How to Use Instagram Stories to Get More Relevant Followers

If you’re trying to figure out how to find the most relevant followers for your brand from among Instagram’s more than 800 million monthly users—60 percent of whom are active every day—then look no further than Instagram Stories and the Explore page.

Instagram’s Explore page is where users go for real-time content curated specifically for them—believe it or not, no two Explore pages are the same! The more users that engage with your content, the more it encourages Instagram to push your small business onto the Explore page for more Instagram users. When you end up on more Explore pages, your fan and follower base will grow larger and more valuable—and here are some ways to make it happen.

Use Hashtags

It’s time to prioritize your hashtag game! One of the most difficult things about Instagram Stories for brands that are used to posting tons of hashtags on feed posts is that Instagram only allows one hashtag sticker per Story, so you have to really make it count. But there’s a trick for using more hashtags on your stories: Use text-based hashtags and hide them in the background!

To hide your hashtag, type in a text-based hashtag on your Story, then use the eyedropper to change the font color to the background color of your image. No one has to know the hashtag—or how many—you’re using, but you’ll still get the hashtag juice in order to land on the Explore page. Additionally, if you’re posting really gorgeous images and don’t want to kill the vibe with the hashtag sticker, hidden text-based hashtags are a great solution.

Here’s a quick how-to video to demonstrate:

And if you’re not sure what hashtags to use, look up trending and recommended hashtags based on your industry or location, and make sure you’re using your own branded hashtags too. You can also check out 7 Quick Tips to Build an Instagram Hashtag Strategy for further insights.

Tag Your Location

Believe it or not, Instagram users leverage the social network to search for local businesses just like they do on Yelp or Google. Think about it this way: The location sticker on your Instagram Stories helps your discoverability on Instagram, which can then boost online and in-store engagement and purchases.

Be sure to post plenty of stories about your products or services—or your shop itself—and tag your business’s brick-and-mortar location. Then, if someone searches for a topic, product, service, or similar location on Instagram, they’ll see the posts with your location tagged. In fact, posts tagged with a location receive 79 percent higher engagement than those without.

If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar shop, never fear: If you host a gathering at a specific location or are attending a conference or pop-up event, location tagging lets your fans know where to find you as the event approaches or while it’s happening. You can also leverage broader location-based tags if your location is particularly localized (e.g., if your brand is Kansas City Kombucha but you don’t have a shop, you can tag Kansas City, MO as your location).


Leverage User Generated Content (UGC)

The easiest way to create content is to use user-generated content (UGC). If you’ve got fans and followers who are posting about your product or service and raving about how much they love it, leverage that content! UGC is a powerful, free (most of the time) way to leverage authentic experiences and social proof in order to grow fans and your business.

To encourage more UGC, create a branded hashtag and be direct: ask your customers to post using that hashtag and tag you. Then, when you’re tagged, you’ll get a notification in your Instagram inbox and can easily share the content to your own stories from there.

Photo editing app @enlightphotofox shares UGC weekly on stories as part of their Photofox Battle competition:

Try Out an Instagram Collaboration

A great way to land on the Explore page is to secure a collaboration with an influencer or brand that has the kind of following you’re looking for. If you’ve got an account in mind, do a little research into their brand and then ask yourself some questions:

  • Does the brand have a similar Instagram vibe and style as mine? (This should be a resounding yes.)
  • Does the brand have the kind of followers I’m looking for? Is the target market similar? (Also a yes.)
  • Do their posts generate great, positive engagement? (You want this to be yes.)
  • Is the brand in direct competition with me? (If yes, not a great collaboration!)

Chances are you can find some partners who are willing to collaborate for free, but be prepared to set up a partnership that includes perks, whether that’s free products or payment. Make sure you work out a plan with your partner brand or influencer about the products they need to promote, hashtags or other stickers to use, how frequently they’ll be promoting your brand (and where), what the compensation is, what the expected results are, and how long the partnership will last.

The right partnership can launch a brand onto the Explore page and grow your relevant fan base quickly and efficiently—it’s definitely a worthy investment of time, energy, and money.

Action Items:

1. Start researching micro-influencers who may want to collaborate with your small business on Instagram Stories.
2. Look into your competitors to see what kinds of hashtags they’re using and how they’re leveraging stories—then take their strategies and improve upon them.
3. Create user-driven content and a content calendar so that your stories have a strong foundation for execution.


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