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Which Instagram Story Formats Really Engage Viewers [New Research]

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Which Instagram Story Formats Really Engage Viewers [New Research]


In 2021, Instagram reported over 500 million users viewed Stories. 

Since launching in 2016, the Stories feature alone has made Instagram more popular than other Story and mobile video platform competitors including Snapchat, TikTok, and its owner’s own platform: Facebook Stories.

 

Even if you’ve already published a handful of branded Stories, you still might want to up your game by making them even more engaging. After all, Stories can provide great benefits related to audience engagement, brand awareness, and even purchase-related conversions.

Despite the growing number of benefits that Instagram Stories offers brands, crafting good content still takes time, energy, and brainstorming. Even when you put your best efforts into creating a Story, you might still find that it falls flat, sees a high drop-off, or shows other signs of low engagement.

As you build your social media content strategy for 2022, you might be asking yourself, “What type of Instagram Story format do people actually engage with?”

In this post, I’ll highlight what consumers said about their favorite Instagram Story formats, the trends marketers are noticing, and show you examples along the way.

Which Formats Marketers Are Leveraging [HubSpot Blog Data]

The HubSpot Blog surveyed over 1,000 marketers to learn more about their marketing strategies in 2022. According to this survey, 78% of marketers leverage Instagram Stories in their roles. Of those who use Instagram Stories, 43% post on behalf of their brand multiple times per week. The marketers in this survey note audience viewership of Instagram Stories declines after four to six Instagram Story pages. 

According to the marketers we surveyed, here are the most common Instagram Story types subjects that result in the greatest ROI.

Content That Reflects Brand Values

Per the HubSpot Blog survey, 18% of marketers indicated Instagram Story content that reflected their brand’s values produced the greatest ROI. Considering 71% of consumers want to buy from brands that align with their personal values, this piece of data isn’t surprising. 

When companies are upfront about their core values related to topics such as diversity, inclusion, sustainability, and human rights, buyers are able to quickly determine a brand’s stance on a particular topic. 

Similarly, it’s important that consumers know why your brand exists, and how you can serve them. Regularly incorporating your company’s mission and vision into your content can also help your audience feel more connected to your brand.

Product-Focused Content

Consumers want to see your product in action! Whether it is through regular demonstrations by your team, user-generated content from other happy customers, or positive reviews, product-related content can deliver positive results. When crafting Instagram Stories, find creative ways to present your products that appeal to your audience. 

Interactive Content

On Instagram Stories, interactive frames have a specific call-to-action or way viewers can get involved from within the app. This often includes using Instagram’s Poll or Quiz sticker, inviting users to share a specific piece of content themselves, or a game. Here’s an example from @fentybeauty, who used Instagram’s slide feature to poll their audience.

Instagram Story Format: an example of an interactive Instagram Story

Trendy Content

Trend-related content entails coverage of a recent cultural moment or news story. This type of content can range from informative (breaking news) to humorous (posting a meme related to a recent event). Trendy content is well-suited for Instagram Stories because of it is best consumed quickly and while relevant. Unlike a feed post that can take days to reach an audience, the 24-hour period an Instagram Story is live can be a great place to share content that is only relevant for a short period of time. 

Now that we know what content marketers are prioritizing in Instagram Stories, let’s look at what formats consumers prefer and engage with most often.

Which Format Consumers Are Actually Watching

While some brands and users post Stories focused purely on interactive features, others might post visual storytelling content such as short narratives or longer video stories that feel more like documentaries.

But, which one of the many Instagram Story formats is most intriguing to people? To get to the bottom of which Story style is most engaging, I surveyed 350 people using Lucid software to learn more about their favorite Story formats, sound preferences, and ideal Story length.

I asked consumers, “Which Instagram Story are you most likely to tap all the way through until the end?”

At this point, you may have your own predictions of how people might have voted. While research says that interactive stickers, such as Quizzes, Polls, or Questions are highly engaging, you might also be thinking about the times you’ve tapped through an influencer or brand’s behind-the-scenes videos via their Story. So which, ultimately did people choose?

Stories centered around Quiz or Poll stickers were one of the most popular formats with 15% of the votes. However, 35% of consumers actually prefer short narratives with a mix of photos, text, and videos.

Which types of Instagram Stories do you tap all the way through?

Data Source: Lucid Software

Short Narrative Stories

Short narratives are basically articles translated for a more visual audience. They rely on brief paragraphs and bullet points of text, accompanied by related visuals, to tell a story in a few cohesive short slides. Here’s a great example of a short story that swipes up to a longer piece of web content from Harvard Business Review:

Harvard Business Review Instagram Story

This strategy is a great way to get more eyes on your blog content without asking people to leave the Instagram app.

Aside from informing your audience of a topic related to your industry, you can also take a note from HBR and other publishers by using Stories as a traffic generator. In the example above, HBR — which has a verified account — has adapted a long-form article into a short Story and included the full post at the end as a swipe-up link.

With this tactic, the Instagram Story serves as a teaser as viewers who are very interested in the topic can swipe up to read more about it on HBR.org.

Quiz or Poll-Centered Stories

Another strong Story format uses Quiz or Poll stickers. Essentially, these Stories feel like they are just created to quiz the viewer by including the Quiz sticker on most pages, or brands can leverage Stories with polls primarily on each page to get their audience’s insights on a topic.

These Stories are intriguing and entertaining to viewers because it allows them to test themselves and learn about a new topic interactively, or vote in a poll and see what other audiences think about a certain topic or theme. Here’s an example of an interactive Story from HubSpot which centered around a Poll-styled quiz and revealed the answers at the end.

HubSpot Poll Instagram Story

While you can also use an actual Quiz sticker, which will immediately tell viewers quiz questions, HubSpot’s strategy also works as it allows viewers to get a glimpse at what others guessed and see a rundown of the actual answers at the end. This might keep viewers engaged, entertained, and in the Story for longer if they know that there will be a payoff on the last page.

While fewer people voted for Stories centered around Question stickers, this feature could still be a great feature to experiment with as it can help you interact with and learn more about your audience in a more open-ended way that Polls.

Here’s an example of a Question sticker in a HubSpot Story. After this page, the Story went on to share the answers that viewers submitted.

HubSpot Questions INstagram Story

Although open-ended questions seem like a great way to learn about and interact with your audience, keep in mind that viewers will need to take time to fill out answers rather than simply tapping on a Poll or Quiz sticker. This means that if your audience isn’t as interested in the topic or question, you might run into issues getting responses.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use and leverage the Instagram Questions sticker in your Stories, check out this helpful guide which includes examples of brands that used the feature successfully.

Demos and Tutorials

Brands can also leverage tutorials and demos, which was the fifth most popular Story style. This tactic might be especially helpful if you’re interested in ecommerce or purchase-related conversions as a growing number of people prefer to learn more about products via video. Here’s an example of a tutorial from Kylie Cosmetics, where CEO Kylie Jenner puts on a new lip liner from the brand.

Kylie Cosmetics Instagram Story Tutorial

Story formats that include demos or tutorials can be advantageous to brands because it allows them to show off how their products work. Additionally, if you have over 10,000 followers or are a verified user, you can link these Stories to your ecommerce site or a purchasing page for the products shown. This way, if a viewer is impressed by a tutorial or demo, they can simply swipe up to learn more about or purchase the product.

A Mix of Content

Because many people don’t have a preference or prefer a mix of multiple elements in Instagram Stories, be sure to add a bit of variation to your content strategy. For example, brainstorm ways to add interactive features, such as Quiz or Poll stickers to narratives, tutorials, or other types of Story content. This will add an extra layer of engaging content to a Story that might already be interesting to viewers.

Here’s an example of a Story from Starbucks that mixes in storytelling and interactive stickers to announce the return of a popular seasonal beverage:

Starbucks Instagram Story

Other Instagram Story Formats

When it came to the Story styles with lower rankings, consumers were actually less interested in behind-the-scenes content, mini-documentaries, and Stories that center around customer testimonials.

This might hint that marketers on these platforms might want to be thinking more creatively when launching content on Instagram Stories. Rather than just focusing on your product or customer testimonials, you might want to test out creating informative short narratives or interactive Stories that relate strongly to your brand. While this will engage Instagram audiences, it might also show off your company’s expertise in its industry.

While this poll deemed a few Story formats less engaging, I still encourage you to mix things up and experiment with some of these styles just in case they work for you. Here are a few to try.

Customer Testimonials

Although customer testimonials aren’t as interesting to consumers, this doesn’t mean that you should scratch them entirely. In fact, they’re still a commonly used tactic in many brands and industries, despite consumer preferences. For example, a number of companies, like Planet Fitness, have built their strategy around testimonials. Here’s an example:

Planet Fitness Instagram Story

In the above scenario, the customer testimonial strategy works for Planet Fitness because it helps gym prospects feel less intimidated and more motivated to take on physical fitness after seeing a customer’s success story.

Behind-the-Scenes Stories

No, behind-the-scenes Stories don’t necessarily talk about your product front and center, but they can give prospects an idea of what your company is like, the inner workings of your industry, and a look at the staff that customers could work with.

Behind-the-scenes videos allow you to show off how hardworking or relatable your business might be, which might make viewers feel more comfortable working with you.

One example of a brand that uses this technique is the NBA. The basketball league regularly shares videos of professional basketball players behind the scenes at games or celebrations. In the image below, they shared an Instagram Story video of basketball players taking a photo with the rapper Drake:

NBA Instagram Story

Mini-Documentaries

Like narrative-style Instagram content, mini-documentaries tell journalistic stories that are slightly more complex and primarily centered on video — like a documentary that you tap through.

These are often higher-quality and incredibly informative, so they are more prominently used by publishers such as National Geographic. Here’s just the beginning of a long documentary-styled Story where NatGeo visits NASA’s offices to uncover facts about the first moon landing:

NASA Instagram Story

If you’re a small to medium-sized business that’s just ramping up your Instagram strategy, you might want to stick to a short narrative Story, like the ones noted at the beginning of this post. These will allow you to similarly show a combination of videos, photos, and text without as much production time and effort. However, if you’re a content creator or feel like covering an event or newsworthy topic in your industry might boost brand awareness, you might want to experiment with this longer-form, in-depth visual storytelling style.

Ideal Story Length

For years, social media managers have been trying to determine how long the perfect Instagram Story should be. This has been such a major question that marketing blogs and publications have done further research on the matter.

If you’re a small to medium-sized business marketer, Story length is a valid thing to consider, especially if you have low time or resources. While you ideally want to engage people with low dropoff throughout your entire Story, you might not want to spend time making incredibly long pieces of content with multiple pages if you know people in your industry usually only tap through a small number of pages.

So, what exactly is a good Story length? To get some added insight on this, I surveyed the 350 consumers and asked them, “On average, how many pages of an Instagram Story will you tap through before swiping out?”

Before looking at the results, you might think “The ideal Story should be as short as possible,” simply because it’s content on a fast-paced social media platform. But, then, you might also remember that a number of publications, like Harvard Business Publishing and The Washington Post have leveraged Stories as a way to share long-form content.

So, which approach is right and which is wrong?’

It seems that there are solid themes in ideal Story length, however, there still might not be an ideal number of pages in this type of content.

According to the poll, 63% of consumers will tap through six pages or less, with 34% saying they tap through four to six pages on average. This data aligns with the feedback we got from marketers through our HubSpot Blog survey. However, more than one-third of consumers will tap through stories with more than seven pages, with 20% saying they’ll tap through 10 or more.

How long should an Instagram Story be?

Data Source: Lucid Software

The results above are similar to research published by Buffer which noted that Stories made up of seven or fewer pages are the most engaging. However, the fact that a large chunk of Lucid respondents will watch beyond seven pages hints that you might not need to shrink down your content to ensure that it’s seen.

When determining the best Story length for your audience, we encourage you to consider the age group of your audience, the type of topics they engage with, and how fast-paced their lifestyles might be. If you have an idea for a great topic that your audience will love and is compatible with interactive Story features, you might be able to get away with a longer Story.

If you have a topic that you worry might feel dry or too complex to explain on Stories, you might want to format this as a smaller Story with a sticker linked to longer-form content

As you start posting regular Instagram Stories, you should also experiment with both long and short Stories. Then, look at the drop-off rate of each Story. If many people seem to drop out of one long story but not another, this might be due to the topic or the writing rather than the length. However, if people regularly drop out of your longer-form Stories around a certain page number, you might want to limit your Story content to that number of pages.

Telling an Engaging Visual Story

Regardless of what topic you’re publishing a Story about, or which format you decide on using, make sure it informs the audience about something they care about, provides entertainment value, and highlights your brand’s credibility in your industry.

If you’re unsure about how you can leverage Instagram Stories to better market your brand, it can be helpful to look at examples from similar companies in your industry. 

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State of Content Marketing in 2023

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State of Content Marketing in 2023

I just pressed send on the manuscript for my book to be released in September. It’s called Content Marketing Strategy (snappy, eh?), and Kogan Page will publish it.

Last week, marketing professor Philip Kotler wrote the foreword. I won’t spoil it, but he mentioned the need for a strategic approach to owned media.

He writes, “(T)he company doesn’t carry an account of showing these marketing assets and their value. As a result, the company cannot show the CEO and company board members a return on owned assets or content.”

Luckily, my upcoming book shows exactly how to do that. Funny how that works out.

In any event, all this struck me that now is an opportune time to look at where the beloved practice of content marketing stands today.

First, let’s go back to 1999 when Kotler published Kotler On Marketing, one of his more than 70 books. The latter 1990s – a time of tumultuous change – fueled most of the thinking for the book. But he knew that it was merely the beginning.

Kotler concluded the book with a section called “Transformational Marketing.”  In the next decade, he wrote, “marketing will be re-engineered from A to Z. Marketing will need to rethink fundamentally the processes by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value.”

Well, it’s taken over two decades, but it’s finally happening.

Consumers have changed, but marketing operations are just starting to

In case you didn’t notice, almost every marketing conference these days starts with the same four or five requisite slides:

  • Digital technologies, such as search and social media, empower consumers today.
  • Consumers research, engage, buy, and stay loyal to brands in ways that have fundamentally changed.
  • First-party data and privacy are of the utmost importance.
  • Artificial intelligence begins to threaten the idea of the usefulness of search and pressure companies to deliver better and more personalized experiences.

You get it. Consumer expectations in the age of the social, mobile, and AI-driven web are different than they were.

However, the continuing challenge in 2023 is that content and/or marketing operations in enterprise companies are only beginning to evolve. Most marketing departments have remained as they were when Kotler wrote his book — they still work from mid- to late-20th century hierarchies, strategies, and processes.

Most marketing departments still work with mid- to late-20th-century hierarchies, strategies, and processes, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Content marketing isn’t new, but a content marketing strategy is

For hundreds of years, businesses have used content to affect some kind of profitable outcome. But the reality is this: Whether it was John Deere’s The Furrow from the 1800s, Michelin’s guide to car maintenance in the early 1900s, or even Hasbro’s GI-Joe partnership with Marvel in the 1980s, content was not — and is not for the most part now — a scalable, repeatable practice within the function of marketing. In short, companies almost always treat content marketing as a project, not a process.

That fundamental change will finally take hold in 2023. It could happen because of the digital disruption and ease by which you can now publish and distribute content to aggregate your own audiences. It could happen through the natural evolution that the ultimate outcome – more than the marketing – matters more.

As we roll through 2023 and beyond, content — and the exponentially increasing quantities of it produced by every organization — deeply affects not just your marketing strategy, but your business strategy. Content in marketing is now bigger than simply content marketing, and it should be dealt with as a component of that business strategy throughout the enterprise.

#Content in marketing is bigger than #ContentMarketing. Treat it as a component of the business strategy, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In 2023, the No. 1 focus of my consulting and advisory practice these days: help companies transform content into a repeatable, scalable, and measurable function that drives value through a multi-channel strategy. It’s bigger than publishing a blog, creating a lead-generating resource center, or sending an email newsletter. Today’s content marketing team is being absorbed into marketing because marketing and its various operations are fundamentally transforming into a content-producing machine.

It is not good enough to produce content “like a media company would.” The goal must be to operate as a media company does. Your job is not to change content to fit new marketing goals. Rather, your job in 2023 is to change marketing to fit the new business content goals.

Your job in 2023 is to change #marketing to fit the new business #content goals, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The unaware builds a case for the aware

The term “content marketing” continues to evolve. Even today, I run across those who still call it “brand publishing,” “custom content,” or “inbound marketing.”

My take matches with what Kotler described in 1999. I always thought the term “content marketing” would become part of “marketing” more broadly. In 2023, that happened. So, returning to the lexiconic debates of 2013, 2014, or 2015 doesn’t seem terribly productive. Content marketing is just good marketing, and marketing is just good content marketing.

That said, two kinds of companies do well at the broader view of content marketing. Some of them, such as Cleveland Clinic, Red Bull, Arrow Electronics, HubSpot, and REI, have purposely devised content marketing strategies as differentiating approaches to their marketing. They are succeeding.

Others, like Amazon, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and Peloton, backed into a smart content marketing strategy. But executives at those companies probably don’t recognize it as such. If asked (and some have been), they would say acquiring or launching a media company operation was just a smart business strategy to diversify their ability to reach their consumers consistently.

They’re right, of course. Many have yet to read books about content marketing, been influenced by the Content Marketing Institute, or even recognize content marketing as a separate approach (as far as I know). And they are also succeeding.

Consider this proof: As I write this article, six companies have a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion. Four of the six wholly or partially use the business model of media creation to further marketing and business strategies. Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon are all, in part, media companies that also sell products and services.

Why would you not avail yourself of that same model?

The future looks cloudy and bright

As for the overall state of enterprise content marketing, it’s in transition, as all marketing is. As a focused project-based approach, working in ad-hoc ways across a business, content marketing appears to have proven its worth. Hundreds of entries every year to the Content Marketing Awards feature myriad case studies using content marketing techniques in strategic ways to profitably affect business results.

And yet, it remains to be seen whether you can make content marketing a scalable, repeatable, measurable function within marketing.

As to what the discipline’s future holds? At last year’s Content Marketing World, one of my favorite events, the Executive Forum gathered senior leaders from brands succeeding with content marketing. As we talked about the future, one participant said: “The only certainty is change. I can’t tell you where or when, but I do know there will be change, and this is the principle we build on now.”

As for my take, Kotler’s idea of transforming the marketing function seems to have gotten lost along the digital road traveled by marketers. In so many cases, marketing – and especially content – remains just an on-demand service function within the business. Its sole job is to produce ever more voluminous amounts of content that describe the value of the brand (or its products or services) so that sales can sell more efficiently, customer support can serve more effectively, and all manner of customer interfaces are more beneficial to both sides.

However, and maybe because I need to rationalize now that my book is finished, I passionately believe it’s finally time for marketing to reclaim its ability to create value — not just reflect it in the polished shine of your traditional products and services.

Almost 27 years ago today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote an essay called Content is King. In it, he said that “(C)ontent is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

It certainly was one of his more prescient moments. Nearly three decades later, his words have proven true. The essay title has become the rallying cry for thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs who now make their living on creating, managing, optimizing, and measuring content on the internet. (A Google search for “content is king” nets more than 1.7 million results.)

But it’s the last line of his essay that I find the most visionary: “(T)hose who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products – a marketplace of content.”

That’s what content marketing is for me in 2023. It’s just marketing – optimizing the value of ideas, experiences, and products in a marketplace of content.

Time to get to work.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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27 Best About Us and About Me Page Examples [+Templates]

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Your about page summarizes your history, values, and mission — all in one place. That’s a tall order for just a few paragraphs. If you’re feeling stuck, turn to these about-page examples for inspiration. 

about us page example: laptop held in palm of hand

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MarTech’s marketing operations experts to follow

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MarTech's marketing operations experts to follow

Marketing operations is what makes the magic happen. These are the folks who see that your martech stack doesn’t get stuck. They are the maestros, modelers and makers who make sure the trains run, the data is digestible and that you have the programs you need. Where would we be without them? That’s too scary to think about. Here’s our list of MOps experts who have the ear of the profession.

Darrell Alfonso

Darrell is director of marketing strategy & operations at Indeed and the former global marketing ops leader for AWS. He’s the author of “The Martech Handbook: Build a Technology Stack to Acquire and Retain Customers.” In addition to speaking at many conferences, Darrell was named one of the Top Marketers in the US by Propolis 2022 and among the “Top Martech Marketers to Follow” in 2020 by Martech Alliance. He’s a regular and popular contributor both to MarTech and the MarTech conference; you can find all of his articles at this link.


Eddie Reynolds

Eddie has been in business a long time, starting his first company when he was 14. “A pretty minimal enterprise,” he told one interviewer. “I had a tax ID number, a legal entity, and a company name. I even had the IRS coming after my dad for sales tax that I failed to report properly.” Today he is CEO and revenue operations strategy consultant of Union Square Consulting. He publishes The RevOps Weekly Newsletter and the podcast RevOps Corner. Eddie’s large LinkedIn following attests to the quality of the insights he shares there on  sales, marketing, service, and admin roles. 


Sara McNamara

Sara is an award-winning marketing and sales operations professional whose work has been recognized by awards from the likes of Salesforce (Pardot), Adobe (Marketo), Drift, and LeanData. She is a Senior Manager, Marketing Operations at Slack and a martech stack (+ strategy) solution architect. That and her passion for leveraging technology and processes to improve the experiences of marketers, sales professionals, and prospects, explains why she’s a regular guest on MOps podcasts.


Ali Schwanke

Ali is the CEO and founder of Simple Strat. The firm specializes in helping companies get the most out of HubSpot — from CRM strategy and setup to marketing automation and content creation. She is also host of HubSpot Hacks, “the #1 Unofficial YouTube show for HubSpot Tutorials” and has been a guest speaker at the MarTech conference.


Mike Rizzo

Mike’s career in marketing operations showed him that there is a real and significant MOps community. That’s why he founded MO Pros/MarketingOps.com, the fast-growing online community for people in marketing operations. He is also co-host of Ops Cast, a weekly podcast. 


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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman

Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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