Ten years ago, your definition of the word “story” probably looked something like this:
And that definition probably remained unchanged until October 2013, when it was amended to include this: “Snapchat Stories add Snaps together to create a narrative. When you add a Snap to your Story it lives for 24 hours before it disappears, making room for the new. Your Story always plays forward, because it makes sense to share moments in the order you experience them.”
This amendment rocked the social media and content marketing worlds, revolutionizing the way stories would be told, and illuminating the behaviors of the audience du jour: millennials.
Since then, Stories have become integral to social media marketing stasis. And they’ve maintained their niche among the many other video storytelling tools and tactics available—everything from live video to Facebook video and YouTube. Snapchat Stories was its own piece of the video marketing puzzle, and there it evolved and flourished without competition. That is, until three days ago, when content marketers woke up to this:
It’s an announcement that has left many of us with fistfuls of unanswered questions. What’s most important to know about this feature? And will it be powerful enough to change our understanding of story one more time? To help parse things out, here are three important things you should know about Instagram Stories, and what this new feature means for your marketing strategy:
The fact that Instagram’s Cofounder and CEO, Kevin Systrom, openly recognizes Snapchat as the inventors and architects of this storytelling technology is more than just another Silicon Valley copycat tale. It’s the story of a trend in human behavior—something almost evolutionary.
In an interview with The Verge, Systrom said, “Just like when Facebook invented the [News] Feed, and every social product was like, ‘That’s an innovation, how do we adapt that to our network?’ You’re going to see stories pop up in other networks over time, because it’s one of the best ways to show visual information in chronological order.”
And it’s true that from a technological perspective, innovating in that way is important if platforms want to stay in the game. But the reason those innovations become necessary is that people evolve based on these new tools.
Years ago, the induction of social media spun society’s innate need for instant gratification up to new heights. Suddenly, everything from new information generation to reactions to personal content had to happen at near-instant speed. The Facebook News Feed (and feeds like it) satisfied these needs; acting as a single, customizable, ever-updating place where all the information we wanted to see would be displayed. Snapchat itself also served as another response to our desires for both instantaneity and intimacy.
If it’s true, then, that the innovations that succeed (and become standard across platforms) do so because they reflect evolutions in human behavior, you could infer that there are other changes taking place. One of the many things that’s great about Snapchat Stories, according to Tech Insider, is that they allow users to keep on top of what their friends are doing in the moment—but don’t require them to go “back in time,” spending time poring through old photos. Stories go away so users can enjoy them in near-real time. In a way, it allows them to be in two places at once.
For Instagram—an app whose strength has traditionally come from users’ ability to share the recent past—Stories are a testament to the power of the moment; reinforcing what Snapchat has been doing all along through the art of imitation.
Call it the advantage of reiteration, but one major bonus for Instagram’s Stories is that the company has made its interface incredibly user friendly. In a piece for The Next Web, Owen Williams put this well: “Snapchat’s problem – which might be slightly intentional – is that it’s always been confusing and opaque to use…. Instagram took that confusing interface and did what it’s always done best: made it useful to the masses, with a number of improvements that make it far more enjoyable to use.”
Those improvements include clearly labeled buttons that make navigating the app intuitive, as opposed to having to figure out which direction to swipe for which effect. Aside from that, the interface isn’t crowded with options or buttons, which cuts down on the app’s learning curve. And because the app is part of Instagram—which many users are already very familiar with—it’s part of a synced and comfortable environment. If Facebook ever chooses to adopt the feature, that advantage will pay off for users yet again.
According to Garett Sloane for Ad Age, marketers are already taking to Instagram over Snapchat Stories for a number of reasons—one of which is the simple fact that Instagram is simply a more brand-friendly app. “Instagram is a follower platform, where Snapchat is more of a best friend platform,” said VaynerMedia’s VP of Platform Partnerships, Dan Grossman. “Snapchat hasn’t encouraged brands to build up huge followings.”
Couple that with the size of its user base, and it’s easy to see the opportunities brands now have at their fingertips. On the first day of Instagram Stories’ existence, Nike posted a story that received 800,000 views. Compare that to it’s best Snapchat video, which, as AdAge noted, received only 66,000 views.
Instagram is likely hoping to break down certain stigmas through the introduction of Stories—for instance, the notion many Instagram users hold that photos need to look absolutely perfect, or generate a certain number of Likes. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The pressure to attract Likes on Instagram is so great that teens often delete photos that don’t fare well. One internal survey showed some teens delete about half the photos in their Instagram feeds, according to a person familiar with the data.” And if Instagram, which already boasts half a billion monthly active users, can reestablish itself as the place to share content, marketers—especially those with younger audiences—will want to be established in their new arena.
If Systrom’s theory about the future proliferation of Stories holds true, brands will want to start looking for ways to incorporate them into their broader content marketing strategies. Will Instagram Stories be the start of a digital storytelling revolution, with all major platforms adopting Story features? Keep an eye toward Twitter Video, and you’ll find out soon enough.
Still deciding which is better for your brand? Check out this infographic by Mediakix on Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat Stories: