Larger Brands Have an Edge in Instagram Stories … or Do They?

A Socialinsider study found positives for the under-10,000-follower club

A collage of three Instagram stories including scenery of a mountain, an Independence Day picnic with balloons, a beach ball and watermelon, and two women eating pizza at 12:34 a.m.
On average, brands posted Stories on seven days each month. Instagram

Instagram debuted Stories in August 2016, and by March 2017, businesses of all sizes were allowed to run ads alongside the ephemeral content format.

However, despite the theoretical lack of barriers for smaller brands looking to capitalize on Stories ads, a recent study found that larger companies still enjoyed many advantages.

Software-as-a-service company Socialinsider—which offers marketers an analytics tool covering Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube—examined 135,976 Instagram Stories from 2,548 business accounts and shared its findings.

The study found that, on average, brands posted Stories on seven days each month, but follower size was a factor. Brands with 100,000 or more followers posted Stories an average of roughly every two days, while those with fewer than 1,000 followers did so approximately every four days.

Larger brands have more resources to assign to their overall social media efforts. And Socialinsider pointed out that only business accounts with over 10,000 followers can include links in their Stories, giving them more incentive to create content for this medium.

Oz Etzioni, CEO of dynamic personalized video advertising provider Clinch, agreed, saying in an interview, “Smaller brands don’t have the manpower, time and money to feed the beast. ‘I have a small team, I have so much content to produce. How do I do that?’ Deciding what content to produce is one issue, distributing the content is another issue, distributing it to all of the platforms and managing it is the third issue and the final issue is optimizing it and making sense out of it.”

Socialinsider found that 51% of brands are using video in their Stories, saying that video helps create authenticity and prompts people to spend more time viewing those Stories, which, in turn, leads Instagram’s algorithm to show those stories to more users.

Adam Williams, CEO of Instagram influencer marketing service Takumi, said in an interview, “We are now at the stage where mobile video content is maturing, and brands and agencies need to look at ways to stand out from the crowd. This means looking at new functions on Stories and exploring the capabilities of alternative platforms such as IGTV more.”

Surprisingly, brands with fewer than 100,000 subscribers posted nearly the same number of Stories with videos and photos, while those with more than 100,000 leaned more toward photos (60% to 40%).

One possible reason for this is that larger brands can more easily take the risk of running Stories that may not draw optimal engagement.

Socialinsider co-founder Adina Jipa said in an interview, “Brands with larger followings on Instagram are still creating too much polished content, which doesn’t succeed at retaining the audience’s attention with Stories. They work with agencies with scripts and shot in a studio and professionally edited. Sometimes having more resources, both financial and manpower, kills the creativity.”

Audience retention proved to be another challenge for brands with smaller follower counts. Socialinsider found that the exit rate—the percentage of people who leave Stories by closing them out on Instagram—was 7.43% for brands with under 10,000 followers, or nearly double the median rate, while larger brands trended closer to the median.


The news wasn’t all bad for brands with under 10,000 followers, though: While they are admittedly working off a smaller base, their Stories reach over 9% of their followers, versus about 5% for those with 10,000 or more.


Etzioni said of Stories and of Instagram’s push into ecommerce, “Stories is a very interesting vehicle. This is a huge opportunity for smaller brands. It’s not about how much money you spend; it’s about how you spend it and the content you’re providing. Behind the scenes, the real stuff that’s going on, short-format—you’re not supposed to be perfect in this format. It’s OK to not be fully edited.”

Williams said, “Often, these creators know their audiences really well, as they are more closely connected to them and understand what resonates with them, more so than with a larger brand who has a broader audience to appeal to. The engagement rate of smaller accounts is often therefore not only higher, but it can also be more authentic or passionate in its sentiment.”

This would seem to run parallel to micro-influencers, who have smaller follower counts but boast of stronger engagement with the followers they do have.

Williams added, “We increasingly see influencers acting as their own ‘creative directors’ to develop really engaging content, and we encourage this at Takumi—it means we can offer clients a broader range of creators with unique styles to choose from. Brands and agencies appreciate the flexibility in a crowded field.”

Socialinsider also measured the tap-forward rate on Stories, or the percentage of viewers who tap forward to see the next photo or video, cautioning that the higher the rate, the more likely people are not interested in the content.

Business profiles with fewer than 10,000 followers had an average tap-forward rate of 5.16%, and that figure climbed to 5.79% for those with 10,000 to 100,000 followers. The average across all profile sizes was 5.65%.

Jipa concluded, “With Stories, it’s a David and Goliath problem. Brands with larger followings are trying to be a Goliath on Instagram, while Instagram Stories requires acting like David on this platform. Don’t waste your time being a follower—try to be authentic and create your inner voice as a brand.” David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.