In 2019, product brands need to know how to use Instagram Stories.

Instagram is, arguably, the biggest social media platform around. 71 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 use Instagram. That’s more than Twitter, and way more than Snapchat. The only channel that can handily compare in terms of users is its owner, Facebook. But Facebook doesn’t have the command of millennials and Gen-Z, who use Instagram almost exclusively.

Then there’s Instagram Stories, the platform’s video-making feature that nets 500 million viewing videos per day. That’s an unreal amount of eyeballs, and when you consider “only” 300 million were watching back in 2017, then it’s almost certain that number is only going to keep on growing.  

If you’re a consumer product brand on Instagram, then you’ll have it easier than most other businesses. You’ve already got something that’s simple to show off in a quick (really quick—15 seconds is the max time you get unless you “go live”), visual way, and with some finesse you can even create a lifestyle brand that can inspire and guide customers long after the initial purchase.

Here’s how:  

Connect with Behind-the-Scenes Moments

People like to know what other people are up to. That’s just human nature. And just because you’re a successful brand doesn’t mean you can’t shake it off and let loose a little bit.

So, share temporary snippets of what your brand is up to. Showcase your company culture. If you’re a diverse workplace, show that off with a quick curtain call of your employees—you can even emulate a TV show opening (broken up into 15-second chunks) related to your niche to introduce the world to the designers and artisans that bring your products to life.

And, of course, tease products or product announcements that are in the making with Instagram Stores. By letting viewers in on some behind-the-scenes aspect of your brand, you’ll humanize your business and make customers feel connected and special. And because Instagram Stories are fleeting, it’s a way to encourage brand engagement from your most loyal followers.

Encourage Engagement

What’s true for most social media channels is also true with Instagram: You’ve got to communicate and interact with the commenters to build a community. Respond to questions with informative responses. Direct customers to where they can find answers (preferably on your website or other pieces of content). But mainly, you’ve got to actually read what customers are saying. After all, listening is one of the best ways to attune yourself to a culture.

Encourage customer participation, too. To really create a sense of lifestyle, ask customers to share Instagram Stories of themselves using your product. Tag customers and share their videos too. Archive them so you have a record of satisfied customers. For a company that’s executing this strategy incredibly well, just take a look at flavored seltzer brand LaCroix).  

Give audiences another chance to interact with your brand: Use the built-in polling feature to learn more about what your audiences care about, what their preferences are, and even what they dislike about your product or brand. The polls are usually simple choices – “Yes or No”, a rating from one to 10, a choice between two pictures—but even with that kind of info, you can improve your product and your content, so it better connects with your customers.  

Educate Customers on Your Brand’s Lifestyle

One of the most important aspects about creating a lifestyle brand is educating the consumer on what that lifestyle looks like and entails. Guiding the customer towards a certain way of living is the lifestyle brand’s goal. Product brands can implement this by creating and sharing imagery outside of product images that show what their customer looks like and cares about.

Take luxury handbag brand, The Row, as a prime example. They understand who their audience is, and what they aspire to be. So they showcase that visually on their Instagram page. The Row’s ideal customer is high-end, elegant, cultured, educated, and cares tremendously about the visual arts.

So, every week The Row highlights visual artists, choreographers, and designers who embody the aesthetic of their brand. They use these images to also highlight and educate their followers on new artists that they should be aware of. They intersperse these images with product images from their latest lines. The ending result is that you know immediately when you look at their Instagram page if you resonate with their brand or not.

Target the Right Influencers

Ah, the great grift (or one of them, at least) of our time. As if the disastrous Fyre Festival and ensuing grift-within-a-grift of dueling documentaries weren’t enough evidence, social influencers aren’t always that influential. We listed them as one of the trends we hope to go away this year, and it seems like folks are finally catching on to Instagram hucksters.

That doesn’t mean that all Instagram influencers aren’t worth it, though. There are some that have real, authentic followers and a heavily engaged audience. They just take some digging and research to find. One way to really see influencer campaign results is to focus on the micro-influencers within your niche, the ones who really know your industry in and out and are considered real thought leaders that bring authority to your brand. This requires doing a lot more due diligence than brands and agencies have typically done in the past. But the end result is finding the right influencers to drive real bottom-line results, and ensuring those marketing dollars are well spent.

Product brands can’t afford to ignore Instagram Stories – especially those who want to build a strong lifestyle brand. Its visual content format, ease-of-use, enormous (and still growing) popularity, lets brands connect with customers in a much more compelling, authentic, and spur-of-the-moment way than any other current social channels.

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