So What’s The Deal With Stories?: A Social Media Investigation
Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook are all running a stories feature now. How did we get to this point, and how do we navigate the social media landscape with this in mind?
Content by Karla Khodanian
I’m going to start this post with some honesty – What you’re about to read is not the post I intended to write.
A couple of weeks ago when I was tasked with dissecting this topic, I had a pretty solid plan in place – I was going to explore Instagram versus Snapchat Stories, weigh the pros/cons, you know, all that good stuff.
But in those few weeks, a lot has changed: Facebook launched Stories, Instagram released that it now has 200 million DAU (daily active users) on Stories, and Snapchat introduced World Lenses. Even now, as I type this, the F8 Facebook Developer Conference is happening, meaning more changes are on the horizon.
So as you can see, with these daily updates, it’s been challenging to narrow my focus. But here’s the kicker – All this change has been all centered around one primary concept: Stories. Stories have permeated our lives so much, the internet couldn’t resist but turn ‘em into a meme. But why is this happening? Why are Stories popping up on our favorite platforms and what are we supposed to do with them?
To know the future, you have to have an understanding of the past.
While others could boast messaging capabilities, that was never the central purpose of their apps. The speed and simplicity of delivery that Snapchat offered wasn’t something that could easily be replicated.
Snapchat launched in 2011 as a peer-to-peer communication platform comprised of disappearing messages. Nothing was saved and nothing was stored. That feature alone was distinctive enough to differentiate it from major public-facing apps. While others could boast messaging capabilities, that was never the central purpose of their apps. The speed and simplicity of delivery that Snapchat offered wasn’t something that could easily be replicated.
But the game really changed when Snapchat launched Stories in October 2013. Whereas users primarily shared text- and image-based updates on other platforms, Snapchat Stories created a new, unique way to broadcast no one had quite explored before: video. Particularly, stitching together up-to-10-second video clips along with still images to share a narrative.
With the launch of Snapchat’s Stories came the competition (Snap CEO, Evan Spiegel, famously turned down a $3 billion buyout from Mark Zuckerberg in 2013). And whether it’s adding stickers, filters, or drawing tools – ever since then, it’s been a race to see which platform can engage users the most.
For the next few years, it seemed as though all was quiet on the social media front. New features came along and users adapted to each and every subtle update. Every app had its own clearly defined purpose and we knew just what to do and who to talk to on each one. Simpler times!
But then August 2016 rolled around and Instagram decided it was time to change the game once again.
Instagram Stories launched and everyone was shook. How could a platform just blatantly copy another app? The entire internet seemed to agree that Instagram Stories just seemed like a rude and petty move. But, in the grand tradition of the internet, we forgot their sins quickly and embraced the new tool because, well…it was good. Instagram had a simper UI, a better camera, some unique “neon” drawing tools, and an inherently larger audience. Additional messaging capabilities were added by the day, and soon Instagram Stories became a legitimate Snapchat competitor (right as Snap Inc. was preparing to go public, no less).
In a press conference soon after launch, Instagram founder and CEO Kevin Systrom actually gave Snapchat credit for the idea of Stories.“You can’t just recreate another product. But you can say, ‘What’s really awesome about a format? And does it apply to our network?’”
And that’s exactly what we’re seeing here – the evolution and the mass-adoption of a format. Facebook popularized the newsfeed and Twitter gave footing to the @ symbol, but now we see those two concepts across all platforms. Snapchat might have created Stories, but it definitely doesn’t own it. It’s not a product and it’s not a feature – it’s a format – and it’s one that’s clearly not going anywhere anytime soon.
You might not want to embrace Stories, but you must acknowledge them. Because ultimately, how they evolve is defined by you.
We live in an age where empowerment is found in selectivity. People now get to choose what they watch and not just consume whatever their screens give them. That’s the beauty behind the Stories format Snapchat pioneered – it’s comprised of carefully curated narratives that you get to opt in to viewing. Not only that, you can engage with them in real time.
These public-facing platforms keep overloading you with new features like Stories because they are fighting to keep you, the user, in their apps longer. Because the longer users stay within the app, the more dollars they get.
Tech expert Taylor Lorenz summed it up well: “Ultimately, social products aren’t just defined by the features they offer, they are also shaped by the learned user behaviors and norms that evolve within them.”
The Stories format might not be the definitive way of the the future, but it is what’s happening right now across most channels. And it’s not just changing the way individuals talk to each other, but also the way brands talk to individuals. Marketers are having to rethink entire strategies around what it takes to successfully produce real-time storytelling. You might not want to embrace Stories, but you must acknowledge them. Because ultimately, how they evolve is defined by you.
This topic is literally changing by the day. I can’t speak to its staying power, but I do know this – You know those seismic cultural shifts people talk about? We’re living in one of those right now. Communication is transforming in incredible ways we’ve never witnessed before, and what’s happening now will inevitably impact the way we document our lives for generations to come.