Instagram Stories at the Olympics: What your Brand can Learn

In a recent Spredfast marketing team meeting, I made a bold claim: I said I thought Instagram Stories might foreshadow how all social media could look in the future. I'm more than a little in love with the medium—and I think it’s because Stories are somewhere in between traditional social media, which is one-to-many, and a text message, which is one-to-one.

The Stories feature is still relatively new to Instagram (it was introduced in August 2016), and even if some of the features look similar to Snapchat (something Instagram’s CEO has acknowledged), Instagram’s version reaches different demographics and digital marketers are still getting used to how Stories differ from Instagram’s main feed. Digital marketers can look to regular Instagram users for cues: users conceive of their Stories posts differently than their regular Instagram posts and brands should be treating Stories differently, too. Think: polls, long video stories, and most of all, personal POVs.

Users conceive of their Stories posts differently than their regular Instagram posts and brands should be treating Stories differently, too. —@jaimenetzer


One of the other major points of conversation around the office the past few weeks? The Olympics. Not only did we love the Opening Ceremonies, we’ve also been finding inspiration in the Team USA Olympic account and in the personal accounts of a few Olympians who are social media stand-outs. Instagram Stories are, of course, fleeting by their very nature (unless they’re saved to the new Highlight section), so we decided to take a slice of Team USA life on February 12, 2018: day 4 of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. It turns out that the world's best athletes also have a knack for truly outstanding social content. The following accounts offer four important lessons for brands using Instagram Stories: you’ll find lessons about matching your Instagram posts to the medium (main feed or Stories), how to stay true to your brand within Stories, why posting consistently is key, and how to experiment with content in Stories (and why you should).

Design Posts that Match the Medium

The Stories Team USA (@teamusa) posts are just a little bit less polished, and offer a little more of a peek into the personalities of the Olympians featured than their polished main-page Instagram posts. Take this image, posted to Stories, of the U.S. figure skating team after they won bronze:

Their smiling faces offer an unvarnished, even unpolished—but charmingly so—view of the team’s reaction. We really do feel as though we’re at the bottom of the pile, sharing in their joy and accomplishment. The social team behind Team USA’s Instagram also seems to grasp the less-serious nature of Stories quite well. This image of Mirai Nagasu and teammate Adam Rippon after Nagasu became the first American woman to land a triple axle in the Olympics was posted to Team USA’s main Instagram page:

Compare it to the image posted to Team USA’s Stories:

The images are almost exactly the same, but the Stories image is decorated with fun text and a sticker, in keeping with the off-the-cuff, fun nature of Stories.

Takeaway: It’s important that the design element of your posts in both Stories and on the main Instagram timeline match the format audiences will expect.

Stay True to Your Brand, but Story-Style

Lindsey Vonn’s (@lindseyvonn) brand values are clear from her main Instagram page, with skiing, exercise, patriotism, and family among them. She’s also a prolific and successful Stories user, and day 4 of the Olympics was no exception. On February 12, Vonn had 10 Story installments, including things like:

  • Her workouts.

  • Jokes made at the gym.

  • A slow-motion video of her thigh during a Korean massage.

  • Fellow Team USA members borrowing a potted tree, with no further context.

  • Her dinner.

  • Two behind-the-scenes posts about her Today show appearance (including fun face filters for herself and the staff).

  • And finally, a congratulatory post about YOG athletes at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.

All 10 Stories fell in line with Vonn’s brand values and they also offered her 1.3M followers a genuine and personal window into her life. Vonn’s approach of including her personal POV about events has the power to earn her loyal followers.

Takeaway: Brands can emulate Vonn’s technique within Stories by taking their brand values to the individual level: highlight employees who embody brand values and offer followers a light-hearted peek into your brand’s inner workings (behind-the-scenes shots, impromptu interviews, etc.).

Post Consistently

Day 4 of the Olympics found Shaun White (@shaunwhite) with a day off from Olympic competition, but his social was still active. To his main Instagram page, White posted a thoughtful, pensive image of himself in USA colors, staring out the window, watching “@teamusa crush it.”

Meanwhile, to his stories, White posted a photo of himself in a sheet mask, looking right at the camera, eyes wide, emoji present. Each image offers his followers something unique: his main feed demonstrates his loyalty and patriotism while his Story post offers a fun, casual, and less scripted look at his life.

Takeaway: Posting consistently to both Stories and your main feed will keep your followers engaged and your brand top-of-mind.

Experiment with Content in Stories

Stories allows individuals and brands more freedom with content: maybe a video wouldn’t be right for your main Instagram feed (or maybe the production value of a permanent, feed-quality video is too high for use on a regular basis), but in Stories, brands can post polls asking for help with product decisions and videos that feel as though they were taken from an iPhone and uploaded then and there—and in fact, that’s the type of content your audience will look for in Stories. Take Tess Johnson (@_tessjohnson), the 17-year-old Olympian from Vail, CO who had just 5,226 followers on day 4 of the Olympics: her Instagram Stories game, like her first Olympic performance, is right on target. She created an Olympics Stories Highlight section that had 18 installments on day 4 and included both video and photos.

Every digital marketer loves to opine about the intuitive way younger generations use social, and we are no different. A member of Gen Z, Johnson has a firm grasp of what her audience might look for in her Stories: she offers some very raw, but truly insider-y video of the opening ceremonies, behind-the-scenes action, as well as promotional and competition photos of Team USA. Even Johnson’s branded content (one McDonald’s installment) is tucked in the middle of her other Highlight installments and remains irreverent and fun.

Takeaway: Stories offers brands a chance to give audiences access to things they wouldn’t otherwise get to see, and it offers a chance to show a less serious side, all of which endears audiences to your brand. Use the Highlight section for video and photos you want to be permanent but still casual.

If your brand is still finding your footing within Instagram Stories, take heart that you’re not alone, and keep the above lessons in mind as you experiment.

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Jaime Netzer is Spredfast's Senior Content Marketing Manager, leading content operations. A Lawrence, Kansas native, she traded seasons for breakfast tacos seven years ago and hasn't looked back since. Also a fiction writer and journalist, Jaime tweets semi-regularly and reads constantly.