, you should be posting 3 to 4 times a day. Start there and slowly adapt to your audience and viewers’ demands. 

How to Create Instagram Stories for Engagement

Now that you know the basics and have an idea of how IG stories work, let’s take some time to learn how to create stories that really engage your audience. 

Step 1. Create an account if you don’t have one already. Sign up and create your username and password.

Step 2. Go to your home page and find the “Your Story” icon with your profile picture and a blue “plus” button. You can always add a new story by simply clicking the “plus” button or swiping left anywhere on your home screen to reveal your camera and story feature. 

Step 3. Once you have access to the Instagram camera, you can choose to create a new video or picture by tapping and holding on to the white circle at the bottom of your camera screen. You can also choose to add content on your phone by tapping on the square icon with your photos and videos at the bottom-left corner of your screen.

Step 4. Now that you have created your story, you can choose to add music, stickers, filters, hashtags, product tags, and even tag friends or followers. Plus so much more! 

Step 5. Once you think your story is ready, tap next. Then you’ll be asked whether you want to share your new story with a specific group of followers or to all of your followers. For a business, we’d recommend sharing with all of your followers. 

There you go! Now you know how to create a story. But what are the different types of IG stories you can make? 

Different Types of Instagram Stories

When getting to know the IG story feature, it is good to have some sort of understanding of the different types of content you can use to your advantage. More than snapshots of your day, Instagram stories can be formatted in these various ways: 

Standard. This is your regular photo or video story. 

Type. This option allows users to share whatever is on their minds without the need to add a video or add a photo. It consists of plain text and a colored background. Users get to choose the background and text colors they desire. It is a good option when making a brief announcement, expressing your opinion on a certain topic or matter, or simply sharing some interesting facts with your audience.

Music. You can add a song or tune that is trending, or one that is relatable to the picture or video you wish to share. You can easily edit which part of the song you want to add to your story. This is a great way of making your IG stories more intriguing, adding more action or meaning to them.

Live. Live streams are widely used among influencers and promoters. They make it easy to answer questions and address a specific issue or topic. They’re also a fun way to share the behind scenes of your business, offer new content, create one-on-one connections with your audience, and so much more. Without a doubt, IG live streams are a great way of interacting with your followers.

Boomerang. These are short (usually funny) shoots that play in a loop. In just a few seconds, you can record a short video and repeat it for the enjoyment of your followers. These help spice up your stories and add a fun touch. 

Superzoom. This is a type of story that slowly or suddenly zooms on to what you choose. These are great for emphasis or simply add a more lively touch to your content. 

Hands-Free. This option works great to help you create content without the need to keep your phone at hand. With this feature, you can place your phone on a tripod or table and start recording while you do your thing. 

The features listed above are the most commonly used, but the tools to help make your stories unique are practically limitless. The main point is this: you can easily create a variety of different stories and add diversity to your content. Try experimenting with each one until you find the one your audience enjoys the most. 

Don’t forget you have full control of the kind of content you create and post. You can even control who gets to see it. Instagram has a hide story feature, which allows you to hide your story from anyone on the app, like competitors.  

How to Create Shoppable Stories

If you sell products and/or services, you should definitely use Instagram Stories. It is an incredibly useful tool that lets you leverage its shoppable functionality. 

Online sellers can add product tags to their stories that feature their items for sale. When users click on a product tag, they can go straight to the product page to learn more and buy it right away. This way, your followers can shop right from your stories! Imagine what it can do for your sales when done well. 

After a user clicks on “View product”, they are taken to the product page

To start posting shoppable stories, you need to connect your online store to Instagram. One of the easiest ways to do that is through an ecommerce platform, like Lightspeed’s eCom. 

When you sign up for Lightspeed, you can create an online store to sell on your existing website (or set up a new one), social media, or marketplaces. By connecting your ecommerce capabilities to Instagram, you get the advantage of selling through shoppable content and a dedicated Shop section on your Instagram page. This way you can make any Instagram content shoppable. That includes stories, feed posts, IGTV, or live reels.

With your store connected to Instagram, your audience can shop right from your Instagram profile 

Shoppable stories work best for promoting a sale or inviting followers to check new products in your store. Make sure to add a short instruction for your followers like, “Tap the product tag to learn more.” 

Using Instagram Stories for Business

As you’ve probably realized, insta stories are very handy for all types of businesses, both new and established. Using this tool can lead to significant growth, regardless of a brand’s market sector or focus. 

Without a doubt, if you consider yourself a business owner and aren’t tapping into IG stories, you’re missing out. You should use insta stories to increase engagement through creative storytelling. They will help you gain more brand awareness, which leads to more sales. 

With Instagram stories you can:

Add Links to Your Stories

Not only can you add links in your IG stories to products, but you can also add hyperlinks to your blog, store, course, and/or website. Links encourage viewers to check items out, driving more traffic to your sites. This ultimately leads to new sales. Plus, sharing content on social media connects more people to your website, which helps with SEO. 

Make sure the link is visible in your story

Promote your Products 

Make engaging stories and photos by adding creative and exciting content related to your products or services. You can add stickers or hashtags related to your niche to reach users outside of your follower base. 

Don’t forget to link to your website when posting your products

Share Lives on IG Stories 

Going live helps to connect with your audience and share exciting events or milestones. As we covered before, you can choose to go live to keep your audience up to date with the latest news about your brand, promote new products, or answer product-specific questions. 

However, some followers might miss important information you share. Make sure to post a replay of your live video on your stories so that your followers can catch up on what they missed.

Create Story Highlights

You can save stories to your highlights on your profile, and they won’t disappear after 24 hours—in fact, they’ll remain linked to your profile until you choose to delete them! Usually businesses use highlights to educate people about their brands, or to answer frequently asked questions (like shipping details or return policy). 

By putting important information on your highlights, your followers always have access to answers about your company. This encourages them to buy your products or services. 

Followers can find your highlights under your bio

There are many benefits to merging IG stories with your brand or business. The ones we covered above barely scratch the surface. Other exciting features include countdown stickers, story ads, emoji slider stickers, etc., that create fun and innovative ways to build trust and loyalty with your audience. 

As a brand, you want to encourage as much engagement as possible. Ultimately, you need to find creative ways to attract new customers and keep your followers engaged. IG stories can do just that, and so much more. 

Getting More Views

Now you know so much more about Instagram stories, including how to create your own. But before we let you go and venture into the thrilling world of IG stories, we have a few tips and tricks to share so you can get off to a great start and match the competition.

Nothing beats practice and hands-on experience; however, consider the following tips to avoid rookie mistakes and unnecessary hassle. 

Include Trending Stickers and Locations

Tap on a sticker icon when creating your story and scroll to see which stickers are trending. 

Think about what stories you can create with those stickers. Adding them to your stories can help boost your views, as your stories will be displayed at the top of the stories feed. 

Don’t hesitate to use the “Support small business” sticker

Adding a location is also a good way to gain more views and promote your business among local users. 

Get Creative with Your Q&As

Research fun topics to ask your audience or discuss what is trending in your niche. Use Q&A, quiz stickers, and emoji bars to let customers share their opinion. This way, you can learn what viewers think about your business or industry news. 

Let customers ask you questions about upcoming events or new products

Find the Best Time to Post

In general, you want to find out the best times to post based on your audience demographics, like age, location, interest, and any other factors that affect visibility. For many, this usually looks like lunch break hours, Saturday mornings or early evenings, after work hours, etc. 

Just like every brand varies and has something unique to offer, the same applies to their audience. Get to know yours by regularly checking your stories’ analytics and finding out what times your audience is the most active. 

See what time your audience is the most active in your account insights 

Re-share Your Followers’ Posts

You can encourage your followers to tag you in their stories through giveaways or challenges. Then you can re-share those posts and gain momentum. These not only increase your reach but also urges others to interact with your brand. 

Don’t forget that sharing your customers’ feedback in your stories works as social proof that your products are worth buying. 

Ask customers to tag your account in their stories so that you can re-share their posts to your IG stories

Create Your Own AR Filter

This feature allows anyone to create their own augmented reality filter and add it to Instagram Stories for public use. This is a great way to encourage followers to interact with the brand and boost awareness at the same time.

While creating your own filter sounds like quite an advanced undertaking, you can actually do that yourself with Spark AR Studio. It’s a tool from Meta that allows you to create your own augmented reality effects (masks or filters) for Instagram and Facebook. Check out their tutorials for beginners to get acquainted with the tool. Remember, your filter doesn’t have to be complicated! Instead, make sure it aligns with your brand and inspires Instagram users to try it.

A simple branded filter from @michaelkors

Creating IG Stories for your Business

When it comes to promoting your brand via Instagram stories, you want to create, review, and then create more. The key to stories’ success is nothing more than getting creative with your posts. Consider adding your own touch and trying new ideas by harnessing the different elements and tools offered by Instagram. 

To make the most of your Instagram stories, connect your online store to Instagram and start creating shoppable stories. This way, you’re sure to turn Instagram stories into a profiting sales channel.

And in the meantime, if you’re a small business looking to grow and scale, check out Lightspeed’s suite of products. Learn about Lightspeed by talking to an expert here.

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