From the clothing we wear, to the technology at our fingertips, to the food we eat, we have an insatiable curiosity about how things work and are made.

In the social media era, consumers and brands have unprecedented access to each other — meaning it’s easier than ever to forge relationships online. Pulling back the curtain on brands, products, and celebrities is a powerful method of bonding with consumers and building loyalty and trust. On Instagram in particular, the Stories function allows fans to see brands in a less polished form — more spontaneous, more experimental, less planned or scripted. When thoughtfully done, Instagram Stories can reveal the humanity, humor, and values behind a brand.

Here are three small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that are nailing the Instagram game:

Third Love

Third Love is an American bra-and-underwear manufacturer that started in 2013 after its founder, Heidi Zak, grew tired of wearing ill-fitting bras. Its entire business is built upon the premise that what ThirdLove does — i.e. making half-cup sizes and a providing a mobile sizing app — is radically different from the undergarment industry status quo.

ThirdLove uses its Instagram page to make sure its customers know it stands head and shoulders above the rest. The brand often publishes multi-part Stories — sometimes upwards of 20 segments in a single Story — that take viewers behind the scenes of the design process, the manufacturing of its bras, or its photo shoots. ThirdLove also crafts Stories that highlight some of the individuals who work for the company, allowing it to impart a message that says “we’re real people with a real product meant for real women.”

ThirdLove backs up its Instagram presence with an excellent customer experience. It offers a try-before-buying program and free returns, allowing customers to try bras for free for up to 30 days before deciding whether to keep (and pay for) them.

Research shows women are naturally skeptical of e-commerce’s ability to satisfy or respect their expectations and needs. ThirdLove makes every effort to foster a sense of trust via a personalized service that puts women consumers first. On Instagram, the brand employs an earnest, lighthearted tone to help relate to its clientele. This intimate approach, along with the immersive nature of Instagram Stories, help forge and strengthen customers’ emotional bonds to a brand, transforming one-time buyers into repeat shoppers.

Key takeaways: Consumers are sensitive to perceived disingenuousness. Focus on identifying your core clientele and optimizing your brand’s customer experience — and then use Instagram Stories to highlight the products and the people that make your brand great.

IT’S-IT Ice Cream

IT’S-IT is a San Francisco-based maker of ice cream sandwiches. The company has existed since 1928, when its founder George Whitney put vanilla ice cream between two oatmeal cookies and dipped the whole thing in chocolate. Now, the 89-year-old brand remains current by embracing social media.

Key takeaways: Even an old brand can get a new lease on life online. To do it well, though, you need visually compelling branding and content to make the most out of people’s short attention spans. Switch up the kinds of posts you do, experimenting with single photos, slideshows, Boomerangs, and videos — but keep your voice and cadence consistent. With Stories, try overlaying typed or handwritten text, geotags, emojis, and links on top of the visuals to add some flair and fun.

Vivid hues and textures can stop users mid-scroll, and IT’S-IT has those in spades. The company’s retro branding — a combination of bright colors, vintage lettering, and pop-art inspired design — is naturally primed for this social platform. The account is also very consistent, posting with a regular cadence, a unified look, and cohesive messaging. Pair that with the brand’s youthful voice, and no one would know that IT’S-IT is coming up on its 90th birthday.

Krewe

Krewe is a boutique sunglasses company from New Orleans, founded in 2013 by Stirling Barrett. In four short years, the company has grown exponentially, moving from a corner of a shared startup space to operating three permanent storefronts in New Orleans, Dallas, and Savannah. Krewe has also been embraced by celebrities such as Beyoncé, Gigi Hadid, and Zayn.

The organization of images on Krewe’s Instagram page suggests the brand has a posting schedule and image bank.

Look at the brand’s Instagram page in grid view: Krewe has organized it so that the left-hand column features photos of places, tagged as #KreweVIBES — usually a close-up, textured detail of a building from around town. The right-hand column features a person, either a model or a celebrity wearing Krewe sunglasses. The middle column is a zig-zag of sunglasses against a white background. These image choices help convey that Krewe is not merely a purveyor of sunglasses, but also part of a lifestyle.

Krewe’s Stories, however, are far more spontaneous and cast in the present moment. For instance, at SXSW in Austin earlier this year, the brand brought along a mobile New Orleans-style shotgun house to serve as a pop-up shop. Its dispatches from SXSW, done on Instagram Stories, featured the #KreweTinyHouse prominently as well as moments from the music festival.

Key takeaways: You can, and should, plot out a posting schedule and develop an image bank for your regular Instagram posts. That photo stockpile should include photos of people using your product/service, as well as bright and textured shots of things that inspire you and your brand. Meanwhile, it’s best to utilize the “right here, right now” as Stories material. That’s because Instagram Stories are at their best when they’re spontaneous and stripped down.

Instagram’s Stories function is a great social tool for brands to connect with customers on an emotional level. Take some time to try out the platform’s baked-in features and start thinking about what behind-the-scenes components of your business you want (or don’t mind) your followers seeing. Then, get snapping. With a lifespan of just 24 hours before Stories disappear into the ether, you’ve got a lot of experimenting to do.

Top image by Rawpixel.com.