Instagram Stories have only existed for about a year, but they’re fast becoming the video feed medium of choice, edging out Snapchat among certain demographics.

With Instagram Stories the images and videos only last for 24 hours after posting and don’t appear in your main feed. It’s a fun social format that more and more brands experimenting with, especially because of their temporary nature and high levels of engagement. These brands are learning that Instagram Stories can be a great way to test messaging and  connect with many users at once.

Here are 10 brands and influencers using Instagram Stories effectively to reach their audience, along with some key takeaways to help you build your own Insta-Stories strategy.

1. New Belgium Brewing

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New Belgium Brewing uses Stories to do more than advertise its brand – it showcases an active, authentic lifestyle that resonates with its customers. The brand’s Stories display life in the New Belgium way with biking and outdoor adventures in locations near their breweries and other spots all over the world.

Takeaway: You don’t always have to “sell” a product. Instagram Stories can be about the people who are a part of your brand’s tribe on social media.

2. Sephora

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Sephora goes beyond selling products, using Instagram Stories to show shoppers how products work and look on an actual person. The short videos take users through a series of products, offering information, tips, and reviews. It’s engaging content for  that doesn’t need to be online for a long period of time.

Takeaway: Swipe to shop is a great technique for getting users to move from your Instagram Story to your website. Keep the video short so that users don’t tune out before the call to action.

3. The Bitter Southerner

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Instagram Stories are the only place on the social media platform where users can link to outside content, beyond the bio link. (You can’t do it with regular image posts unless they’re sponsored.) The Bitter Southerner, an online magazine, creates Stories that tease magazine content with a swipe for more. The link might go to an article or video, but each “teaser” feels like must-see content.

Takeaway: Drive traffic to your site by asking users a question. The best questions are usually ones that either stoke the imagination, or something followers would likely already know the answer to. The question above works because even if the user thinks they know the answer, they will still swipe to make sure they get it right.

4. Jenna Kinz

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This running blogger uses Stories to share tips for runners while also showing off some of the brands she represents as an an ambassador. While there’s a mix of video and still image collages, every visual is personalized with a usable tip and hashtag to promote engagement among her 26,000 followers. By creating engagement and user-friendly content, Jenna Kinz is able to take a social media fan base and usher them to her blog.

Takeaway: Instagram Stories allow you to use a series of images and videos. Mix up the type of media and include simple, relatable messages to create engagement.


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NASA uses Stories to educate users on things happening in the world of science. A recent Story took users on a tour of a space lab; it contained a mix of photos and videos and every image was themed, using text elements and colored blocks with the same format to create a sense of unity throughout the Story. This in-Story branding can be important because Instagram Stories from different brands will run right after each other in the app.

Takeaway: Brand your Instagram Stories with a theme for overlay elements such as text, emojis, or colors. String the same concept throughout each post so users will know where your Story ends and the next one begins.

6. Time

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Time uses Instagram Stories to tell compelling stories. The media house builds its Stories by using a big headline and multiple images or videos in a straightforward manner almost every day. Users know they can regularly refer to Time’s feed to find out their next topic for water-cooler talk.

Takeaway: Use Instagram Stories with regular frequency so users know to come to you for information. Sporadic posting will not help develop a following. Make sure each Story uses high-quality images and video; users won’t stick around for subpar images when there are so many other good options available.

7. Reese Witherspoon

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The actress uses Instagram Stories as a lifestyle brand, regularly sharing images and videos of clothing and fashion accessories (notably from her brand, Draper James), and moments of her day to day. The slice-of-life concept makes you feel like you’re following your friend Reese, rather than an indifferent celebrity.

Takeaway: Use Stories to provide users with a “backstage pass” to your brand, letting them feel like part of an exclusive group. Show moments that users would not otherwise see in your regular Instagram feed or on your other social channels.

8. The Onion

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Not every user is comfortable with the Stories feature on Instagram, so popular satire publication The Onion uses clear calls to action (“See More,” as in the image above) for each post to ensure users know they can swipe up to get additional details.

Takeaway: Build an obvious call to action into the Story design if you want users to swipe for more. You can do this easily by building a call to action into the image itself using a simple editing tool like Shutterstock Editor, or you can write it using the text tools in the app (in block letters or handwriting) to draw users’ attention to the swipe-for-more function.

9. Senita Athletics

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While many brands plan and produce some of the Stories they showcase on Instagram, a live broadcast can come across as a great way to “be real” with users — right now. Much like Facebook Live or Snapchat, Instagram allows live Stories that users can see, like, or comment on in real time. (Followers also get a notification when you start broadcasting so they don’t miss it.)

Takeaway: Go live! There’s nothing like seeing a streaming flow of comments, emojis, and likes on a video to encourage even more users to chime in. That communal aspect helps impart a sense of belonging to followers, while the live format lends a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the messages you’re sharing.

10. ZZ Ward

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How does a musician live on the road? ZZ Ward shares video snippets of her life — what she eats, what she wears, radio performances, and other snapshots — on Instagram Stories. It’s a great way to stay relevant among fans who can’t see her on tour and foster a sense of familiarity and loyalty among her fan base. The key to her Instagram Stories success, though, is that she keeps the snippets short — just enough to entertain users and tease an upcoming event without giving away too much information.

Takeaway: Short videos are a perfect medium with which to engage users. You can present them as is, or string them together with other short videos to reveal a bigger picture as the day wears on. Just remember — followers have just 24 hours to see your Story, so make sure your timing is right to maximize your message’s impact.

Make a better Instagram Story

You can do much more with Instagram Stories using Shutterstock Editor. Go beyond the standard text tools to create Story cards with beautiful images, shapes, emojis, and your own brand logo. Crop your image and create a template that you can save and use every morning when you’re making the day’s Story posting. Try Shutterstock Editor here.

Top Image by Ink Drop