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How small businesses can use ‘stories’ to reach target audiences

4 minute read

Rachel Ingram
smartphone recording

While they’re not completely new, social media ‘stories’ have marketing potential that many businesses are only just beginning to discover. But what are they, how do they work, and most importantly, how can your business use them?

What are social media stories?

The idea of stories originated with Snapchat back in 2013, but their popularity soon spread and other platforms added them too – notably Instagram and Facebook, but also Skype, YouTube and WhatsApp. Twitter’s ‘Moments’ are a similar idea.

‘Stories’ are short pieces of content designed to be viewed once, usually displaying as a slide that appears for a few seconds before moving onto the next one. Importantly, they only last for 24 hours and then they’re automatically deleted. This makes stories a great way to share content that you don’t necessarily want permanently on your profile page – such as something fun or silly, or something that’s only relevant for a short space of time (such as promoting a competition or event).

Each platform has its own version, but the basic principles are the same. Story content shows up in its own section, not in the main news feed, and replies to stories go straight to the content creator, so there’s not the same sense of engagement as there is with a regular post.

You can share photos, videos or text on a story. Stories typically also have fun features that you can use to add interest to your content. On Instagram, for instance, you can (among many other things) add text, locations and hashtags, mention other users, add polls, stickers and gifs, and use fun filters to create entertaining content.

Stories are a useful tool for tapping into the trend towards storytelling in marketing, and with 52% of male users and 43% of female users using Instagram Stories in the US alone, and 450 million daily active users on Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and WhatsApp Status combined, the potential for reaching new audiences is huge.

10 ways to use stories for your business

As with virtually any new feature on social media, stories present abundant opportunities for businesses to engage with their customers and spread brand awareness to reach new audiences. Not sure where to start? Here are ten ideas for making the most of stories.

1. Showcase events

Stories are a great way to broadcast what’s happening at an event your business is running or attending, such as what you’re doing at a trade show, exhibition or product launch.

2. Location tags

Include a location on your stories so that people searching for businesses nearby are more likely to find you.

3. Hashtags

Just as you would in a normal post, use hashtags to help people find you when they’re searching for specific topics. This will increase your story views and help potential customers discover you.

4. Mentions

Use the @ symbol to mention other accounts, whether you want to give a shoutout to a loyal customer or tell your followers about an influencer who’s been seen with one of your products. When you mention another account in your Instagram stories, the mentioned user gets the option to share your update with their followers, resulting in more views.

5. Polls and quizzes

Use engagement features such as polls and quizzes to ask for customers’ opinions or get them interacting with your brand. Read more about how to use social media polls here.

6. Countdowns

Use the ‘countdown’ sticker on Instagram to drum up interest in new product or store launches.

7. Live broadcasts

Go live and show followers what you’re up to in real time. Their comments and likes will show up to other users viewing the broadcast, so there’s more of a sense of participation and engagement with your brand.

8. Repost content you’re mentioned in

If another user tags you in their story, you can share it with your followers. This is a great way to show other followers that people are enjoying your products or services.

9. Story highlights

This archive function on Instagram allows brands to showcase past story content on their profiles, which can provide a handy overview for people visiting the page for the first time. Covent Garden eatery @yakiyaki.ldn is a great example.

10. Include a call-to-action

Using a clear call-to-action to prompt users to find out more about your business will help boost the success of your stories. Calls-to-action in videos increase leads by 380% according to KISSmetrics, so be sure to encourage followers to visit your website, sign up for your newsletter or whatever else you want them to do.

It’s worth noting that stories are primarily a visual feature – they don’t work so well if you’ve got lots to say and need that information to stick around. Although it’s possible to ‘pause’ a story by pressing and holding it while you read it, many users may not bother, so keep any text short and sweet – even if you’re using Instagram’s ‘Type Mode’.

Another thing worth remembering: because Facebook and Instagram are linked, you can post stories to both at once. This is a good way of reducing your workload if you’re trying to keep both accounts up-to-date.

Story advertising

Unsurprisingly, you also have the option to advertise using Instagram Stories, as well as on Facebook Stories, via Facebook Ads. According to Instagram, “one third of the most viewed stories come from businesses, and one in five stories gets a direct message from its viewers”.

The full-screen, vertical format of a Facebook or Instagram Story ad makes it visually striking, and a great way to capture people’s attention as they sit watching the latest Stories from the accounts they already follow. Find out more about Instagram Story ads here and Facebook Stories ads here.

Social media marketing is a vast and ever-changing subject, and stories are just one small facet of how these networks can help grow your business. Get lots more tips on this fascinating topic by browsing some of these other social media posts and perfect your Instagram marketing with this online guide. 

Rachel Ingram is a freelance copywriter with a background in digital marketing. She's written copy for clients ranging from the United Nations World Food Programme to The North Face, and particularly enjoys working with lifestyle and travel brands. In her spare time, she volunteers for Guide Dogs and flies light aircraft and helicopters.

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