Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has regularly revealed new features and cutting-edge functionalities to keep users engaged on the visual platform. Seven years and 700 million users later, the challenge for brands lies in understanding and utilizing these nascent features in ways that drive results. This is certainly the case with Instagram Stories, which launched in August 2016 as a competitor to Snapchat’s Stories. “...Instagram’s reputation as the home for your glamour shots has raised the psychological bar for posting a photo there. It’s not unusual for some users to post no more than once a week, or even once a month,” wrote The Verge’s Casey Newton when Instagram Stories debuted. “Meanwhile, Snapchat developed a product that allows users to share frequent, candid snapshots of their days without worrying that they’re spamming friends, or leaving behind a public archive of photos that could come back to haunt them later.” In less than one year, however, Instagram has eclipsed Snapchat’s success with a full one-third more regular Stories users. As of the summer of 2017, Instagram boasts that 250 million people are using Instagram Stories. But how can brands produce engaging pieces of ephemeral content?
KEEP IT SHORT
Whether creating content in advance for posting at a later date or developing a story in real time, it’s important to establish a plan for the content flow, timing, and actionability. Because of the multitude of social platform limitations on character counts, image sizing, and more, marketers jumped at the opportunity to add as much as possible to their brands’ Instagram Stories. For many brands, however, less is often more in many ways. Shorter Stories generally yield higher completion rates – a key metric to help determine the value of brand content, relevance to the audience, and message exposure and penetration.
Even within individual Story components, brevity makes a big impact. Each video component in a Story can be up to 15 seconds in length, but for many users that’s a very long time to watch a single Story component. Just because videos can be that long, it does not mean that they must or should be that long. Longer videos often lead to higher drop-offs between components, leaving brand Stories told incompletely. Keep videos only as long as they must be to deliver the brand message – especially if additional components will be added to the Story.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Beyond this, it’s easy for marketers to fall into the trap of tacking on additional content to the existing Story or changing the plan on the fly. However, in these social stories, regardless of platform, timing is everything. Because Instagram Stories can be posted in real time, it’s important for marketers to bear in mind that they’ll also be viewed in real time – and if Story components are added piecemeal, brands miss out on the opportunity to connect and tell the full brand story. Timing the posting of Story components carefully helps to ensure higher completion rates and cohesiveness of the brand story.
LESS IS MORE
The text tool allows marketers to overlay text and/or emojis on the image, Boomerang, or video being added to the brand story. It’s important for marketers to remember, however, that each image will be shown only for about five seconds in a Story, so components that are overly text-heavy may not make as much of an impact. Research indicates that the average adult reads about 300 words per minute. With this knowledge, marketers might come to the conclusion that no Instagram Story component should include more than 25 words. However, research conducted by Facebook and The Marketing Science and Creative Shop teams revealed that users spend an average of 1.7 seconds on any piece of mobile content. Therefore, ideally, Instagram Story components should contain no more than eight to nine words.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE TAP
Regardless of whether static photos, videos, Boomerangs, or some mix of the three will be used to create Stories, utilizing Instagram’s tap forward and tap backward functionality can tap into customers’ natural use of the platform and offer a creative way to tell brand stories. As creative and social strategists plan, create, and assemble Story components, they should look for opportunities to take advantage of the tap functionality, such as tapping to add or remove items in a compilation, showing step-by- step instructions, showing off a collection of products, or even demonstrating powerful before and after images in a Story.
LINK TO DRIVE ACTION
Perhaps the most intriguing functionality is the ability to add swipe-to-view links to Story components. This feature is currently being tested by brands with verified profiles, but expanded to business profiles with more than 10,000 followers in May 2017, according to Social Media Examiner. These links can lead followers to additional content and help brands evaluate the impact their Stories and editorial content are making in terms of customer engagement. In February 2017, Facebook commissioned a Kantar Millward Brown study of monthly Instagram users and magazine subscribers to better understand how consumers are using traditional and social platforms to get informed and inspired. In this study, Facebook “...found that 65% of people who use Instagram on a monthly basis and subscribe to magazines (dual users), choose Instagram over magazines when looking for inspiration. When it comes to looking for detailed information, 57% choose magazines over Instagram.” The difference Instagram’s Stories – especially now with its swipe-to-view links – can make is in bridging the gap between inspiration and trusted expertise that ultimately leads to greater actionability.
One challenge in evaluating this actionability, however, is the fact that Instagram does not allow businesses to track the number of users who swipe up to view the links. This can be especially problematic because platforms like Google Analytics do not have the ability to label traffic coming from Instagram Stories. To combat this issue, marketers can create trackable links – using bit.ly or Google’s link builder, for example – to track traffic and determine how many times users swiped up for more information after viewing a Story. By labeling the source, medium, and campaign identification information in a trackable link, marketers will better understand the content that has made the greatest impact on site traffic, as well as user behaviors that are driving content consumption.
WHAT ARE YOUR BEST PRACTICES?
Next month, the Philadelphia HubSpot User Group will host roundtable discussions on the technologies that impact our work as marketers. Join us, ask your questions about how to make social media work for your business, and share your own best practices with us on September 19, 6-8pm at MakeOffices.
This post originally appeared on the Philadelphia HubSpot Users Group blog.