In this interview, we’re speaking with Jennifer Wisnewski – a long-time digital designer and interaction visionary who focuses on designing websites, apps and developing brands – about how brands can leverage Instagram stories.
Why do you think Instagram Stories are important?
Instagram Stories are allowing brands to connect to their users in a more tangible way. It’s the best tool on the market for gaining direct feedback from a company’s audience on the daily. Instagram is continuously developing more innovative features that make it seamless for a company to ask questions through polls or quizzes and to involve their users by using tools like countdowns and chat features. These features are a clever way to engage with one’s audience and be involved with them.
What makes Instagram Stories more special than Facebook, Twitter, or anything else for that matter?
Instagram helps streamline the conversations and the feedback loop. The way Instagram organizes the responses are helpful because they keep the response history from all users within your app, making it easy to scroll through and see patterns in the responses. Collecting user data couldn’t be easier or more fun. The data can be on new products, what customers want to see, questions they have, etc.
Do you think maybe the experience of using Instagram stories in itself is also just a little bit more special?
Yeah, I think it’s more fun, right? It’s new, it’s fun. Instagram is always coming out with different little modalities and interactions. It’s not rare to be on Instagram, and all of a sudden see something new. It’s a brilliant strategy on their part because it gives Instagram users as a whole something new to play with, and therefore, keep coming back. You don’t see that from other social media apps like Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter. At least not anymore. Instagram continuously deploys large-scale, fresh features.
Can you talk about some of your favourite use cases of Instagram stories?
There is this whole new phenomenon right now of company transparency and having the people who work at the companies be really visible on social media. I’ve seen it at all levels including CEOs, developers or marketers. It adds a human aspect to brands and companies that we lost long ago. It’s a big vehicle for conversation and transparency, and something consumers are responding really well to right now. Feeling involved in your favorite brands’ product development, special launches, question and answer sessions, etc is pretty special.
Cocokind, a skincare company, does a Q+A once a week on Tuesday’s. Users submit questions and the Cocokind team members address them over Instagram stories. Everlane, a sustainable clothing brand took it a step further to name their weekly Q+A event on Instagram ‘Transparency Tuesdays‘.
Within sustainability, a lot of people are curious about how things are made, biodegradability, disposing of the items, packing materials, and so on. Everlane is a wildly successful company as it is but one way they’re trying to stay on top of their game is through Transparency Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, they open up questions through Instagram stories for their followers to submit. And, then a bunch of people from their team take to answering those questions throughout the day giving users an inside peek at the team dynamic and company insights.
There are a few different things that are happening with such a campaign. First, you’re getting an inside look at the team. You see the same collection of people which makes you feel even closer to the team, the brand, and the business overall. You’re getting to know who works there which is powerful. Second, people are asking really great questions about sustainability, which brings more awareness to the cause— something I happen to be pretty passionate about.
Third, people are requesting different products or product updates. Everlane then takes these questions from their Instagram audience to the right team member. They ask the right person on their team the question posted on Instagram and share a screenshot of their response through Slack back on Instagram stories. In the reply the team member can say something like ”this item is coming out in three months, get on the waitlist.” When someone asks about a specific product of theirs, like a vest, Everlane has taken the opportunity to reply with a quick peek of the product.
I think it’s a super cool way to interact with your audience. As a follower, you get to see a lot of Everlane’s work in progress and behind the scenes stuff, which makes you feel like you’re kind of part of the process because of their transparency. As an interactive, user experience design side, this is much like the testing I do with clients’ audiences, but over social media instead.
By doing [Transparency Tuesdays], Everlane opens their work up to the world and helps to create a positive relationship with followers. This tradition has grown to be a well-loved feature of the company’s social space.Everlane: Transparency Tuesday
Oh, I like this very much. Can you talk a little bit about how Instagram stories fit into content marketing?
What I’ve noticed is that if there is some type of product coming out, you can use Instagram stories as a tool to get feedback and even do some research on the product. Whatever the product may be, whether it’s a shirt, a face cream, a course, or a SaaS product. Doesn’t matter. People are there ready to tell you what they want. They don’t have to email the company or take any additional steps to get their feedback into the right hands, it’s already a part of their everyday social engagement.
You can use those tools to get feedback from your target audience while you’re kind of in the research, production, or testing phases. You can also ask questions about what things people are looking for, you can show your ideas or prototypes, packaging options, anything you feel comfortable with sharing.
Doing this type of Instagram campaigns early on in the development is a great way to build up hype and interest about a launch. These people who are not only watching your Instagram stories but also interacting with them are highly active. That’s valuable stuff as far as marketing and branding go. These people get involved and are anticipating this product, so they are a lot more likely to buy.
You mentioned branding, how would Instagram stories benefit companies from the branding perspective?
Okay, so there’s a lot of things that you can do on Instagram stories to push your brand. Branding is all about emotional connection, the vibe. So the first thing to note is that these stories need to represent the brand just as well as say the website or your Instagram posts. Part of it is the content, right? Another part is the design. If you have a designer on your team, use them. If you don’t, use a free or inexpensive design tool yourself to create 20-30 templates. That may sound like a lot, but it’s good to switch things up in Instagrams stories, and you will rotate through those 30 fairly quickly. There are a million apps that you can use to make your Instagram stories always look top-notch and beautiful and gorgeous and interesting. You can get really creative with the designs, typography, colors, images, transitions, everything!
Bottom line, it’s all about exposing your audience to what your brand stands for. Talk about your values, your products, and your mission. Share customer stories! Repost user-generated content! Keep your Instagram stories active and interact with your audience to better connect them with your brand.
So in that case, my next question is, what are some of the best practices for people who are just starting out and trying to give this a whirl?
Planning it out would be first. Plan the stories around what you want to promote. Take into consideration the different holidays, events, or even weather— whatever is relevant to your company. Figure out how often you want to publish a story, how many times a day, which days of the week and so on. Also, make sure to plan who would be responsible for keeping track of any DMs you might get through your stories. I’m not saying you need to hire somebody out specifically for that. But, you should be prepared for this so that any inquiries, comments, or questions will get addressed and answered promptly.
Then just do it. The best way to get started is to try things out.
Highlights are another feature of Instagram stories. What can you tell us about using them?
Highlights can be used to save your stories into the little highlights area and categorize them, I think most Instagram users know this. What I want to emphasize is that highlights are front and center on your profile. When a user gets to your profile, they are exactly that, highlighted. Using them to permanently store your stories is a great way to curate additional content on your Instagram profile where anyone can just tap on it or watch it anytime they want.
This is a huge opportunity. Say you have a beauty brand, use the highlights to show how to use your products. I often see skincare brands answering common product questions in their highlights. Maybe some of your products should be used in a specific order with one another such as face creams, or post a quick and effective way to clean the company’s makeup brushes. It depends on what you’re selling, but it’s possible with any type of product. It even works for service-based providers too.
Some other ideas off the top of my head include showing testimonials or reviews (especially if it’s a repost), before and after pictures, work in progress shots, teasers, behind the scenes – anything, really.
You can go crazy with the amount of highlights that you have, as long as they’re useful or relevant. Then, set the last highlight to be a call to action to purchase the product or book a session. It’s a great way to create an alternative sales funnel.
Highlights can be a great way to show off your brand too. You can get really creative with the way you organize them. It’s another amazing opportunity that you don’t get with other social media apps, which is what I think makes Instagram stories much more special.
What’s the one takeaway you wish the reader took from our conversation today?
I’d have to say that Instagram Stories are a way for companies to get real-time interaction and feedback from your target audience. It’s a great way to stay connected with them and open up a conversation that allows you to develop legitimate relationships with your ideal clients or customers. Use it! It’s free, daily user research that corporations pay millions of dollars in focus groups for… and it’s all at your fingertips, baby!