Instagram Story Video: Create Data-Driven Content for Top Reach & Engagement

Instagram Story Video Create Data-Driven Content for Top Reach & Engagement

There’s a good reason why Netflix’s recent hit, The Social Dilemma, focuses almost exclusively on videos across social networks. Videos are overpowering still imagery and becoming the new favorite of both marketers (aka businesses) and consumers.

We teamed up with Socialinsider to see how audience behavior in regards to Instagram Stories has been changing from April 2019 to September 2020. Having analyzed data from 661,565 stories and 64,571 story ads published throughout this period, we are bringing you the freshest insights on Instagram Stories and best practices that reveal how to leverage the power of video on the platform. 

Instagram Stories: A Brief Background Story

With over 1 billion active monthly users, Instagram is a go-to place for brand discovery and building brand affinity, as 20% of the platforms’ users time is spent browsing through the Explore tab.

Launched back in August 2016, Instagram Stories are now one of the most efficient tools in any marketers’ toolbox. And Instagram is partly ‘responsible’ for the rapid proliferation of videos within marketing strategies of all brands, large or small. Instagram has made video accessible to those with smaller budgets, and even with no budgets whatsoever.

Essentially, Instagram Stories are pieces of content posted from a given account within the past 24 hours. And after that timeframe, they disappear. You may wonder why would brands invest in the kind of content that fades within 24 hours? But Instagram Stories embrace a few megatrends brands cannot ignore:

  • Authenticity & brand humanization: Instagram Stories are often perceived as more authentic compared to in-feed content, as they often feature less polished behind-the-scenes, selfie-like videos, and other kinds of less glossy content.
  • Attracting customers’ attention: The Stories feature has increased the average time people spend on Instagram by 28 minutes, helping brands and personal accounts get more attention from Instagram users for longer periods of time. 
  • FOMO: With Stories gone in 24 hours, Instagram users are more inclined to pay attention to the “Stories” tab as it triggers what we know as “the fear of missing out” – if you do not see X’s story right now, it might not be there later on.

Revealing the Findings, Or Why Videos Are the Way to Go?

The key insight that we spotted based on our research is that:

52% of Instagram stories are video and they outperform image stories in regard to both tap forward and exit rates.

Instagram Story Video - image vs video stories

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A simple fact that the majority of stories already come in a video format only reveals a part of the story (pun unintended)

We looked at essential metrics like ‘tap forward rate’ and ‘exit rate’ to see which content type actually encourages users to stay with the account’s stories for longer. And videos are absolute winners compared to images. 

When it comes to ‘tap forward rate’, videos, on average, perform 10% better than their still counterparts, ensuring that the audience actually pays more attention to the message conveyed within one story and decreasing the likelihood of them missing an important part of your stories. 

Instagram Story Video - tap forward no of stories

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With exit rates, it’s a bit more complicated. Although in most cases videos, once again, generally perform better than images, the difference in that performance varies depending on the size of the account (and later on, we will show that account size matter in other cases as well):

Videos in exit-rate-regard tend to be more efficient for larger accounts (from 10K-100K+ followers).

Instagram Story Video - exit rate image vs video story

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Best Practices for Integrating Video Into Instagram Stories

Now, once it’s clear that videos should be an integral part of your Instagram Stories strategy, if not dominate it, we’ll share some of the ‘best case’ patterns spotted throughout our research. 

The optimal number of stories

Brands post a median of 7 to 8 stories per month, but posting up to 5 stories a day already ensures a 70%+ retention rate.

Instagram Story Video - no of stories per month

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We saw a logical correlation between the size of the account and the number of published stories, namely, the bigger the number of followers, the more stories get posted. 

However, when looking at retention, we see that to retain three-quarters of your audience, you’d only need to publish around 5 stories a day.

Instagram Story Video - retention rate no of stories

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Yet when it comes to reach, ‘the more, the better’ logic comes in: with each additional story, your average reach grows by 10%.

Instagram Story Video - reach rate no of stories

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Action plan: 

These insights show that you have to publish at least 5 stories a day to reach around 40% of your audience and retain 70% of the users. 

Now this may seem like an overwhelming task, but if your business and its sales largely depend on Instagram, or you are planning to expand your sales to social media, keeping a regular posting schedule is a matter of a few things:

  • Assigning a dedicated person who is responsible for fulfilling the content plan and engaging other teammates;
  • Having a content schedule full of ideas for the whole month (you can check out the following Instagram templates to get inspired and explore some ideas worth trying);
  • Launching user-generated campaigns to get more video content for posting;
  • Keeping an eye at competing accounts and other inspirational accounts that nail Instagram marketing.

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Avoiding exits

Viewers tend to drop off during the first stories, but once they reach a brand’s fourth or fifth story, they’re more likely to stay until the end.

Instagram Story Video - exit rate no of stories

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Once your viewers pass the 4-5 story benchmark, they are likely to stay with your stories till the very end. But how can you ensure that your initial few stories are engaging and compelling enough to make the audience yearn for more?

Action plan:

This is where storytelling enters the stage: the first four stories have to tell your viewers a story, yet disclose just enough information to make them strive for more. 

Think of it as a set of cliffhangers that are widely used in TV shows: each episode ends at precisely the moment when something should get revealed, but viewers have to tune in for the second episode to see the resolution. 

Now, of course, you aren’t co-writing the Lost series. But brands can leverage this cliffhanger idea as well with:

  • Step-by-step or how-to videos where the whole process is broken down into a few stories;
  • Games or quizzes, where answers get revealed somewhere around the fourth story;
  • The popular “Ask me about” stories, which can span into tens of short stories people get highly engaged with, as video stories, in general, spark more conversations than images, regardless of the profile size.

Instagram Story Video - reply rates for stories

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The formats for these kinds of “cliffhanger” stories are endless – just use your imagination and be on the lookout for fresh ideas from fellow Instagrammers. 

How does this help you turn Instagram into a sales driver?

By employing storytelling, you get to use what GaryVee calls “jab, jab, jab, right hook”. The first few ‘jabs’ should have to do with content (videos, in our case) that are purely entertaining or are of high interest to your audience. And only then can you use your audience’s attention and promote your product or offer more aggressively.

Sue Zimmerman
Instagram Expert & Business Coach

The best way to keep viewers from skipping your first stories is to get on video so people can connect with YOU, take the time to let them see you, hear you, and give your point of view. TEACH them something in a way that captures their attention. Using engagement stickers to create intrigue with what you are teaching next to keep viewers IN your stories is important too!

The biggest no-nos:

While there is a lot you can do to encourage viewers to stay with your account and keep watching your stories, there are also a few things you can do to see them swipe:

  • Don’t post too many stories: if your account shows tens of stories, you might overwhelm Instagrammers and demotivate them even to get started with watching your first story. 
  • Don’t add covers to your stories: they unnecessarily take up real estate and time off your users. Instead, go straight to the point and start enticing your users with the very first story.
  • Don’t leave them textless: captions and key points should always be a part of your stories, especially when you’re posting ‘talking head’ videos, as not everyone watches your stories with a sound on.
  • Don’t jump from topic to topic: unless you are a media brand, try to make your stories coherent and make sure they are interrelated (remember, the storytelling idea?).
  • Don’t change tunes: ensuing from the previous point, try to ensure coherence between your stories by avoiding changing tunes from story to story. 

Boosting conversions

Story ads with videos have a higher CTR than story ads with images: 0.59% vs. 0.29%.

Instagram Story Video - CTR story ads

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Our findings show that 75% of Instagram advertisers prefer video format for story ads – it’s not surprising, as per our findings, they get twice the CTR compared to image ads. And the majority of them (almost 70%) are tailored for link clicks and conversions:

Instagram Story Video - story ads objective

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There are a few make-it-or-break-it factors when it comes to creating video ads that can stand out within Instagram Stories. 

Just imagine – a user goes through the stories of all the accounts they follow, from their friends to favorite brands, and stumble upon a sponsored story. What is it that can distract them enough not to swipe right and actually read into the ad’s message and take a desired action (namely, press on the CTA)?

While this guide on creating story ads that people won’t want to skip reveals all the details, we will briefly give you a recap of the main factors. 

1. Keep your ads short

Facebook reveals that the top-performing story ads average at 2.8 seconds per scene, while the lower-performing ones’ length going up to 4.1 seconds.

The lifehack here is to split your ad into a few scenes (or screens) and make sure the value proposition becomes clear in the very first screen, while all the shiny and enticing stuff comes in later. 

However, if you can fit your message within one screen – always go for the shorter option.

Instagram Story Video Ad example

2. Make a clear compelling value proposition

Make sure your message is very clear within the first second of your ad – the viewer has to immediately understand what your ad stands for, be it a limited special offer or a new product. This value proposition should be placed at the very top or middle of the screen, as this is where users look at first. 

Instagram Story Video Ad example 1

3. Keep your branding intact 

For larger brands, Instagram users might stay with their ads just to see what brand X has to offer. 

For instance, this H&M ad doesn’t reveal all that much, yet we’d stop to see and check out what they mean only because it has the H&M logo all over the ad. 

Instagram Story Video Ad example

For smaller brands, though, branding is also important, especially when launching brand awareness campaigns, as they want someday to get to the level when people will stop at their ads just because they recognize the brand. 

4. Test, test, test

As with all kinds of ads, the key to story ads success on Instagram is to run a few campaigns and see what resonates with your audience the most. We could say that you should place this or that CTA at the end of your ad and make it pop, but it’s fairly obvious and clear. Yet it is only up to you to find out what works in your particular case. 

Final words

We’ve all heard that social platforms, and Instagram per se, are placing large bets on video content. The audience loves videos and so do advertisers, for their pervasiveness, persuasive powers, and ability to convey complex ideas in a few seconds. 

And the recent pandemic has only increased the usage of video, with an increasing number of users moving online to do anything – from online shopping to fill in the space between work breaks while WFH.

But when it comes to crafting strategies that can help you leverage the power of video, you can only rely on data – from industry reports to internal analytics. So, we hope that these findings and insights will help you uncover some of the ways to create a winning Instagram Stories video strategy and see tangible results from your efforts.

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