Instagram Tips & Tricks: How to Boost Engagement & Create Better Stories

Marketing Social Media
Natalie Waring Natalie Waring

Originally published in June 2018, this blog has been updated as of July 2019.

The Rise of Instagram Stories

When Instagram first introduced stories back in 2016, some were reluctant to start using this new feature and would rather stick to Snapchat for posting quick, disposable videos or pictures throughout the day. I remember a few friends remarking that the last thing they’d ever do was post an Instagram story as it seemed like a cheap Snapchat knock-off. It was unclear if this update would catch on or if Snapchat would reign as the story king.

Fast forward a few years. It’s safe to say that Instagram stories are incredibly popular and are regularly updated to include new features, like adding music or polls. From personal accounts to celebrities to popular brands, many Instagram users are utilizing stories to share everyday content, post ads, or even hold a livestream. In fact, as of January 2019, 500 million people are using Stories daily, as reported by Social Media Today.

If you want to increase your Instagram engagement and reach or share additional content that you don’t necessarily want on your feed till the end of time, stories are definitely something to take advantage of. But, what exactly is an Instagram story? Having an expiration date of 24 hours and a max length of 15 seconds, a story can consist of text, images, videos, boomerangs, live streams, and more. Stories are found at the top of your feed and are viewable by clicking on a user’s profile picture. Due to their limited time length and disappearing feature, stories are great for sharing various types of content.

From closely following the stories evolution and the ever-changing Instagram trends of what’s in and what’s out, we’ve put together a list of tips for increasing your Instagram engagement and reach as well as some story design tips.

Let’s get started!

Engagement & Reach Tips

Instagram stories are great for boosting your Instagram engagement as they provide fun and direct ways for your followers to interact with your content as opposed to simply liking and commenting. Likewise, by posting stories, you can reach a wider audience and increase your profile’s visibility by following a few strategies.

Here are simple ways you can boost your engagement and reach using stories:

  • Use Instagram polls: Instagram has two options for adding polls to your story so viewers can vote and answer your posed questions.
    • The basic poll option allows viewers to vote by selecting one of two options you provide (ex. What design do you like better? 1 or 2?). You can keep track of responses and view poll results to see what viewers voted on and even share the results to your story later on.
    • The other poll option is the emoji slider. You can type in a question and select an emoji that users either slide to the left (indicating “not so much”) or to the right (indicating “yes!”). However, keep in mind that this emoji poll does not provide any numerical results. You’ll only get a general sense of how viewers feel toward the question you asked.
  • Ask a question: Learn more about your audience and receive feedback by using the questions sticker. When adding the sticker, you’ll be prompted to type in a question to ask your followers. Or, tap the music note icon at the bottom of the screen to ask your followers for new song ideas. By using this sticker, you can ask your followers what content they want to see more of, hold a Q&A, or simply ask a specific question. After receiving responses, you’ll be able to view them from your account and re-post any to your stories with your response. Pro tip: Tap the color wheel above the sticker to change the color of the box!
  • Start a countdown: Have a product launch or huge announcement? The countdown sticker is a great and easy way to create excitement and let your followers know of an upcoming event. You can also allow followers to turn on countdown reminders and to share the countdown to their own story. Pro tip: Tap the color wheel above the sticker to change the color of the box!
  • Create a quiz: What better way to test your followers’ knowledge about a topic than to create a quiz? Type in a quiz question at the top of the box, or click the dice at the bottom of the screen to choose from a variety of questions. Add 2-4 quiz options for each question. When taking the quiz, your followers will know right away if they tapped the correct answer or not. Pro tip: Tap the color wheel above the sticker to change the color of the box!
  • Set up a group chat: Want to chat with a group of followers about a specific topic, holding a meet-up, or simply a side conversation? Instagram allows you to create a group chat and allow interested followers to join in. Select the Join Chat sticker and type in the group chat title (note that this will become the title of your chat thread in your messages). Pro tip: Tap the color wheel above the sticker to change the color of the text!
  • Add some tunes: Have a great video, boomerang, or picture that could use some background music? Easy — no need to add music in another editing app. Just select the music sticker and search for that perfect song. Choose the amount of seconds, what section of the song you want to play, and whether you display the lyrics or album art cover.
  • Support donations: Want to share an easy way for followers to donate to a foundation, right within the Instagram app? Add a donation sticker to your story and select from a list of non-profit accounts. You can view the amount raised by your followers when looking at the analytics for the story. The donations are sent directly to that foundation.
  • Go live: To really connect and engage with your followers, try out a livestream! These are helpful if you want to hold a Q&A with your followers, record an event, or even make a special announcement. Be sure to let your followers know ahead of time when you’re going live, so they don’t miss out.
  • Share posts within your story: Instagram has an “Add to story” feature, which allows users to share Instagram posts directly to their story. When viewing the story, they’re able to tap on the post preview, which then redirects them to the actual post where they can like, comment, share, etc. Sharing one of your posts within a story helps to highlight and drive more traffic to your posts, especially if your followers happened to not see it in their feed. You can also share posts from other accounts, which is great for sharing user-generated content. Note that if you do share someone else’s post to your story, you’ll need to @ mention their profile in order for them to receive a notification. To add a post to your story, tap on the post you wish to share and click the paper airplane icon. Select “Add post to your story” and ta-da! You can even tap on the post while editing to change the preview design.
  • Share stories within your story: You can also now add stories from others to your own stories. Story-ception! But note that you can only share stories in which others mention you.
  • #UseHashtags: To reach a broader audience, I highly recommend using hashtags in your stories to reach more than those who are following you. When users search for a specific hashtag, they can view posts and stories using that hashtag, making it easy for accounts to gain more story views, and hopefully, more profile views. One hack to this is typing out several hashtags, decreasing the text size, and hiding them underneath a sticker, gif, or another design element. That way, you have more chances of reaching viewers without overwhelming your story with hashtags.
  • Tag your location: Just like searching a hashtag, people can also search posts and stories by location. When appropriate, select the location tag sticker and tag your location.
  • Add story highlights: To gain more story views over time (and also to keep stories around for more than 24 hours) you can add story highlights to your profile. To neatly organize these highlights, create several story highlight topics (ex. Food, Fashion, Travel, etc.) and then add related stories to each topic. To go a step further and stylize these highlights, create an image cover for each topic. Check out this simple tutorial on how to make your own highlight cover images.

Design Tips

While Instagram stories have options for different brushes, fonts, colors, etc., the ability to add in design elements is still somewhat limited. But, through some experimentation and following other creative accounts on Instagram, I’ve found a handful of tips and tricks for stylizing stories.

Here are several of my favorite design tips:

  • Don’t always stick to one font. Try mixing and matching two fonts that compliment each other to create contrast (ex. Strong and Typewriter). Add more interest and depth by putting spaces in between letters.
  • Layer text for a 3D effect. To layer text, simply write out a message and then copy and paste the message into a new text box. Resize the duplicate text to the same size as the original message and position the duplicate text slightly off of the original text. Make sure to change the color of at least one text to create the layer effect. Add more layers if desired!
  • Use a stylus. To get more precise (and fancy) writing using the brush tools, try using a stylus to hand write messages. A stylus gives you a lot more control and is easier than drawing out words with just your finger.
  • Utilize keyboard symbols for design elements. For example: Want a straight line? Type out a series of underscores connected together. Need perfect circles or polka dots? Use bullet points. Want a squiggly line? Use the approximate sign. Try enlarging or sizing down the symbols for different looks. The main point: Get creative and use all the keyboard things!
  • Unveil more colors. Do you know about the hidden color wheel? Simply tap and hold on any color to bring up a full spectrum of colors! Instagram also now has an eyedropper tool, which allows you to grab colors directly from the photo/video you’re sharing, making your text color match your content.
  • Rainbow your text. Instagram also has a tricky hack to creating rainbow text. Watch this rainbow text tutorial to learn the secret!
  • Create colored backgrounds and color overlays. To create a solid-colored background, first take a photo or upload content from your photo library. Then, select the pointed pen brush and your desired color. Press and hold your finger anywhere on your screen, and ta-da! You have yourself a plain, solid-colored background. For a different effect, use the highlighter brush and repeat the same steps to create a sheer-colored background. (Bonus tip: You can use this same technique over a photo/video and use the eraser brush to draw over areas of the photo to reveal only part of the image.)
  • Add a sticker or gif. Stickers and gifs are a great way to spice up your story and add animation. Just be sure not to go overboard!

Story Templates

To take your Instagram stories up another level, I suggest using outside apps with either pre-designed templates or template design abilities to create more stylized Stories.

A few favorite (and highly popular) apps currently on the market are:

  • Inshot: A photo/video editing app that has a 9:16 canvas option (size needed for stories) and many design options. Great for sizing down your picture or video content to create a frame around your content and add text, stickers, etc.
  • Unfold: An Instagram story template app that has several minimalist templates. For a couple of dollars, you can purchase additional templates, some of which have a vintage film look.
  • Canva: A graphic design app that has a 9:16 canvas option and many free pre-designed templates as well as options to create your own graphics.

And there you have it – a handful of simple tips to help you crush your Instagram story game. While this is by no means an exhaustive list of tips, I hope these help you have a bit more fun and spark some creativity the next time you post a story, while also increasing your engagement and reach. Happy gramming!