Instagram Stories: What They Are and How to Make One Like a Pro
These days, social media is all about documentation.
Where you go, what you eat and drink, who you see, and what’s most memorable: These are the typical fodder of Instagram Stories — seconds-long glimpses of people’s lives, shared on Instagram for only 24 hours.
Below, we’ve created a guide for you to learn what Instagram Stories are, how to share them with your followers, and how to make sure those Stories are exactly what your audience wants to see. In this post, we’ll cover the following. Feel free to click on a bullet point below to jump to that section of the article.
What are Instagram Stories?
Instagram Stories allow Instagram users to share photos and videos to their “Story” — which is visible to followers of the user’s Instagram account — and to specific users the Story’s sender follows. Like in Snapchat, Instagram Stories are ephemeral, meaning they disappear after 24 hours.
Your Instagram Story is published separately from the photos and videos found in the tiled gallery of one’s Instagram profile. And although you might know the basics of sharing them, there are hidden tools within the app that can make the photos and videos you add to your Story more creative and engaging.
How Do Instagram Stories Work?
Instagram Stories can drive a ton of engagement and value — whether you’re sharing a Story from a brand account or your own personal profile.
Since launching back in August 2016, a total of 250 million Instagram usershave started sharing disappearing content on Instagram Stories — contributing to the huge jump in time spent in-app every day from 24 minutes to 32.
What’s more, a lot of brands have already seen success publishing content to this platform. Instagram Stories have fueled the growth of brands like Teen Vogue, Insider, and Bustle. Whether publishers are trying to grow brand awareness, grow traffic to videos or newsletter outside of Instagram, or share sponsored content, publishers are flocking to Instagram to publish fun disappearing content that infuses brand voice and personality without taking up too much of the average techie’s dwindling attention span.
What’s more, Instagram Stories are credited with fueling the massive growth of Instagram Direct — private one-to-one messaging between users within the app. Instagram Direct has grown into one of the most popular messaging apps in the world with a staggering 375 million users.
Even more impressive, TechCrunch reports that one in five Instagram Stories shared by a brand receives a Direct reply — giving brands a direct line to connect with their audience and learn more about them.
How long are Instagram Stories?
Instagram Stories last 24 hours on your profile before disappearing, but a video inside your Story can be up to 15 seconds long before cutting to the next piece of content. You can also use a third-party app to segment a longer video into 15-second increments to add to your Story.
Just as Instagram Stories only last 24 hours before disappearing, the photos and video themselves have a time limit when users view and play them.
As a blanket rule, the individual videos you add to your Instagram Story each have a maximum roll time of 15 seconds. If you add a video to your Instagram Story, for example, it’ll play for up to 15 seconds, regardless of how long the original video was, and then end.
Despite Instagram Stories’ 15-second runtime limit, there are ways to play longer videos in your Story. Specifically, you can split a video that’s longer than 15 seconds into 15-second segments and add each segment to your Instagram Story so they play one after another. Here are some mobile apps that can help you make it happen:
- Continual (iOS only)
- Storeo (iOS only)
- Story Cutter for iOS
- Story Cutter for Android
- CutStory (iOS only)
How to View Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories appear at the top of your screen when you’re on the Instagram mobile app. Because they’re often the first pieces of content users see when they open Instagram, these Stories can get a ton of engagement and help you advertise your regular Instagram photo gallery to more users.
1. Open Instagram and navigate to the home screen.
To start viewing Instagram Stories, open your Instagram mobile app and tap the home icon on the bottom-lefthand corner of your screen. Instagram Stories are not available for viewing on the desktop site.
Once you’ve navigated to Instagram’s home screen, you’ll see a series of circular icons along the top, each of which represents the active Stories posted by the users you follow. These icons are highlighted inside a red square in the screenshot below. As you can see, your own Story is available for viewing (and adding to) on the far left of the Stories you follow.
2. Tap on a circular icon to view that user’s Story.
Each circular icon you see at the top of your home screen shows you a small preview of the Story that user has posted. Tap on it to expand the user’s Story — it’ll either be a photo or a video, and the latter will play automatically once you tap on the Story.
3. Tap to navigate between a Story’s photos and videos.
A single Instagram Story can contain numerous individual photos and videos strung together in order of when the user posted them. The first piece of content you’ll see will be the most recent one. Tap your mobile device’s screen to cut to the next photo or video that user has posted to their Story.
4. Swipe to navigate from one Instagram Story to another.
Swiping left and right while viewing an Instagram Story will allow you to shuffle between Stories from different users. When you first open an Instagram Story, you’ll see the following menu:
Use the above screenshot as a reference for viewing the Instagram Stories of the accounts you follow.
How to Make an Instagram Story
- Open Instagram, and tap the camera icon in the upper left-hand corner of your phone.
- Share a photo or video you’ve already captured by swiping up on your screen to browse your gallery.
- Or, choose a camera lens to capture a photo or video in the app.
- Once you’ve edited your photo or video, tap “Your Story,” or tap “Next” to share it to your Story and to other friends at the same time.
You can make Instagram Stories this successful too — but it requires a few more hacks and tips to make them look like the Stories big brands and influencers share. (Some of my favorite Instagram Stories are shared by chef Chloe Coscarelli, actress Busy Phillips, mattress brand Casper, and interior design app Hutch)
But first, let’s review the basics of how to share an Instagram Story:
1. Open Instagram, and tap the camera icon in the upper left-hand corner of your phone.
2. Share a photo or video you’ve already captured by swiping up on your screen to browse your gallery.
Disclosure: Yes, I did a photoshoot featuring my cats. Can you blame me though?
3. Or, choose a camera lens to capture a photo or video in the app.
You have a few different options to choose from:
If you toggle your screen to the “Live” option, you’ll start filming and broadcasting live on Instagram. Like Facebook Live, friends can follow along and leave comments, and when you’re done with the broadcast, you’ll have the option to let the video disappear, save it, or share it Instagram Stories for an additional 24 hours.
It means what it says: Tapping once will capture a photo, and holding down will record a video. Instagram Stories can be 15 seconds in length, so if you want to share a video that’s longer, film in 15-second stints, or use CutStory to split your longer clip into 15-second installments.
Boomerang mode films looping GIFs up to three seconds in length.
Superzoom is, on the surface, a video recording lens that zooms in closer and closer on your subject. But turn up the volume, and you can use Superzoom to create a dramatic soundtrack to accompany your video.
As my friend Marissa put it, “It’s like it’s BUILT for cats.”
Use the rewind lens to film a video in reverse.
6. Stop Motion
Use this lens to film cool stop-motion videos: several different still images woven together in one seamless video.
Use hands-free mode if you want to set up your camera to film a video for you. Make sure you prop it somewhere stable before you call “Action.” We’ll talk more about this feature in a minute.
4. Once you’ve edited your photo or video, tap “Your Story,” or tap “Next” to share it to your Story and to other friends at the same time.
You can also save your edited photo or video to your gallery by tapping “Save” in the lower left-hand corner.
How to Use Instagram Stories for Business
- Post footage of an office event.
- Post breaking news about your industry.
- Demonstrate your product.
- Promote a company event.
- Preview one of your company’s blog posts.
- Mention other companies who follow or work with you.
Knowing how to post to your Instagram Story is one thing, but knowing what to post is a different … well, story. For businesses looking to tell their Story on Instagram, it’s important to know who your ideal followers are and what they’d be interested in seeing on Instagram. Remember, Instagram is a visual platform, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach or promote something in the process.
Here are a few ideas for using Instagram Stories to attract followers and build a customer base.
1. Post footage of an office event.
Sometimes, the best thing a business can do on Instagram is be as human as possible. One way to do this is to post a brief video of a company function. Whether it’s an office holiday party or an award banquet, posting footage of it to your Story is easy and in-the-moment entertainment for your followers. This content also shows people you’re a relevant and friendly voice in your market.
2. Post breaking news about your industry.
Just as you might on your company blog, you can use your Instagram Story to report on the latest happenings in your industry. With the right design work, you can turn small news breaks — that don’t merit an entire article — into a Story on your Instagram account. This keeps users coming back to you to stay abreast with market trends. You can even ask users what they think, as shown in the Instagram Story by HubSpot below. We’ll explain how Instagram “stickers” can help you do this in just a minute.
3. Demonstrate your product.
Your product might not be the simplest or sexiest product in the eyes of the layperson. Well, your Instagram Story is the perfect format for showing potential customers how that product is used. Post a long video, segmented into 15-second clips that show users what your product or service does and how it helps your customers.
If you sell software, for example, you might record a video of your computer screen, using a recording tool like Loom, that shows people how to log in, use the software’s dashboard, and navigate to the various functions included in the product.
Just remember to modify your video’s dimensions before uploading it to your Instagram Story. Remember, Instagram Stories’ image dimensions are 1920px high and 1080px wide, with an aspect ratio of 9:16.
4. Promote a company event.
Does your organization host a trade conference or attend a big one every year? Use your Instagram Story to promote the event and tell your followers to look for you there. Work with a graphic designer, or do some artwork yourself, to illustrate an event flier with all the information one would need to find you. Most of this you can do directly in Instagram. For example, use the native text options in your Story to add:
- The event’s name.
- Where the event is located.
- Dates you’ll be attending.
- Your booth number.
- The event’s official hashtag.
5. Preview one of your company’s blog posts.
Your blog posts need all the exposure they can get. Even if social media isn’t your blog’s primary source of traffic, your Instagram Story can help readers discover that blog for the first time and find it later.
In the screenshot below, Google used its Instagram Story to preview an article it published on six extraordinary young women involved in water technology. When you tap all the way to the end of the Story, Google prompts you to swipe up with your finger, where it then links you to the full blog post.
6. Mention other companies who follow or work with you.
As your Instagram following grows, you’ll eventually pick up other business accounts who want to follow you as well. Whether those accounts are your business partners or simply fans of yours, consider giving them shout-outs on your Instagram Story. This is a passive but effective way to nurture your relationships with the users that matter most to your business’s growth.