How to maximise engagement with Instagram Stories

Whether you’re an avid Instagram user or not, it’s fair to say that the platform’s Stories feature, rolled out in August 2016, has superseded Snapchat among millennials and even much of Gen Z. If you’re marketing a personal brand through social media, getting on board with Stories is essential. But how can you stand out in a sea of other accounts that your followers are also following, ranging from their best friends to their favourite clothing lines? How can you make sure that people keep going back to your stories, and see them bumped to the top of their feed?

Personally, I don’t have a big following (shouts to the 417 people showing love!), but over 25% of my followers regularly view my stories from start to finish. Proportionally, this is higher than it sounds, especially when you consider the number of brand accounts and inactive users on Instagram, who never click on anyone’s stories. In contrast, I’ve spoken to artists with thousands of followers whose story views rarely hit three figures, and I think I know why.

Audience retention is absolutely key if you’re looking to make the most out of social media. So, how can you get people to keep coming back to your Instagram Stories? Here are a few tips from personal experience…

1. Know yourself

Whose stories do you engage with the most, and why? A good thing to consider before posting a story is ‘if it was someone else posting this, would I want to see it?’

Instagram’s algorithms are a black box, but there are certain factors that seem to make a discernible difference to where you rank on people’s story bar: if you open someone’s story every time they post something new, and/or follow their story all the way to the end before closing it, Instagram will bump your story up your followers’ queue accordingly so that it appears nearer the front. This should be a key objective for anyone using Instagram.

This basic knowledge of Instagram algorithms will help you with self-reflection. Who pops up at the front of your queue of stories when you open the app? Why do you watch their stories so often? What makes them worth the clicks?
 It should without saying, don’t try and copy these people’s content or to imitate their personalities – instead pay attention to their techniques, and decide which is the best fit for you and your personal brand.

2. Know your audience

Unless you’ve set up a dedicated business account, or you’re already very successful and your fans vastly outnumber your real-world connections, your followers are probably fairly evenly split between friends, acquaintances, and existing and potential customers. This can make it difficult to decide what tone to use on your Insta: personal or professional?

Striking a balance between the two can be an effective approach. For example, your story can be a great place to announce a new job or showcase professional victories; equally, you might want to share news about significant life events, or photos from your travels. The important thing here is not sharing so much of the minutia of your daily life that you alienate potential customers, and not being so formal that you alienate your friends. Of course, ensure that you don’t veer too far into oversharing – there’s always the Close Friends setting for that!

3. Quality over quantity

Nothing interesting to post on your story today? Then don’t
. A good way to look at it is ‘you’re only as interesting as your last post’. Can you start a conversation around it? Will people remember it tomorrow? Will they remember you tomorrow?

Of course, some types of posts, like memes, giveaways, and gossip, can seem like ‘shortcuts’ in terms of attracting large audiences quickly and sparking conversation around your name, but these should be used sparingly and cautiously, as they can cheapen or discredit your personal brand.

Don’t worry that you’re not posting stories often enough – this doesn’t seem to affect your positioning on people’s feeds. What will affect it is having gargantuan stories which people abandon early because they don’t have the patience to watch them in full.

Personally, I try not to post more than three items to my story in a 24-hour period. When I’ve got news or I’m doing something interesting, I get photos or videos and pick the best one(s) to go on my story ASAP.
 When I’m not doing anything worth sharing, I don’t post anything!

4. Avoid repeating content

No one likes seeing the same photo come up on their feed five or ten times. Similarly, if you’re promoting a new music video and a fan shares it to their story, don’t share the share by pressing that ‘Add to My Story’ button, just like or reply to the message instead! Your followers’ thumbs are going to be put through a real workout of clicking through identical posts, and at some point they may get so fatigued by this that they stop watching your story. It’s hard to get them back after that.

Announcing announcements is a similar sin: unless you have a really loyal fanbase, people aren’t going to go out of their way to visit your page several hours later to find out your news. Just reveal it at the right time and save people the three seconds they would have wasted watching an extra story post.
 Besides, this approach implies that some of your posts are more significant than others, when in reality every post should feel significant if you want to keep your followers engaged and clicking on your stories.

5. Think carefully when making calls to action

The words ‘link in my bio’ will be painfully familiar to anyone not lucky enough to have a verified account with the ‘swipe up to visit link’ function. Both of these techniques can be great, but the ‘link in my bio’ approach needs to be carefully considered if you want people to actually visit it.

Remember, Insta stories are designed to be consumed en masse, and often without viewers tapping on the screen at all. The way they’re set up, with each photo on a timer and leading to the next person’s story, is testament to that. Asking your followers to exit the story view by clicking on your profile and then clicking on a link in your bio is going to disrupt that flow and stop them from racing through more peoples’ stories (or, potentially, stop them from seeing the rest of your story if you post something else afterwards).

Your followers want to know that clicking the link will be worth their kinetic energy – so show them! If you’ve just launched a new website, post a screenshot from it on your story along with the ‘link in my bio’ prompt; similarly, if you’ve just released a music video, post a clip from the video directly to your story – not a static image, and not a link to a post on your profile which contains the video. If you show the viewer a sample which requires as little effort from them as possible to view, they’ll get a feel for your content even if they’re watching stories in hands-free mode. If they like it enough, that’s more likely to entice them to check it out.

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Hope these tips were some useful food for thought! If you’d like to add any thoughts, or to debate anything I’ve written here, feel free to leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter (@LukeBallance) or Instagram (@LukeBallance). More life 🙏