Stories are fast becoming one of the most talked-about features of social sharing. Initially introduced as the main USP of Snapchat, they quickly became extremely popular among the social and messaging platform’s enthusiasts, skyrocketing Snap Inc.’s app to over 160 million daily active users by the end of 2016. With a unique concept (one of the platform’s original authors, Reggie Brown, had come up with the idea of disappearing pictures, pitching it to Evan Spiegel), Snapchat was offering something truly different, not only as a feature but as an experience overall.
And then Facebook came.
Arguably, Stories owe their current popularity to their adoption by Facebook-owned Instagram, rather than Snapchat’s original success. In eight months’ time, Stories on Instagram surpassed the milestone of 200 million daily active users, becoming the platform’s most successful feature.
At the same time though, Stories are still struggling on both Facebook and Messenger, attracting just a handful of users eager to experiment with time-dependent content. With such low engagement, Facebook users see only ‘ghosts’ in the Stories’ bar – greyed-out profile pictures to show the friends that could be posting – but aren’t. Things are slightly livelier on Messenger, but again, the average number of contacts posting stories tends to be single-digit.
Are Stories The New Newsfeed?
If the camera is the new keyboard, then images are definitely the new words. Perhaps then, Stories are simply the natural evolution of the Newsfeed? Content has changed; users prefer to ‘snap’ rather than write, sharing bits and bytes from their everyday lives more casually, and not just select, heavily edited moments. Content creation has become more impulsive; sharing is almost instantaneous, and live streaming has become a reality – the consumer has become a broadcaster.
Stories appear to be the most appropriate way to share image-based content nowadays, and this is why they’ve made such an impact on Instagram and Snapchat. They both are platforms that rely almost entirely on images and videos. Users can interact with each other just by double-tapping their device’s display. But the implementation of Stories on platforms favouring more ‘traditional’ ways of communication – through text statuses for example – hasn’t been equally successful.
When Facebook came up with the idea of the Newsfeed, it was because it wanted users to interact with each other more easily. Until that time, one could only check in with their friends by visiting their profiles. The Newsfeed solved this problem, gathering in a single screen personalised information combining all sorts of content: statuses, notes, images, videos, links, and other kinds of sharable data that users could interact with.
Stories endeavour to do this focussing solely on images and videos, serving the content in a smarter and savvier way. Ultimately, the 2017 user has way more ‘friends’ compared to the 2006 one. More than an interesting feature or a strong USP, Stories comprise a new format that positions itself as the logical solution for every image-based social platform.
So, What’s In It For The Brands?
Stories can be used to enhance a brand’s image, provided they are carefully planned and are relevant to the intended consumer. A company can use Stories to deliver time-exclusive special offers, creating a desirable sense of urgency and leading to higher engagement and sales.
Since Stories rely on creativity, a brand could use them to put out a more relaxed, playful image. They could be used as an informal blog, sharing photos and videos from ’behind the scenes’ of the brand, and focusing on the human element behind the company logo. Depending on the platform used (it’s basically Snapchat vs. Instagram), the appropriate tone should be adopted; Snapchat is more colourful and experiential, while Instagram inspires more polished results with clearer calls-to-action.
A business needs first to figure out whether its audience, existing or potential, is using Stories. Only then can marketers decide whether adopting Social Media Stories will add value to a brand’s content strategy. Stories require a lot of resource: they can’t be scheduled and need curation throughout the day. They can, however, open up new opportunities and assist the building of stronger, more personalised and more authentic relationships. We know that behind every company there’s a story. So, what’s yours?