Everyone loves good stories, especially people who want to get a message out.
Being mobile first and full screen are why stories are the darling of marketing, advertising, and PR in social mediakj. Stories capture attention. Stories get remembered. Stories build trust and fuel word of mouth.
Fortunately, stories work whether they’re told around a fire or from the phone in your hand—and stories ads are an especially effective way to attract and hold attention.
What Stories Are and Why They Work
Facebook describes its stories format as “a full-screen creative format that enables people to view and share everyday moments via photos and videos that disappear (unless saved) within 24 hours.”
That’s a great working definition of stories. But it doesn’t fully explain why they’re such a big deal: Stories are also the first true mobile-first content format. They are, as Kay Hsu, global director Instagram Creative Shop writes, “fun, vertical, immersive and totally modern.”
The ephemeral aspect of stories also makes them more effective. Stories’ short lifespan triggers a sense of urgency to see them, for one thing. That short lifespan also gives stories creators less pressure to be perfect. That, in turn, allows creators—and the stories they create—to be more authentic.
Authenticity, of course, engenders trust. Just witness how well user generated content builds trust (and makes for great ad creative). If you want sales and conversions, trust is the secret sauce.
A (Very) Brief History of Stories
Stories launched on Instagram in 2016, but they’ve been adopted quickly. As of this past January, 500 million people use Instagram Stories and 300 million use Facebook Stories every day. Stories are also available on Messenger and WhatsApp (where they’re called “Status”).
If you’re not familiar with stories (or you’re not an Instagram or Facebook native), check out “Stories School,” the Facebook Business page about stories for advertisers, and the Facebook Blueprint tutorials on stories. Facebook has put together a nice interactive presentation that shows what all the buttons and options in stories do, both on Insta and Facebook. It’s almost as good as having a teenager explain it to you.
Of course, stories aren’t just for Millennials and Gen z. They aren’t just for content creators, influencers, and celebrities, either. Stories are business friendly.
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The Rise of Stories Ads
There are plenty of stats that prove how effective stories ads are. A third of the most-viewed stories are from businesses. More than 1 in 3 Instagrammers say they become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it via Instagram Stories. And, more than 2 million advertisers use stories ads every month.
Stories ads also give you plenty of goals to work with. They support brand awareness, reach, video views, conversions, app installs, lead generation, and traffic objectives. More details about the specs for stories ads on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and What’s App can be found on Facebook’s stories ads resource page.
Being able to optimize for conversion events is one of the key things that makes stories ads work. This is especially true now, because the Facebook/Instagram ad platform algorithm has matured enough to automatically find conversion events for advertisers based on the goals they select.
Of course, every advertiser has access to that same algorithm. To stay ahead of your competition, consider creative your secret weapon. Here’s seven ideas to make your stories more effective.
- Be relevant, brand-appropriate, and easy to understand.
Those three things matter for every type of ad, and stories are no different. In a study commissioned by Facebook IQ, top-performing Instagram Stories ads were found to be consistently more relevant than lower-performing stories ads.
According to Facebook, the top-performing Instagram stories ads “also grabbed attention, were easy to understand and fit the advertised brand.”
- Keep it brief and get your branding in early.
This advice parallels a lot of what video advertisers already know: Short content that catches attention and uses branding early performs better.
Facebook’s IQ study supports this, too: “Among ads in stories that contained multiple scenes, on average, scenes from top-performing ads were shorter than those from lower-performing ads.
- Speed matters.
As Kay Hsu explains, “People are consuming stories content much faster than any other mobile format.” To adapt to that, she recommends advertisers use speed itself as a creative element in their ad creative.
- Show product demos.
Instagram Stories ads that show the advertised product in use perform better. This makes sense, especially when you consider how short effective stories tend to be. That super-short time frame means you don’t have time to explain what a product does. You have to show it in action.
- Amplify your message with sound.
Facebook’s IQ study found that 80% of stories with voice-over or music converted better than ads without sound. Again, if you do video marketing, you’ll know the value of sound. But unlike business videos, where having a blast of sound in a silent office can kill response rates, people expect sound with stories.
- Use stickers carefully.
Instagram stickers can do a lot of cool things, like adding polls. And they can work for advertisers, too. In one of Facebook’s studies, “83% of videos using stickers to help express key messages about the brand or product performed better for conversion objectives.”
But they don’t always work: “In another study using static creatives, there is a 87% chance of creatives without stickers delivering better conversion results than with stickers.” Bottom line? If stickers work with your message, use them. If they don’t, don’t use them.
Stories are an evolving creative format. So, try out all the possible tools and creative elements you’ve got—everything from speed to colors, filters, copy, motion, and more. But always think mobile-first. Stories are mobile-native content. Put your laptop away while you’re reviewing stories ads.
Whether you’ve already launched numerous stories campaigns or are just getting started, take a look at what other creators are doing. Spend plenty of time viewing stories and stories ads in their native habitat.
Steal ideas from your competitors, from teenagers, from anyone who is doing something creative. Experiment freely. Everyone is still figuring out what works here, but we can agree that being boring and playing it safe is one strategy that’s likely to fail.