Instagram Story Time Cards: Worth the Hype?

Have you been scrolling through your Instagram Stories lately and seen folks using a "card" with the time of the activity? I've noticed it too, and after a conversation in Meghan Maydel's Facebook group, I decided to put them to the test! Read on for my thoughts, what I noticed in story engagement and overall Instagram engagement, and what it does for your social media process.

why insta story cards?

First, if you're not sure what I'm talking about, take a peek at the images above. Usually they include a bit of branding, the time of day, and a mention of what's going on (the day or a general mention of "day in the life"). 

Next, let's talk about why someone might use these cards in their Instagram stories. Some explanations I've heard include: 

  • Simply "documenting your day," a la Rosemary Watson
  • The graphic helps break it up so it's not a streaming random story (i.e. if you tend to scroll through multiple folks' stories at a time).
  • Brand recognition (so you know who's stories you're on even when the images aren't of the person's face).

The Test Parameters

So if you know anything about me, you know that I used to compete in science fair. In fact, in 10th grade, I was an International Science and Engineering Fair finalist for my project on the physics of tennis. All this to say, when I do a test, I lay out some specific goals. 

I had already used pre-made graphics in my insta story a few times: to introduce y'all to babes I thought you needed to know, to share my schedule on particularly busy weekends, and even on national siblings day. But this project needed to be more specific and focused.

  • GOAL: to determine if using date cards in Instagram stories was worth the time and effort.
  • INDEPENDENT VARIABLE: the use of date cards in my Instagram stories directly preceding the content I was sharing.
  • DEPENDENT VARIABLE: the content I was sharing did not change one bit. I still planned to randomly document my life interspersed with pre-made graphics on relevant topics.
  • HYPOTHESIS: the use of date cards would decrease my Instagram story engagement because the volume of my Instagram story was essentially doubling.
  • QUANTITATIVE METRIC: Instagram Story viewership (engagement)
  • QUALITATIVE METRICS: Process + content commentary
  • TIME PERIOD: May 9th, 2017 - May 23rd, 2017 (two-week period)

Metrics: pre-date card usage, I was seeing anywhere between 200-400 folks watching my Instagram stories on a daily basis, with a weekly average of about 325 daily viewers. I also selected 20 folks who consistently viewed my Instagram stories all the way through, so I could track if they continued to do so with the date cards interspersed.

Disclaimer: This test focused specifically on the use of Instagram date / time cards. I was not paying any particular attention to engagement on other forms of branded graphics in my Instagram stories.

what my test revealed

Over the course of the two week period, I continued to post to Instagram as I normally would, I just posted the time card before each post. I've sorted my observations into three categories - content, process, and engagement. 

Content: Using the time cards didn't necessarily change the content I was choosing to post. In fact, I feel like I was even more liberal with what I was sharing because I felt like the time card provided context that the photo/video/boomerang on it's own might not. I was typically posting 2-4 images to my Instagram story per day, now that number was 4-8 with the time cards.

Process: I actually found myself annoyed by the process. I'm usually hyper-organized with my photo gallery, but for this process, I downloaded all 12 time cards to my phone (I created cards without am/pm modifiers) and had to screenshot them each time I wanted to use one (because your Instagram story content has to be less than 24 hours old). Between the screenshotting and just having those 12 time cards in my gallery, my phone's photo gallery felt way too cluttered for my liking. It also was cumbersome. Before, when I wanted to post to Instagram stories, I just opened it and posted. Now, I had to take the photo, save the photo to my phone, screenshot the time card, add the time card, and then post my photo. Too much work? I thought so.

Engagement: My Instagram stories engagement tanked over this two week period. It dropped significantly. Before, I was seeing on average 325 Instagram story viewers per day. Over the test period, I saw on average 90 viewers per day. Literally less than 1/3 of my original viewership. 

Remember those 20 people I specifically identified who consistently watched my stories prior to this test? Only 4 of them continued to watch consistently over the two week period - the remaining 16 dropped off each day after the first one or two photos in my story. 

my comments 

In my (humble) opinion, Instagram Stories are for in the moment sharing of what's going on in your life. It's a way for your followers to engage with content that might not visually fit your feed but is still interesting. For this reason, and based on my test, I don't believe that the time cards are the right fit for my brand or business. 


For some folks' branding, Instagram story time cards fit perfectly. For example, Rosemary Watson uses them consistently and they don't impact her brand at all. She also uploads them to her Facebook page in some cases after the fact. (She has also curated Instagram story "shows" - such as "clients" where she shows BTS moments of her clients' branding process and "Rosie goes to" where she visits local Phoenix storefronts.) 

It's also important to note that Facebook opened up Instagram story ad placement in March of 2017: "Starting this month, we are enabling "Reach" campaigns for the Instagram Stories ad placement. We expect support for other ad objectives such as website clicks, website conversions, and mobile app installs in the upcoming months. All the targeting and measurement capabilities available across Instagram and Facebook today can be leveraged seamlessly."

The truth is, Instagram Stories aren't likely to be "in the moment" for much longer if ads are truly going to infiltrate this space, so there may be some argument to use the time cards, but for now, I'm anti-card and will keep using my Instagram stories as an impromptu platform.

What are your thoughts?