It’s always astounding to me just how young the internet actually is.
From its highly technical, non-user-friendly beginnings in the 1980s, to the home-use and visual interface growing pains of the 90s, to the rapid explosion of its development in the 2000s that’s persisted through today, the web feels like something that’s been around for ages, but in reality, it’s only just hit middle age in the market. And in many ways, marketing has always played a game of catch-up throughout its development—with social media Stories being the latest step for marketers to learn and utilize in this long, complex dance.
When social media entered the scene in the early 2000s, marketers were quick to recognize how important of a change this tech would be for their industry—people gathering around interests, sharing their thoughts, and publicly posting personal details felt like a fever dream which couldn’t possibly be true. But today, with services like Snapchat and features like Instagram and Facebook Stories, users and marketers alike can now interact with each other literally in real time, potentially every second of every day.
It’s a huge opportunity, for sure, but one in which most marketing teams simply aren’t built to handle.
For all of the work that content marketers put into ideating, creating, and perfectly producing content that connects with visitors, the idea of an immediate format that’s comparatively raw in presentation, doesn’t seem to fit. And to utilize such an opportunity calls for yet another change to a brand’s digital storytelling strategy.
Before we dive into what a healthy social media strategy might look like for brands looking to utilize the Story format, it’s helpful to consider at the scale of this opportunity. Like, really consider it.
The Stories format for sharing content was first introduced into the social media landscape by Snapchat in 2013. At the time, most media outlets treated the medium as a new sort of video selfie: It was regarded as a neat format which was clearly personal in its presentation, but beyond that, most critics felt like it was just a means to save Snaps in a more permanent way.
Regardless, Instagram followed suit a few years later in 2016. While Stories on Snapchat didn’t offer much that was new compared to regular snapping, Instagram Stories allowed users to have a space to be in the moment and a bit more fun amidst their regular posting of highly structured, edited, and perfected photos. Around this time, some brands had already begun to adopt the Stories feature approach to marketing, but most of these attempts were highly ad-driven—short, intrusive spots that focused more on a product than revealing something new about the brand itself.
Image attribution:ROBIN WORRALL
But as time went on, huge amounts of users adopted the Stories feature, causing a social media snowball effect into the internet landscape of today.
This past year, TechCrunch reported that the use of social media Stories has grown 842 percent since 2016. Snapchat and Instagram have since been joined by Facebook and Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Google AMP, and YouTube. And it would appear that at least for Facebook—a company that, it is important to note, owns four of the social media services that have embraced stories—the consumption and production of Story content may be on a path to overtake content in regular feeds.
Many brands have read the writing on the wall, and have begun working Story-formatted content into their digital strategy. But these attempts continue to be heavily ad-influenced, leaving an enormous opportunity completely wide-open for content-oriented brands looking to make a more personal, albeit ephemeral, connection with their followers.
The best practices for marketing through social media stories are still very much being established. Brands are still reeling from the idea of having to produce something that can only be pushed and promoted for the span of a day, or even just a few hours. And trying to force this kind of media through your regular content pipeline would likely result in projects that are more costly and arduous than they’re worth, especially when you consider the final product’s short lifespan.
But the allure of Story advertising is currently as strong as it is thanks to relatively cheap average CPM and CPC rates. But the key thing to note here is that the average click-through for Story ads is only about .52 percent according to AdStage. For context, this is just slightly above the .35 percent average click-through of Google’s display network. Costs will likely creep up over time as more brands adopt the Story channel and compete for views, leaving marketers with a low converting medium that heavily encourages video production for success: definitely not the most promising prospect for brands, especially cash-strapped ones.
Story formats excel at letting a user feel like they’re participating in someone else’s every day. We use Stories to take people on our commutes, show off food we’ve made, or to highlight a moment on a great date. Brands that focus on ad-style content will consistently find themselves breaking this stream of experience for viewers, instead of being part of it.
A better digital storytelling strategy would be for brands to strike a balance between high-production quality Story posts and simpler, in-the-moment experiences that help users feel connected to your brand. This isn’t an easy balance to achieve, and it may look dramatically different from brand to brand. But these three principles can help your team set off on the right foot with social media Stories:
Due to Story content’s inherently fleeting nature, brands have to aim to leave lasting impressions with users after just one interaction. One way to do this is to consider the space you have—the full space. Your Story content should make use of the unique full device screen format and use add-ons and text in an impactful, but thoughtful way. Also of note, about 70 percent of Instagram Story videos are watched with the sound on, which is a huge departure from the 85 percent of people who watch Facebook videos silently. So get vocal, and take up space!
While an in-house content team might be great at producing occasional, high-production quality Story posts, keeping up with more natural, regular posting is crucial—a feat which can be surprisingly high maintenance. So look for natural partnerships within your organization to generate emergent content on a regular basis. For instance, PR teams can be powerful partners in this space.
This is an intuitive tactic that so very many brands miss. If you want to create engaging Story content, then make sure you’re watching Story content from people in your target audience. Follow your competition’s Stories, or watch Stories from brands that target your audience in a different space than your own. Build a network of social connections that fit your target and watch their Stories.
One simple way to do this is through a tool that offers real-time insights into your Instagram performance in the context of your competitors. For example, TrackMaven’s Instagram reporting features and customizable Instagram dashboards allow marketers to track audience growth, post and story engagement, and story exit rate right in the platform. This means you’ll be able to identify and optimize the best practices for your brand’s Stories and strategically grow your brand’s social presence.
Image attribution: Eaters Collective
Trends and behaviors online change rapidly, especially when it comes to social media. While Story format posts may seem like the latest in a history of fads and new features, all of the indicators we’re seeing about adoption over the years suggest that this is a format that’s going to stick around. This is a crucial moment for brands, however, because while adoption by users is high and growing, brand saturation in the Story space is still relatively low compared to other social media spaces.
So how can your brand effectively tap into this opportunity? Seek out ways to use Stories to give viewers unique and regular access to your brand. Prioritize consistent and authentic presentation over high production. And most of all, don’t fall for the allure of short-term advertising, and all of its inefficiencies. Building a reputation for engaging and immersive content will prove much more valuable for a brand, for a much longer time.
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Featured image attribution: Daan Stevens