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The Rise of the Stories Format

The standards that we expect on the internet have been re-written for mobile. Case in point: the rise of the stories format. It’s the ability to share real-time photo and video updates throughout the day in a narrative format. This makes users more raw, real and relatable-and that’s a big win for brands.

Revolution Digital  |  March 12, 2018
The Rise of the Stories Format

The standards that we expect on the internet have been re-written for mobile. Case in point: the rise of the stories format. It’s the ability to share real-time photo and video updates throughout the day in a narrative format. This makes users more raw, real and relatable-and that’s a big win for brands.

It all began in late 2013 with Snapchat, the social media platform devoted to temporary, expiring content. Snapchat updated its platform to include an option to build chains of content, or “Stories,” that could be viewed on an unlimited basis for a 24-hour period. It was not long before Instagram, Snapchat’s major competitor in the space of ephemeral social media content, jumped on board with the Stories format.

While WhatsApp and Messenger have jumped on the Stories bandwagon, as well, Instagram is where the Stories format has morphed into a freight train of advertising revenue for the company. What began as a way for individual users to link multiple photos into a cohesive temporal chain has become the latest and greatest instrument of digital media and digital marketing firms.

What are Stories?

“From the epic, to everyday moments, Instagram is the place where people and businesses bring their stories to life.”

That’s how the concept is described on Instagram’s introductory page. The idea is that not all of what a user may want to capture can be conveyed in single photo posts.

Whether it’s a rowdy night out on the town, a precious moment with a niece or nephew, or an entire month’s travels on an epic vacation, users can create timelines of the events, and post them as “stories” to their Instagram accounts. This allows users to create a cohesive narrative that otherwise may be difficult to get across on the standard Instagram format or other social media sites and apps.

Stories in a business context

Conspicuously present in Instagram’s introductory blurb is the word “businesses.” The company has increasingly turned its sights on luring businesses to its format to promote their goods and services. It makes sense from a marketing perspective to create content that can hook people into its message, and prompt them to do a deeper dive into that company’s history or offerings.

Social media content agencies have been focusing more on this format. Brand strategy agencies realize that this relatively nascent format holds incredible potential from the perspective of brand awareness and equity-building.

The real gold, however, lies in figuring out how to creatively and effectively use the format to create advertising that feels less like advertising, and more like your friend’s really cool post.

Stories represent just that kind of potential. Businesses are eagerly experimenting with ways to put it to use. This means much more than just brand recognition and attention-grabbing. The implications for direct revenue generation are also on the radar.

How are Stories being used?

Social media marketing agencies are quickly recognizing the value of Stories. The companies that comprise their clientele are finding themselves ushered into a new marketing paradigm. They are utilizing Stories as a marketing vehicle, and coming up with numerous creative uses for the format.

Since the format is ephemeral, it’s perfect for generating interest in a limited-time promotion or contest that a company is using as a marketing initiative. Though the Stories reach mainly existing followers of a brand, they can be leveraged to engage those followers to act.

Companies or media outlets are also using Stories to push “teasers” or trailers promoting new products, services, contests, or other near-future events and offerings. We’ve also seen product tutorials effectively pushed through Stories.

One of the most effective Stories initiatives might just be using the format to humanize a company by posting Stories of “behind-the-scenes” action. Putting a human face on your company and its product or service offerings can help mitigate users’ tendency to avoid anything seen as obvious, direct advertising.

Collection Ads

It stands to reason that, in a world where advertisers are increasingly trying to blend into the social media theater, the evolution of the advertising format would mirror that of the social media user environment. The standard single-photo clickable ad that is so omnipotent in the digital landscape is following a similar trend as the evolution from single photo posts to stories.

Like Stories, collection ads present a multitude of individual pieces of content grouped in a cohesive bundle. The difference is that collection ads, when tapped or clicked, reveal an entire product line, for example, available for purchase directly through the app, as opposed to presenting a timeline for an event or experience that was posted by a user.

It seems logical to expect this line to blur as we look to the near future of product branding strategy. It would behoove both the platform and advertisers to make ads indistinguishable from Stories posts. As we’ve seen, many companies already use the Stories format to create narratives surrounding events, product launches, customer experiences, and so on.

It’s a short leap to envision a format where those Stories posts are also ads that can be clicked to access products for purchase.

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