Updated Feb. 3, 2021
Time flies for content marketers who spend their days outlining Instagram strategies, researching hashtags, and making content plans. New features debut almost every month and discerning trends is challenging. Keeping up with Reels, Guides, and Shop Tabs can altogether make your head spin. Yet, ye good ol’ Stories remain the one Instagram constant that (thankfully) never changes.
Released in 2016, Stories are now Instagram’s most popular feature. (Stories are also an example of a successful rip-off (sorry, Snap!), but that’s a story for another time.)
A half-billion people use Instagram Stories every day, with businesses creating one-third of the most viewed Stories. Naturally, Stories should not only remain but be a vital part of your overall Instagram strategy. In other words, you can’t ignore Stories.
What should you be posting on Instagram Stories in 2021?
Consider these seven fresh ideas to spice up your Stories and use them in a way your competitors haven’t yet conceived.
1. Use Highlights to drive traffic (even if you have less than 10,000 followers)
When new users land on your Instagram profile, they may not yet know who you are. You’ve probably heard a million times before how important it is to have a great Insta bio that catches the eye, quickly explains what your business does, and convinces new visitors to click that follow button.
With the Highlights feature, the bio section is a place not only where you tell the brand story but a place to convert visitors.
Think of Highlights as a short promo trailer for your business, and it becomes a perfect opportunity to show what your brand is all about, give a sense of what your product offers, and generate direct traffic to your sales landing page.
Even if you have a small Instagram account with less than 10,000 followers, you can still generate traffic through Highlights.
Need an example? Here’s one from my employer, Cooler Future, a finance Instagram account (a sector considered hard to grow on the platform). To promote their referral campaign, they described the offer in their Highlights. Since they don’t have 10,000 followers to trigger the swipe-up feature, they encouraged the viewers to react with a simple clap emoji. In turn, their social media manager would send the campaign link to the clapper’s DM.
2. Ask for takeovers
Collaboration with influencers is an ever-growing Instagram trend. Still, many brands execute it by paying for a few sponsored posts on an influencer’s feed, crossing their fingers, and praying for some new followers to come through the tag mention.
In a Stories takeover, an influencer of choice takes over the brand account for, say, a day, to produce exclusive content. It used to be popular but somehow isn’t that trendy anymore. That’s a pity because there are so many benefits to doing Stories’ takeovers: cross-directing followers, creating exclusive content for your followers, networking with relevant influencers, etc.
Also, the incentive for the influencer’s followers is different. The influencer isn’t urging their followers to follow the brand but showing what they’re doing on the brand’s account. It’s less pushy and more authentic. The subtle promotion is more effective in increasing reach and driving traffic from Instagram Stories to your site or special offer.
If you notice competitors have passed on takeovers, do the opposite – this is your gap of opportunity, after all.
TIP: If you haven’t used Instagram Live yet, step it up. Host a Q&A with an influencer in your sector – your account will appear on the influencer’s Live icon in Stories (usually first in line, too, which gives you more visibility). The influencer’s followers then can land on your profile and follow you.
3. Take polls and quizzes
While polls are a great tool to engage your audience, you also can use them for audience research. Instead of asking something for pure entertainment, find out what kind of content your followers want to see on the account.
For instance, if your account focuses on travel, ask about destinations your audience wants to see. Their responses may surprise you. But either way, you’ll learn if you should share more about that destination or not.
When you’re short on ideas, your audience members can be a great source of content creation inspiration. You just need to ask their opinion.
4. Make GIFs, fonts, stickers
The world rejoiced when Instagram introduced GIFs in Stories, but the joy didn’t last long. After five weeks, Instagram yanked the Giphy integration after a racist image found its way into Stories. Giphy has been cleaning up its content, though, and is back on the Stories scene.
Now, if you want to be a trendsetter, follow the steps of Gary Vaynerchuk, who continually creates GIFs (with his face on them, of course – personal brand alert!) that nobody else would have:
Also, don’t miss out on fonts and stickers. While Instagram offers stickers, it doesn’t update them often. To stand out, turn to apps like Design Kit from A Color Story, which offers 30-plus modern fonts, 120-plus designs, and a ton of stickers to help your brand be unique, and ultimately, attract more followers.
5. Shoutouts to competitors
“Competitors who? On Instagram, everyone is a friend.”
Highly competitive and the fastest growing platform, Instagram was touted as “all about community,” but the harsh reality was few people really wanted to help anybody. Brands wanting to be featured usually need to pay for every single mention, every single shoutout.
That’s precisely why helping each other out can be a useful change of mindset (from competitors to friends).
Giving shoutouts on Stories to another user or urging your followers to follow somebody else might seem like suicide. Still, it builds relationships on social media – you shout out to someone, hoping to get a shout back. Plus, it gives you free content for Stories – all it takes is a screenshot and a few words:
Image source: Instagram.com/stylelobster
6. Reuse your Reels
One of my favorite Stories trends is a sequence of seamlessly cropped videos that together present a longer film that would otherwise be impossible to post on Stories due to the 15-second restriction.
You can use Storeo, a free iOS app. Upload your long video and slice it into smaller parts, maintaining the flow and transitions as smoothly as possible.
Another trend hard to miss this year is, of course, TikTok content taking over Instagram.
In very Instagram fashion (remember the earlier Snap reference), Instagram now created Reels: 15-second videos brands use for quick guides, campaigns, and whatnot. But Reels are housed in a tab next to IGTV; that’s why native Tik Tok content is perfect for Stories. Yes, it’s fine to repost your Tik Tok content on Instagram, and no, your Instagram community won’t kill you. This 2020 trend is just too big to ignore.
7. Use unique templates
Last but not least: Use questionnaire templates. They stand out, engage your audience, and are great to entice followers with cool freebies. It’s easy to create them online (check out Easil, for instance). It’s even better to create custom templates – and let your followers screenshot them.
Here’s a custom template created by Image source for inspiration:
Quizzes and questionnaires are great to entertain your followers, but if you give them a free template to use, that’s even better.
Tell Instagram Stories
As Instagram tweaks its algorithm all the time, growing your followers remains a challenge for established brands and humble beginners on the platform. If you’re looking to expand your reach, Stories are an absolute must – Instagram is not going to let them go.
All tools in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please include in the comments.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute