5 Ways Merchants Are Using Instagram Stories to Connect With Consumers

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Free marketing platforms will always be enticing to local businesses, many of which have razor thin margins and relatively small budgets for promotions. Instagram’s new Stories feature, which debuted in early August, is providing merchants with a new way to generate buzz without spending a dime. Unlike traditional posts on Instagram, Stories disappear after just 24 hours, and many businesses opt to add doodles or text over their content to help it stand out from the pack.

Major brands like Nike and Mountain Dew were among the first to capitalize on this new opportunity, generating hundreds of thousands of views on the week Instagram Stories was introduced, however brick-and-mortar merchants are also jumping on board with creative solutions to help their content stand apart.

Here are five examples of ways that businesses are using Instagram Stories to capture consumer attention and reinvigorate sales.

1. LOFT: Bringing online fans into physical stores
With more than 650 stores throughout North America and a robust e-commerce business, LOFT is hardly a small business. However, the retailer has been able to bring online fans into its brick-and-mortar stores using Instagram Stories. Three weeks ago, the retailer invited two shoppers/friends to participate in a “style challenge.” The friends were tasked with shopping in a LOFT store and finding something they thought the other didn’t think she could wear, and documenting the adventure as a Story. In addition to showcasing new products available in-store, LOFT also asked followers to tag their best friends in the post, which promoted social sharing.

2. Cradles to Crayons: Promoting live events
Cradles to Crayons in a non-profit that helps homeless and low-income children in Boston and Philadelphia. The group recently used Stories to promote a backpack-a-thon event, and showed photos and video of volunteers stuffing more than 40,000 backpacks for kids. Stories has become a popular place for posting behind-the-scenes content, particularly at live events where online followers wouldn’t typically be. Giving followers a peak at what really happens at an event encourages future participation. And because Stories disappear after 24 hours, organizations like Cradles to Crayons don’t have to worry about their photos and videos being quite as polished as they would typically be on Instagram.

3. Whole Foods: Promoting special discounts to followers
With more than 1.4 million followers on Instagram and thousands of likes on each photo they post, the social media team at Whole Foods clearly has a handle on how to turn photo sharing into sales. The supermarket chain has started using Instagram Stories to share images of popular items on sale. Images are usually overlayed with the hashtag #WholeFoodsFaves and the dates when the items are on sale, along with colorful doodles for visual interest. Posting limited-time discounts gives followers a reason to click on every Story that Whole Foods posts.

4. Oh To Be A Dog: Sharing behind-the-scenes videos
Oh to Be A Dog is a dog walking service in Southern California that’s very active on social media. Recently, the company posted a Story that showed a typical day in the life of a dog walker, showcasing an employee walking multiple dogs down the street. The content was shot from the employee’s perspective, as opposed to having an outside photographer shoot more professional-looking images, which gave the Story a higher level of authenticity. Giving followers a glimpse at what life is really like for employees at a company is one of the most popular ways for businesses to use Instagram Stories right now.

5. Taco Bell: Publishing exclusive photos and videos
Taco Bell has plenty of experience reaching millennials on social media, but the quick service restaurant chain is continuing to get creative with the ways it utilizes Instagram Stories. Taco Bell’s social media team recently posted a Story with photos of some of the most popular menu items at Taco Bell locations around the globe complete with overlayed text and drawings to give viewers a better idea of what they were looking at. The last photo in the series encouraged followers to visit Taco Bell’s website to view more photos from the same series.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.