It’s no secret that Instagram Stories are a big deal.

With over 500+ million Stories published daily, they’re among the platform’s most popular features.

That’s because the tap-friendly, timely nature of Stories makes them so addictive to your followers.

And for brands, they’re a low-hanging opportunity to publish engaging content that gives you total creative freedom.

But if you’re struggling to make sense of Stories, we get it.

That’s why we put together this guide breaking down how to use Instagram Stories, including best practices and examples to help you engage your followers ASAP.

What are Instagram Stories, anyway?

First things first: let’s break down how Stories work.

Instagram Stories are a feed of photos (or videos) that disappear from your profile after 24 hours. Your Stories content is separate from your traditional feed.

Stories act as a sort of slideshow, with each photo or video uploaded to your feed representing a new slide. Photos present themselves for seven seconds by default, while videos can be up to fifteen seconds long.

Instagram Stories highlight

Whenever you publish a new Story, a purple and orange ring appears around your profile picture. This signals to your followers that you have fresh content to check out.

And although Stories do “self-destruct” after a day, you can save your best slideshows as Stories Highlights which appear on your profile right above your regular feed.

Twitch Instagram Stories

Users can reply to your Stories via DMs or through interactive elements such as polls and stickers. Meanwhile, creative touches such as unique captions, overlays and custom music make Stories totally different from traditional posts.

Think of Stories as a sort of secondary, exclusive feed of content for your most dedicated followers.

Why use Instagram Stories (and what makes them so special)?

The benefits of integrating Stories into your content strategy are well-documented, particularly for businesses.

In fact, recent Instagram stats note that one-third of the most-viewed Stories come from brands.

Here are some key reasons why Stories should be a top priority for growing a company account.

IG Stories put you front-and-center in followers’ feeds

This is the big one. Wherever you post a new Story to Instagram, you automatically “skip the line” in your followers’ feeds.

That’s because the Stories feed is always right there and above the fold on the Instagram home screen.

And so if you’re consistently publishing Stories, you’re always on your customers’ minds.

showing stories content at top of feed

Given the ever-changing Instagram algorithm, the Stories feed is prime real estate for getting more eyes on your content without having to worry about reach.

Stories are perfect for humanizing your brand

Keep in mind that most Instagram Stories are off-the-cuff and informal, even from brands.

This represents a stark contrast from the more “optimized” or salesy content you might see on your main feed.

Snap a selfie of your team? Want to share a quick personal anecdote?

Go for it. Stories are the ideal place to talk to your customers like people for the sake of showing off your brand’s voice and personality.

Insta Stories offer endless opportunities to engage

The features baked into Stories are ideal for brands that want to go back-and-forth with followers while having a bit of fun.

Polls and quizzes. Custom stickers and music. #hashtags and @mentions. The list goes on and on.

Instagram polls and stickers

With a bit of creativity, Stories empower you to engage followers and get them talking in just a couple of taps.

How to use Instagram Stories as a brand or business

Simply put, Stories should be integral to your Instagram marketing strategy.

But coming up with content can be daunting for first-timers.

Don’t sweat it. Below we’ve highlighted plenty of post formats and Instagram Stories ideas that you can adapt no matter what you’re selling.

Educate your audience with how-to’s and tutorials

Stories’ sequential format makes them perfect for step-by-step, how-to-style content. From recipes to beauty tutorials and beyond, bite-sized educational content is an engaging alternative to traditional video or blog post, as seen in Equinox‘s Stories highlight:

how to instagram stories example

Go back-and-forth with polls, quizzes and questions

Picking your followers’ brains with playful questions, Stories are a great place to carry on conversations with your customers.

Features such as polls and quizzes make doing so seamless and fun. This quiz for Benefit Cosmetics is the perfect example of how to use Instagram Stories’ features to engage your followers.

interactive instagram stories

Make announcements and break your own news

Some brands use Stories as a space to make announcements. This is a smart move for the sake of keeping your followers in the loop about what your business is up to.

For example, Freddy’s has a dedicated Stories highlight that hypes up their latest locations as soon as they open up.

freddy's instagram stories announcement

Highlight the latest posts in your main feed

This is an example of how to use Stories to bypass the Instagram algorithm.

Let’s say you have an awesome new post in your main feed. Hyping it up via Stories is totally fair game to maximize your reach.

Instagram Stories new post

Depending on how often you post to Instagram, don’t be too aggressive about announcing your posts. Try to reserve doing so for your most important announcements and offers.

Verified accounts or business accounts with over 10,000 followers can also use swipe up links in Stories, making it easier to announce and link out to content beyond the single link in bio.

Post teasers of upcoming content or products

If nothing else, Stories encourage you to tease what you have coming down the pipeline.

Maybe you’re excited about a new collaboration. Perhaps you’re about to drop a new product.

The creative features of stories (think: stickers, countdowns) are awesome for creating a sense of anticipation regardless.

Promote time-sensitive offers and deals

Just as you’d promote an offer via Instagram, you can do the same via Stories. Perfect for ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores alike, Stories can be used for limited-time deals or simply to highlight a current sale.

example of promotional deal annmouncement on instagram story

Share user-generated content and customer photos

Many brands share Stories dedicated to their followers’ user-generated content such as tagged customer photos.

Using Stories to do so allows you to either create a dedicated customer slideshow without having to worry about clogging up your main feed with UGC.

sprout user generated content

Plus, reposting content into Stories is even easier than traditional methods of regramming–check out our guide to learn more.

Take your followers behind-the-scenes

Part of the beauty of Instagram Stories is that they don’t have to be big, polished productions.

In fact, many brands create Stories that are on the fly and unfiltered.

From event photos to “day in the life” content that highlights your typical routine, brainstorm how you can use Stories to take your followers along for the ride.

3 Instagram Stories best practices that brands should follow

While Instagram Stories don’t require a ton of optimization per se, you shouldn’t just start blasting them at random.

To wrap things up, let’s look at three key best practices of Instagram Stories as you integrate them into your content strategy.

1. Figure out your publishing frequency

A key upside of Stories is that you can publish them frequently without worrying about spamming your followers.

Recent data from Rival IQ uncovered a correlation between Stories published and audience engagement, with top brands posting over fifteen Stories per month.

That said, there’s no denying investment of time and resources that goes into publishing anything on a daily or near-daily basis. Consider Stories as a supplement to your regular posts without sacrificing the quality of either.

2. Take full advantage of creative features, tools and formats

Beyond what we’ve discussed already, Instagram is consistently rolling out new features and functions to Stories.

For the sake of finding fresh opportunities to engage customers and keep up with trends, we recommend keeping a close eye on such updates.

The recent updates that Instagram has implemented to compete with TikTok are a good example. For example, you can upload trending music to your Stories and cross-post your Reels.

Instagram Stories music

As a side note, Instagram is actively discouraging the cross-posting of TikTok content by identifying Reels and posts that contain the TikTok watermark.

3. Keep a close eye on your Instagram Stories engagement

Watching your social analytics is a no-brainer, but Stories are often treated as an afterthought when it comes to tracking data.

That’s because Stories are so simple, right? What’s there to glean from a few seconds of content?

However, consider how tracking Instagram Stories analytics can clue you in on insights such as:

  • Which types of Stories receive the most views, replies and engagement
  • How often you should publish Stories based on firsthand data
  • How engaged your total audience is versus your Stories viewers

The good news is that Sprout Social can highlight all of the above in a simple, easy-to-read dashboard. By understanding these data points and more, you can refine your content strategy and publish Stories in a way that really resonates with your audience.

Sprout Instagram Stories analytics

But of course, you can’t understand what’s working and what isn’t until you start publishing Stories on the regular.

And with that, we wrap up our guide!

Are you making the most of your Instagram Stories?

There’s no doubt about it: Stories should be central to your Instagram strategy.

Given so much creative freedom, publishing your initial Stories might require a bit of trial and error.

But by sticking to the formats and best practices above, you can get started with Stories with a sense of confidence.

And if you haven’t already, check out our new guide to Instagram for brands to ensure that you’re making an impact with your target audience on the ‘gram.