Instagram Stories are totally absorbing to viewers, yet still new to marketers. Despite the flood of beautiful, full-screen videos, some brands still don’t know how to get new customers to “swipe up.” If you can master Stories now, you’ll be ahead of the curve.
Since the format is so new, there aren’t many cut-and-dry best practices for Instagram Stories ads. The main secret is this: Start by winning with organic Instagram Stories, and then scale with paid ads. Simple.
If you’re ready to start experimenting with Instagram Stories ads, use this guide as your first set of principles. We’ll tell you how to create great content, solidify your brand, measure your interactions, track your results, and do it all again. It starts with crafting an effective organic strategy.
First things first: Find an organic Stories strategy that works
It’s one thing to make Instagram Stories that people watch. It’s another to create ads that inspire action. So before diving into Stories ads, test the waters with organic content. Not only will experimenting with organic content save you money, but it will also give you a foundational brand strategy for building your ads.
Best practices for your organic content include building a library of native content, tracking audience engagement, and publishing on a regular basis.
Create a library of native Instagram Stories content
Stories are distinct from other kinds of web video because:
- Stories are immersive: Vertical photos and videos fill the screen.
- Stories are fast: With a 15-second limit, individual Stories posts are lightning quick.
- Stories are compounding: 15-second frames are vignettes that add up to a larger overall Story.
- Stories disappear by default: Stories last only 24 hours (unless you pin them as highlights).
- Stories are mobile-native: Stories interactions, such as swipe, tap, and slide, are designed for handheld devices.
These constraints create lots of opportunities for developing compelling native content. For instance, vertical video is great for showing faces and tall buildings. Compounding Stories allow you to build suspense and tease the next slide. Swiping up means you need to draw attention to the bottom of the screen.
In fact, there are so many options with Stories that you’ll need a way to organize all of the choices. For example, this chart shows different combinations of content types:
Of course, in addition to content type, Stories have all kinds of elements, such as:
- Location tag
- Design template (if you used one)
To keep track of things, write down all possible options in a spreadsheet, which you can use later to record tests. This gives you a rich list of ideas to start building your Stories strategy.
If creating so much content seems daunting, use a template. Templates built especially for Stories will allow you to test tons of different designs without breaking a sweat. The Shakr library has 400 Instagram Stories templates to use, each with a different look and feel.
Track your organic interactions in Instagram
As you build your library of content, you also want to be tracking your Stories’ performance. This way, you can get feedback and use data to power your ad strategy before spending a single cent on advertising.
If you have an Instagram business profile, you can start tracking organic content with relevant metrics right away. Simply click on the little graph icon in the top corner of your profile, or swipe up from a Stories post to view insights.
As you can see, you can gather a lot of free data from simply posting good organic Instagram Stories.
Record your results in the spreadsheet you created earlier. That way, you can see your progress and avoid repeating mistakes.
When it comes to picking the right content for ads, well, it depends on your goals. But if your eventual goal is a conversion action, focus on posts that get more interactions as opposed to impressions.
Interactions can be the number of people who click links, answer polls or questions, or reply to your story. These actions show what Stories are most compelling to your audience and what will inspire them to engage with your marketing further.
From there, you can start to form ideas about which concepts to test further and which content to replicate in the future.
Establish brand consistency across Stories content
Building trust with your audience in a new format takes time. Just because Stories celebrates spur-of-the-moment videos doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it like a professional marketing channel. If you’ve never posted Stories before, you need to establish a consistent Instagram brand so your viewers know what to expect from you and how to respond in kind.
A few ways you can build consistency:
- Use the same design elements: Use a consistent set of colors, fonts, filters, and animations that are recognizable and aligned with your permanent Instagram posts, as well as your overall brand.
- Follow a regular content calendar: Don’t be a flake. Whether sharing day-in-the-life Stories every day, or planned content on certain days of the week, post often, and let people know when to expect your posts.
- Reply in a timely fashion: Treat Stories interactions like any other customer outreach. When people message you, tag you, or mention your brand in their Stories, reply right away to let them know you appreciate them and are available to help!
Trust can be built through consistent, reliable interactions with your audience. Before you convince people to purchase your products, you have to show how you can deliver value, and you can do that by offering a wealth of free organic content in your Instagram Stories.
A solid brand is the foundation from which to take risks with organic and paid content. Once you have a captive audience that trusts your brand, you can start to ask more of them with Stories, and they will be happy to follow.
Transform top-performing creative into Instagram Stories ads
Hopper‘s Instagram Stories ads look a lot like the brand’s organic content. Both feature Hopper’s logo; numbers-based copy; a blue color scheme; and simple, animated design.
These choices are no coincidence. In a case study by Facebook, Hopper said they used preexisting creative assets in their Instagram Stories ad campaign.
Because they vetted their Stories videos beforehand, they saw high conversion results from their Stories ads, including a 67% higher rate of app installs and an 80% higher booking rate compared with other marketing channels.
Hopper figured out how to transform content that resonated with their followers into Instagram Stories ads that converted a wider audience. You can, too, if you follow these Instagram Stories ads best practices.
Set specific goals for your Stories ads
Ad views are nice, but they may just be a vanity metric. To see good ROI, you need to have well-defined goals both to navigate the Facebook ads manager and to track your own success.
Facebook offers the following goals for Instagram Stories:
- Brand Awareness
- Video views
- App installs
- Lead generation
But to gain more control over your results, you need to be more specific. For Hopper, the broad goal was app installs. However, it was more important to the team to learn what the most effective channel for generating app installs was. To prove the value of Stories ads to themselves, they compared their app installs with the results of other ads both in and out of the Facebook environment.
So be sure to tie your results to a concrete goal, and write that goal down. The Hopper team might have written their goal for their Instagram Stories ads like this:
With a budget of $X, we want to generate as many app installs, or more, as Facebook feed ads in a one-month period.
After your time or budget runs out, gather and record results from your Stories campaigns. The Facebook ads manager makes it easy to track every aspect of your Instagram ads.
Don’t forget to A/B test versions of each ad. While you may have already conducted tests on your organic content, you will need to test again in light of your new audience and new conversion goal. You can test the same content elements you did in your organic tests, like designs, stickers, copy, links, and calls to action. With ads, you can also test different audiences by adjusting demographic info such as age, location, gender, and interests.
You can again keep track of tests in a spreadsheet to compound learning over time. Eventually, you’ll collect a series of successful ads that you can combine to create “superads” that keep getting better.
Repeat what works
Once you’ve conducted a few successful Instagram Stories ad campaigns, you can start to scale your ad spend to see greater returns.
For Hopper, Instagram Stories ads were such a success that they scaled up to reach 7.5 million people with their campaign. Now, the company continues to use Stories to grow their business and convert new customers.
By starting with organic content, articulating specific goals, and carefully testing and measuring results, Hopper created a process they can use over and over again. When you follow these practices, you can, too!