Instagram Stories is already becoming a very competitive channel for marketing.
Brands are generating tons of content to stay visible at the top of viewers’ screens every day.
If your brand has a presence on Instagram, you need to produce captivating Instagram Stories to engage audiences and keep competitors from taking up too much airspace.
To create great Instagram Stories, you don’t need a large budget or agency polish. You just need to engage with your followers genuinely.
With Stories, you’re focusing on connection, rather than conversion. Engagement is the most important goal.
Today we’ll dig deep into how the best brands are crafting their Instagram stories to maximize engagement. So you can get inspired and… do better!
Did you ever wonder who’s the most wanted (AKA followed) brands on Instagram?
Statista’s data shows that, as of December 2017, National Geographic had more than 83 million Instagram followers. Nike got the silver medal with 75,4 million followers.
If we focus on fashion brands only (btw: did you know that 99% of fashion brands are on Instagram?), Nike becomes become a gold medalist, followed by Victoria’s Secret (58M followers). Guess what? The bronze medal goes to Nike, again, with their football line (30,8M).
Fast fashion retailer like H&m, Zara, Forever 21 and Kylie cosmetics, ranked better than luxury brands (and big spender) like Louis Vuitton (ranked eighth with 20.3 million followers), Gucci (in position #9 with 19,4M followers), Dior (17,9M) Dolce & Gabbana (15,2M fans) and Prada (14,1M followers).
It’s interesting to notice that the most popular Instagram fashion brands include a mixture of luxury brands and high-street retailers, with a preference for the latest, maybe because they can connect better with the wider audiences of average spenders.
For this article, we’ve gathered several Instagram Stories examples from top brands like Nike and Glossier to show what’s possible with Stories as a marketing channel, and to inspire your next Instagram campaign.
Inventing new ways to engage viewers on Instagram
When you publish Instagram Stories, you’re connecting with viewers in an intimate space, one in which they spend a lot of free time relaxing; connecting with friends; sharing bits of their life; exploring new hobbies, destinations, and identities; and, yes, discovering new products to buy.
One study even found that 72% of respondents had purchased items based on the content they saw on Instagram.
In the examples we’re sharing here, you can see how each brand has reinvented the rules of engagement on Instagram.
Here’s what we think you can learn:
- Make production participatory with a contest (Nike)
- Help people care with eye candy (National Geographic)
- Share good news with slideshows (The New York Times)
- Be your customer’s best friend (Glossier)
- Start conversations with hashtags (MeUndies)
While big budgets and big talents have helped these brands, you can easily replicate these tactics and come up with tactics of your own without either.
Nike: Make production participatory
Instagram Stories contests are extremely engaging because they entice users to spend time on your site, submit some information, and visit your profile again later to check out the results.
When Nike recently launched an international competition to design the new Air Max shoes on Instagram Stories, they not only created a competitive atmosphere between city residents but invited loyal followers into the production process. The reward for participating in the contest is a product that viewers had a hand in creating.
By inviting followers into the production process via a contest, you can prove to users that your ads and organic content are not all about your brand. It shows you also care about the creativity of your users, their desires, and their self-expression.
How to make this work for you
Contests are easy to set up and run.
- If you have over 10K followers on your brand account, link to a signup form with the handy “Swipe up” function. If not, just post the link to the contest in your bio and let viewers know that it’s there.
- Another way to ensure your contest is a success is to announce it repeatedly. Post about the contest every day in your Stories and supplement it with a timeline post (which you can delete later).
- Don’t forget to highlight the potential rewards and the expiration date.
- Contests are games, and therefore someone always wins. The slim odds and possibility of missing out on a reward make contests more fun to play. Hype up your contest, get people excited and keep the clock counting down to maintain momentum all the way through.
National Geographic: Help people care with eye candy
National Geographic is known for championing environmental and humanitarian causes and brilliant photography.
The @NatGeo Instagram account manages to amplify this reputation with Stories that educate the viewer while also providing breathtaking visuals of unique locations and wildlife.
Stories pair factoids about particular species or places with photos that contain no shortage of “Wow” and “Aww” factors.
A big component of Nat Geo’s strategy is to not only give credit to but actually focus on, the photographers and videographers.
Tagging creators and giving them a platform to talk a bit about their craft is a way to give followers an insider perspective, drawing them in and making them feel part of a community.
This tactic also helps people who are interested in nature photography learn how to do it from experts. They can get a sense of what life is like when you are always on the go, chasing down the iconic shots that Nat Geo is known for.
How to make this work for you
Nat Geo’s Stories almost always include an emotional dimension to convey the urgency of conservation-related issues. By building relatable narratives around the subjects of your photos and videos, you can make your audience care about the things that matter most to you.
Here’s what to focus on if you want to replicate their formula:
- To be more emotionally engaging, think like a storyteller.
- Ask yourself if the content you’re posting stirs powerful feelings such as joy, nostalgia, grief, sympathy, or anger, and think about ways you can amplify those reactions (see next point).
- Use The Wheel of Copy, AdEspresso’s visual thesaurus, for copywriting power words and emotions that drive action.
The New York Times: Share the good news
Out of all the shareable news it produces, The New York Times curates positive content for its Instagram Stories audience.
By sharing some good news amidst all the bad in the world, the NYT uses Instagram as many of its followers do: as a place to escape and seek entertaining ways to relax.
The “Good News” tab on their profile page is a series of saved stories that all have one thing in common: happy endings. The design varies a little bit, but each story is presented in a slideshow format with easy-to-read captions.
It’s like a bullet-pointed shortcut to feeling good.
By focusing on the positive, the New York Times shows they’ve tuned in to what viewers want to see on Instagram.
The New York Times is able to take the fun format of Stories and make it their own, without sacrificing the ability to deliver well-researched, insightful, and informative news articles to their readers.
By creating these slideshows, they also prove they’re willing to experiment with form, breaking up blocks of text with different kinds of photos, graphics, and backgrounds.
How to make this work for you
Stories can be full of words – as long as you deploy them in a way that’s easy to read on a smartphone and they enhance the visual content. Like the New York Times, keep captions to one or two sentences and, when you want to write more, add another slide. This makes Stories fun to flip through and content easy to digest.
Glossier: Be your customer’s best friend
Glossier‘s cosmetics content is the perfect blend of authoritative and relatable for the Tumblr generation. In Glossier’s Instagram stories, the customer always comes first, even when they’re not shown in the frame.
Glossier uses Stories as a place to demo products, offer tips on how to wear each item, and feature real users wearing their products.
Glossier’s photography is not highly professional, and they don’t make use of fancy graphics or fonts, making their marketing tone more casual and intimate.
Their Instagram page looks and sounds more like a BFF than a company. Flipping through Glossier’s saved Stories is like looking at a scrapbook put together by a friend who’s sharing her own personal experiences.
Glossier also shares user-generated content in their Stories.
These little shoutouts go a long way toward making customers feel seen, heard, and celebrated. They genuinely cheer customers on when they’ve found products that work for them.
How to make this work for you
Glossier takes an extremely budget-friendly approach to engagement.
- To make your content feel like it’s coming directly from a friend, shoot photos and videos with your phone, use a consistent filter (or even better, go filter-free), and zoom in on the details that will actually help someone do something practical.
- Use shorthand and summary slides to get to the point quickly, and be honest about the pros and cons of each product. This will make your customer feel like you’re on the same team.
MeUndies: Start a conversation with a hashtag
Like Glossier, e-commerce underwear brand MeUndies uses UGC in their Instagram Stories to break down barriers between brand and customers.
To get their audience even more involved, they’ve created branded hashtags that are meant to uplift, inspire, and spark conversation around particular topics.
MeUndies’s Instagram Stories cover a variety of topics. They promote their customer referral program with a saved slideshow called “Free Undies,” share their favorite UGC in “Fam Faves,” and promote their hashtag campaign about empowerment in “#MePlusWe.”
To tie everything together, the company uses uniform brand icons as the images for the story highlights.
The #MePlusWe stories, in particular, show a commitment to empowering their audience and spreading a positive message to a wider community.
The campaign asked followers to tag a “Badass woman” and share a bit about her. This helped MeUndies engage not only their followers but their followers’ friends as well.
How to make this work for you
- Research or create a hashtag that’s relevant to your brand values. While #MePlusWe doesn’t directly relate to underwear, the hashtag fits the values of both company and audience, creating common ground to grow a conversation.
- Start the discussion by creating a few posts and Stories using the hashtag, and then ask users who post with the hashtag to tag you.
- Check the hashtag regularly, repost your favorite content, and respond to everyone who participates.
- Like MeUndies, compile the content into a Story highlight and tag everyone who is featured to share the love.
Above all, be accessible
Stories is a highly immersive, immediate format that’s fun to flip through and explore.
What sets top brands apart on Stories is a willingness to be accessible to their audience.
If you’re a small company with a couple thousand followers, you can increase your engagement by simply posting more and letting people get to know you. In fact, small businesses may have an advantage over big brands by giving the impression that they know every follower, see every tag and listen to every feedback.
Take advantage of the casual, disappearing nature of Stories to experiment with different ways to engage with people.
Last, but not least, take the time to tag, repost, and respond to people who post about you.
This will go a long way towards not only winning over individual customers but their friends and followers too.
Did you find some ideas that you are willing to apply for your next Instagram Stories ad? Do you use some of these techniques already? Let us know how they work for you! Shoot us a comment below!