Realtime Instagram Stories: What you need to know

imran azam
6 June 2017

A couple of weeks back I was invited back to the incredible The Next Web (TNW) technology conference in Amsterdam to run their Instagram Stories account having previously launched the TNW Snapchat channel at the same event in 2016. 

If you run or are contemplating running a Snapchat/Instagram Story for your business/client/event or simply want to know about what involved in producing engaging impactful stories ‘on-demand’ then this article is for you;

Lets set the scene...

The TNW tech conference is one of the largest in Europe spread across an enormous site in Westerpark, Amsterdam with around 25,000 attendees over 2 days. The remit of conference encompasses technology, the internet, digital culture, music and art and attracts some of the worlds best known speakers such as Casey Neistat and Gary Vaynerchuk. Its a stereotypically dutch affair with a laid back yet purposeful vibe and is extremely well planned and put together. 

My role as the 2017 Instagram Stories lead - working along with the rest of the incredible social team headed up by TNW Director of Social, Matt Navarra - was to provide TNW's +70k Instagram followers with on-going vertical visual storytelling over 4 days in realtime that was in keeping with its brand values and culture. 

Hang on a sec...what do you mean by storytelling?

As I have previously written storytelling has become a buzz word over the last couple of years amongst marketers and for many it is simply a softer expression for regular marketing practices. In actual fact the idea of digital storytelling is a cultural shift where truth, honesty and authenticity trumps slogans, veneer and overt sales. As we now live in a ‘connection economy’ with an unlimited number of social channels vying for our attention we actively opt-in to engage with those who reflect values that resonate. The converse is also true in that we actively opt-out of anything we deem to be irrelevant. The days of being ‘spoken to’ are rapidly coming to an end. Whats clear is that storytelling in whatever form embodies truth, honesty and authenticity that, when conducted on a regular basis, builds long standing relationships of trust which in turn can lead to greater opportunity for all. In the case of TNW we decided that best way to share the experience and tell the story of the conference was to do it ‘on-demand' using Instagram Stories.

Ok so what is 'on-demand' storytelling?

On-demand storytelling is the art of producing a story chronologically as it unfolds in realtime. Currently this is best done using a platform such as Snapchat or Instagram. This is what I was tasked with at the conference; to produce the TNW conference story as it unfolded.

Ok got it. Why Instagram Stories and not Snapchat this year?

Its a discussion we had and concluded that the reach of TNW was likely to be greater using Instagram Stories. The functionality is currently very similar between the two after Mark Zuckerberg decided to wholesale incorporate Snapchat’s storytelling format in to all of its platforms; WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger and Instagram. It simply came down to where we thought TNW would gain the highest quality attention and engagement.

So what kind of planning was involved?

Believe it or not the planning began 6 weeks prior to the conference. Thats first thing to remember; to be spontaneous requires planning. So after deciding on the platform we were going to use our attention shifted to the story we wanted to tell. This process is akin to storyboarding except here we needed to pin down an overall theme rather than be too specific; when faced with an ever changing environment such as a conference its pays to be flexible but with a view to always being ‘on message’. We achieved this by clearly defining our objectives, brands values, audience expectations, by mapping out the venue and revising the speaker running order. 

So what was the overall theme?

We decided that documenting the journey to TNW from the UK would be a great way to soft launch the story 2 days prior to the event itself. This would give the audience time to adjust to the new story style (TNW’s regular Instagram Stories content is very different), help us to set expectations and deliver key messages about the upcoming conference with a healthy dose of quirky fun. 

I started my journey in Newcastle in the north of England before driving down to Manchester Airport, catching a flight to Brussels, staying a night in a very odd Airbnb before catching the high speed train from Brussels to Amsterdam and an Uber to the hotel.

What kind of content did you produce?

At the time of writing Instagram Stories offers two options; still images and up to 15 seconds of vertical video. Both can be overlaid with contextual information such as time, date, weather, locations as well as creative elements including stickers, emojis, drawings and filters. To produce high quality creative content on the go required a streamlined workflow and a series of other apps that helped with the video editing process.

What was the workflow?

For still images and 'non sophisticated' video only the creative elements within the Instagram app were used.  Things became more interesting in the production of video montages at key moments (examples in the video above).

To produce this type of content was obviously more involved than regular posts. I began by recording between 10-15 different 5 second clips using the native camera app (iPhone). These clips constituted the raw footage. Using the free Go Pro app Splice (available on both Android and iOS) the clips were edited to form a mini story no longer than 15 seconds (as this is the time limit for video posts on IG Stories). This was then exported out of Splice to Camera Roll. To add further video effects the mini story was then uploaded to Facebook Stories (stay with me) which offers some unique video filters. Once the filter was applied the mini story was exported out of Fb Stories ready to be uploaded to IG Stories and overlaid with IG graphical creative elements. Simples.

If you want go through this process just hit me up on twitter/snapchat/insta: @moiazam

OMG. How long did that process take?

Each mini story took on average 30 mins to complete and on average 6 of these were created daily. 

Got any key stats from the conference you can highlight?

Sure;

Accumulative Instagram Story posts running time: 18mins 
Number of video posts: 200 
Keynote speakers covered: 80% 
Total number of views: 150,000 
Number of typos: 2 

How would you describe running the channel for TNW?

In a word; intense. But thats was not a surprise as on-demand storytelling requires adopting 3 states of mind at the same time;

What have I just posted?
What should I post now? 
What could I post next? 

It got to a point where I was thinking about the following days posts in my sleep.

So what are the key take aways from the experience?

I’m of the opinion that if you are going to do anything then do it well; not half baked. Anyone can pick up a phone and start posting images and videos on Instagram/Snapchat but to tell an impactful on-demand story takes a significant amount of planning, insight and experience. Like any content strategy worth its name you have to be clear about objectives and editorial well in advance. Its is also important to master the vey latest update from the platform provider as the speed at which this is changing means that all kinds of creative opportunities crop up that could help tell your story. An example of this at TNW was the introduction of ‘live’ hashtag stickers that allowed viewers to tap through to other related Instagram content. This update was only made available a day in to the story I was producing but thereafter we used it on a regular basis to draw non followers our account. 

Remember the target is always moving and moving fast; do your best to keep up and roll with the punches; there is always the next post to consider. 

Imran Azam
Founder | thisisreel.co

Find me here: Twitter | Instagram | Snapchat