As beauty brands look to meet customers where they are, their focus is turning to Instagram Stories.

Stories, a feature allowing users to share photos and videos featuring extras like filters, stickers, emojis and GIFs for 24 hours, are still new to many brands’ digital strategies. But thanks to algorithmic changes at Instagram that make it harder to reach clients through their photo feeds, brands across the board have begun to embrace the Story option. With Instagram’s recently introduced highlights feature, Stories can be saved to the grid for a permanent shelf life. As a result, brands are using the Story feature to build their own content libraries, and customers are now spending more time scrolling through their Instagram offerings. In 2016, one month after launch, Instagram Stories pulled in 300 million daily active users.

Instagram Stories is huge for every brand on Instagram,” said Gizelle Geha, director of social at Blue Wheel Media, which has created digital campaigns for beauty brands including HydroPeptide and Perricone MD. “We find that stories get a lot more engagement than actual posts on the feed. As a user on Instagram, when I tap on a story, I pretty much scroll through the next 15 without really thinking about it.”

The beauty connection
Beauty companies, in particular, are seeing success with branded Stories, which often earn a higher reach than posts on the feed. In 2016, Kiehl’s reported 8 percent of its followers viewed its Stories posts, compared to 2 percent who liked the brand’s photos.

While some beauty brands are still focused on curating perfect pictures for a standout grid, innovative companies have begun to concentrate on Stories. Veteran hair color company Manic Panic regularly posts Stories including tutorials, photos of professional stylists, customer photos and influencer test drives, making use of the 60-second video feature in the space and bringing in influencers and customers as Story guest stars.

Brand strategists at Manic Panic use the platform to speak to the entire lifestyle of a customer, rather than simply share photos of products. “We want to make sure followers are aware of our brand history, and roots in counterculture and rock and roll,” said the company’s marketing coordinator, Stella Rose Saint Clair.

This month, nail care brand Sally Hansen introduced GIFs, with the goal of encouraging customers to share Sally Hansen-themed stickers in their own Stories. The company is unable to measure how much play the stickers are getting from individual users, but the GIFs have received 33.5 million views thus far.

Finding success with Stories
Geha said companies gravitate to Stories because it allows them to tell a different story than on their feeds. “No one is going to read 15 lines on an Instagram post,” she said. “Stories go into more detail; people might not scroll down to read a full caption on the topic, but they will tap through the slides.”

Instagram Stories are designed to look less polished than in-feed pictures, a draw for brands wanting to maximize returns with fewer resources. “You can’t fake good photography on the feed, but Stories has now given anyone the tools, with filters and functions, to shoot really compelling content with just your phone,” said Jonathan McGraw, director of strategy and planning at Blue Wheel. “Some brands are using $10,000 DSLR cameras, while others with an iPhone X are doing best-in-class content.”

According to a Pew Research survey, 60 percent of Instagram’s 800 million users visit the platform at least once daily. Stories allows brands to push new content each time a user logs onto the platform, without the planning and production that goes along with in-feed photos. According to Instagram itself, over 50 percent of its business users have posted a Story, with one in five of those stories resulting in a direct message, or DM. Stories have also reportedly increased the time users spend on Instagram, with an average of 32 minutes per day for those users under 25 years old, and 24 minutes for users 25 and older.

The feed versus Stories
For Manic Panic, the strategy is to keep Stories feeling impromptu, even if they require a bit of planning. “We use Stories to remind people of events and sales, and to feature live updates from events,” said Saint Clair. “The feed can be thought of as more of a published magazine, while the Story is a sort of TV station.”

The Sally Hansen feed strategy is product-focused, while Stories are “about life in real time,” said Celia Tombalakian, vp of global and U.S. marketing at parent organization Coty. When they’re looking to get in touch with followers ASAP, for example, to show off their booth at Beautycon or poll for manicure options on a shoot, they use Stories.

The increased focus on Stories is a boon for influencers, who brands can tap to cameo in a Story, which the influencer will then promote to their own followers. According to a Facebook IQ report, 52 percent of shoppers consider the opinions of “beauty experts on social media” before making a purchase. Through cross-promotion with influencers, brands gain access to their trusting online audience.

Beca Alexander, president of influencer agency Socialyte, now suggests a day-long “story takeover” in addition to a post on the feed for any of her influencers negotiating with a beauty brand, which can translate into more work for her clients. “We’re no longer seeing feed takeovers from influencers on brand’s channels — we’re now only getting requests for story takeovers,” said Alexander. “Stories are in the moment, less edited and more personable, and they allow for real time engagement. We’re going to see more and more of this, as brands realize the ROI on Stories is higher than feed content.”

An additional perk: the capability to link out to product directly with the Swipe Up feature, which allows a Story post to pull in a product more directly than shoppable posts in the feed.

Stories may be designed to look impromptu, but it’s no surprise that plenty of strategy and manpower goes into them. At Blue Wheel, a story takes anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to design. “We spend the same amount of time [as on feed photos], if not more, making sure they’re engaging,” says Geha.

As beauty brands catch up to Instagram’s latest innovations, expect less focus on the feed, and more and more Stories to tap through. According to Alexander, “Brands have not yet realized the full power of Stories.”