The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Features: Stories, Feed, IGTV, Reels

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Clearly, users don’t have trouble getting started with Instagram given its growth in numbers with over 1 billion active users. That part is easy. But things are more complicated on the platform for content marketers.

To reduce its complexity and make it easier to use Instagram for your content marketing, I’m breaking it down by detailing the four main content channels:

Feed Stories IGTV Reels

I also will discuss content marketing strategies for each and suggest a content framework to add variety to your Instagram posts.

Let’s dive in.

Instagram Feed

Think of the Instagram feed as your Instagram homepage. It is your chance to convey with images what your brand is about.

As your Instagram home base, your feed does double duty. It provides new people an at-a-glance sense of your message, product, or services. It’s also the source of ongoing curated content for followers and fans to visit and revisit, hopefully, many times.

Focus on people who already found their way to your posts or profile. (A ton of resources describe how to get more Instagram followers or attention, but the big three are hashtags, beautiful images, and audience engagement.)

Get more #Instagram followers by using hashtags, beautiful images, and by engaging with your audience, says @SusanCMoeller via @CMIContent. #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

Your images are what will ensure that they stick around. You must nail the image aesthetic, making them on-brand and compelling.

And here’s the secret: Words also have a key role in the feed. Instagram followers pay attention because of the images, but they stay because of the captions.

Use captions to teach your followers the things they want to learn. Provide doable steps to help them reach their goals. Direct them to act on issues they care about. Keep them informed about your brand. Entertain them. Empathize with them.

#Instagram followers pay attention because of the images, but they stay because of the captions, says @SusanCMoeller via @CMIContent. #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

What about video? Instagram allows up to 60 seconds of video in your feed. The opening seconds appear in your feed. Choose those moments wisely. Consider trimming the video to begin with an on-brand shot or edit to show the most important or compelling imagery at the beginning.

Shopify’s 9-grid feed includes four videos and all fit the Shopify look and feel (brand colors, merchant faces, simple illustrations).

Need help trimming video from your phone? Here’s a how-to for iOS and Android.

Takeaways

Keep your feed on brand with a consistent aesthetic. Leverage captions to communicate depth. Provide a variety of content to engage your audience.

Stories

I don’t know about you, but I can’t resist the scratch-and-win, you-never-know-what-you’re-going-to-get little red circles at the top of my Instagram (#yougotme).

[email protected], like your audience, can’t resist the little red circles at the top of her #Instagram. #yougotme Click To Tweet

Image source

I’m in good company with a half-billion other users who view Instagram Stories every day. I have my favorite stories creators – old friends, co-workers, and a few brands. Don’t miss making your brand a favorite of your target audience.

Stories compel users to check them out because they disappear after 24 hours. The fleeting, ephemeral nature invites a lighter approach. If your Instagram Feed is your brand in a business suit – dressed to impress, Stories are you at home – in your comfy clothes.

Instagram Feed is your brand dressed to impress. #Instagram Stories are you at home in comfy clothes, says @SusanCMoeller via @CMIContent. #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

With Stories, you can relax the brand aesthetic. Rougher edges can endear you more to your audience.

Here are four suggestions as you get started:

Use Stories to nurture relationships with customers. Be fun and whimsical. Use stickers to help drive engagement. Don’t go crazy with images. People drop off after five to seven slides. Lean into the short video option (max 15 seconds). Share other accounts in Stories to build reciprocity and goodwill.

TIP: Tap the little paper airplane under a post you like from an account you follow. Then tap “Add post to your story.” The account holder will be notified that you shared their post in your Stories.

Connect with your audience using live, real-time videos.

People are hungry for connection. Stories – with their unpolished, authentic feel – fuel affinity. Instagram Stories also provide an excellent structural tool to save and showcase evergreen content.

TIP: Create stories from buried posts on your feed. Just click the paper airplane under any post to create a fresh story.

You can also create highlights from Stories to keep relevant content front and center on your profile. Whereas a story disappears in 24 hours, a highlight remains available until you remove it.

Use #Instagram’s Highlights to keep a story for more than 24 hours, says @SusanCMoeller via @CMIContent. #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

Takeaways

Stories can humanize your brand. They disappear in 24 hours, making them more attractive for users to click immediately. Stories also can facilitate valuable opportunities for connection and authenticity. Use the story highlight feature to keep the content available until you remove it.

IGTV

IGTV is Instagram’s long-form video format. Launched in 2018, IGTV allows users to create up to 10-minute video clips. Verified accounts and accounts with at least 10,000 followers can add videos up to 60 minutes.

As with most long-form video, production costs can be high. That’s why it’s smart to evaluate all long-form video options before diving in to IGTV.

The elephant in this room is YouTube, which has 2 billion monthly users. If you already create content for YouTube, IGTV could be a great next step. You can offer your audience Instagram favorites like:

Behind-the-scenes tours How-tos and tutorials Q&As Events

TIP: Remember, unlike the YouTube landscape format, IGTV uses a vertical format.

Remember, unlike the #YouTube landscape format, #Instagram IGTV uses a vertical format, says @SusanCMoeller via @CMIContent. #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

Keep your content marketing goals in mind. If audience interaction is one of them, IGTV produces better engagement than YouTube in some cases.

Make sure to use Instagram’s preview feature to create a teaser video (up to one minute). Post the teaser to your feed (with an on-brand cover photo) and share it to your stories. To reach a larger audience, create a well-thought-out through hashtag strategy.

Takeaways

Consider your audience, content type, and goals carefully before investing heavily in IGTV. YouTube often is a better first-step option. IGTV’s long-form video content can deliver more value to your audience and increase engagement. Make the most of your videos by creating a preview (i.e., teaser) that can be posted to your feed and shared to your Stories.

Reels

Introduced to the U.S. audience in August, Instagram Reels deliver TikTok-esque experiences.

Introduced in August, #Instagram Reels feature delivers TikTok-esque experiences, says @SusanCMoeller via @CMIContent. #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

Instagram experts note the similarities in the business case for Reels and Stories. “Reels offer an opportunity to connect, showcase products, engage with millennials and Gen Z,” says my colleague, Cori Sue Morris, Tailwind’s director of marketing. “Reels are keeping Gen Z on Instagram.”

Use Reels to be discovered, and to show brand personality and authenticity. Reels show in the discovery portion of the Instagram app, which makes them a powerhouse for increasing views and engagement.

My hunch is that larger B2C brands will get more value from Reels because they have the budget and skills to create the 15-second video-music combos that Reels rely on.

If your business invests in TikTok content now’s a good time to check out Reels. But don’t just dump all of your TikTok content to Instagram Reels. Similar is not the same as identical. Consider some editing of your TikTok videos to match the more “grown-up” feel of Instagram.

As with all things Instagram, the right hashtags will get your content to the wider audience.

Takeaways

Instagram recently introduced the Reels feature, which is similar to TikTok. Use the Reels feature only when you’ve mastered the rest of the Instagram channels. You must have strong video content to benefit from Reels. Ensure that your audience matches the Instagram Reels audience – usually millennials and Gen Z. Don’t just copy your TikTok videos to Instagram reels. Edit to match the more “grown-up” style of Instagram.

Follow the VALUE framework

With Instagram (and any social media network), marketers must transcend content monotony. We’ve all seen (or created) Instagram feeds that follow this formula: blog image + link in bio. It’s no wonder our followers get bored.

The alternative – bespoke, high-production-value marketing content for Instagram (and all the other social platforms) – is difficult to create and impossible to scale for most businesses.

Here’s help to create bespoke, high-production value content for Instagram – the five types of content outlined in the VALUE framework:

Valuable: Helpful or educational content Aspirational: Idealized, tangible content that casts a vision for the future Lifecycle: Awareness-building content that nurtures relationships or encourages action Unique: Proprietary and branded content focused on the business Evergreen: Relevant and useful content that isn’t time bound

Match each type with your content themes. For example, a spice store could have three themes related to its products – savory, unusual, and sweet. The story outline for the savory framework might look like this:

Valuable – how much chili powder to use per quart of other ingredients Aspirational – renowned chef quote about the perfectly spiced stew Lifecycle – invitation to a seasonal spice Q&A Unique – picture of a team member with their favorite spice blend Evergreen – image of the ratio of chili powder to other spices for a great chili

Using the VALUE framework for its three themes, the store would create 15 Instagram posts. Each could be plugged in to the four Instagram channels for a super audience experience.

Dive deliberately

The Instagram buffet options can overwhelm. As with all great marketing, content that suits the unique tastes of each Instagram channel will perform best.

Keep the visual nature of Instagram top of mind and follow these three principles for success: Deliver value with a variety of content. Keep your feed on brand with your visual aesthetic. And nurture relationship and deeper engagement in Stories.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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