Video Marketing

Instagram Stories: A Getting Started Guide

Megan O'Neill


The number of active users on Instagram Stories is more than 400 million. It’s no surprise the platform is so popular. For viewers, IG Stories are a quick and easy way to get caught up on what’s happening right now with the people and brands you follow. And for those creating content, Instagram Stories offer a fun suite of tools for engaging with your friends, fans, and followers in the moment.

If you’re brand new to Instagram Stories, trying to familiarize yourself with the platform, how it works, and all the tools you’ve got at your disposal may feel a little daunting. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you get started.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • What are Instagram Stories?
  • Why you should use Instagram Stories
  • How to watch someone’s Instagram Story
  • Instagram Story commands
  • The basics of making your own Instagram Story
  • Best Practices for Instagram Stories

If you’re looking to dive in a little deeper, we’ve got you covered there too. Click through to read the other articles in this series:

To learn more about all things Instagram video, including Instagram Stories, the IG feed, and ads, check out our complete Instagram video guide.

What are Instagram Stories?

We’ll start with the most basic question: What is an Instagram Story, or IG Story? It’s a photo or video clip, up to 15 seconds, that you post to Instagram that vanishes after 24 hours. Instead of displaying within your primary Instagram feed, it’s showcased at the top of an active user’s app, in a row with the Stories of all the other accounts they follow. It can also be viewed from your Instagram profile when a viewer taps on your profile picture. A colorful line will appear in a circle around your picture when you’ve got a new story to view.

What is an Instagram Story?

Why should you use Instagram Stories?

There are so many different places to be when it comes to social media. So why should you be using Instagram Stories? Well, for starters it’s one of the fastest growing social platforms out there. As a consumer, your friends are there. As a business, your customers are there. You should be too!

And for businesses, there are all sorts of compelling stats that show why Instagram Stories are a good move. Here are a few from Brandwatch:

  • 20% of Stories posted by a business result in a direct interaction with a user.
  • Over 1/3 of Instagram users watch Instagram Stories each day.
  • Over 50% of businesses on Instagram have already made an Instagram Story!

How do you watch someone’s Instagram Story?

Before we get into how to post your own Instagram Story, we’ll talk about how to watch someone else’s Story. Before you watch, it’s important to note that **views are not anonymous! **If you watch someone’s Instagram Story, you will show up in a list of viewers.

That said, you do not have to be following someone to see their story. In this section, we’ll show you how to watch the IG Stories of the people you are following, as well as how to watch anyone’s IG Story that has a public profile.

To watch your friends’ IG Stories

When you open up the Instagram app, you’ll automatically see the Stories of everyone you’re following at the top of the app, in circles as showcased above. To watch, simply tap on the image of the person whose Story you’d like to watch.

When you watch in this fashion, it’ll show one person’s Story after another, in the order displayed.

To watch the IG Story of someone you aren’t following

If you aren’t following someone, but they’ve got a public account, simply head over to their profile. As in the image we shared above, if they’ve got a colorful line around their profile picture, it means they’ve got a Story. To watch their Story, simply tap on their profile picture.

Instagram Story commands

There are a few commands you should know about to make the most of your viewing:

  • Pause: To pause a story, tap and hold. As long as your finger is down, the Story will be paused. This can be helpful if there’s a lot of text and you need time to read, or if you’d simply like to look at an image for longer than the amount of time it’s displayed.
  • Skip to the next Story: Tapping once will skip ahead to the next Story. If the person whose Story you are viewing has multiple Stories posted, it’ll skip to their next story. If they only have one, it’ll skip to the first Story posted by the next person in line.
  • Skip a person’s Story: To skip ahead to the next person and stop viewing a person’s story, swipe left. To go back to a previous person, swipe right.
  • Swipe up for more: Instagram users with over 10,000 followers have a “Swipe Up” feature that lets them share links in their Stories. When there’s a link, you can swipe up to view it.

How to post an Instagram Story

Ready to create your own Instagram Story? It’s easy! You can start by either tapping “Your Story” in the top left of the Instagram App when viewing your feed, or tapping your profile image from your Instagram profile when logged into your account.

1. Create your Story

When you go in to create your Story, it’ll first open up a screen where you can scroll through a variety of tools for building your Story. They include:

  • Type: This tool lets you simply put words on a background.
  • Music: A music post lets you select a song from Instagram’s library to play over a video clip that you record.
  • Normal: Hold the record button to record a video clip straight from your phone, or tap the icon on the left to choose a photo or video clip from your phone. From the Normal mode, you can also tap the smiley face icon to use face filters that can do everything from make you look like a dog to make you look like your face is floating in space (very exciting!).
Face Filters Instagram Stories
  • Boomerang: Shoot a quick Boomerang to add to your Story. A Boomerang is a video that plays backwards and forwards in a loop, giving it a boomerang effect.
  • Superzoom: Superzoom is an effect that rapidly zooms in on a point of focus in your story. There are a whole lot of Superzoom effects to choose from with different sounds and animations. Scroll through to try them out and see which you like best. Don’t like it? Click the X in the top left corner and try again.
  • Focus: Focus allows you to focus on a face while blurring out the background.
  • Rewind: Rewind lets you record a clip and then plays it in reverse for your Story.
  • Hands-Free: You’ll notice that for most of these modes you need to hold down the play button for the entire time you’re recording. Hands-Free lets you simply tap once to start recording and tap again when you’re done, so you don’t need to hold your phone for the entire time.

Once you’ve selected a photo or video clip from your library, or recorded a clip up to 15 seconds using the tools mentioned above, you’re ready for the next step.

Animoto makes it easy to create a vertical video for Instagram Stories using one of our templates. Learn more in our post on how to make vertical videos using Animoto.

If you've got an iPhone 6s or above, check out our iOS app for creating IG Stories. The Animoto: Social Video Editor app is designed to make it easy to create Stories that stand out.

2. Decorate your Story

Next, it’s time to decorate your clip using text, stickers, or drawing tools. If you don’t want to decorate your clip, move on to the next step to publish your story.

Add stickers to your Story

If you do want to decorate your clip, you’ll find all the options at the top of the screen once you’ve created your Story clip. The sticker icon looks like a smiley face. Tapping it will open up a screen where you can search for gifs, emojis, and other stickers.

Instagram Story Stickers

This is also where you can add poll stickers, questions, @mentions, #hashtags, and more. To add a sticker to your story, just tap on it. Then, hold and drag to resize and reposition the sticker where you’d like it on your Story. Note that with some stickers, tapping once may reveal different visual looks for the sticker you selected.

Draw on your Story

You can also draw on your Story by tapping the pen icon at the top right of your screen. Select a pen type, use the slider on the left to make your line thicker or thinner, select a color, and get to work. Note that you can tap “Undo” or use the eraser tool to remove unwanted lines.

Draw Instagram Story

Add text to your Story

In the example we’ve used here, we started out with a text-based Story, but you can add text to any Story by tapping the text icon (Aa) up next to the sticker and pen icons. You’ll be given the option of text style and color, including a background and foreground color for some of the text style options.

3. Share your Story

When you’re ready, simply tap “Your Story” or “Send To >” to share your Story with the world (or, if your account is private, with the people that are following you. Your Story will remain live for 24 hours, though you have the option to download it to your camera roll to save it or you can save it as a Highlight.

Instagram Story best practices

Finally, we wanted to leave you with a few best practices to help you make the most of your Instagram Stories.

  • Mind your Story’s length: According to Buffer, “One to seven Stories is the optimal posting length. After seven Stories, the completion rate drops to below 70 percent.” To optimize engagement and keep people watching, tell your story in one to seven clips of 15 seconds or less each.
  • Start strong: Our Chief Video Officer Jason Hsiao says, “Save the best for first.” Put your best Stories first to capture attention, draw viewers in, and entice them to keep watching.
  • Use hashtags: According to Impact, including hashtags in Stories increases engagement by 12 percent. You can either add a hashtag with plain text or use the hashtag sticker.
  • Delight with sound: Unlike in most social feeds, where most viewers watch with the sound off, Brandwatch says 60 percent of Instagram Stories are actually watched with the sound on. Include sound and use the “Sound On” sticker to let viewers know they should tap to listen.

Are you using Instagram Stories yet? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t? Drop a note in the comments below and let us know! Happy Instagramming!