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Social Media Stories: What They Mean for Brands

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Recently, Facebook announced the launch of a “brand new” feature called “Stories.”

This “new” content format is a mobile-only mode of communication that uses short form video and images that will disappear after 24 hours.

These photos and videos can be sent directly to other users, or added to a “story.”

A story is a collection of photos and videos that play sequentially when viewed by others, and can be seen for up to 24 hours.

Does this sound familiar?

Let’s talk about “Stories” shall we?
 

Stories was a feature first introduced and popularized, by Snapchat. As opposed to the newsfeed format “introduced” by Twitter and later popularized by Facebook and others, the interaction with the stories format is different from the scrolling feed of information that we’ve all grown accustomed to.

Here are a few ways that make it fundamentally different…

Ephemeral
 

Stories is an ephemeral medium, meaning that the content is designed to disappear. Snapchat popularized this concept of disappearing content as teens and tweens sought to escape the prying eyes of their parents and “the drama” that comes as a result of those who scrutinize their behavior uploaded, captured, and stored on Facebook. While status updates and posts from your past could haunt you on a searchable and scrollable network like Facebook, the Stories format disappears leaving virtually no trace.

One of the benefits of this format that people often cite is that the content feels more “authentic.” Because the content disappears, people are more likely to share content they might not otherwise on sites/apps that store your content. Snapchat made the goofy-face selfie more acceptable, it muted the stigma of sharing the mundane moments of our lives, and it allowed people to let their guard down a bit.

Episodic
 

While we’ve all become accustomed to mindlessly scrolling through our Facebook newsfeed, our Instagram feed, or our Twitter feed, browsing the stories is entirely different. Feeds go wide, stories go deep.

The newsfeed is a collection of content from others, ordered chronologically or algorithmically. With feeds, we browse from content-to-content stopping to engage with whatever we want. Often times this content is a link to somewhere else on the web, and when we find it, we may even reshare it, with or without additional commentary, and sometimes to an entirely different network than where we originally found it.

By contrast, Stories is a series of photos and videos from a single account that play sequentially until no more assets remain. From there, it will flip to the next series of photos and videos. Generally, there is no method of resharing it, at least not in its entirety.

Stories are time-based, feeds are not, meaning that the consumption of content in a story format has a time commitment tied to its start time and end time, whereas a feed has no time base.

Once a story begins, it ends when that person or brand has stopped adding content to the story.  By contrast, the feed is never over, it is designed to go on indefinitely, into the past.

Mobile
 

While feed-based social media adapted to mobile phones, Stories were born there. As a result, the videos are vertical (previously a faux pas) and the pictures are in portrait mode. Stories are also a mobile-only, there is generally no option to view or create on desktops.

So, what does this mean for brands?
 

At this point, we’ve covered the basics of this format. Now that we know what it is, let’s talk about what it means for brands.

From ONE perspective, the Stories format is an opportunity for brands. It gives brands the opportunity to behave like people and connect with their audience on a one-to-one basis, in a truly authentic way.

That’s mostly where the opportunity ends.

While you can no doubt find any number of social media consultants willing to tell you how Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook stories is the next big thing, the truth is they are lying to you. Maybe they know it, maybe they just got caught up in the hype and don’t realize it.

While there’s no doubt that stories and mobile-first formats are important to watch, consider and experiment with, here’s the real deal…

Stories is painfully fragmented
 

Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp currently offers the following:

  • Facebook Stories
  • Facebook Messenger Stories
  • Instagram Stories
  • WhatsApp Stories
     

…and then there’s the original: Snapchat Stories.

None cross post to one another and each have different features. If you have an audience on multiple platforms, be prepared to create content for each, or at the very least spend a hefty chunk of time to repost from your camera roll on each.

This is not to say that this won’t improve in the future…but don’t expect it anytime too soon. But, even if it is all magically tied together…

Stories is still a horribly inefficient content format
 

People expect authentic content in Stories, but that doesn’t mean you can just “phone it in” and post about your breakfast. (Note the clever pun)

In order to succeed on any platform, you have to put in the work. This means planning your content and understanding your promotion strategy. And with stories, that’s an awful lot of time and budget for something that disappears.

Sure, you can download your story at the end of the day, upload it to YouTube and annoy the crap out of people with your vertical video, but…I guess that just further illustrates the point.

There are currently only a few options for promoting a story (on any platform) and there are also few options for advertising content inside of stories. However, even the advertising options that there are, pale in comparison to existing options with regard to analytics data, or calls to action. So, now you need to figure out ways of getting people to see your story in the first place…and remember to hurry, it’s gone in 24 hours.

Not only that, but because stories is a vertical format designed for mobile phones, it means that any of the landscape content you’re creating for the desktop is invalid. Now you get to create everything in two different aspect ratios! How exciting?

Did we mention that it’s not searchable…at all? This is a problem with video in general, but at least videos that don’t disappear can be searched for and found.

Finally, consistency is a “major key” so if you remember how difficult it was to get you to commit to blogging once every two weeks, now you’re going to be creating stories…probably everyday. Enjoy!

Stories are not designed for brands
 

Look, if there’s one thing we can learn by looking back on Social Media, it’s that there is nothing that a marketer won’t ruin in an effort to make a dollar.

The format of stories was not made for brands, it was, like everything else in social media, made for people. The brands that will succeed here will be taking one of three different approaches:

  1. There will be BIG brands dedicating substantial time and money to creating content native to the story format, both for the organic placements, or for the paid placements. The lack of data isn’t a huge concern for them. The only thing that matter is visibility, engagement, and attention. If you can afford it, go this route. Chances are, you can’t afford this.
  2. Brands will learn to leverage existing influencers who already have an audience and will create methods to partner with them or pay them to create branded content on the company’s behalf. Chances are, this will work 50% of the time or less as both performance metrics and proficiency in the influencer marketing space are both scarce.
  3. There will be companies that encourage individuals or groups to go slowly and deliberately to consistently compose clever and creative content. These individuals inside of brands will focus on making one-to-one connections with their audience. They will send direct messages as frequently as posting to their story. They will be encouraged and supported by their leadership who won’t need to see information about impressions, reach or clickthroughs. These individuals have leadership that believes so fervently in the power of human connection that they allow individuals to manage these story accounts, believing in the long term value of the approach, and who believe that getting in early has a benefit. Chances are, your boss doesn’t think like this.
     

Should you publish stories?
 

There is no right answer here, so if that’s what you came for I’m sorry. I’m not that sorry though, because if you’ve ever read our content in the past you’d know that we don’t believe in a single right answer. Only your unique situation can tell you if this format is right for you. There are plenty of considerations and we’ve laid them out above. For right now, it’s undeniable that the format is not yet mature, though we expect that to change. And we realize that for every reason listed above why you shouldn’t, there are exceptions to prove us “wrong.”

The one thing you can count on is that this format is here to stay. There is no way that Facebook (and its fleet of apps) is going to give up its assault on Snapchat. The Stories format has proven to be popular and as a result, you can expect to see it stick around for the foreseeable future.

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