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What the New Instagram Stories Feature Means for Marketers

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Yesterday, Instagram introduced “Instagram Stories,” making ephemeral content possible on the platform.

To remain competitive in the ever-changing social network landscape, Instagram incorporated Snapchat’s most popular feature (disappearing content) to create a centralized hub for all image and video sharing. Knowing that Instagram has to compete with other platforms for user attention and that unique content sharing was down 15% year-over-year for Facebook Inc. (Instagram’s parent company), “Instagram Stories” is opening up more opportunities for users to share unique content across the platform so they can avoid being eclipsed by competitors.

Over the last six years, Instagram has bred a community of high-quality content creators, which in turn has created extreme standards for posting content. Users feel pressured to share the perfect photo or video with their followers. This behavior has resulted in users sharing only the important highlights of their lives rather than everyday moments. As Instagram has always strived to be the platform to share all life moments, “Stories” helps bridge the gap between the highlights and the everyday.

What Are Instagram Stories?

With the launch of Stories, the Instagram mobile feed will now feature a swipe-able slideshow that includes real-time updates from the accounts any given user follows. These updates will last 24 hours, can be hidden from specific followers, and will be prioritized based on who the user most frequently engages with. To engage with Stories content, users can send direct messages via Instagram Direct that will also disappear along with the story once it expires. Like Snapchat, users can personalize this content with text and drawing tools (emojis, different brush styles and colors, move and scale, etc.) before sharing. For brands that have switched to Instagram Business Profiles, reach and impressions on Stories are also available within the analytics dashboard.

What Should Marketers Know?

We have all spent an embarrassing amount of time creating that perfect Instagram of our morning coffee only to receive a few measly likes. Instagram Stories is making the platform less stressful by providing a space to share not-so-perfect moments with our Instagram community without worrying about receiving a respectable number of likes and comments. This more transparent and judgement-free environment is one of the reasons Snapchat has been so successful. Only the content creator knows if an image or video is only viewed once or twice. That said, we expect Instagram Stories to take the form of Snapchat Stories with more behind-the-scenes content and raw interviews from influencers and celebrities.

This update does not significantly change what brands are currently doing on the platform but creates an opportunity to leverage the platform in a new way. With this new feature, marketers should consider the following implications:

  • A clear investment in live, rough content. Snapchat’s quick growth in popularity with all key demographics has made it necessary for Instagram to carve out a space on their platform where its users can create and consume less polished content. Stories allows users to not only post more fleeting type of content but also to post with higher frequency. At its core Instagram will maintain its well-known aesthetic, but is now incorporating user behavior learned from Snapchat.
  • Additional exposure. Since content will disappear after 24hrs., users may have a stronger sense of urgency to view and avoid missing exclusive content. Stories will also provide brands with top of feed real estate, whereas normal Instagram content may be missed in the algorithm.
  • Increased time spent. Knowing that this kind of content has been of interest on other social platforms, marketers can expect users to spend even more time on the platform consuming both raw and curated content.
  • Small decrease in followers. Though users can hide their Stories from specific followers, they cannot hide content from the accounts they follow. That said, if users do not enjoy a brand’s Stories they might choose to unfollow the brand to avoid and overload of content in the Stories slideshow. Users may also minimize the number of accounts they follow if they feel like Stories provides an overload of content on the platform in general.
  • Influencer Implications. Many influencers have strong, existing followings on Instagram, and so this update is another storytelling tool that does not require influencers to leave the platform. For example, entertainment brands can highlight behind-the-scenes moments of talent prepping for a premiere night event as well as final red carpet looks.
  • Paid social implications. As of now, there are no paid opportunities for Stories. However, Instagram encourages marketers to continue to utilize the feed as the primary space for brand engagement and test using Stories organically.

What Should Marketers Do Now?

The introduction of Instagram Stories continues the live content trend across the industry. It also allows Instagram to play into various user bases that may have strayed to other platforms focusing on immediate and disposable content. As most brands have been building their Instagram following over the last six years, this update provides the experience of Snapchat in a place where their fans are already active, and gives brands room to test out Stories. We recommend the following next steps for marketers interested in testing the Stories feature:

  • Provide a balance between raw and planned content. For a community that is used to polished content, test your audience to see what resonates most. Ease the community into this kind of content by serving behind-the-scenes footage of creating the picture perfect Instagram they are used to seeing.
  • Prioritize the feed. As the feed is currently the only place fan engagement and reach can be guaranteed both organically and through paid social, Instagram encourages brands to prioritize the feed as the community will continue to look to brands for high-quality content.
  • Evaluate platform roles. As the lines between Instagram and Snapchat blur, evaluate the role each platform plays in the overall social ecosystem. For example, maybe Snapchat continues to be the place for raw interviews with celebrities and talent, but Instagram provides a behind-the-scenes look at photoshoots and events.
  • Measure performance. For accounts using Business Profiles, dig into the analytics (reach and impressions) and compare them with typical Instagram performance. Though we are not expecting Stories to affect content in the feed, it is worth monitoring whether Stories are hindering average engagement and reach or attracting a new audience on the platform.

As of now, we recommend that brands, influencers and publishers take advantage of this new feature and test what works best for their unique audience on the platform.