Compared to larger organizations and brands, small businesses are often working with a smaller marketing budget to generate leads or attract new customers.
When it comes to social media marketing for small businesses, dedicating more time and resources to fewer channels can be one of the best options to maximize impact.
But then the question becomes: which channels will work best for you?
Recent trends indicate that one of the best social media strategies for driving audience engagement is Instagram Stories.
Even though Instagram Stories only launched in 2016, they are currently used by more than 400 million people every day -- more than the entire U.S. population.
Instagram Stories are compilations of videos and images that an Instagram user posts to their account.
Similar to Snapchat, each Instagram Story stays visible for 24 hours before it disappears.
Stories can be used on personal accounts or business accounts and work similarly for both types of profiles. If you follow an individual or a business account on Instagram, their Story will show up on your feed. You can also view someone’s Instagram Story by clicking on their profile.
It might seem like you need to have a huge brand or millions of followers to make Instagram Stories worth your while, but that’s not the case. In fact, most of Instagram’s 25 million business accounts are small businesses, and according to Instagram, half of all business accounts create at least one Story per month.
Businesses are increasingly using Stories to promote their brands to engage with the massive amount of people viewing Stories on a daily basis. More than 80% of all Instagram users follow at least one business account and an estimated 20% of Instagram Stories posted by a business result in a direct message. In addition, businesses that cater to the Millennial and Gen Z crowd are missing significant opportunities if they do not have a presence on Instagram or make use of Instagram Stories.
Small businesses can expand their reach and engage new audiences using Instagram Stories with creative content like video, fun effects available via the stories tool, hashtags, story highlights, and more. Here are a few of the best practices for small businesses looking to start using Instagram Stories to refine their social media strategy on the platform.
When you add a geotag to your Instagram Story, you will target your audience to Instagram users in a specific location.
Locations can be as broad as a city, or as niche as a neighborhood, street, or building. This method works well for location-specific small businesses, like a brick-and-mortar retailer, a restaurant, or a fitness studio.
Best of all, Instagram posts that include geotagging result in 79% higher engagement than those without a geotag. Geotagged posts will also be included in that area’s Instagram Story ring, expanding reach beyond your followers.
Instagram enables businesses to be part of larger conversations and trends, as well as share relevant information about their offerings. Links and hashtags are one of the best ways to accomplish this goal. Including a link in your Instagram Story typically yields a 15-25% view to click rate. Similarly, using a hashtag leads to a 12.6% increase in engagement.
Interact with your followers and influencers by tagging other people in your Instagram Story.
If your Instagram Story is a compilation of reviews or video testimonials from customers, tag them in the frame. If your Story is a behind-the-scenes tour given by an employee or a regular client, tag them, too.
When you tag other users, your Story will show up in their feed too, thereby expanding your reach.
Recent research indicates that Instagram Stories that are no more than ten frames tend to perform best, but users are willing to watch more if they feel like the content is relevant to them and they are invested.
Regardless of the length, you should have a strong hook at the beginning of your Instagram Story to encourage viewers to keep watching.
Use trial and error to see what gains the most views and finishes.
As with most social media platforms now, less is more when it comes to text.
Instagram is all about the visuals, and Stories should be an immersive experience for viewers.
When incorporating text, use different fonts and colors.
You can also add filters, stickers, emojis, GIFs, and more.
With these effects, you can even gamify the experience, especially when it comes to your call-to-action (for example, moving arrows and a blinking button can drive to your link).
While Instagram Stories disappear within 24 hours, Instagram Highlights remain on your profile indefinitely.
Instagram Highlights are located in those circles under your bio and serve as evergreen Instagram Stories that you can categorize by topic.
You might choose to have Instagram Highlights in categories such as deals & promotions, customer reviews and testimonials, a behind-the-scenes tour, FAQs, and more.
If you own a restaurant, you may wish to have Instagram Highlights for your breakfast menu, dinner menu, and desserts.
Or if you own a clothing store, you may prefer to have Highlights for different types of seasonal wear.
Or if you own a fitness or yoga studio, you may choose to have Highlights that focus on various health, wellness, and lifestyle topics.
You get the picture.
You can even use Highlights to emphasize your brand and differentiate your images from those of your competitors by creating a branded cover image for each category. This helps to bring a consistent look and feel to your profile and deepen the story you are telling to your audience:
Stories should be an interactive experience rather than just a passive one.
With polls, you can ask a question related to your product or service or a question to gauge audience interest. For example, if you run an ice cream store and want to do some audience research on which new flavor to sell, set up an Instagram poll asking if users would want to try “toffee crunch,” “raspberry truffle,” or “salted caramel.”
This helps existing, and potential customers feel as if they have a say in your business and feel more personally invested.
Some research shows that the best times to post on Instagram are Wednesday at 3 p.m., Thursday at 5 a.m., 11 a.m., and 3 to 4 p.m., and Friday at 5 a.m.
However, even within these times, there is a lot of variation depending on industry, user demographics, time zones, and more. If you want a more precise way that works for your business, use Instagram’s Analytics tool to measure engagement and see which days and times are most effective for you.
You can also take out the guesswork by using an app with a "Best Time to Post" feature, such as Later.
When using Instagram Stories, ideally you want your followers to take some sort of action. This is where a strong CTA comes into play.
Some options include using a text box for “link in bio,” where you can drive directly to your website. If you have multiple links that could be relevant to your business, such as different event promotions, you can add a single link in your bio to a service like Linktree which will host multiple links for you.
In addition, if you have over 10,000 followers or you are a verified user, you can use the “swipe up” link in your Instagram Story.
Share a post about a new product, event, or promotion, and then include the CTA “swipe up for details” or “see more” to drive the user to your site. Furthermore, Instagram recently released a shoppable stickers feature, which doesn’t require at least 10,000 followers and offers similar functionality to drive users to a website or e-commerce store for viewing and purchasing a product.
While you can do a lot within Instagram Stories, sometimes you might need an extra boost to reach a new audience. Instagram offers the opportunity to sponsor your Instagram Story through its paid advertising platform.
You can use many of the same tips listed above in your sponsored Instagram Story, but incorporate more precise targeting to reach the audience most relevant to you.
Experimenting with a new social media feature or refining your existing strategy requires information about how well you are performing.
What kind of content is getting the most eyeballs?
Do shorter stories or longer stories work better for your audience?
How many swipes, clicks, and DMs are you getting as a result?
Instagram Analytics breaks it all down for you with a dashboard that measures engagement, views, and moreover a specified time frame.
You can also use a metrics platform like Falcon or Buffer to track all social media analytics, including Instagram, in one place.
As with all marketing strategies, the keys are to listen to your audience, make a plan in advance, and measure effectiveness to refine your strategy over time.
And, of course, it always helps to have some fun along the way. Happy posting!
Set Your Social Media Strategy up for Success by Establishing Goals and KPIs