Initially popularized by Snapchat in 2013, other leading social media and messaging platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Messenger, and WhatsApp have adopted the Stories format over the past two years, and in most cases have been more successful than the pioneer Snapchat. Stories gave users the ability to create vertical, full-screen, visual narratives that are easy to create and consume by others on their mobile devices. The 24-hour viewing window makes Stories “must-view” content and relieves users of stress from having to share the “perfect” moment to their news feed, but rather authentic highlights throughout their day.
The growth and adoption rate of the Stories format has been exponential and shows no signs of slowing. In the past two years, Story creation and consumption across the leading social platforms increased 987 percent, and in 2017, Stories as a format had a growth rate 15 times faster than that of feeds
During Facebook’s January 2018 earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg made a bold statement and prediction about the future of the Stories format:
“Another important shift that we’re seeing across the industry is the growth of Stories. We expect Stories are on track to overtake posts in feeds as the most common way that people share across all social apps. That’s because Stories is a better format for sharing multiple quick video clips throughout your day. The growth of Stories will have an impact on how we build products and think about our business, including WhatsApp and Instagram, which are the #1 and #2 most-used Stories products in the world.”
Given Zuckerberg’s historical ability to spot and adopt trends, his prediction that the consumption and usage of the Stories format will surpass news feed usage in 2019 should not be overlooked, as this will change how social media are being shared and consumed, as well as how platforms build their advertising products.
For the past ten years, social media users have been prompted to share links, viral YouTube videos, or very “text-centric” posts and status updates – optimizing primarily for the desktop (and subsequently mobile) vertical scrolling news feed. Both benefiting from and fueling this rise, Instagram has become the quintessential platform for documenting the moment in mobile social feeds. Its success predated Snapchat in utilizing the camera as the new keyboard and focal point of communication.
Instagram has not only given users a platform to share their photos, but inspires them to capture more. In the five years following the release of Instagram, we took 55 percent of the total amount of digital photos ever taken.
This growth is driven in large part by the social-mobile phenomenon, in which moments can be made more indelible by inviting others into the moment, capturing its essence, and heightening it in your own memory.
To avoid hitting a plateau in their growth and engagement, recently departed Instagram CEOs Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger wanted to push their platform to make it a place where users could not only share their perfect, polished moments, but everything in between. They needed users sharing multiple posts, more frequently. To achieve this redesign, they looked to Snapchat for inspiration.
Out of the leading social media and messaging platforms, Instagram has seen the most swift and steady adoption of the Stories format, making it worthy of deeper analysis. In just six months, Instagram was able to match and surpass the number of daily active users that Snapchat had taken three years to accumulate.
Currently, over 80 percent of Instagram users follow a business and a third of the most-viewed Instagram Stories are posted by businesses. Because so many users engage with businesses on Instagram, it’s important for brands to understand platform and creative best practices, as well as how their audience engages with Stories. Instagram also understands the importance of understanding how audiences are engaging with Stories and how they can give brands the opportunity to reach new customers and grow their presence on their platform.
Digital advertisers have been leveraging the power of highly targeted, sponsored social ads for years, and now they can extend the reach and impact of their paid ads to Instagram Stories. Creating a sponsored Instagram Story ad follows the same process as building a sponsored ad for Facebook or Instagram news feeds, making it easy to add Stories into your placement mix. Advertisers have the option to create a static image, video or GIF, carousel, or canvas Story ad for a variety of campaign objectives, even having the option to direct traffic to a landing page through a variety of calls to action (CTAs). While news feed and Story ads share similarities, the full-screen format of Instagram Story ads stands out in that it allows brands to facilitate a more personal, immersive, and intimate experience for the user. Brands such as Go RVing are adjusting and building their creative specifically for Instagram Stories, acknowledging that effective Story creative is not a headline, text, or link, but rather a background, feeling, and overlay.
Extending your brand’s advertising into Stories has a few more benefits and added value beyond creating an immersive experience for users. First, rather than getting lost and overwhelmed in people’s content within the feed, users view Stories one at a time and are more likely to watch the ad in its entirety. Secondly, the short length of Story ads keeps your users curious and the content fresh. Lastly, because the Swipe Up feature within Stories feels like a part of the post experience, users are more likely to click out of the ad and to your intended destination, therefore proving to be an effective placement to drive traffic.
Additionally, Instagram is continuously looking for ways to make Stories not only a place of inspiration but a place of action. On Instagram, nearly 90 million accounts click shopping tags within news feed posts each month. In September 2018, Instagram expanded the shopping feature to the Stories placement. It is probable that in 2019 Instagram will look to expand its role as an e-commerce platform by rolling out shoppable Stories ads, making Stories a conversion channel and an even more attractive and profitable place for brands to advertise.
As the user behavior shift from news feed to Stories continues to strengthen, it’s important for brands to be at the forefront of this trend to stay relevant. Over the next year, Stories should be seen as an integrated part of your brand’s overall social strategy, not as an experiment.
Below are a couple of ways to keep up with the shift to Stories to improve your brand’s social presence and impact in 2019.
In 2017, Instagram noticed that advertisers were shyly experimenting with the Stories format. The reason many advertisers gave as to why they were not incorporating the Stories format into their social strategy was because they didn’t see the value in creating a vertical piece of content to be used solely in Stories. Because of this limitation to advertisers, Instagram announced in April 2018 that advertisers would now be able to utilize existing news feed creative and post copy within Stories to extend the placement of their posts.
Instagram is able to provide full-screen support for content within feed-aspect ratios through the use of pixel-matching technology. The technology analyzes the existing asset’s background colors and selects a background gradient to match, therefore converting the ad into a full-screen format and making it easier than ever for advertisers to add Stories as part of their placement mix.
The Richards Group paid social team for Omni Hotels & Resorts has been integrating Instagram Stories into their placement mix as part of their monthly social strategy. The team has repurposed existing posts through the use of the pixel-matching technology to extend their reach and drive traffic to the Omni Hotels website. Adding Instagram Stories into Omni’s placement mix has garnered great results in terms of driving traffic to its website and reaching new, unique users.
The most successful brands have adjusted their creative to be suitable for Stories in the following ways:
“As we expand and improve our ad products, advertisers are increasingly developing mobile-first ads rather than simply taking their TV creative and putting them online. Mobile-first video was 50 percent of our video ad revenue this quarter, compared to 41 percent last quarter.”
The growth of smartphones and photo-sharing platforms has not only impacted the number of photos we take, but how we take them. Today, over 90 percent of people hold their phones vertically when capturing and viewing content. Capturing moments and viewing content in a portrait, or vertical, format offers smartphone users interactivity and intimacy with the content and moments they’re capturing and watching.
90% of people hold their phones vertically when capturing and viewing content.
With the behavioral shifts in content sharing and consumption, users are spending more time beyond the news feed, and the definition of “social media” has and will continue to evolve over the next year. In 2019, feeds will continue to be important and used by social media users, but mobile visual communication will become king. While Stories are transforming the current landscape of social media, they’re not the only format causing disruption to the dominance of feeds. Platforms have already begun introducing new content formats, such as Instagram’s new long-form streaming format, IGTV, and Facebook’s video on-demand service, Facebook Watch. These new formats not only offer users a new way of sharing and consuming visual content, but also an environment for users to discover, “lean back,” and engage with new content creators and brands. Visual communication tools and placements, such as Stories and IGTV, are becoming the default for content consumption and should be looked at as part of an integrated mobile-first paid social strategy in the years to come. Users are spending, and will continue to spend, more time in visual areas of social media platforms, and we should position our brands to do the same.