Instagram Stories: the definitive guide

Aurora Maciá

Written by Aurora Maciá

Regardless of whether you’ve never attempted to upload a story, or you’re one of those people who posts every salad they eat, this guide will uncover something new that you didn’t yet know about Instagram Stories. And also it will prove to you why they’re so important when deciding what kind of brand image we want to broadcast to the world. This is, indeed, a very long post, but I’m sure that once you’ve read it, your Stories will become the most original ones on this social networking app.

Let’s begin by walking through the most basic features and functionalities of Instagram Stories, starting from the format they use up to where they’re archived, so that you don’t get lost in between oh-so-many icons.

Once its usage instructions are clear to you, we can get creative and start sharing stories that will encourage engagement with our target audience, either thanks to their aesthetics or the call to interaction we use. Filters, external apps, stickers, gifs, fonts… If we want to connect to our audience and have a powerful brand image, it’s worth our time to dedicate a little bit of effort even to something as fleeting as an Instagram Story.

On 2 August 2016 Instagram launched Stories, adding a new functionality to their app, copying the format which was –back then– exclusive to Snapchat: images or videos that are only available to be viewed for 24 hours, after which time they disappear. This initially simple premise went on to get a little more complicated: after their launch, the possibility of customisation and interaction on Stories continued to grow more and more with each update of the app.

Level 1: Are you a beginner? Then start here

Instagram StoryWhat’s an Instagram Story?

An Instagram Story is an image or video we share on our Instagram profile, which disappears after 24 hours and it’s no longer available to be viewed by our followers. Nevertheless, Instagram has already overriden this definition with some of its latest updates, as we will see shortly. For now, you just need to know that if you don’t carry out any additional actions after posting a story, it will disappear the next day.

How long does a Story last?

A story typically lasts for 15 seconds, and contrary to how it worked on Snapchat, where we could choose the duration –3, 5 or 10 seconds– on Instagram we cannot change the time it lasts when uploading an image. If it’s a video, the Story will last for as long as the video does, even if it’s below 15 seconds. If your video is longer than 15 seconds, however, the app will cut it automatically, into two or more Stories.

What format do Stories have?

Stories use the 9:16 format, the counterpart of the classic 16:9 used in landscape videos. The recommended resolution for a Story is 1080×1920 pixels for maximum quality, but it’s also okay if we use slightly lower resolutions, such as 720×1280.

Story dimensions

What can you share in a Story?

Pretty much anything you want. A photograph, an infographic, a video, a gif… It doesn’t always have to be a selfie! In general, it’s true that stories are used in a more informal way than a typical feed post, where pictures remain stored in our profile, and we frequently try to maintain a coherent style over time.

For Stories, however, pictures are usually taken with the mobile phone and tend to have a much more casual or amateur vibe. But, if Instagram is an important tool we use a lot for our brand, we can put some more time and effort into creating them, to give them a more elaborate and polished look. It all comes down to what we wish to transmit: closeness or professionalism.

Who can see our Stories?

Any person with access to our profile, even if they don’t have an account on Instagram (or, only those people who follow us, if our account is private) can see our Stories, unless we purposely hide them from someone.

You can check who viewed your Stories by tapping on the bottom left corner of the screen, where you will see the profile icon of some of your followers and a “Seen by X”, or simply by swiping up. You’ll see a list with all the people who viewed your Story, and, if your account is linked to a Facebook page, you will also be able to see some additional data we’ll explain later.

If we want to hide our Stories from a particular person, we can tap on the three-dot menu next to their username in this list, and we will see the option “Hide story from X”. Or, we can go to Settings, which can be found in the menu at the top right corner of our profile page, and then Privacy > Story > Hide story from and we will see a list of all our followers, where we can choose who we want to hide our Stories from (they will still be able to see our feed).

Viewers and how to hide story from someone

How can we navigate through our Stories?

Navigation through stories

  • Tap on the left of the screen: previous Story.
  • Tap on the right of the screen: next Story.
  • Keep the finger pressed on the screen: pause Story.
  • Swipe down: leave Story (and, thus, leave the stream of Stories and return to the feed).
  • Swipe left: go to the Story of the previous user.
  • Swipe right: go to the Story of the next user.
  • Swipe up: send a message to the user who posted current Story.

Level 2: If you’re an amateur, make sure you get the hang of this

Shooting modes

Once we’ve opened the Story interface, we have various options we can choose from by swiping from right to left at the lower part of the screen.

  • Live: if you want to broadcast a ‘Live’ video, this is the mode for you. All your followers will be able to see it (as well as those users who visit your profile if your account is set to public), and there’s even an option to send questions to you, which can answer live. People can also comment whatever they want, and all those who attend our live broadcast will see it. You can save your broadcast for up to 24 hours as your Story for those followers who weren’t able to see your broadcast live, so they can view it later.
  • Create (previously: Text): this mode gives priority to text over images. Here we can choose from the fonts provided by the app (Typewriter, Strong, Modern, Neon) and various colourful backgrounds. Once we’ve finished typing our message, we can “save” it and add gifs, emojis and other kinds of decorations we usually see.
  • Normal: this is the shooting mode we will use more often. There’s the option to snap a picture (tap on the round button) or a video (long press for as long as we want to record a video) in the moment, or choose them from our smartphone’s gallery. We can also activate the Flash, and change from the front camera to the rear one and viceversa. Finally, we can try out Instagram’s AR filters. These filters, which are a blatant copy of those from the defeated Snapchat, are now limitless, as users themselves can create and upload their own. Using these filters we can give our pictures a retro appearance, entirely change our facial features as if we’ve undergone cosmetic surgery, or put on a Halloween disguise.
  • Boomerang: this option allows us to create a gif with our camera, that is, a very short video loop.
  • Superzoom: this mode looks very similar to the normal one, until we see what happens if we zoom in (that is, if we swipe up while still keeping our finger pressed). Hearts, flames, camera flashes… It will give your video a very dramatic or humorous effect.
  • Hands-free: one of the most useful ones if we want to gesticulate whilst we record our video, or if we want to avoid capturing our extended arm, which is so typical in selfies. We can put down our phone: Instagram will take our picture for us.

Customisation options

We have our picture, video or text. So, now what? It is time to customise it further (even further).

  • Filters: yes, we can also use AR filters in the “post-production”, but we no longer have available those created by other users, just a few made by Instagram. We can also apply normal filters to the entire image, by swiping left or right.
  • Paid partnership with: if you’re an influencer, you can tag the commercial partner who has paid you to create this piece, in order to specify that it’s a commercial post. You can also allow your commercial partner to promote your content, turning the tagged Story into an ad.
  • Stickers: Hey-oh! This is where we can go all-out. We can create a sticker with our location, a hashtag, the current time or even temperature. We can also pick from dozens of emojis we have on our phone, the never-ending Giphy catalogue, and Instagram stickers. However, the most interesting options inviting users to interact with us are as follows: Instagram stickers
    • Mention: if we mention another user, they will receive a notification and they will be able to share our Story in theirs, or to reply with a private message. If we don’t get a mention, the only way to share an Instagram Story is by taking a screen capture and manually uploading it to our account.
    • Poll: this sticker allows us to pose a question to our followers, and allow them to choose between two options, which by default are ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. We can change them to whatever we want, though. Will we be able to see who voted what? Of course! Once the poll is published, Instagram will let us know who voted each option, and the percentage of votes the winning and losing options got.
    • Questions: this feature allows us to post a question too, but this time the answers are open, that is, our followers can say whatever they want in response using the provided field. Later we can either share their answers publicly or privately.
    • Countdown: are we preparing an imminent event that includes more people? Let’s create a countdown for those interested, so that they can follow it, and Instagram will keep reminding them how long until it’s over.
    • Swipe meter: our followers will be able to swipe up the bar an emoji of our choice to react to our content.
    • Quiz: if we want to put our followers to a test (for example, with a fun quiz) this is the best option. We can create multiple-choice questions, with up to 4 different answers, indicating which are the correct and the wrong ones. There are users who choose this feature, when unable to make a poll with more than two possible answers. We should be careful, though, and let our audience know beforehand that the answer in green shouldn’t be interpreted as the correct one. Otherwise, our audience may very possibly think that our brand defends this particular option.
    • Chat: we can invite our followers or anyone who viewed our Story to join a group chat.
    • Donation: this feature allows us to invite our audience to donate funds to any association we choose.
  • Brush: We can choose between painting with a brush, a translucent marker, a neon-effect pencil, or an eraser; as well as choose the size and the colour which we want to draw with. Colours are not restricted to those we see on screen: we can choose any other we want, by long-pressing any colour, which will reveal the full colour palette. We can also select any colour present in the image we’ve just taken by using the eyedropper tool.
  • Text: we can choose between the five different fonts provided by Instagram (modern, neon, typewriter, strong and classic) to add a message to our Story.

Sharing Stories

How to share Instagram StoriesOur Story is ready to be revealed to our audience! What are the sharing options?

  • Your story: anyone who follows us can see our Story if we share it as such, with the obvious exception of those users who we’ve hidden our Stories from.
  • Send to: if we only want to share our Story with specific people, this menu allows us to choose whoever we want from our list of followers.
  • Close friends: Instagram has enabled a new feature which allows us to create a smaller group of followers and to show our stories only to them. This group, as we can guess from its name, is usually reserved for people we’re closer to. We can choose these people by going to the menu at the top corner of the screen in our profile page, and the “Close friends” tab, where we can handpick from our followers those who we want in our list. Stories shared with “Close friends” will appear with a green circle outline (instead of the typical pink one), and a tag in the top left corner of the Story. Even though Instagram won’t directly notify users that we’ve added them to our list, they will know we did once we post a story with this feature.

Using the chat feature, available by tapping on the plane icon, we can also create WhatsApp-style groups, which Instagram will later suggest to us on top of every other follower, and send Stories to them. In fact, many people use these chats just as they would a WhatsApp group, to share pictures as well as to send messages.

Saving stories

Highlights

If our story turned out so great it would be a shame to let it go after 24 hours, we can always save it as a Highlight. Highlights are collections of Stories that are always visible on our profile, which can be accessed by tapping on the circles under our bio. These collections can be grouped by topics, and customised with a title and a cover. We will see how to do that in a moment.

Archive

Instagram saves all our Stories in this section, in case we want to share them again at some point in the future. It also generates “Memories”: it recovers older stories or feed posts, that we published on the same day one, two or many years ago. This archive can be really useful for adding older content to our Highlights, without worrying about saving it before it’s gone “forever”.

Instagram Stories archiveLevel 3: Experts, here are some cool tricks!

It’s time to get creative. Customisation options on Instagram are practically endless, but we are going to try to summarise the most important or effective ones. In a world so over-saturated with information and content, being more original than the rest is key to getting remembered. Moreover, social media moves at the speed of light. Adding our brand identity on everything we create will help the user to recognise us more quick and easy. Associating two or three colours to your brand, for example, can become vital to providing our Stories with their own personality.

10 creative tips for Instagram Stories

Here’s 10 ideas to make your Instagram Stories more original and creative.

1. Colour fill

If we select one of the brushes and long press any point of the screen for a moment, the selected colour will fill the entire area of the screen. If we do this with a marker, the picture will still be visible because it’s translucent, but if we use the brush, the fill will be solid. This can be done on both new posts and reshared ones from someone else’s feed or our own, and it will almost always look much better than the default blurred background provided by Instagram. We can also play around with layers by taking a picture, filling it with colour, and using the eraser to create masks.

Fill your Insta stories with colour2. Painting and erasing

We can also create squiggles to complement our images simulating layers, and erasing strokes in some places to make it look as if the image is on top of them. Take a look at the examples below to better understand what we’re talking about:

Painting and erasing on Instagram

3. Collage

How to create a collage for an Instagram StoryLet’s transform our Story into a collage by copying a photograph from our gallery and pasting it onto our Story. To do this, long press the screen until the “Paste” option appears. Or, if we go directly from “Photos” to “Instagram”, it is possible it will immediately suggest us the option “Add a sticker”.

This way, we can add multiple images to the same Story. Once our collage is done, we can try customising it with a brush and create frames for our pictures.

4. Playing around with fonts

And not just fonts, we can also mix them up with our own handwriting. This will result in more aesthetic and dynamic Stories, especially if we make the most out of the tool and combine texts with background and texts without background, various sizes, colours, etc.

We can even add a background to our text manually, instead of using the automatic one!

5. Create a rainbow effect on a text

This effect is a little bit more tricky to get. We have to type a text, select the entire thing, and long-press the colour, with which we want our rainbow to begin, and wait until the colour palette appears. Then, we have to slide one finger by the palette, while sliding the other finger at the same time to deselect one character after the other in our text. The selected text will start changing its colour and the moment one letter is no longer selected, it will adopt the colour where our finger was at the time, and it won’t change again, and so on.

Take a look at the video below to see how it goes:

6. Covers for Highlights

If we want our profile to have a good aesthetic appearance from top to bottom, we recommend creating covers for our highlighted stories, to go hand in hand with the colours we’ve chosen for our feed. These covers should –ideally– provide some information on the subject of each collection.

Customised icons for highlighted stories in Instagram7. Designing with external tools

If we have time and we really want to stand out above other Stories on people’s feeds, we can design ours with Illustrator, Photoshop, or even After Effects. Using fonts other than those provided by Instagram, or dynamic animations will catch the user’s attention and leave a professional imprint on our content. Keep in mind, though, that if it’s too elaborate, it might look like an ad and deter users.

8. Using external apps to edit

You can find tons of external apps in your OS app store for editing Instagram Stories. Here are some of the most popular ones:

  • Unfold: although the free version is very limited, this app allows us to create clean collages, decorate them with pretty stickers and more formal typefaces for your texts.
  • Meitu: this app has a great variety of filters and frames for your pictures. For example, you can transform them to look like a snapshot taken with a Polaroid camera, or apply other frames and effects to them.
  • Lightroom for mobile: if we’re used to photo editing tools in our computer, namely Lightroom or Photoshop, Lightroom for mobile phones will be the best option for us. This professional tool will allow us to thoroughly edit our photos, because it has almost the same features as those from the desktop version.

9. Create templates our audience can fill in

This strategy is simple and can generate great engagement results. It consists in creating a template using Illustrator, Photoshop or online tools like Canva, where we ask a question and leave some boxes, so that each user can contribute with their answer. For example: “Which gif represents your current mood?”

Then we customise the template to clearly state who created it (our logo, username, brand colours…), as users who wish to use it will have to take a screenshot in order to save the template to their phones, and upload it later with their response to their own Stories.

This strategy has already been used by Netflix and its bingos.

Bingos on Netflix Instagram

10. Create your own filter

Creating your own instagram filterIf there is one thing that will undoubtedly distinguish us from other users is the creation of our own filter. While It’s true that it’s not an easy process, it can be very effective and provide our users something cool to interact with and share.

To create an Instagram filter you need to use a tool developed by Facebook and Instagram called Spark AR Studio. Soon we will publish a step-by-step guide explaining how to create your own filter with it.

One interesting thing about filters is that anyone who views a Story in which we use them, can take our filters and try them on, too. If they take a picture or record a video with our filter, and share it on their profile, it will include the name and the author of the filter in the top left corner. The more people use it, the more other users might get curious about who’s created it and land on our profile page.

Stats

If we connect our Instagram profile to our Facebook page (anyone can do this, although it’s especially useful for businesses and influencers), Instagram will enable us to see our profile’s stats. In case of Stories, in particular, Instagram will provide information not only on who viewed them, but also the actions users carried out while viewing them: whether they went back to the previous one, or forward to the next one, whether they interacted with our content in any way. This will help us measure the success of our posts and plan which strategies we should replicate and which ones are better left alone.

Links

If we have more than 10,000 followers, Instagram will enable us to put links in our Stories. Our audience will simply have to swipe up to access the content we have linked. If don’t have that amount of followers, the only way to include links will be to paste them in our bio, and let our followers know in our Stories, with a message along the lines of “Link in bio”.

To be honest, if we wanted to talk about all the possibilities Instagram Stories put at our disposal, we probably wouldn’t know where to stop. The important thing to analyse here is a) what our business needs, and b) use every tool provided by the app to get it. If we simply want to show our brand’s most human side, and leave the most professional stuff for our feed, it’s best not to overcomplicate things, and record directly using our smartphone, without putting too much time into editing it. If we hope to establish a connection with our audience and get feedback, we’ll have to make the most of polls, quizzes or questions. There is no need to be afraid to try new things and see what works for us.

Aurora
Autor: Aurora
Gestión de contenidos escritos y audiovisuales en Human Level

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