As an entrepreneur, being an early adopter of new technologies and online platforms can be one of your biggest assets when it comes to standing out in the marketing landscape. Over the past two and a half years, it's become clear that one of the brightest opportunities across the online world has been Instagram Stories. 

First shrugged off as a teenage feature only good for selfies and showing friends what you had for dinner, Instagram Stories has now grown to 500 million daily active users, up 100 million from when it first launched. All this makes it clear the ephemeral feature is anything but a fad.

As it's matured, it's become clear both from success stories and the potential audience reach -- that Stories is something brands, large and small, should be capitalizing on. Here's where to start.

First things first: Instagram Stories aren't for direct selling.

Let's get something out of the way here -- if you're expecting an immediate, dollar-for-dollar return on your investment by being active on Instagram Stories, don't bother starting in the first place. The value of Instagram Stories (along with Instagram in general), lies in its ability to build brand awareness along with deep, meaningful relationships with your audience by giving them a glimpse into your unfiltered life.

Now, even if you go all-in on the idea of Instagram Stories, one of the hardest things about the medium is knowing what to publish. Here are six creative ideas for inspiration.

1. Create behind the scenes footage. 

Because of its unfiltered, raw nature, Instagram Stories can be a terrific place to document the "behind the scenes" footage of your company's content creation process, day-to-day activities around the office and much more. 

For instance, if you're holding a photo shoot to highlight one of your biggest clients, consider posting Instagram Stories of the actual shoot, including the preparation and aftermath. This will help to create more hype and anticipation for the content you're creating.

2. Host Q&A sessions.

Hosting Q&A sessions with questions related to your brand and the industry it's in is a great way to get your audience engaged. To do so, ask your followers to send their questions via Instagram direct message or by leaving a comment on the post announcing the Q&A session. 

3. Make company-wide announcements. 

You should also use Instagram Stories to make important announcements. Whether it's a blog post going live on your website, contests, giveaways, new leadership roles being filled at your company or something else entirely, Stories is a good place to let your audience know what's going on at your business without spamming them with traditional posts.

4. Take advantage of Highlights.

In late 2017, Instagram rolled out Highlights -- a feature that allows users to save their Instagram Stories (which otherwise disappear after 24 hours) to different "folders" that appear on a users' Instagram profile. For example, a local coffee shop may have highlights labeled "Events", "We Love Our Customers" and "Sales & Coupons", which contain all the Stories relevant to each category.

5. Leverage all of the awesome features Instagram offers.

One of the best parts about Instagram Stories is the sheer amount of features and effects it offers for Stories, and the list is always growing. From the rewind feature to the slow-mo effect to Boomerangs to colorful geo filters, your options for making your Stories pop are massive.

Most brands lack creativity in their Instagram Stories, and usually resort to publishing low-quality, standalone product photos, videos with no clear purpose or just republishing content from other channels to their Stories. Don't be boring. Instead, take the liberty to go through each effect and test which you like best. 

6. Get inspired by brands that are doing it right.

Sometimes, the best teacher is observation. Admittedly, there are a ton of brands out there posting downright crappy content to their Instagram Stories, so take caution where you're getting your inspiration from. 

Two companies who have done a terrific job with Instagram Stories are Hubspot and the NFL. Despite being in two completely different categories, the companies keep their audience engaged with fresh content they can't get anywhere else. They also have mastered effective use of Highlights.

When done right, Instagram Stories can truly be one of the best ways to humanize your brand and nurture deeper relationships with your customers. This year and beyond, consider taking advantage of the feature -- it could very well be one of the best decisions you make for your marketing efforts. Best of luck.

Published on: Feb 27, 2019
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