How to Create Epic Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories, Snapchat and now Facebook Stories… It doesn’t matter which one is better, which one came first, or who stole the format from who.

One thing all the social media marketing experts agree on is this: Video is here to stay.

To repeat… Video — especially in the form of “snaps” or “stories” and live streaming — is here to stay.

Video Marketing is Here to Stay

Video Marketing is a Must

It doesn’t matter if you are comfortable on screen or not. It doesn’t matter if you plan to “do more video” this year or if you said that very same thing last year (and I’m preaching to myself here).

If you do not get on board with video marketing, your business will be left behind.

If you do not get on board with video marketing, your business will be left behind.Click To Tweet

So what do you need to do to get started with video, or — if you’ve played around with some video — what can you do now to make your videos better?

You could invest in better cameras and lighting. You could turn your guest bedroom into an in-house video recording studio. Or, you could finally create that new YouTube channel you’ve been meaning to start and begin building an audience from scratch.

But there’s an easier way.

smartphone selfieIf you have a smartphone and are on Instagram or Facebook already, then it’s easy. You have a built-in audience (even if it’s just Grandma) and you have all the equipment you need.

Start playing and testing Instagram Stories and Facebook Stories today.

I mean it. Just start!

In fact, if you haven’t used the Stories feature yet, you should just stop reading this post and go “play” now. I’ll be here when you’re ready.

If you’re ready to kick it up a bit already, keep reading for tips on making EPIC Stories.

While there will always be new trends and ideas, here are three key steps to keep in mind that will work (in most cases) across the board. I chose to focus on Instagram Stories as the example.

Here are the three key steps in a nutshell:

  1. The Intro: Capture Attention: Introduce yourself before you dig into the main content. Use intro cards, theme music, or just record a simple “hello, my name is…”
  2. The Main Content: Tell a Memorable Story: Don’t just sell me something or tell me how great your product is… SHOW me. Share testimonials or success stories. Before and after photos. Tell me how lives have changed or how businesses have grown after using your products or service.
  3. The End: Include a Call-to-Action: Keep your Instagram Stories short and to the point. But don’t end them abruptly or leave your audience hanging. Tell viewers where to go to learn more, where to sign up for your webinar, or how to buy your product.

How to Create Epic Instagram Stories in 3 Easy Steps

How to Capture — And Keep — Attention Span

Introduce the topic of each story before you just jump in to the main content. Some people just record talking head videos like: “Good morning, Instagram. Today we’re going to talk about the importance of setting specific brand colors for your business.”

It seems redundant but simply introducing your topic before you start talking about it is a great practice. This works best if you’ve built a bit of a following and your face is recognizable already, or if you’re an entrepreneur building a personal brand. You need to be the face of your business.

Assuming you’re delivering great content consistently, your followers will start to associate your face with great content. Then, every time they hear you introduce a new story, they will know great content is coming and they need to keep watching.

Another great way to introduce a new story is to start with an intro “card,” which can be a graphic or video that can break up your standard video clips. So if the majority of your Instagram Stories are talking head selfie videos, break up each story or segment with intro cards, like Naturally Katie does to announce a new blog post.

Epic IG Stories intro cardsHire a designer to create graphics you can reuse, like SFH‘s graphic they post each time they announce a new published blog post. This intro card remains the same, but then following clips go into the latest blog post topic.

Or, create your own intro on the fly with the app’s built-in tools. You can take any photo, fill the background with a color and then add text, doodles, and emojis like Dry Bar does before highlighting their Friday Faves.

Epic IG Stories: Capture attention with Image Cards

How to Make Memorable IG Stories

First and foremost be yourself. Even if you and I are selling the exact same things we are each unique. We both bring something different to the table. Use that uniqueness to your advantage.

I share visual marketing and design tips but throw in highlights of my day which include time at the gym, working remotely at my favorite coffee shop, or sharing my daily kombucha addiction.

Stick to a consistent schedule and try theme days. You might go to church Sunday, take out the trash Tuesday morning, and watch your favorite show Thursday night. We’re programmed on weekly schedules. Use that to your advantage and program consistent themes such as Motivational Monday, Tips Tuesday, and so on.

A consistent posting schedule becomes memorable over time, automatically. When you start a new theme, introduced it casually like, “Hey, it’s Monday so I’m back with another Motivational Monday IG Story!”

Buffer does a great job of mixing up the content they share, from valuable social media tips to visually fascinating images such as the beautiful travel photos shared during their theme day called Friday Travel Inspiration. It’s worth noting here you do not have to manually create or come up with all the content you share. Curate, repost and highlight great work of others. Be sure to give the original creator credit with a tag or shoutout, as well.

Buffer on Instagram Stories

Whenever possible, use brand colors to tie your stories together and further build brand recognition. I use orange (almost) exclusively in everything that I post online, especially on Instagram.

Social Studio does a great job using their signature pink color. (What is that, like a salmon?) Posts alternate between colored backgrounds with simple text to great photos with text overlay. There’s always a way to work in your brand color.

Color Branding Instagram Stories

Finally, when it comes to making memorable stories, be sure to mix things up. If you typically deliver content via a talking head, then it’s time to mix it up. Viewers will get bored staring at clip after clip of your face. Try different camera angles and the app’s built-in tools (filter overlays, Boomerang, Rewind, etc.), as well as different content — videos, still images, and graphics created and uploaded into your story.

Often, I’ll create IG Stories with several clips and the follow-up later with one simple post — the ever-popular quote graphic. I make a series of tall quote graphics and have them handy on my phone to post throughout the week. Chris Ducker does a great job of mixing in well-designed graphics throughout is IG Stories, as well.

Instagram Stories Quote Graphics

How to Command Action

Include a call-to-action command. After you’ve shared the main content, tell us what to do next. If you’re story isn’t memorable or not fitting for someone specific watching, they’ve swiped left and skipped to the next story already.

BUT… If you’ve connected with the perfect person, they’ve loved the content you just shared.

And they want more.

Give them an appropriate CTA. Send them to your website to learn more. Or tell them to comment with a questions or to tag a friend that would benefit from this content.

Just don’t leave them hanging… Tell them to do something.

Sue B. Zimmerman does a great job including CTAs on both her personal and business accounts. Often, she says to click the link in her Instagram bio and follows up with a CTA graphic she can quickly make with a screenshot of her profile.

Upload a screenshot of your profile into Instagram Stories, then take the pen tool to highlight the link. Use white to “erase” your posts or anything distracting, and use your brand color to circle or otherwise point right to the link. Add text to further drive home your CTA.

You could also save a simple graphic on your phone (like my speech bubble example) that you load and then add related CTA text at the end of a story.

Stand out with Instagram Stories

It’s worth nothing here that individual posts can act like ads for your products and services. Use well-designed graphics with built-in CTAs to promote your current offers. Know, however, that you should mix these posts in sparingly with lots of other great content. And, if you do use them, they work better when paired with large IG Stories. Intro your offer, tell us about it and share WHY we should learn more about it, and THEN end with the “ad” graphic.

Flavorgod Seasonings does a great job of using the perfect mix of video, graphics, and “ads” in their IG Stories. What I’m calling an ad, in this case, is just a previously created image you upload as one clip in a story. I’d suggest using video (pre-recorded or you own talking head) to tell a story or sell the product and then ending with the image “ad” that repeats the message. Or, you could promote a challenge, like Derek Halpern of Social Triggers did recently.

Ads on Instagram Stories

How to Craft Perfect IG Stories (Easy 5-Step Formula)

If you’ve read this far, you’ve got lots of ideas on creating epic Instagram Stories. There are many ways you can captivate and share, but these five elements below, in my opinion, make for an easy formula to follow.

Use this as a guideline to start crafting perfect, epic Instagram Stories, then branch out as you develop your own style. Once you start putting content out, you will get a feel for what you enjoy delivering, and (more importantly) what your audience wants.

Easy 5-Step Formula for Epic Instagram Stories

  1. Intro
  2. Main Content
  3. CTA (Spoken)
  4. Outro
  5. CTA (On-screen)

So to recap, you first say hello, introduce yourself or the topic. Think talking head or upload an intro graphic or video card.

Then, deliver your main content. Be brief but strive for quality.

Next, tell us what to do, well… Next. Deliver an applicable CTA that flows from the content you just delivered to the viewer’s next step.

Outro graphic or video card to wrap up story. A signal that says this story is over.

Finally, you can repeat the CTA for folks still watching. You can do another talking head video but I’d suggest an image with simple text that recaps the most important next step.

Easy 5-Step Formula for Epic Instagram Stories
Grab a copy to keep on your computer or print out for reference. Download PDF

That’s it! I can’t wait to see what you create. If you’re off and running, be sure to connect with me on Instagram so I can watch those epic stories.

If you need more inspiration, be sure to follow Gary Vaynerchuk’s IG Stories (@garyvee). He’s got a team behind him creating memorable graphics and engaging videos, mixed with his own tips and a look into his day.

And if you’re still a bit unsure, or feeling a bit overwhelmed, then I would love to help you with next steps.

First, know the main content is on you. Nobody knows your product/services like you do. No one can deliver value with the same combo of expertise + passion as you.

So do what you do best. Determine what it is that you want to say. Focus on delivering the “meat.” The quality content.

Then, I can help package up that content so you can present it in a professional way. If you need help creating the intro/outro graphics and videos, I’d love to work with you. You don’t have to have a team like GaryVee to get started. Just send me a message or drop a comment below to get started.

Comments Please: What epic Instagram Stories tips can you share? What has worked well for you?

How to Pick the Best Brand Color for Your Audience

When building a brand, the colors in everything from your logo to the clothes you wear can impact the thoughts, decisions and opinions of clients or customers.

You might be feeling overwhelmed, or if you’re like me, you think of random songs like Harry Chapin’s Flowers are Red. ::singing:: “There are so many colors in the rainbow… I see every one…”

But, take heart. We can determine the best color for your personal brand, business or organization by answering three questions:

  1. What’s My Favorite Color?
  2. What’s the Best Color for My Ideal Audience?
  3. What Does My Brand Color Mean? (We’re talking color psychology.)

We discussed the first question about favorite colors in a previous post. Now we will dive into the best color for an ideal audience.

What’s the Best Color for My Ideal Audience?

So you’ve decided what colors you like and hate personally. How about your ideal audience?

Love ALL the colors!

Love ALL the colors!

Time to do some research. Think about your ideal audience for a moment… What other companies and brands rank among their favorites? Who do they like and follow? What brand of clothes do they wear? Favorite foods and drinks? Car models (and colors) they like to drive?

There will be some unique characteristics here and there, but common (even obvious) patterns will begin to emerge.

Now, we definitely do not want to negatively stereotype, but advertisers have been effectively targeting audiences for years.

People are predictable. We become creatures of habit and gravitate towards things and other people we like or can relate to.

Bottom line? There will be some obvious brand colors that just won’t work for your ideal audience. Eliminate those. And you’ve eliminated your least favorite colors already.

Now, find common colors that you like and your ideal customer loves. If you are able to narrow it down at this point, you should be able to pick a color (or colors) that work.

One other aspect of brand colors for your business is meanings of colors. And we’ll take a look at that in the next blog post. Stay tuned…

(Oh, and if you’re not familiar with that Harry Chapin song, have a listen below.)

Let me know what you think: Can any color work for any brand? What color resonates with your audience?

Color Psychology Defined: How to Pick the Best Color for Your Business in 3 Easy Steps

From flowers to fashion, color is all around us. And color plays a big role in business branding & identity, of course.

If you’re building a personal brand — or the brand of a business or organization — the colors in everything from your logo to the clothes you wear can impact the thoughts, decisions and opinions of clients or customers. A small tweak in color could alter the way a customer clicks on your “buy now” button (or misses it) or even picks up your product from the shelf, be it virtual or within the walls of your brick and mortar store. You can stand out with color.

In three easy steps we can determine the best color for your personal brand, business or organization. Whether you’re just getting started and have to pick brand colors for the first time, or you’re about to go through a brand refresh, it’s time to nail down the best color for you.

Here are three questions to consider:

  1. What’s My Favorite Color?
  2. What’s the Best Color for My Ideal Audience?
  3. What Does My Brand Color Mean? (We’re talking color psychology.)

Time to dive into the first question. (We’ll discuss the other questions — and share even more color tips and examples — in future posts in this blog series.)

What’s My Favorite Color?

Start asking yourself this question. Or, go straight in the opposite direction to ask: What colors do I hate?

Hate is a strong word but let’s face it. You might determine the best color for your brand is pink. You’re target audience loves pink, and pink works for your industry.

Love or Hate the Color Pink?

ALL the pink!

But you hate pink.

You don’t have to explain it. You just have a distaste for a certain color. Well, it might seem trivial, but whether you’re building your business every day and just working a side hustle, you will be thinking about your brand a lot. You will be looking at you website and creating visual content for social media often… And, of course you’ll be incorporating your brand color(s) a lot (if you’re smart).

This doesn’t mean you can never change or tweak your brand colors. Nor does it mean that everything rests on a color you may choose today. That’s a lot of pressure!

But you’ll be staring at your color a lot. You’ll be using this color. And if you wear your brand color (not uncommon), you will have a wardrobe of it!

Even if your brand color is your favorite color, you will get tired of it before your audience does. You will tell yourself it’s time for a brand refresh because your audience must be getting tired of it… But remember, they aren’t looking at it as much as you are.

You should keep your logo and brand colors for awhile — possibly forever — for brand consistency and recognition. Can you imagine if Target stores dropped the red?

Bottom line? You have to live with what you choose. You have to love and like — or at the very least tolerate — your brand colors.

So while you don’t have to pick your favorite color (please don’t if it doesn’t align with your customers and niche at all), you definitely should NOT pick a color you hate even if that color seems to be the perfect color for your brand.

Let me know what you think: Can any color work for any brand? Can you see working with a color that you despise while building a brand you love?

2017 Visual Content Marketing Trends

Time to go out on a limb and predict the trends we will see ripple throughout the mass of visual content marketing to be consumed in 2017.

Let’s dig right in.

1. Signatures

This trend in visual content has been on the rise for a bit, and will continue to grown in 2017.

I realized this would be a trend when I first saw Gary Vaynerchuk “sign” his Instagram posts, followed by (almost) every one of his Instagram Stories. Now the infamous signature is everywhere. Even on tee shirts.

Then, I saw Chris ‘Kubby’ Kubbernus add his digital penmanship to his content. And, more recently, I noticed Lewis Howes following suit.
Digital Signatures - Visual Content Marketing Design Trend

I’m not suggesting GaryVee invented this look, but I don’t know who started this first. I dig it, and wish I would have thought of it. Paired with a great headshot, your signature commands attention. It sorta says, “Look at me! I’m an expert.”

Of course, credit for bold signature use would probably go to John Hancock when he signed the Declaration of Independence.

Who’s going to use it next?

Instagram Expert Sue B. Zimmerman embraces Instagram gradient logo2. Radient Gradients

When Instagram revealed a redesigned logo, decked out in a radiant gradient, many Gram fans and designers roared. There was whining and complaining as with any change. But then many embraced it, including The Instagram Expert herself, Sue B. Zimmerman. Sue B. showcases the Instagram logo (and her dog, Cody) via signs, cookies, and pillows.

Often trends catch on slowly, beginning with an unwanted change. Then we become accustomed to the new look. Most of us forget the old ways and want a shiny new look, too. Now that Instagram is all-on gradient, get ready for a slew of copycats.

3. Simple Color

Just when the gradient trend is in full swing, many will tire of the multi-color madness and opt for simple color. Like one color.

Similar to the flat design trend of recent years, one-color (or very limited color) palettes will make a big splash.

I’ve been preaching how effective one-color design can be, especially when you’re just getting started in building a new brand. Examples I use over and over include Target (red), Tiffany & Co. (blue), as well as the majority of social networks — except Instagram, of course. See Trend #2 above.

Brian Fanzo has been around and making a scene for awhile. And while his love of yellow has been ever-present, his use of this bright color has grown along with his personal brand.

Greenery, Pantone Color of the Year 20174. Fresh Color

Inspired by Greenery, the 2017  Pantone Color of the Year, it’s time for refreshing, cool colors to resurface. Move over bright red and energizing yellow. Natural and earthy greens (and maybe some browns and purples) will take center stage.

Established brands will keep their color, of course. You know my orange isn’t going anywhere! But if you’re starting up and looking for a simple color scheme (see trend #3), then you can’t go wrong with green.

5. Sophisticated Stories

As live streaming and quick-clip videos become more popular, online entrepreneurs and brands will have to do more to stand out from the clutter.

A trend gaining popularity in Instagram Stories, for example, is to have a theme or overall look. Introduce your stories with a title card or “cover,” like a book. With an engaging, eye-catching cover you can draw folks in… Entice them to keep watching. Then you get into the content.

Think animated text, enhanced audio… How will you up your video game?

6. Animated GIFs

Animated GIFs have been around awhile, but we will see more in 2017. Where will they pop up? They’ve been on Twitter for awhile, but I think they will be embedded in blog posts more often.
Say YES to animated gifs!
I’m taking a cue from Dustin W. Stout, who says every post should include an animated gif.

So that’s it. Six trends to look for, and even try to incorporate if you’re up for it. A word of caution, though: Don’t jump on a trend just because it’s, well, trendy. Stay true to your brand, your voice. Utilize a trend if it fits in with your strategy and makes you relevant.

Do you agree with these? Do you have a better idea of visual content trends you think will surface — or ones that are gaining traction already? Let me know in the comments.

7 Best Visual Marketing Posts of 2016

What a year 2016 was! We survived(?) a crazy election in the United States, watched the world compete in another Olympics, lost iconic musicians including David Bowie and Prince… And witnessed some crazy Mother Nature weather events.

And, ahem, some of us became somewhat obsessed with Pokémon Go.

Those of us in the online marketing space — or anyone learning about social media and anything we can do to grow our businesses — heard much about live streaming. Periscope and Snapchat grew in popularity, we said goodbye to Blab, and were introduced to Instagram Stories.

And through it all, visual content continued to dominate. While, we can’t downplay the importance of words, graphics will continue to play a huge role in all that we do.

Much of the above has been long forgotten, of course, as (at the time of this writing) we are in February 2017.

I know, I know… We were bombarded with “Best Of” and “Resolutions” posts a month or more ago. Am I late to the game?

Actually, we’re at the point when most of us have broken — or even forgotten — our New Years’ resolutions and have fallen back into old habits.

Not going to the gym, not updating our blog (guilty!), not finding time to update social media like the experts we follow… And so on.

So I think this is the perfect time to realize we haven’t blown it. One month is down but we have 11 left to make 2017 the best year yet.

First things first, one final look at what worked in the past. What can we improve on? What can we avoid?

Without further ado, take a look at this collection of visual content marketing posts that rocked our world in 2016.

7 Best Visual Marketing Posts of 2016

1. How to Make Visual Content That Doesn’t Suck: 3 Easy Principles
by Dustin W. Stout

In this post, Dustin does an outstanding job of explaining three fundamental design concepts — balance, framing, and contrast — you can use to create stunning visual content. No design background, no problem. Dustin explains each design principle in easy-to-digest bites, and includes plenty of clear examples.

2. 50 Shortcuts to Create Visual Content for Social Media
by Donna Mortiz

Referred in some circles as the Visual Marketing Queen, Donna dishes up a ton visual content creating tips. I like this round up of 50 — yes, 50! — time-saving tips because everyone that has attempted to create visual content day after day (professional designers included) knows it doesn’t happen instantly.

3. Planning Your Next Instagram Photoshoot: 3 Key Images You Need
by Sue B. Zimmerman

I love how niche Sue B. dives into Instagram, which is to be expected by the Instagram Expert herself. So it makes since she suggests we plan an Instagram Photoshoot. While many of us scramble to schedule a standard shoot to get a professional headshot, Sue B. reminds us we need to capture much more. And as competition to stand out online continues to heat up, posting the best visual content — catered to the constraints of a specific network — will get you noticed fast.

Increase engagement with funny social media posts.4. 7 Visual Content Ideas that Get Shared Like Crazy
by Kim Garst

Kim is quick to jump on the latest social media trend, figure out what works, and then teach the rest of us the best practices. But I love this post, because she reminds us that even as much of some networks change (I’m looking at you, Facebook), many things remain the same. Timeless visual content ideas such as industry stats, tips, quotes, and humor continue to increase engagement.

5. DIY Design: How to Design Compelling Visual Content for your Blog
by Peg Fitzpatrick

In this post, Peg provides some great pointers for DIY design, reminding us all that’s a great skill to brush up on as online entrepreneurs and small business owners. There’s not a day that goes by that you couldn’t use a little visual content, and you won’t always have the time or budget to work with a professional designer.

(Oh, if you are looking for a pro designer, you could hire me.)

6. Creating Viral Images with Rebekah Radice
by Jeff Sieh

Jeff has mastered repurposing! His blog posts are generally show notes from his show with embeds — all produced so you can take your pick in how you want to consume: watch it, listen to it and/or read it. Be sure to check out this post in which Jeff chats with Rebekah Radice on how you can create images that go viral. As we’ve discussed, visual content is here to stay. But as more marketers get on board, you will have to rise above the competition and make your images stand out among the clutter.

7. Kickstart Your Visual Content Marketing Without Delay
by Rob Russo

Last but not least, I had to include myself. Well, I didn’t have to (trying to remain humble) but this is my blog. Actually, I think of it as your blog, as I try to bring the best in visual marketing trends, tips and techniques. Still a young blogger, I wanted to share one of my most popular posts of 2016 nonetheless. In this post, I spill my secret to launching online and the quickest way you can begin to brand yourself.

So that’s it. They say don’t look back because you aren’t going that way… But one more quick glance couldn’t hurt, right? Now, time to spring ahead in what will be the best year ever!

By the way, is anyone still chasing Pokémon? (I’m asking for a friend.)

Did you have a favorite visual marketing post of last year? What did I miss? I’d love to learn. Let me know in the comments below.