Instagram Story Success

By: Marc Acton, Content Manager

Let’s get this up front, too: We also raised their reach by around 21%, doubled profile views, and increased Direct Messages by nearly 10-fold.

The content marketing universe hasn’t quite figured out Instagram (IG) Stories yet. We know they’re probably going to be important, and we should be doing them, but like Facebook Live and Snapchat, they’re still on the bleeding edge—mostly because they’re too harrrrd. But here’s what iostudio and I learned when we entered the scary space of Probably-Important and came out with some huge wins.

1. Take a story, and put more stories inside your story.

For this project, our end client (through our awesome agency partner and project lead, Fors Marsh Group) was the Army National Guard. Experience told us that for this client, Basic Combat Training is one of the biggest engagement drivers on social. Kids fear it. Parents fear it. And soldiers who have been through it love to comment on it. But what made this the perfect IG story wasn’t just the engagement level. It was that there were a dozen or more mini-stories built in.

The best IG story will have some narrative to it. Like any storytelling medium, you have to take your viewers somewhere. With Basic Training, we had several built-in vignettes to highlight: early morning fitness training, drill sergeants, obstacle courses—even a real, live gas chamber. Each served as a chapter in the IG story. This gave us variety, and kept people tuning in to see what happened next.

Takeaway: Build your larger IG story around mini-stories.

2. Recognize that IG stories are the advertising equivalent of the 24-hour news cycle.

IG stories are designed to represent your (or your brand’s) last 24 hours. In fact, IG won’t even let you post a picture to your story that was taken more than 24 hours prior to posting. This limitation is one huge reason lots of brands aren’t embracing the story. As marketers, we’re just not set up for that kind of creative turnaround. It also doesn’t make sense for most brands to spend a million dollars to create content that’s going to disappear in 24 hours, and those big campaigns are what some of us are best at.

To successfully beat this 24-hour cycle, your team has to be lean. Creative approval processes have to adjust to the demand. The cycle from concept to production has to be shorter. No, even shorter. A liiiiittle bit shorter, even. There you go. Ideas have to go from concept to production, like, now.

Takeaway: Build your IG story team as a self-contained group with concept, production and implementation built in. Remove as many levels of approval as possible.

3. Don’t throw the advertising baby out with the old media bathwater.

The same concepts that earned you all those ADDY awards work here, too. Visual variety, voice, identifying purchase motivators—all of those concepts work no matter where they’re applied. Your story will fail if it feels like an ad—but if you don’t do stuff like including calls to action (CTAs), you’re not going to get max results. For our IG story, our primary conversion mechanism was Direct Messages (DMs). We got somewhere between 6-10 times the DMs on story posts that had CTAs. That means without the CTAs, our story would’ve gotten noticed but would have provided almost no overall increase in conversion. With CTAs spread out about every 6-10 posts, though, we saw massive conversion gains.

Takeaway: Include CTAs, brand messaging, and all the other ad stuff that got you where you are in the first place. Just don’t be obtrusive about it.

4. Monitor, Monitor, Monitor.

For the IG story, we provided the content engine, and our agency partner and account lead, FMG, provided community management. FMG had operators standing by to respond to the story in near real time to any messages or questions. Not just any operators either—these were mostly current or former military, specially chosen because of their intimate knowledge of our product. They answered highly detailed and even technical questions, all while shepherding users toward our sales funnel. They provided value to our customers, not just bot-level responses. Like the CTAs, without a spectacular community management team, our story would’ve come and gone without a noticeable increase in conversion.

Takeaway: Plan for an increased community management requirement. The success of your story will rise or fall based on your engagement team’s quality.

Quick Bonus Tips:

Post to your story regularly over several days. Everyone watching your story has opted in by clicking to watch it. So give them plenty to look at. Every time you post, you’re also putting your story back at the top of your audience’s feeds. As soon as you stop, impressions will trail off very quickly.

Loosen up a little. Our best story post was a group of drill sergeants yelling at new recruits doing push-ups. This could’ve been perceived as negative, but we paired it with a caption that said: “Dear Mom, Met my drill sergeants today…” The end result was funny, acknowledging the inherent challenge at Basic Training but positively associating our brand with family. We also used that post on our regular IG feed, where it became the most popular post in our history.

Don’t forget you can delete parts of your story. There is some risk to a shortened approval process. But if something slips through, you can delete any individual piece of the story.

Have fun. If you’re having fun, your viewers will, too. If you can figure out what your fans find fun about your business (how a pizza oven works, what kind of interesting characters you have on your production floor, the new robot on your assembly line, etc.), that’s probably going to make for a great IG story.


Marc Acton was born at a very young age in a moderately old town in Florida. Some other stuff happened, and then he became iostudio’s Content Manager. For us he proudly pokes and prods projects for the Army National Guard including social media and web, writing and strategizing content that converts. He is a fan of the Oxford comma, saying more with less, and helping write bios for extremely talented iostudians. He also flies helicopters for the Army National Guard. Which reminds us, how can you tell if a helicopter pilot is at your party? (He’ll tell you.)