Instagram is a Top Choice for Brand Marketing and For People Who Want to Follow Brands

Instagram continues to be one of the top social media channels for brand marketers and is second only to Facebook in the number of monthly active users. But based on Q3 2020 data,  Instagram is the social media channel people choose most often to follow brands and companies (Facebook was in fifth place),[1] and Instagram users click on commercial posts 130 million times each month.[2]

Currently, most social media channels are shaping their strategies and changing their algorithms to compete more effectively against TikTok. Within the first year of its development in 2018, there were a million views of TikTok video each day, and by April 2020, the app recorded 2 billion installations. 

TikTok certainly experienced tremendous growth in 2020 and is still trending upward, but the vertical video app appeals mostly to teens and young adults. If your brand targets a slightly older demographic or has a broader user base, Instagram should be your preferred channel for marketing your business.

But which Instagram post format will work best for your social media marketing strategy? Both Stories and Reels are popular on the channel because short-form content appeals to a user base with a limited attention span. Stories and Reels can help you sell on Instagram, but it’s best to know when and how to use them.

Instagram Reels

It’s no surprise that Instagram is heavily promoting its Reels feature after witnessing the phenomenal growth of TikTok in 2020. And when Instagram announced that it had changed its identity to a video-sharing site instead of a photo-sharing site, that was a clear signal that Instagram intended to directly compete with TikTok. 

TikTok aside, there are plenty of other reasons for focusing on short-form video: It’s more engaging, takes less time and fewer resources to create, and it’s easier to repurpose than photo posts. On both platforms, users can create fun and engaging video content that has a 30-second time limit. Brands or individual creators use existing camera roll video or make a new recording and embellish it with stickers, text, filters, sound effects, popular songs, and original audio.

Because Instagram is so committed to promoting Reels, its algorithm is giving this feature greater exposure on the Explore page. Two hundred million Instagram users open the Explore page each day[3] to see new content, search hashtags, and find accounts to follow. If your brand is trying to increase its reach, it makes sense to invest in creating Reels that have a good chance of being picked up by Instagram’s algorithm.

How to Optimize Instagram Reels For Business to Increase Your Chances of Landing on the Explore Feed

Instagram’s algorithm uses ranking signals to determine what will show up on an individual’s Explore page. Most of the information the algorithm needs is derived by looking at accounts the individual has interacted with, and machine learning can easily determine what a user will like based on what they’ve engaged with in the past.

To increase your brand’s chances of being featured in Explore, start by researching your target audience. What kind of content and accounts do they engage with and how can you leverage that information to shape the way you present your content? 

However, it’s not enough to just copy someone else’s content strategy. Your posts should consistently reinforce your brand’s message and product benefits and make it perfectly clear that your post is worth looking at.  Identify what your post is about by using the feature’s video editing tools to create captions, hashtags, and location tags if relevant.  

Then, find the best times of the day for posting Reels by using your Instagram Insights to see when your followers are most active. Even though the goal is to reach new people on Explore, your best source of information about their Instagram behavior is to assume current followers act in similar ways to potential ones (if the target demo is the same).

Next, make sure you choose a thumbnail that will best represent what your post is about. Look at each frame of the Reel’s video clips and select the one that’s the best fit.

Finally, use Instagram’s social media monitoring tools to see how your Reels are performing. Go to your Reels tab and use Instagram Reel insights to see the number of views for each of your Reels. You can also get Reel insights by clicking on an individual Reel to view the number of likes and comments. Using the Reels tab to Monitor performance and optimize your Reels strategy will increase your chances of being featured in Explore.

Instagram Stories

If Instagram Reels are about increasing reach, Instagram Stories are used predominantly for nurturing your current Instagram followers.

Once you’ve introduced your brand to new Instagram followers with Reels, Stories can help them learn more about your products and give them reasons to consider buying them. According to Instagram research, 58% of Instagram users say that Stories has increased their interest in a brand, and 50% report that seeing a product or service in Stories led them to visit a company’s website and make a purchase.[4] 

Don’t expect that posting a few Stories about your product or service will result in a quick sale. Stories are designed to nurture leads over time by engaging, informing, and entertaining followers. Think of using Stories as part of a courtship ritual. You want followers to get to know your brand and discover what makes it stand apart from competitors.

But unlike the overzealous suitor who wears out a welcome by making too many advances, the more Stories you post at regular intervals, the greater your chances of moving your prospects in the direction of your products and services. Stories disappear after 24 hours, so don’t worry about posting every day – they won’t clog users’ feeds. However, what you post must be entertaining, relevant, and useful if you hope to increase brand affinity.

Here are a couple of approaches to help you bond with your followers using Stories:

Use Unexpected and Refreshing Ways to Showcase Your Brand

Take your followers on a tour of the company, let them see your employees at work, or show your organization’s effort to advance a community cause. Behind-the-scenes content like this will let prospective customers see you in a way that extends beyond your goal to drive purchases. Stories that reveal more about a brand’s mission and provide engaging educational content can make your brand appear more human to your followers.

Influencer marketing is an ideal way to humanize your brand and move away from the tough sell tactics that turn off customers. Ask influencers to explain and demonstrate in their own Stories why your products or services can benefit followers or have them create content for your brand’s Stories in what is known as a brand takeover. Influencers are so persuasive because they can talk about your brand in a way that’s natural and authentic. Plus, followers trust influencers’ product recommendations because influencers have established credibility in their niches. 

Improve Your Instagram Engagement with Polls and Surveys

Customers like to feel like they truly matter to a brand, so get them involved in your decision-making by using polls and surveys in your Stories. The bonus for your brand is that you get vital information to use in your marketing efforts at the same time you’re making your followers feel empowered. 

Ask followers which features are most important to them, how they use your products, which colors they prefer, or what kind of content they want to see from you in the future. There are practically no limits to the types of questions you can ask.

Calls to Action in Instagram Stories

When you’ve nurtured your prospective leads with engaging and entertaining content, it’s easier to ask for the sale, and you can drive followers directly to your store from a Story using links.

Until very recently, only accounts with 10,000 or more followers could post links in their Stories, and links would be activated only by swiping up on the post. As of August 2021, the swipe-up feature was replaced with a link sticker that the creator can choose when customizing a Story, and in October, Instagram announced that all users can apply link stickers to their Stories, regardless of follower count.

Instagram decided to switch to stickers because people are already using stickers in their Stories to ask questions, take polls, indicate locations, and add music. Viewers can also react or reply to link stickers, which is an option that wasn’t available with the swipe-up feature. Finally, brands and creators can use Instagram’s editing tools to customize the link sticker so that it aligns with their aesthetic and matches the other design details in the Story.

How to Improve Stories’ Discoverability

When an Instagram user opens the app, Stories are featured at the top of the page and very difficult to miss. But there are other ways to lure followers – and even non-followers – to your Stories. While Stories is mostly about lead nurturing, it can also be a discovery tool.

Instagram hashtags have long been a reliable way for Instagram users to search for topics or brands that interest them, and they can be used for Stories as well as regular posts. And if your brand serves a local market or geographic region, add a location sticker when customizing your Story.

Stories discovery by location was temporarily put on hold In October 2020 in order to limit misinformation before the U.S. presidential election. But Instagram is currently beta-testing a new location feature on the Explore page. Called Map Search, the tool is designed mostly for food establishments, but will also showcase stores, entertainment venues, and other spots that match a user’s geographic location. It’s not yet clear when this feature will be available to all accounts.

Use Reels and Stories to Meet Your Marketing Objectives

While people may turn to YouTube to get product and watch long-form, in-depth how-to videos, Instagram is the channel where people go to find inspiration, make connections, and view entertaining short-form video or photo posts. 

If your brand can appeal to the Instagram community by meeting those needs, users will be in the right frame of mind to learn about your products and be more inclined to buy them. Use Instagram Reels as part of your social media marketing strategy to get noticed and earn new followers. Then, use Instagram Stories to convert those followers into loyal customers.