Urgency has become the benchmark against which every brand competes. Who can spread the word faster? Who can get customers to act quicker? To that end, social media platforms have created features that help brands stimulate urgency in their target markets. On Instagram Stories, for instance, users post photographs or videos that remain live for just 24 hours.

And if you’re looking for a way to boost your brand by developing a narrative that encourages immediate action, Instagram Stories might well be the perfect vehicle.

Instagram Stories versus Snapchat

First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room. If you think that Instagram Stories bears a striking resemblance to Snapchat, you’re not alone. They are, essentially, the same product; the main difference being that Snapchat offers a few more filters.

But does that mean you should ignore Instagram Stories and prioritise Snapchat? Not necessarily. Writing for Business Insider, Saqib Shah of Digital Trends predicted that Snapchat will have 217 million users by the end of 2017 – not even half of Instagram’s estimated 500 million users – most of whom use the platform daily.

While Snapchat offers more visual effects and gimmicks, Instagram is clearly far more popular in terms of actual usership. So, if you want to reach the broadest possible audience, Instagram Stories will likely outperform Snapchat. Furthermore, Instagram has accrued an increasingly global user base, with more than 80 per cent of users coming from outside the US, meaning your word has the capacity to spread far and wide.

Learn from others

Numerous major brands already use Instagram Stories – Starbucks, MAC, National Geographic and Urban Outfitters, to name a few – so why not learn from their failures and mistakes? If you can avoid the pitfalls that early adopters fell into, you’ll have much more luck with your initial posts. Plus, you can try tactics that other brands have employed to great success.

Length and interaction

Social media analytics firm Socialbakers has found that videos on Instagram Stories perform best when they run just four seconds or less. Remember that urgency is paramount. Your audience wants a quick, fun glimpse into your brand and its mission.

Quality and longevity

Some brands use Instagram Stories to share news that will quickly become less pertinent, or to advertise a flash sale. However, they also publish evergreen posts — stories that can remain relevant for months or years to come. With that in mind, don’t post slap-dash videos or photos. Instead, take time to set the scene.

Unlike Snapchat, Instagram allows users to embed story posts with their regular feeds. Once the initial 24-hour period elapses, you can publish stories just as you would any other Instagram post. That way, you get more value for every photo or video, and your audience can continue enjoying your content.

Urgency and sales

As previously mentioned, Instagram Stories can work effectively for short-term marketing. Robert Katai of the Content Marketing Institute recommends publishing short, sweet videos that highlight products for sale. He uses a campaign by J.Crew, a popular American clothing outlet, as an effective example. The company published a fun, quirky series of videos featuring a new pair of sunglasses; the shades subsequently went on sale for a very brief period, during which J.Crew saw a spike in sales.

If the public knows you offer sales or clearances only to your Instagram followers, you’re likely to get more users on board. They’ll view your page regularly to find out if you’re running a spectacular sale, which can only serve to increase brand awareness.

Imagery and text

Instagram has become a unique social media platform because it uses imagery as its primary focal point, but allows users to tell stories with context. The Nieman Lab covered three different major publications – Sports Illustrated, National Geographic and The New York Times – and their first forays into Instagram Stories. While each had different experiences, common themes ran between them.

For one thing, all three users commented on the visual quality of Instagram as a whole. If you publish poor-quality imagery, you’re likely to turn off viewers. Avoid blurry and poorly lit images. Additionally, make sure your Instagram Stories convey meaning. Each of the brands mentioned that they regarded Instagram as having a slightly more ‘upmarket’ feel when compared to Snapchat.

The brands also mentioned that they enjoyed the scope of Instagram Stories. National Geographic highlighted that the feature ‘was able to expand our storytelling’, while Sport Illustrated suggested it ‘is another way to utilise photos in a more creative way’.

While Instagram Stories might not offer all the goofy filters for which Snapchat has become famous, it does have a highly customisable text tool. You can either type text to put on your image or use your finger to draw on the screen. Both options have their place, though the drawing feature could give your story a more casual aesthetic.

Influencers and fans

You don’t have to navigate the Instagram Stories waters on your own. In fact, the journey becomes much more effective when you bring along a friend or two. Try and convince influencers to contribute to your stories so your brand’s message gets amplified across multiple channels.

However, don’t overlook fans. They may not have thousands of followers, but they can still help spread you message. For instance, you might record a video of a fan giving a casual testimonial of your product, then post it to your feed. Invite fans to submit their own videos to create social proof, and to show that you are listening to feedback from real people.

On the surface, Instagram Stories might seem like a Snapchat rip-off, but the two platforms can undoubtedly work in harmony. However, if you are looking to boost sales, increase engagement and acquire followers with high quality images and well-crafted videos, then Instagram perhaps is the platform you should veer towards.