How to Use Instagram Stories: The Complete Guide for Business

By Kendall Walters


Image via PublicDomainArchive under CC0 1.0

Snapchat may have pioneered disappearing content, but Instagram clearly doesn’t plan on missing out on one of social media’s hottest trends.

Launched August 2, 2016, Stories is Instagram’s answer to Snapchat. Since it debuted, Instagram has added a host of new features to beef up their offering.

And businesses have taken notice.

Table of contents

What is Instagram Stories?

Why should you use Instagram Stories for business?

How to use Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories features (and how to use them)

Instagram Stories best practices

How to use Instagram Stories for marketing

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps an adventure photographer used to grow from 0 to 110,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.

What is Instagram Stories?

Instagram Stories is the photo and video sharing app’s disappearing content offering, which allows users to share photos and videos in slideshow format.

Separate from users’ carefully curated profiles, it’s intended as a space for more raw, real-time sharing. Stories go beyond the usual filter options—though those are there too—offering text, drawing, stickers, and other features for creativity.

In the launch post for Stories, Instagram explained: “Instagram has always been a place to share the moments you want to remember. Now you can share your highlights and everything in between, too.”

With content that disappears after 24 hours and doesn’t appear on a permanent profile, Instagram Stories is the platform’s answer to Snapchat.

When asked about the similarity between the two, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told TechCrunch, “They deserve all the credit.”

He elaborated: “When you are an innovator, that’s awesome. Just like Instagram deserves all the credit for bringing filters to the forefront. This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.”

Image via Delmondo.

One fundamental thing that differentiates Instagram Stories from rival Snapchat is discoverability.

Watching Stories posted by the accounts you follow on the app is straightforward. And finding new accounts is made simple by existing search tools.

What’s more, Instagram makes it easy to engage with the best of the accounts you already follow by surfacing Stories algorithmically. The app’s algorithm decides the order in which Stories appear in the bar above users’ main feed based on whose content people engage with on both Instagram and Facebook.

Additionally Instagram Stories appear in the apps Explore tab, making it easy for users to find new Stories.


Why should you use Instagram Stories for business?

Stories was introduced in August 2016, but it has already made a significant impression on Instagrammers. In less than six months, the feature had 150 million daily active users. It took Snapchat six years to reach the same number.

And people aren’t just using Instagram Stories to connect with friends. One-third of the most viewed Stories come from businesses.

The platform also boasts some impressive engagement numbers. One in five Instagram Stories gets a direct message from its viewers and roughly 70 percent are watched with the sound on—a clear divergence from the prevalence of silent video on platforms like Facebook.

Of course, these impressive numbers are in no small part due to the overwhelming popularity of Instagram itself. The app has 600 million users who share an average of 95 million photos and videos and like 4.2 billion posts every single day.

And the rise of Instagram Stories hasn’t happened in a vacuum. From August to November 2016, the average number of unique viewers per Snapchat Story has decreased approximately 40 percent, according to creative studio Delmondo’s CEO Nick Cicero. TechCrunch has also reported various other declines in Snapchat views and engagement.

Whether you’re choosing between Snapchat and Instagram Stories, or simply considering adding the new feature to your social roster, the bottom line is: with nearly 50 percent of brands using Instagram—and many of them likely making the leap to Stories as well—can your brand afford to wait?


How to use Instagram Stories

Like Snapchat, not everything about Instagram Stories is intuitive. But the platform’s basic features are pretty user-friendly.

How to get Instagram Stories

The good news is, if you have Instagram, you have Instagram Stories—no additional steps needed. If you don’t have Instagram yet, check out our guide for beginners—and pick up a few tips on your bio—to get started.

How to post an Instagram Story

  1. From the Instagram home screen (a.k.a. your feed), swipe to the right—or tap the camera button in the top left-hand corner of the screen—to access the Instagram Stories camera
  2. You’ll be presented with a camera screen that includes several options: LIVE, NORMAL, BOOMERANG, and HANDS-FREE
  3. This screen also includes options to turn the flash on or off and switch between front and rear-facing cameras
  4. Once you’ve captured a photo, video, or Boomerang, you can use Instagram Stories’ editing features—such as text, drawing, and stickers—to enhance your creation
  5. If you’re not happy with your post, hold and drag elements you’d like to get rid of into the trashcan icon at the bottom of the screen or tap the X icon in the upper left-hand corner to delete the entire post
  6. If you’d like to save the individual piece of content to your camera roll, tap the Save button—denoted by a downward arrow and line—located in the lower left-hand corner of the screen
  7. To post your creation to your Story, choose one of the following two options:

• Tap the encircled + button in the lower left-hand corner to post the content straight to your Story

• Or tap the arrow button in the lower right-hand corner of the screen to access sending options, such as SEND DIRECT, which allows you to send the post directly to other accounts—be sure to check the circle next to Your Story to post your creation publicly


Instagram Stories features (and how to use them)


Like anything else on Instagram, you can spruce up your Stories with a filter. Once you’ve shot a photo or video, simply swipe to the left or right to cycle through available options.

Unlike Instagram’s usual photo and video editing, Stories does not indicate which filter you’re viewing and does not offer the ability to change the intensity of the filter.
Instagram Stories offers several drawing options for you to unleash your inner artist. To access them, simply tap the marker icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

This will give you three tools, displayed at the top of the screen: marker, chisel-tip, and neon brush. Once you’ve chosen a drawing tool, you can choose from one of several default color options at the bottom of the screen OR press and hold any color to open up the color slider to choose whatever hue your heart desires.

You can also tap the descending dots icon in the bottom left-hand corner to change line-thickness. For more Instagram Stories secrets, check out our post, Instagram Hacks: 44 Tricks and Features You Probably Didn’t Know About.


Share your wit (or simply some context) with the world by adding text to your Instagram Stories. To do it:

  1. Either tap anywhere on the screen or select the Aa icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen—this will open the text editing options
  2. Toggle the lines option at the top center of the screen to choose from text that is centered, aligned right, or aligned left (centered is the default)
  3. Choose from the color options at the bottom of the screen or press and hold any swatch to open up the color slider and choose from a broader range of hues
  4. Tap the descending dots icon in the bottom left-hand corner to adjust the size of your text
  5. Once you’re happy with your text, tap Done to save it to your creation
  6. Outside of the text editor, you can adjust the size of text or rotate by simply pinching or rotating with two fingers.

Unlike Snapchat, Instagram Stories lets you add AS MUCH TEXT AS YOU WANT. Let that sink in. Simply add text, tap done, and repeat as many times as you like. There. Is. No. Limit.


What’s social media without a emoji? Instagram Stories takes the desire to add fun graphics to your content one step further by offering a variety of decorative sticker options in addition to the usual slate of smiley faces.

Customizable sticker options allow you to add context about the location, weather, or time to your content. The location option works the same way as adding a location to a post in your regular Instagram feed, with the ability to either choose or search for a location. When people watch your story, they’ll be able to tap the sticker to learn more about the location. Note that your Story will not show up on the location page.

Image via Instagram Blog.

Each of the customizable stickers offers several different options. For example, the weather sticker can display the temperature in celsius or fahrenheit in simple text or with an accompanying icon like a sun or cloud to represent the current weather. Simply tap the sticker once it’s in place to cycle between options.

Other sticker options include photo enhancements such as glasses and hats and, of course, emoji. Instagram occasionally offers seasonal stickers for a limited time.

You can add as many stickers as you like to your photo or video.


Not only can you share photos and videos through Instagram Stories, you can also capture Boomerangs—GIF-like clips that loop forward and backward—to spice up your Story.

To shoot a Boomerang, simply go to the Instagram Stories camera, and toggle from the default NORMAL capture setting to BOOMERANG. Boom! Now you can GIF away and delight your followers. Just tap to record a burst of photos, which Instagram will stitch into a Boomerang.

Image via Instagram Blog.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can also create a Boomerang from an Apple Live Photo. To find out how, check out our Instagram Hacks post.

Live video

Instagram Stories hosts the app’s version of live-streaming. To go live, simply swipe right from feed to open the Stories camera, toggle to the LIVE option in the format picker and tap Start Live Video to begin a broadcast.

While you’re broadcasting, the word Live will appear under your profile photo in the Stories bar at the top of feed. Your friends may receive a notification nudging them to tune in.

Image via Instagram Blog.

Once you’re live, you can pin a comment so that everyone sees it or turn off comments completely. Your audience can comment and like as much as they want. You can live-stream for up to an hour and once you’re done, your live story will disappear from the app.

Image via Instagram Blog.

Live Stories can also appear on the Explore tab, making it easier for more people to discover your content.

Image via Instagram Blog.


Unlike Snapchat, Instagram Stories lets you mention other users in your Story.

It works pretty much the same way as with regular Instagram posts. Simply tap Aa to add text, then type the @ symbol followed by a username. As you type, Instagram will provide a list of possible accounts. Tap to select the one you’d like to mention.

Image via Instagram Blog.

When someone watching your Story taps a mention, they’ll see a pop-up that takes them to the mentioned user’s profile. When you’re mentioned in someone else’s Story, you’ll receive a notification in Direct. Tap the preview to go to the Story. If you’re mentioned by someone you don’t follow, you’ll see the notification in your message requests.


Instagram Stories also have links. Or, at least, some of them do. Instagram is conducting a test with verified accounts to add See More links to the bottom of some Stories.

Image via Instagram Blog.

People watching the Story can either tap See More or swipe up to view the link right inside the app.


Like content posted in the main feed, Instagram offers businesses insights on their Stories posts as well.

Brands using a business profile on Instagram have access to reach, impressions, replies, and exits for individual Stories.


Instagram is also testing the ability to run full screen ads in Stories. The ads will offer targeting, reach, and measurement capabilities.

Sometimes dubbed “mid-roll,” the ads play between Stories but do not interrupt individual Stories. According to Adage, video ads can run for 15 seconds and sponsored photos for five seconds.

Though the ads product is still being tested with certain brands, it means that advertisers will have the ability to reach a highly targeted audience—backed by data from both Instagram and Facebook—in a very immersive platform.


Instagram Stories best practices

Now that you’ve got the nuts and bolts of Instagram Stories down, read on to learn best practices for using this fun feature.

Tell a story

This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many people (and brands) don’t follow this advice.

Your Instagram Story should be more than a couple of random snapshots or video clips. Since elements will play together in slideshow format, you want to ensure that they tie together. Use individual pieces of content to tell a larger story.

Be authentic

Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram Stories are designed for content that looks as though it was just captured (even if it wasn’t).

Your Instagram Story should be fun and engaging, but it doesn’t have to be as polished as the content you post in your feed. This is a great opportunity for creativity and experimentation.

Provide value

As with any of your social efforts, it’s important to ensure that your Instagram Stories provide value for your audience. (You are doing that on your other channels, right?)

Whether your goal is to entertain, inform, or something else entirely, make sure that you deliver to keep viewers coming back for more.

Get creative

As discussed above, Instagram Stories offers plenty of features to add flair to your content—from drawing tools and stickers to text and filters. Use them.

Try a mix of post types within a Story—photos, text slides, videos, and Boomerangs—to add variety and keep your viewers interested.

Plan ahead and pre-create content

Instagram Stories allows you to post existing content from your camera roll as long as it was shot within the last 24 hours.

Want to share something a tad older? Simply open the content in an editing app and then resave it to your mobile device. Voila! Instagram perceives the content as new (and therefore uploadable).

This functionality is a gift. Use it wisely. Think ahead, plan your content, and, when possible, create assets for your Story prior to when you intend to post them. This makes it much easier to plan out a compelling story.

Hootsuite’s own social media team put this tactic into action to announce the company’s acquisition of social media ads platform AdEspresso. The company created branded images featuring the announcement—along with a few stats highlighting its significance—ahead of time in order to share the news.

Images via Hootsuite on Instagram.

Make it vertical

While this may run counterintuitive to the advice typically offered for creating social media videos, for Instagram Stories you want to shoot everything vertically.

Why? It’s how people view content on mobile. One report found that mobile users hold their device vertically as much as 94 percent of the time.

Instagram Stories is, of course, a mobile-only offering so it stands to reason that the best experience for your users is content that’s oriented vertically.

Fill the screen

You may be uploading existing content, but you can make that far less obvious by ensuring whatever you share on Stories fits and fills the screen. Spare your viewers post after post of black bar-besieged content.

Differentiate from other channels

Your Tweets aren’t the same as your Facebook posts, nor should your Instagram Stories be the same as any of your other social channels.

Though Instagram Stories is incredibly similar to Snapchat, it would be a mistake to simply repost content from one to the other. Every channel has a different audience, and the two undoubtedly have different users.

It’s important to note that while reposting content from Snapchat to Instagram Stories is technically possible (thanks to Instagram’s handy camera roll posting feature), it’s frowned upon.

You don’t want to be branded as lazy for reposting the exact same content from Snapchat, filters and lenses in tact. Trust me, your followers will be able to tell.

Promote your Story

Instagram Stories last for 24 hours, during which time they will appear in the Stories bar at the top of users’ feeds as well as on the Story-posters profile. While these places are certainly prominent real estate, they are by no means the extent of what’s possible.

You’ve put time, energy, and resources into your Story. Make sure your followers see it by giving it an extra boost. Be sure to tell them about it in a regular Instagram post (preferably containing relevant content) and watch the views roll in.

Use CTAs

With any content you create, you should always be thinking: what action do I want my audience to take when they finish reading/watching/consuming this?

Instagram Stories are no different. Whether your brand has access to the See More link option to send your users to another site or your tactics are a bit more DIY, make sure you finish off your Story with a call to action that fits the content.

Outdoor company The North Face had fun with the CTA on their Valentine’s Day Instagram Story, using clever wordplay to encourage followers to shop for a new sleeping bag.

Image via The North Face on Instagram.

Meanwhile, these posts from NASA, Kijiji Vancouver, and Hootsuite don’t use Stories’ linking functionality, but still manage to convey a clear call to action.

Images via NASA, Kijiji Vancouver, and Hootsuite on Instagram.


How to use Instagram Stories for marketing

1. How-tos and tutorials

Want people to use your product? Show them how and feel free to venture outside the box. When it comes to social, people love how-to content and Instagram Stories is no different.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps an adventure photographer used to grow from 0 to 110,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.

A number of companies have made excellent use of this tactic, among them: Ketel One, which shows off cocktail recipes; Kijiji which loves to share DIY hacks with budget-conscious users, and Etsy, which gives craft-loving followers step-by-step instructions on creative projects.

Image via Etsy on Instagram.

2. Go behind the scenes

Whether it’s giving followers a tour of your office or taking them inside an exclusive event, behind the scenes content is a popular pick for platforms like Instagram Stories.

Stuck for ideas? Try doing a day in the life of one of your employees.

The New York Times took followers behind the scenes at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show—but with a twist. Rather than walk through every aspect of the production, NYT chose to document the details, getting up close and personal with each pooch. It was a rarely seen look at proceedings that only NYT’s followers were privy to.

Images via The New York Times on Instagram.

3. Share a fun listicle

Lists are a simple type of content that have a clear promise that’s easy to deliver on. And they’re fun for your audience to consume.

National Geographic did a great job of this with their Instagram Story featuring the most visited national parks. Each park that made the list was accompanied by a stunning photograph and a mention of the park’s Instagram handle so that National Geographic’s followers could check out each one.

Images via National Geographic on Instagram.

4. Provide value with Q&As

Your employees, ambassadors, and customers are all very interesting people. Make use of them. Whether you opt for a one-on-one interview or a full panel of experts discussing a topic, Q&As are a simple way to provide interesting and valuable content for your followers.

The New York Times used this tactic during protests at Standing Rock, sharing interviews with campers on their Instagram Story.

Images via PR Newswire’s Journalist and Blogger Community Blog.

5. Get follower feedback

The nature of Instagram Stories means that it’s easy for your followers to talk back to your brand. So why not start a conversation?

Stories’ informal, real-time nature makes it the perfect place to solicit feedback from your followers. Go ahead and ask them to help you decide which piece of user-generated content (UGC) to feature on your brand’s feed, or what they thought of your latest product launch.

Asking followers to screenshot their favorite option is a simple, no-fuss way to run an engaging poll (and get valuable feedback).

Taco Bell does an excellent job of this. The company regularly asks their audience what sort of content they’d like to see in the brand’s Instagram Stories.

6. Host a takeover

If your business has spokespeople or influencers, use them! Give the keys to a (trusted) friend of the brand so they can show off the lifestyle that fits your product (with a couple of product cameos thrown in for good measure).

During New York Fashion Week, Maybelline New York had teen influencer Jordyn Jones take over their Story to give followers an inside look at one of the exclusive shows.

Images via Maybelline New York on Instagram.

Learn more about how to run smart, successful social media takeovers in our guide on the subject.

7. Give shout-outs to your followers

One of the great things about Instagram Stories is that it provides another place for your business to share content. Because it’s less formal, it’s also a great place to give credit where it’s due and recognize your followers.

Whether someone shared a great piece of UGC or they’re making an unofficial bid for most loyal customer, Instagram Stories is the perfect place to throw them a shout-out.

Starbucks did a great job of this during their #RedCupContest. The company invited users to share content featuring the brand’s iconic red cup, then shared favorites in their Instagram Story, being sure to give credit to creators.

Images via Starbucks on Instagram.

8. Provide special offers and coupons

Reward your most loyal followers by giving them a little extra incentive to keep watching your brand’s content.

Instagram Stories is an easy place to offer your followers a special deal or coupon—they’ll feel like a savvy consumer and you’ll encourage them to further patronize your business. Win-win.

J. Crew did an excellent job of this when they released a new pair of sunglasses. Not only did they announce the product on their Stories feed, they also gave followers who watched the Story first crack at them.

9. Announce news

Got news to share? Perhaps you’re launching a new product, you’ve acquired another company, or a notable industry leader is joining your senior leadership team. Consider going Instagram Stories-first.

Making the announcement on Instagram Stories reinforces the idea that people who watch your content are in-the-know. And this encourages your audience to continue watching future installments (the FOMO is real, people). Plus, it’s a great opportunity to get followers excited about your news.

Beloved ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s chose Instagram Stories as the perfect channel to share their news about new flavor additions to their line-up of dairy-free products.

Image via Ben & Jerry’s on Instagram.

Social media moves fast and keeping up with the rate of change—new platforms and shifting best practices—can be tough. Learn the fundamental social media marketing skills you need to stay ahead of the pack with free training from Hootsuite Academy.

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