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Published May 17th 2021

Instagram Stories Features and How Marketers Can Use Them

Read about seven great Instagram Stories features you can make the most of, plus tips and tricks for incorporating them into your social media marketing strategy

Instagram Stories are the popular kid in school. Everyone knows them, everyone likes them, and they keep spreading new trends that people want to jump on. But Instagram Stories are way more popular than any prom king or homecoming queen – hundreds of millions of people use them every day.

And marketers on Instagram have recognized how powerful they can be. That probably has a lot to do with two things: Instagram being backed by Facebook and their powerful Ads Manager, and the awesome features for Instagram Stories they’ve been pumping out nonstop.

In this post we’ve compiled seven great features you can make the most of. We'll also break down some simple tips for implementing them in your social media marketing strategy.

We’ll cover these new Instagram Stories updates:

  1. Instagram Create Mode
  2. Close Friends List
  3. Stories Donation Stickers
  4. Shoppable Tags in Stories
  5. AR Filters
  6. Instagram Music Stickers
  7. Reels

So, let’s get into it, shall we?

1. Leverage Instagram Stories Create Mode

Don’t worry, the Instagram camera we all know and love is still there.

Now, it’s just revamped with a completely new Create Mode, allowing people to create content without sharing photos or videos.

You can (finally) attach Gifs via Giphy, repost Stories you’re tagged in, and create countdowns to important events. Popular Story features like drawing, polls and question boxes are also available, making this a great option for anyone who wants to create text-based content without taking a photo or video first.

And what’s more—Instagram has added an “On This Day” button, pretty much making #ThrowbackThursday an official thing.

The update is also a bid to align features across platforms: the”On This Day” function has been a popular feature on Facebook since 2015. 

With this new update, it’s becoming clear that the best camera for Instagram might just be, well, the in-app camera itself.

How to use the Instagram Stories Create Mode

So, how to use the new Instagram update? 

  1. Open the camera like you normally would.
  2. Click on the “Create” text on the menu at the bottom.
  3. Select the feature you want to use on your Story.
  4. Place the sticker where you want it on screen.
  5. Publish your Story for all your followers to see.

If you’re using question stickers, here’s how to reply:

  1. Your followers reply to your sticker by tapping it and entering the text of their question.
  2. Their questions show up in the viewers list of your Instagram Story.
  3. Tap the question you want to respond, generating a new Story.
  4. Enter your answer as a text sticker on the new Story and publish it.

Tips for marketers

  • Take full advantage of the vast database of Gifs available. Giphy reportedly has over 1 billion gifs, so you’ll definitely find something for every occasion.
  • Try using the question stickers and host an “ask me anything”-style interview with a well-known person at your company to humanize your brand and generate curiosity among your followers.
  • Reverse the equation and use the prompt to ask your audience a question instead, like what they think of your latest product or how they’re using it.
  • Just open the floor and let users ask whatever they want, then showcase your customer service skills in your responses and make people feel noticed (and don’t worry—only you can see all the responses, and you have total control over which ones you reply to).
  • Use the “On This Day” feature to repurpose your old content as a “throwback”: show an old behind the scenes photo, or highlight a past event or milestone.

2. The Close Friends List lets you choose who views your Stories

One of the newer kids on the block is the Instagram Close Friends List function. While it does look like a feature meant primarily for private users, brands are slowly starting to see its value, too.

Basically, the feature allows you to post stories that are visible exclusively to the people on the list. You can edit the list at any time, and friends are never notified when you add or remove them. And just like regular Stories, the post will be visible for only 24 hours.

Stories on the Close Friends List come with a green circle, which is displayed on your profile and in the Stories queue on your feed, instead of the pink circle of regular of Stories.

And if someone has shared a Close Friends List Story with you, you’ll see their Story with a green circle, too. Close Friends Stories will often appear at the beginning of the Stories queue, so you’ll notice them quickly.

This feature has a ton of potential for marketers. Here are just some of the ways marketers can use it:

  • Use it to create a list of your best VIP customers: provide them with sneak peeks, product updates and special discounts, and interact with them using the usual Stories functions
  • Share content that is meant only for customers: behind the scenes, product updates, exclusive interviews, etc.
  • Spice up your physical events: create a list of attendees and provide them with exclusive content leading up and during your event
  • Provide customers in the same geographical area with local content
  • Create a list for influencers and collaborators where you share key information about upcoming products, campaigns, or anything else you want them to promote on their profiles
  • Gather customer feedback by creating a list of top customers and using the Stories’ interactive features, such as polls and the question box, to gather their opinions

How to use the Close Friends List

  1. Start building the Close Friends List by going to your profile, and clicking on the three lines at the upper right corner, and selecting “Close Friends.”
  2. Add people to the list by searching for them and clicking “add”. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to how many people you can add to the list.
  3. Once you have added people, you can view them in the “Your List” section, along with a button to remove them. And remember: nobody will be notified if you add or remove them.
  4. Once you have a list, make a Story like you normally would but publish it only to your Close Friends List.
  5. And voilà—the Story will be published (and visible in the Stories queue) only to people on the Close Friends List.

Tips for marketers

  • Use the Close Friends List as a way to connect with a key segment of your audience, such as your best customers or brand ambassadors
  • Take advantage of the exclusivity of the list by offering content not otherwise available, such as sneak peeks and behind the scenes
  • Use the list to source ideas from your key customers on product development, campaign ideas, etc.
  • Try posting Close Friends Lists as often as possible, as they stand out and are often displayed first on the platform

3. The Instagram Donation button brings fundraising to the masses

It’s no secret that social businesses and mission-driven brands are doing very well today.

Just look at Toms. The company makes simple espadrilles, but they’ve grown into a widely recognized global brand with over 60 million shoes sold to date. We say their buy-one-give-one model has a lot to do with their success.

With people being more socially and environmentally conscious than ever, it is no surprise that Instagram unveiled their donation sticker feature this year.

Basically, the feature brings fundraising to the masses. Anyone is now able to collect donations for NGOs, and the funds will be transferred directly into their accounts.

And what’s even better is that Instagram is covering 100% of the credit card and processing fees. 

How to use the Instagram Donation Sticker (if you’re a nonprofit)

  1. Set up Donations on your Facebook page.
  2. Connect your Instagram to your Facebook account.
  3. Make sure you have an Instagram business profile.
  4. Once you’re registered as a business profile and connected your Facebook and Instagram accounts, your NGO should show up in the sticker donation search for users searching for NGOs on Instagram.

Tips for marketers

  • If you’re a nonprofit, collaborate with an influencer or celebrity to bring publicity and drive donations.
  • If you’re a nonprofit, incentivize your audience to organize fundraisers at scale.
  • If you’re a marketer, organize a fundraiser for a worthy cause to humanize and bring buzz around brand.

4. You can now shop your favorite influencers’ wardrobe with Instagram Shoppable Tags

Last year, Instagram brought shoppable tags to Stories. 

This one was a pretty major announcement for any digital marketers working in e-commerce. Before this, shoppable tags were only available to select retailers for use in feed posts.

What’s new in 2020? Well, now shoppable tags are available influencers, athletes, artists, celebrities and other public figures. 

You heard that right, you can now shop the wardrobe of your favorite influencer. 

The feature works just like all other Shoppable tags: public figures can tag products in Stories and in feed posts. Followers can then buy the products directly on Instagram.

It’s clear why this is a big deal for brands: shoppable tags highlight their products in one of the trendiest, most engaging formats available on social media right now.

And with this new update, influencer marketing will become an even more powerful strategy, as followers can now buy products directly from influencers.

According to a press release from Instagram, both creators and brands will receive shared insights of the performance of posts. 

All in all, this means higher conversion rates, more traffic for your Instagram account and website, and better ROI from your social media marketing efforts.

How to use Shoppable Tags on Instagram Stories (if you’re an influencer)

  1. You’ll need to have at least 10,000 followers or have a verified profile to be considered an influencer.
  2. If you fulfill this condition, you should automatically see a link icon at the top of your screen when you post a story.
  3. Hit Done and share your Story.
  4. The “See More” function should now be visible on your Story.

Of course, getting your catalog set up and approved is the hard part—but once that’s done, it’s unbelievably easy to implement shoppable tags in your Stories. You can tag up to five products in a single image post, or up to 20 in a carousel post.

Tips for marketers

  • Collaborate with influencers and content creators who are a good fit with your brand image and positioning, but don’t only focus on that—the ability to drive sales is key heret, so look for creators with a passionate audience and meaningful engagement.
  • Keep your product titles short but sweet, since you have limited space on the tag itself. Use catchy or intriguing names to get users to tap for more details.
  • Since product prices are one of the few details that show up on shoppable tags, make use of pricing psychology to make your price labels more attractive (i.e. ending prices in .99)
  • Do also use Shoppable Tags on your brand account, but don’t overdo it—too many on screen at once will look cluttered and unprofessional. Stick to no more than two or three per image or video so each product stands out.

5. Instagram face filters are here: AR is now open to all

Last year, Instagram made waves when it finally opened up the creation of Augmented Reality (AR) filters to the public. 

The face filters are created using Facebook’s Spark AR Studio, which up until this summer was only open to brands and professional AR creators.

The feature is already hugely popular. According to Mark Zuckerberg, more than a billion people have used experiences created with the AR studio so far.

What’s more—there seems to be an emerging industry developing around AR filters. Top creators of Instagram face filters are already paid big bucks by brands who want to engage with particularly Gen Z and Millennials.

As an example, Kylie Cosmetics created Instagram story filters allowing users to try on lipstick shades, and the NBA created a slam-dunking basketball player filter, that users could add to their Stories.

We say this feature is here to stay, and you’ll likely see many new face filters on Instagram in the future.

Tips for marketers

  • Let customers try before they buy: create an AR filter allowing them to try on your product. The sky really is the limit here, we’ve seen AR try-on filters from shoes to makeup.
  • Activate your audience to share content around an event by creating a custom AR filter.
  • Create a filter for a new product release to encourage buzz around your brand and drive engagement.
  • Use a custom filter to support a cause or a brand fundraiser.

6. Instagram music stickers – now with lyrics, and in even more markets

Instagram has a music feature, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. 

The feature was released last year in some key markets, like the US. This year brought good news for marketers in Europe: music stickers for Stories were rolled out to seven new markets—the Nordics, the Netherlands, Romania, and Slovakia. 

Instagram music stickers allow users to have their favorite songs play in the background of their Story. No more awkwardly quiet Stories—and you can even pick the section of the song that serves as your soundtrack.

Another new addition is a feature allowing users to post song lyrics along with their songs. 

For brands, this isn’t going to be a way to boost your ROI or make sales. However, it’s an extra feature in your toolkit you can use to make your Stories more engaging and entertaining for your audience.

The right song with the right image can make your brand message all the more memorable, too—so this is one new Instagram feature worth experimenting with.

With an archive containing thousands of songs, Instagram is almost a music app in its own right. You’ll definitely find something for every mood here.

How to add music to Instagram Story

  1. Take or select a photo or video to add to your Story.
  2. Tap to add a sticker and select the music icon from the menu.
  3. Find your desired song by searching for it or browsing different genres, moods, or top charts.If you want to make sure it’s the right song, listen to a preview by tapping the play button.
  4. Scroll through the song to find the perfect clip for your picture or video.
  5. Bonus: you can pick your song clip before taking a video for your Instagram Story as well by swiping to Music and selecting a song before hitting record.

Tips for marketers

  • Use songs to make memorable moments or a clever play on words with the content in your Stories—like an audio company putting ‘Good Vibrations’ as a soundtrack when announcing their latest speakers (ok, we know that’s kind of cheesy).
  • If you work in the music industry, promote songs that relate to what you’re selling. Record labels, promote the newest artist you’ve signed. Guitar companies, include a song recorded on your guitars. You get the idea.
  • Use songs that resonate with your target audience to make your followers feel like you’re in touch with their tastes and interests. If you’re marketing to 18- to 24-year-olds, for example, use songs that are trending on college radio to show you’re keeping up with the latest music.

7. Instagram Reels – 15-second creative video clips with music

TikTok has become quite the sensation, even surpassing Instagram on the app store. While still mainly popular among younger users, the swift rise of the app has probably made Instagram’s execs more than a little nervous.

In the past, we’ve seen Instagram respond to competition by launching similar features in its own app. The most notable example occurred when Instagram launched its Stories feature, which was originally popularized by Snapchat.

That’s why it doesn’t come as a big surprise that Instagram is now taking on TikTok by introducing its “Reels” mode.

With this update, Instagram users can create 15-second video clips set to music and share them as Stories. Clips also have the potential to go viral on a new “Top Reels” section on the Explore page. Much like TikTok, the feature will have a vast music database and creative editing options, like varying playback speed and ‘ghosting’ (not the post-date kind), which enables users to create more seamless scene transitions.

What does this mean or marketers? If Reels takes off, brands will have the opportunity to form partnerships that leverage experience-driven engagement, creativity, and self-expression that audiences, especially Gen Z, prefer.

The Instagram update is currently available only in Brazil, but you can probably expect it rolled out to new markets soon.

What’s next for Instagram Stories?

With the impressive number of new features and updates Instagram has already released for Stories, it’s no surprise that they’ll be pumping out even more in the near future.

For one thing, you can probably expect even more face filters and other cool augmented reality camera effects going forward.

Another feature reportedly in the works is replying to stories with a Gif, discovered by “app whisperer” Jane M. Wong. It’s worth keeping an eye on her Twitter if you want to be the first in the know of potential up-and-coming features.

Music features in Stories are on the rise as well, so it wouldn’t surprise us to see more music app integrations in the near future—after all, Spotify is already on board.Instagram’s partnership with Spotify could mean even more music features for Stories around the corner.

Finally, in this period where parent company Facebook is increasingly monetizing its software products, we can expect to see shoppable tags in Stories continue to evolve and gain new features, especially with regards to native shopping and in-app purchases in Instagram.

All in all, now is a better time than ever for brands to take advantage of the latest Instagram Stories features, both paid and organic.

But whether you’re publishing Stories natively or from an SMM platform, they’re a feature you can’t afford to ignore in today’s social media landscape.

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