Since the dawn of social media, we’ve grown accustomed to the feed. We were fine with our FOMO-fueled vertical scrolling—until stories came along and changed the game. Even the most resource-challenged CMOs are realizing the need to develop their story strategy, a decision supported by three key drivers: engagement, visibility and insights.
If there is one metric that drives all digital marketing, it’s engagement. No other indicator contributes as much to online success. Higher engagement rates directly impact how the algorithms rank brand accounts on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. When followers engage more often, they deepen their relationship to the brand, which has been quantitatively proven to drive growth.
Since early 2016, use of stories has increased 987 percent across Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook and Messenger, according to a report from Block Party. Stories have also seen a highly engaged growth rate 15 times higher than feeds. But what sparked this change in the first place?
As with most innovations in recent memory, we have smartphones to thank. Back in the early days of social, feeds were designed for desktops, but stories were born in the camera culture. Our phones became content collectors that empowered us to craft full-screen digital experiences through combining photos, videos, audio, gifs and text.
Snapchat launched stories in 2016, and Instagram popularized the format soon after. With over one billion social accounts now creating stories daily, they are becoming the bridge between social content and leaving the feed to fend for itself.
Although 81 percent of Snapchat users engage with stories compared to 60 percent on Instagram, Instagram has the advantage going forward. One-click distribution across the Facebook ecosystem and a substantially larger user base make it an unfair fight. While Snapchat leads in innovation, Facebook and Instagram have the reach and cash to scale at the speed of digital.
A brand with better rankings from the algorithms is seen by more people. Higher visibility leads to increased awareness, follower growth and organic brand reach. Using as much platform-specific functionality available (GIFS, stickers, polls, questions, songs) also ranks an account higher. In other words, don’t be afraid of a little digital bling.
Leaders are emerging within certain sectors like news, beauty and sports. Their stories include video, photos, questions, polls and GIFS that deepen interest and spark sharing.
The New York Times often uses Instagram Stories to add depth to their reporting and give readers a way to connect beyond the headlines. Their pieces range from emotional vignettes about immigrant families being reunited to empowering profiles of those impacted by the #MeToo movement.
Innovative beauty brands like Glossier haven’t missed a beat when it comes to stories. The highlight icons on their Instagram profiles strategically lead to stories like “Mixtapes,” where you can hear the songs playing in the Glossier showroom. Their stories also include downloadable wallpaper designs, product content like Zit Stick and Haloscope and a History option that tells the backstory of their flagship location. Even in stories, Glossier is leveraging their omnichannel advantage.
Sports teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Sounders and San Francisco Giants got into the game early and see stories as a way to huddle up with fans. Some teams even cast their stories to stadium jumbotrons, driving massive visibility.
Considering that stories can (and should) be interactive, they are also a powerful way for brands to learn from their followers. Identifying top stories with high completion rates, including polls, asking questions (via stickers) and mining responses are simple ways to gain insights from these valuable connections.
The direct-to-consumer shoe brand Allbirds uses Instagram Stories to answer customer questions, get feedback on new product concepts and introduce new collaborations like its new Shake Shack shoe (free Hokey Pokey shake included).
These are the early days in the growth of stories. Innovations within the format are constant and increasingly add richness to the experience. Most recently, Instagram added the ability to shop from stories, creating a new way for brands to drive revenue. Given the rise of dark social, platforms like Giphy and Emogi are becoming effective distribution channels for branded content that builds awareness across millions of consumer-created stories.
While the feed served our need in the early days of social, stories are evolving the narrative. Strategic brands should embrace the opportunity and use it to tell their most engaging tales.