What are social media stories?
Social media stories are my favorite type of post. Maybe it’s that they’re a limited-time post that only lasts for 24 hours. Maybe it’s the vertical screen.
What I like most about stories on Instagram is that people really connect to them.
I’m Jennifer van Alstyne. Welcome to my blog, The Social Academic where I share tips for your online image in research and academia. I also interview cool faculty and graduate students like you.
Did you listen to my chat with Andrew Paulsen last week? This Vanderbilt University Ed.D. candidate is working to transform education across America.
Today we’re gonna talk about stories on social media. And while stories were made popular by Snapchat, we’re focusing on Instagram and Facebook stories.
There are so many things you can do with stories to share your teaching and research with the world. And really humanize the work we do.
Let’s talk about how.
In this article you’ll
- learn what social media stories are and what platforms they’re used on
- get a sneak peek at what stories on LinkedIn might look like, and how they can help you (oh, and now Twitter too!)
- discover 11 inspiring ways to use social media stories for your teaching or research life
Before we get started, be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out on advice like this.
How do stories work on Instagram and Facebook?
Social media stories were made popular by Snapchat, which called each post within a story a “snap.” We’re talking 2013, so this form of social media post has been around for a while.
Now the term “stories” has become more generic, referring to
- a limited-time post (generally 24 hours)
- in vertical format
- that tends to be manual-access (not directly in your home feed)
- are viewed by your audience in order, 1 at a time
Stories can be text, image, video. There are even interactive options like polls and quizzes. We’ll get into this more in a little bit.
When you post a story, people who follow you or who come across your profile will have the opportunity to watch it. Depending on your privacy settings, of course.
They can “react” to your story with a few emoji options. And, they can direct message you in response to a story.
In Facebook and Instagram, stories are at the top of the application above your home feed.
And, a lot of people watch them.
Like a lot, a lot.
Instagram has a cool 500 million daily active users.
But it’s not just Instagram.
Does that surprise you? Honestly, it surprised me when I was looking up the stats for this article.
I asked my personal friends and family (okay, I asked my Facebook friends), do you watch stories? Do you create stories?
And actually, most of the people who responded said no.
So if you don’t watch stories, if you’ve never created them. That’s okay. A lot of people, actually most people are in the same boat.
But stories are a great way to
- share information
- ask a question
- engage your audience
- see what your friends are up to
- and even have conversations
That’s why higher education is using social media stories in many ways. For instance, introducing faculty like you, tours of campus, and sharing events.
So I knew social media stories were something I needed to write about for academics like you.
By the way, I don’t use WhatsApp (another Facebook company), which has more monthly active users than Instagram. But I hear you can set your “WhatsApp Status” each day, and it disappears after 24 hours.
And stories are coming soon to other social media platforms.
One I find increasingly important for people like you, LinkedIn.
The other, was just announced this week. Stories are coming soon to Twitter, too.
Let’s start with LinkedIn.
LinkedIn started with Student Voices, now stories are coming soon
Now you know a lot of people use stories on Instagram and Facebook, as well as another limited time post, WhatsApp Status. Did you know that stories are headed to LinkedIn soon?
I wrote about how important LinkedIn is for graduate students, faculty, and researchers like you. And I gave you a bunch of tips for optimizing your LinkedIn profile for networking.
Stories on LinkedIn will be a new way to create content that helps you connect with people in your field, as well as
- conference and event organizers
- the media
- the public
It’s not that you can’t connect with your colleagues and friends there. You totally can. But you’re likely already in touch with those people on another social media platform if you use one. So I like to mention them last.
This is not the 1st time LinkedIn thought about stories. They launched Student Voices in 2018, which overlaid your post with your university’s logo.
Not everyone has liked this, concerned with the idea of stories as off-the-cuff and less professional.
The head of LinkedIn content products, Pete Davies says now more than ever, conversations are taking place on LinkedIn with a 25% increase each year. Stories are great because they’re a “lightweight, fun way to share an update.”
And, he compares social media stories to quick business interactions, like passing someone in the hall or running into them at the coffee shop: “sometimes we want a way to just make a connection, have a laugh with our colleagues and move on.”
So stories are coming to LinkedIn soon. And if you ask me, that’s a good thing.
And part of that is because stories are optional: you access them manually which means the people who are watching choose to watch.
I’ll definitely be using stories on LinkedIn once they’re available to share things like what I’m working on, advice for faculty and grad students, and to ask questions. I can’t wait to see what options will be available.
Okay, we’re getting to the best part: inspiration for your social media stories!
Before we dive in, be sure to subscribe to The Social Academic today.
What are fleets on Twitter?
So what do stories look like on Twitter? For about a year, Twitter has been working on a new type of post called “fleets.” And like Instagram and Facebook, the ‘story’ feature will be at the top of the app screen.
And, like other stories, fleets will last 24 hours and then disappear.
Unlike tweets, they cannot be retweeted.
And like other stories, emoji-based reactions will be a way to engage with fleets.
Like Instagram, when you respond to a fleet with a message, it is received as a direct message (DM).
In terms of what you can post, fleets are similar to tweets. You’ll be able to share
- 280 characters
- and, video
Fleets are being tested in Brazil.
I’ll be sure to keep you updated once these stories posts become available on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Story inspiration for your academic life
There are so many ways to engage your social media audience with stories. In the photo above, you’ll see a couple different kinds of features used.
From left to right:
- Tip-based story that includes text, a screenshot, and an arrow GIF to point out a particular section on the screenshot
- A simple poll that uses emojis and asks if the viewer is having a good day
- A shared Instagram post to stories that is clickable, with a photo of me inviting people to check it out
- Background is a graphic, added text, and a poll that asks a specific question that has 2 possible text-based answers
I tried to pick examples that weren’t just a traditional snapshot to give you an idea of how dynamic your stories can be. But that doesn’t mean a simple snapshot or video will do. There are even photo filters, new augmented reality (AR) face filters, and stickers.
Whether you’re creating your 1st story post or looking to engage your audience further, here are 11 ideas to inspire your posts.
Remember, stories on Instagram and Facebook are vertical video or image like in the panel above. So that’s something to keep in mind when you’re taking photos or video.
#1 | Introduce yourself with video stories
If you’ve read my other articles about social media, introducing yourself tends to be my favorite tip. And stories are a great place to do it.
Whether you connect with your scholarly network on social media, or mostly your friends and family, introducing yourself on social media is a friendly way to say hi.
You can do this with
- static images and text
- live video
- 15-second video clips
My top suggestion is to jump on video and start recording. Say hi, tell people your name, and let people know a bit about you.
#2 | Share a day-in-the-life series
The easiest way to start creating stories is to share what your day is like. Set a goal like “I’ll share 5 photos of my day.”
Start thinking about what your audience might like to see, or might find interesting.
In the past couple days, I’ve watched some pretty cool day-in-the-life stories. I’d share them with you but they’re limited-time! So I’m gonna share a post from each of them instead.
My friend from grad school, Chandler Steckbeck shared a story that included
- a photo of her voting in the US primary election
- a short video of the view from her office
- a photo of the puzzle she’s working on
- and a cup of chamomile tea
An awesome butterfly researcher, Becky Friesen shared videos of the monarchs at her research site in Mexico as her story last week.
I actually watched it twice. And then shared it with my fiance who loves butterflies. I told Becky how we went down to the National Butterfly Center down in Mission, TX over the summer.
I really connect with stories because it feels more like I’m talking with people, hearing directly from them.
#3 | Inspire with your favorite quote
An easy way to use stories when you don’t have a photo, maybe you don’t want to be on video, is quotes.
Both Instagram and Facebook stories allow you to share a text-only story.
Or a text-based story that you can add a GIF or sticker too.
Sharing a quote-of-the-day or something that inspired you recently is a great way to start using stories.
#4 | Ask Me Anything on stories
A popular way to engage your audience on social media is called “Ask Me Anything.”
Using a Question element, your audience can submit text-based questions for you to answer.
I will say that this does not work for everyone. It may surprise your audience if you’re randomly asking them to ask you questions. So the 1st time you do, let them know what it’s all about.
Say something like:
“Ask Me Anything is a way for you to get to know me more here on social media. You can ask me anything from what’s my favorite pizza to my thoughts about my research topic/area of specialization.”
You can also host an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on a specific topic.
For faculty and researchers, that tends to look like “Ask me anything about neuroscience.”
You can respond to the questions you get by sharing the original question and posting your response. You can respond with
When you share someone’s response, they’ll get a notification that you answered their question.
#5 | Messy desks, a pile of books, sad office chairs
There’s no shortage of snapshots of academic life on social media. The best news is that people are starting to prefer the authenticity of real life.
That means sharing your messy desk or office is something people can relate to, engage with, and comment upon.
Want something really engaging? Try sharing a tour of your office or workspace.
For scientists, take your audience inside the lab.
#6 | Ask for advice, help, or solidarity
Another great way to use stories to connect with your audience is when you need something from them, like
Share what’s going on with you and let people know how they can help.
Questions I’ve seen on social media stories include
- How do you create a work/life balance in grad school?
- What interview questions should I prepare for?
- Have you ever been through this before?
- What do you do for self-care?
Those are maybe a little heavier topics. But I’ve also seen things like “What book should I read next?”
And I’ve definitely asked about tv shows myself.
There are a lot of ways to connect with your audience on stories, whether you’re asking for
- direct messages
- question responses
- poll or quiz responses
Or just attention on a topic you care about.
#7 | Save your favorite stories to Highlights
On both Instagram and Facebook, you can save your favorite stories on your profile through Highlights.
Highlights are a series of story posts that you choose to make available to your audience for as long as you choose. That means they stay on your profile beyond the limited time window of 24 hours.
Let’s say you introduced yourself recently. And people liked it. You want to make that available to other people. Because not everyone caught it on that day.
Afterall, we’re busy. Not everyone is checking stories every single day.
Highlights are a great way to make those stories last longer and potentially reach more people.
You can also use Highlights to keep permanent stories where you
- share a bit about your research
- introduce a hobby
- explain or educate people about a topic of interest
- detail an upcoming talk or event
#8 | Remind people about your talk or event
That brings me to the next item: you can use social media stories to keep people updated about an upcoming talk or event.
On Instagram, there is an actual Reminder you can use in stories.
But also just hopping on video, or sharing a text story with the details is helpful.
For events, people need to hear about it a number of times to remember it. And generally more to make a decision.
So stories is a great way to get the word out there about your conference presentation or keynote address.
#9 | Polls, quizzes, and sliders engage your audience
In both Instagram and Facebook stories, there are options to engage your audience with polls, quizzes, and sliders.
Think about it this way: a poll is like asking a question with 2 options. It can be anything from how’s your day going? To do you want to learn more?
A quiz can have up to 4 options. And while you select a ‘right answer’ there doesn’t actually have to be one. So you can use it to ask a question with even more options.
Or you can use it as a traditional quiz to ask questions like, “What’s my favorite movie?”
Sliders are not available on Facebook stories, but on Instagram a slider is like asking how much?
How excited or happy are you? How much do you agree with this?
While these functions can be used on their own, they’re most effective with engaging your audience within a string of other stories.
For instance, this week on Instagram I’ve been sharing daily advice on setting boundaries on social media. I used a quiz to ask people if they take their friends, family, and personal time into account when thinking about how much time and energy they spend on social media. Most of the people who watched the video story to that point responded.
Using variation with your stories is a great way to keep your audience engaged.
#10 | Instagram only: Create a Close Friends group
Okay, my last tip is really only for Instagram, and it has to do with your Close Friends list.
Last year, Instagram rolled out a new feature: the ability to segment a portion of your audience into a list.
That means if your Instagram is mostly personal but you also have a number of friends from your scholarly network there, you can create stories just for them.
Or vice versa. You could have a Close Friends List of just your family and friends.
These stories show up in the same place, at the top of the app. But, they have a contrasting color so the audience you’ve shared it with knows this is a special story just for them.
I hope you enjoyed these tips about social media stories.
There are so many features to test out, I’m excited for you to explore all the options.
Thank you so much for joining me for this episode of The Social Academic. Be sure to check back later this month for my interview with Jacklyn Lord of the Society for Scholarly Publishing.
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Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and public relations consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help academics, researchers, and writers control their online presence and share their work with the world.
She holds a B.A. from Monmouth University in English, and an M.F.A. from Naropa University in Writing & Poetics where she was the Jack Kerouac Fellow. Jennifer also holds an M.A. from University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Literature and Cultural Studies where she was one of four master’s fellows and a finalist for the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award.