Laura Petrolino

The Communicator’s Guide to Instagram Stories for Business

By: Laura Petrolino | March 5, 2018 | 

The Communicator's Guide to Instagram Stories for BusinessIf you follow my personal accounts you know I LOVE INSTAGRAM STORIES.

As Gini Dietrich said on our Fireside Chat a couple of weeks ago, it’s my guilty pleasure.

And with more than 250,000 users daily, I’m not alone.

When I first started using Instagram Stories it wasn’t for any strategic reason other than the fact I love to be on video and find myself hilarious.


But the more I learned, played, and watched Instagram roll out feature after feature specifically for stories, the more I realized it was an extremely valuable way to build an engaged community.

So if you’ve brushed Instagram Stories aside as just a trendy way for people like me to pretend other people find them funny, think again.

Today we are going to talk specifically about why and how to use Instagram Stories for business and as an important part of your brand’s communications plan.

Why You Should Use Instagram Stories

If your brand is on Instagram and not using Instagram Stories for business you are missing out on at least 75 percent of the value and opportunity the platform provides.

And if you aren’t yet on Instagram because you’ve categorized it as a platform that’s not right for your brand, you might want to think again.

It might not be right for you, but make sure you know based on facts, not stereotype and perception.

Gini has a great guide on how to use Instagram for business to get you started.

Instagram Stories is a top priority for Instagram.

There are a variety of ways we can conclude this.

One of the best being this is the part of Instagram where virtually ALL of the updates have been focused around in the last year.  

And as we know with any Facebook property, they think long-term. So development efforts are going to push current user actions and motivations to support their long-term goals.

Additionally, Instagram has shown us this priority focus on Instagram Stories by how significantly it affects the Instagram algorithm.

How the Instagram Algorithm Works (101 Version)

There are several ways the effective use of Instagram Stories for business beneficially influences the priority Instagram places on both your stories and posts in your feed.

The first thing you need to understand is the basics of the Instagram algorithm.

While Instagram doesn’t release exact details of how it works, we can get a good idea through how Facebook works.

So here is a SUPER quick, 101 overview.

For a more comprehensive post, I’d check out this one from Buffer (I’ve also hyperlinked to a few others which are useful).

The Instagram algorithm rewards these six main components of your Instagram strategy:

  1. Authentic engagement of users with your posts: authentic is the keyword here. Instagram is making a big effort to crack down on bot comments. So anything you can do to encourage your users to respond in unique and authentic ways is very favorable.
  2. The interaction between you and users on your posts: respond to comments, yo.
  3. Timing: how quickly people engage with your content
  4. Specificity: on post focus, hashtags, users who engage, and anything which allows Instagram to say “this is a fitness account, so I’m going to show this content to people who have indicated interest in fitness.” (Or whatever the focus and target of your account is.)
  5. Using a variety of Instagram features. Stay on top of updates and new features and USE them.
  6. Time on the post: how long people stay on your post.

This last one is an extremely important one when it comes to how you view Instagram as a platform.

It shows that Instagram is no longer a platform to just post photos of your booty—although many people still use that strategy effectively.

Quality captions matter.

Additionally, the one feature Instagram did add to the regular feed recently was the multiple photo slider option. Which by nature gets people to stay on your post longer.

Again, development leads goals for Instagram (and any social network), pay attention to it.

On a final note: please, please, please stop talking about how we can “beat” the Instagram algorithm!

We can’t beat it, we need to learn how to best use the platform as Instagram feels supports its goals. You don’t own Instagram. You rent space and opportunity

(We had an awesome discussion about this in the Spin Sucks community. Add your thoughts HERE).

Instagram Stories for Business and the Algorithm

Instagram Stories affect every single one of those six components.

Let’s look at how to use Instagram Stories to optimize your Instagram strategy.

Engagement and Interaction with Instagram Stories 

Engagement with and conversation around your stories is important for your how the algorithm places you in feeds.

This also includes conversation and replies when your stories are sent to someone and screenshots taken of your stories!

This means the more a user interacts with your Instagram Stories, the higher the chance they’ll consistently start to see your other posts in their feed.

So let’s do some basic math here.

The more a user engages with your Instagram as a whole (feed and stories), the more often you’ll end up in their feed.

Say your competitors know how to use Instagram Stories for business, in addition to their Instagram feed. Your prospect engages with one of their Stories and one of their feed posts.

  • Two points for your competitor (it’s not that simple, but work with me here).

You only post on your Instagram feed. Your prospect engages with one of your posts in your feed.

  • One point for you.

Guess whose posts your prospect is going to see more often?

Bingo. Not you.

What remains is the fact when you choose to not use Instagram Stories for business you also choose to decrease the engagement touchpoints your prospect has with you, and in turn the likelihood they’ll see your posts.

How to Use Instagram Stories for Engagement

In order to maximize the engagement ability of Instagram Stories you need to….well tell a story.

A story your prospect wants to be part of. Give them reasons to engage or share your post with someone.

  • Ask questions or ask people to DM
  • Give an engagement task in exchange for something (sample, eBook, lead magnet)
  • Use the polling feature. Instagram didn’t just put it there for their health.
  • Start REAL conversations. Encourage people to message you, have real discussions, be (gasp) social and care.
  • Give them something they might want to screenshot, keep, or share.

For that last one here are some examples:

  • Recipes
  • Templates
  • Checklists
  • Things they can use to share on their own Stories to tell their community about themselves. MadLibs style (or as we say around here, MadLips).  
  • Anything you might provide as a lead magnet on your blog, in an InstaVersion. (Can we call that an InstaMagnet? I’m going to and you can’t stop me.)

One of the most genius examples of this comes from artist Martina Martian.

Each month she creates a monthly GIF challenge template, which people can screenshot and share on their on Instagram Stories accounts.

Not only does this get her crazy levels of engagement, but it connects her and her art to people far and wide.

She can test things, see what people want and like, and then create products in response.

She also now has her Instagram Stories and feed post at the top of everyone’s feed and Stories roll.

So she can promote and sell products as part of her content mix (and people will see it).

How to Use Instagram Stories to Improve Timing

Lately, you may have people post on their Instagram Stories a screenshot of their main Instagram profile page with the latest post blacked out and then some sort of teaser to go see it.

I hate that.

It’s really annoying and clickbaity. But, they do it for a good reason.

They are using Instagram Stories as a way to distribute their feed posts. Just as you might use social media to distribute your blog posts.

This helps get as many people to your new post as quickly as possible. Remember, the algorithm rewards quick responses to posts.

It also brings an engaged audience, curious as to what you posted, which will help them stay on the post longer and probably read the caption. Also supportive of the algorithm.

But this is just a super annoying way to do it.

A better way is to continue the conversation across the two places.

Use stories to extend what you say in your post.

Use the post and a foundation for something you talk about in your stories.

Make them work together.

Encourage people to visit both to fully be part of the conversation, lesson, or resources.

It’s not difficult to do this IF…..

…..wait for it.

You tell a story.

Hence the name: Instagram STORIES. Crazy, right?

(Rob Biesenbach had a great post last week that takes you through the storytelling process. So if you need some inspiration on that front, check it out!) 

How to Use Instagram Stories for Business: Experiment

In the end, the best way to excel at Instagram Stories for business use is to experiment.

Use the basic understanding of why and how we’ve outlined above and test things out.

Have fun with it, connect with your audience, and monitor what works and what doesn’t.

Even if you decide it’s not the right choice for you, you will learn a lot, which you can apply across all other aspects of your communications strategy.

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.