Everything You Wanted To Know About Instagram Stories But Were Afraid To Ask

When Instagram Stories was launched on to the platform back in August 2016, it was a complete revelation.  The premise was that you could post a Story and it would remain on your Story feed (located at the top of your Instagram feed) for 24 hours, then disappear.  Prior to this, your feed was your face - the only part of you that users could see was what you posted.  Whatever your niche - interiors, fashion, dogs, hairbrushes - Instagram Stories extended your ability to add a little bit more to your public persona.  Initially just video and photo posts, it immediately took off, filling a gap and also playing to our obsession with fast fact, fast knowledge and more succinctly, lazy viewing.  Watching Stories play is like watching a running video - you don't have to interact (unless you want to) and it satisfies our quirst for, let's face, voyeurism.  Perfect.

 The unprofessional, calamitous situation that is Dee Campling and I's Live Instagram chat on a Monday night.

The unprofessional, calamitous situation that is Dee Campling and I's Live Instagram chat on a Monday night.

By November 2017, there were 300 million users of Instagram Stories - equivalent to WhatsApp, bigger than Snapchat and growing at a rate that no one could have anticipated.  Considering Snapchat was the original instigator of the Story function, they must have been pretty pissed off when Instagram Stories overtook them to the tune of over 150 million users.  To put this into perspective, Instagram has over 500 million daily users and more than half of these are also on Instagram Stories.  That's HUGE.  What it does confirm is that quick hit video is the direction in which social media is heading and it's heading there fast.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know I'm a little bit of a Story addict (possibly an understatement).  As an interiors feed, sometimes I find that I am actually boring myself with my posts - there's no doubt that having a feed niche on Instagram is a winner but I would be lying if I didn't admit that posting room shots all the time can become a little monotonous.  Instagram Stories add that extra layer.  Whereas previously I was restricted to captions to describe what I was doing in my home, Stories enabled me to not only talk about it, but also to elaborate on it and demonstrate.  

The whole reason why I started writing initially was because I was always being asked where I got things from, how I did it, where I found it.  For me, using Stories meant that I could demonstrate this on my feed as well as on my blog, which doubled, I suppose, my 'offering'.   I can talk about my Stories on my captions and I can talk about my posts on my Stories.  It's quite addictive.  And my weekly impressions have proved this - they've doubled in the last six months due to increased engagement.

Together with Dee Campling, I run regular Instagram courses talking about how to build your account and we've also started doing a weekly Instagram Live broadcast.   We are consistently asked about Stories, more specifically, 'is it essential to use Stories in order to grow your feed or your brand?'.   The main reason that people hold back from doing Stories is that they are worried about putting themselves out there.  Talking to their phone makes them feel silly - therefore, will viewers think that they look silly too?  It's a self publicising, confidence battling minefield.

With the popularity of Stories growing daily, the answer to, 'should I be using Stories?' is a no brainer, but HOW to use Stories is another regular question.  We'll move on to that one in a moment, but first of all, let's talk about WHY you should use Stories.


 Yes, I know how to grab your attention.  Nailing it daily.

Yes, I know how to grab your attention.  Nailing it daily.

It's Authentic, In Your Face And It's All You

There are people on Instagram that I've chatted to for months and I have absolutely no idea what they look like.  I've spoken to them about personal stuff and all sorts with no knowledge as to whether they are actually masquerading as a normal person when in real life they are Instagram's answer to Jack The Ripper.  

You can't hide on Stories.  Stories is real life, real faces, real homes.  In a world where, sadly but realistically, our escape is often social media, it's refreshing to see ACTUAL people talking about actual issues.  And the Direct Message function means that you can choose to comment, or not to comment.  Either is fine. 

You can't fake it either.  You are forced to be authentic.  Stories will chew you up and spit you out if you aren't and people will be swiping past faster than a bad Tinder profile.  This, of course, is what everyone worries about.  Who wants to see you?  Who wants to listen to you?  The answer is your followers.  If you have an organic account growth, they're following you for a reason and that reason is you and what you do.  They already like you. They want to know more about you.  They want to see the personality that you've put across in your captions translated into real life.  Be brave.  

It Will Grow Your Personal Engagement

 The swipe up function for feeds over 10k is a REVELATION. Instant gratification.

The swipe up function for feeds over 10k is a REVELATION. Instant gratification.

Whether you are a small brand who wants to increase business or a personal account who just wants to meet likeminded people, Stories is the way to go.  If you've got a creative business, there are loads of ways of using the function that will attract people to your feed.  Makers gonna make - show people what you are doing by using a Hyperlapse.  New stock in?  Show your followers what you've got on a Stop Motion and explain why you chose it.  

There's mixed message from industry about whether or not people want to know the faces behind the brand, but personally, I am far more likely to buy from a small business online if I am aware of the face behind the name. I'm regularly employed by brands to help promote their products.  Why?  Because I have an audience who KNOW me.  They know me and are therefore more likely to trust what I am promoting.  Because with an organically grown following and a social media track record, I would never promote anything that I wouldn't have in my own home.  It's basic.  

It's Getting Bigger All The Time

The growth of Stories is self explanatory.  We want the quick hits, the personal touch, the laughs.  The Instagram feeds that we follow are hugely inspirational but Stories have the personal touch that people crave.  It's that extra layer that it adds to the feed that makes it interesting.  

Instagram are adding updates to the function all the time - from stickers to swipe up, from polls to Boomerang videos, it's all going on.  And it's only going to get bigger.  My Story feed receives up to 12,000 hits a day - it's pushed my engagement up and taken my impressions to nearly a million and a half a week.  Instagram wants you to engage - it's ALL about the engagement - and Stories are a brilliant way of increasing the likelihood of this happening.


So How Does It Work?

Okay, so we all know it can be hard to get yourself in front of that camera, let alone talk to it as if it's a close personal friend.  Talking to your phone face on doesn't feel natural, sometimes it can make you feel like a bit of a knob gesturing and laughing at an iPhone 6S.  But fear not.  There are loads of ways of adding to your Stories that aren't just in your face talking.  Let's go through the Story functions one by one.

 If you're cocktail shaking, you need a Boomerang.

If you're cocktail shaking, you need a Boomerang.

Type

Only introduced this very week, Type means you can write on a coloured screen in different fonts.  Click on the top middle tab and it will give you different fonts.  Click the bottom left button and it will change the background colour.  Click the camera icon on the right and you can take a photograph to go behind your caption.  It's a great function for introducing a set of photographs or a video or just writing your current mood thoughts.  Anything, really.

live

Going Live isn't for everyone and certainly not for the faint hearted.  If you press that button, you're live on your feed and open to commentary from people watching.  Once you've gone live, Instagram contacts your followers to tell them you are online.  Once you've finished going live, you have the option to save to your Story feed so that people can watch it later.  One bonus to live feeds is that the saved feed is longer than the normal 15 seconds of allowed video - you can talk for as long as you like.  

You can also go live with another person - you can add them to your live broadcast once you're up and running, creating a split screen. Dee Campling and I do a (very unprofessional) Instagram Live broadcast every week talking/ranting about general account building.  Last week my family kept interrupting to find out what was for tea so make sure you're well prepared if you're intending to try this out.  Or have at least given instructions on how to work the microwave prior to the start.  

It's a brilliant function for small business - Sophie from Wallpaper Sales is a great example of how to use it to grow sales by talking live to customers on split screen whilst presenting new products.  Her following has grown to over 40k over the course of a year.

 Hyperlapse is perfect for action videos.  Record for nine minutes and condense x 12 into precisely 14 seconds.  

Hyperlapse is perfect for action videos.  Record for nine minutes and condense x 12 into precisely 14 seconds.  

normal

From this primary tab, you can take a photograph or use a photograph that you've taken previously.  Click the left hand icon and you will bring up your camera roll.  Click the double arrows and it will turn the camera around to face you.  Click the smiley face and it will bring up a whole load of face filters.  I can absolutely recommend the mini star filter (the one in between the rainbow and the bear face).  It removes all blemishes and makes you look like Christy Turlington.  Perfect.  Be warned, once you've started using it, it's hard to give it up.  Ha.  

Once you've taken your photo or added from your camera roll, another menu will appear at the top of your screen.  Top left is the text box - Aa.  Click this and you can add text to your story (you can change the colour and font by using the buttons that will appear).  You can align it left, right or central by clicking the top left stacked lines icon.  The pen icon means you can hand write or draw, again using colours that will appear on the bottom of the screen.  

The square smiley face brings up stickers.  A recent introduction is the POLL sticker which enables you to get your followers to vote on a subject, any subject that you choose.  Use wisely.  I once asked whether or not I was a shit dog owner and the response wasn't positive.  If you want to delete a sticker that you've put on in error or decided against, drag it down and a trash can will appear at the bottom.  Drop it in and it's sayonara.

The link button will only appear if you have over ten thousand followers.  If you do, it's an absolute bloody revelation.  You can link to any external site so it's a total winner if you are an influencer or a small brand wanting to link to product.  Click the link button and a URL box will appear.  Cut and paste your link and you're done.  You won't be able to see it, but your followers will be able to see a swipe up arrow.  I usually put SWIPE UP just to make it extra clear.  

 Don't tell me that you don't want to see a video of a man from B&Q making my shelves because I won't believe you.

Don't tell me that you don't want to see a video of a man from B&Q making my shelves because I won't believe you.

You can also link to other accounts by putting their Instagram tag into your photos, eg @_lisa_dawson_ will connect straight to my feed.  Or hashtags.  Using hashtags in your Story posts will create a Story feed to that hashtag.  For example, if you #hello, your Story post will appear at the top of the hashtag feed for #hello together with all other Stories which have been hash tagged the same.  All of these links help to gain engagement and promote your chances of appearing in the Story Explore panel.

Oh, and you can also SAVE your Story before you post it by clicking the bottom left hand down arrow and then clicking the left hand corner X.  This will save it in your camera roll for later use.  Particularly useful if you are creating a series of Stories to post all together - for example, if you wanted to do an announcement with several sets of wording one after another.

Boomerang, Super Zoom & Rewind

These are all video effects and are self explanatory.  With all three, you can add commentary, stickers, whatever, afterwards in the same way that you can in normal mode.  Good for cocktail making videos, jumping jacks and zoom in's of the dog.  

Hands Free

This gives you 15 seconds of video.  I'm an absolute shocker for making sure my video speech fits in precisely so I've got to admit, I often record three or four times before I get it right.  The video button will time it for you - if, once you've finished, you are unhappy with what you've recorded, just hit the top left hand cross and start again.  Again, you can add in stickers, text, whatever you like after you've finished filming.  

Stop Motion

Basically, this takes a selection of shots that you take and creates what is essentially a Flipagram.  Again, you can add in the fun bits afterwards.  Oh, and I forgot to say that in ALL modes you can filter your shots.  Just swipe to the left or right and it will bring up a selection.  I'm very partial to Cairo.


So that's how it works.  How you use it is entirely up to you, but as a Story addict, there are a few Do's and Don't's that I'd suggest in order to get the most out of what you are posting.

DO's

DO post regularly.  As with your feed, Instagram rewards consistent users so if you are posting regularly, then there's more chance you will appear in the Explore feed. Unlike your main feed, it doesn't matter what time of day you add Stories as they only last 24 hours and therefore, as one drops off, another goes to the front of the queue.  I've never allowed my Story to drop since August 2016.  I don't know what that says about me but it DOES mean that I've got consistent engagement. Go figure.

 Typorama.  One of many apps that can help you pimp your Stories.

Typorama.  One of many apps that can help you pimp your Stories.

DO use non associated Instagram apps to pimp your posts.  Only use the ones that you don't need to input your Instagram name on registration - those ones will link to your account and Instagram doesn't like that.  Try Hyperlapse (creates fast videos so you can drop nine minutes of footage into a 15 second Story - brilliant for brands and makers who want to show how something is created), Flipagram (makes a mini video of your fave pics) and Enlight Photofox (adds cool photo filters). 

There's apps that can make your text pop - try Typorama and Word Swag.  If you're looking for apps to sharpen the colour and tones on your photos try the following - A Colour Story, A Design Kit and Snapseed.   Kira Kira takes anything that shines in your photos and makes it super sparkly (I have no idea why but it's fab).  LOVE IT. 

DO check your stats if you have a business account.  If you click the bottom left hand dot line when your Stories are playing you will see how many people have seen your Story post.  If you click the Insight lines on the far left of this page, it will show you how many impressions and viewers you've had, plus how many people have swiped up if you've used a link, tagged another feed or included a hashtag.  Plus, most importantly, how many people have swiped away from your Story which gives you a good idea of how engaging you are.  Harsh but true. It's invaluable information.

DO be authentic.  Be you. If you have an organic following, they are following you because they like you.  You don't have to pretend to be anything that you are not.  You don't have to put on full make up, have a blow dry or leave your lounge wear (the work-from-home outfit of the future) at the door.  Just be you and be real. Whatever your worries are about putting yourself out there, people like authenticity.  And if you are really stressing about it, hey, there's always filters to fall back on (see above for the best choice). Winning.

DO use the new Highlights function.  You can collate connected stories into a mini Highlight, even after they've expired, and post them on your home feed indefinitely.  You can add these by clicking the first circle with a plus sign in it.  

 Keep it light.  Everyone likes a joke. 

Keep it light.  Everyone likes a joke. 

DON'T'S

DON'T do lots of videos of you talking to camera without breaking it up with text.  If you are going to do this, using captions on your videos will keep people interested.  I know for a fact that as soon as I see a Story which is simply a face for 15 segments, I'm far more likely to swipe away.  Try not to do more than about three or four segments in one go or you will lose your audience.  

DON'T moan.  I've learned my lesson on this one.  People are not watching me to hear my problems.  They've got their own problems.  They want to be entertained and they want easy watching and ideas.  Complaining about my kids or lack of sleep?  There'll be someone watching who isn't able to have children who would cut off their left arm to be in my lucky position.  Having a bad day?  The same applies.  I'm healthy and I'm here so I count my blessings.  Sorry.  There is ALWAYS someone who is worse off than you.   Post a motivational quote instead.

DON'T get political.  Again, I've learned my lesson on this one.  I can't tell you the amount of times I've posted a politically critical Story and then deleted it within the hour.  And this isn't because I don't believe in freedom of speech - I'm happy to tell anyone I meet my views on any subject under the sun.  However, despite the fact that I may think Nigel Farage is a twat, there WILL be people following me who don't and they WILL message me to tell me why he's not.  It will always end in me having to defend myself in countless messages, taking up huge amounts of time and causing stress.  So I try and keep it light. The alternative route will only culminate in negativity and who needs that?  Not me.  


Instagram is hard work at the moment - the algorithm is massively unpredictable and is changing all the time.  You post your well thought out, carefully curated content which starts off well with loads of engagement and then bombs within the hour.  The next day it's either back again with renewed vigour or has died a death.  It's beyond comprehension and can be extremely disheartening.  Instagram Stories is a consistent sideline and gives plenty of additional opportunity to get your feed and account out there.  

If you have concerns about people seeing your feed content, then why not post a quick photo or a video on your Stories directing them to your page and alerting them to an update?  If you're a blogger, use Stories to swipe up to your website or direct to your profile page with your bio link to read what you are writing.  It's an open forum and it's brilliant way of keeping the impetus going when it feels like the algorithm is no longer your best friend.  

So that's about it - everything a complete Story addict knows about her favourite subject.  Suffice to say, if you're not using Stories, you need to get on the bandwagon.  Right now.  And I promise you, it's worth the ride.