Prior to 2013, Snapchat was nothing more than an app to send real-time photos to friends and family. I have a vivid memory of when Snapchat first added its stories feature and quite frankly, I didn’t think much of it. Now, it seems as though every major social media platform has jumped on the ephemeral content bandwagon in one way or another.
In 2016, Instagram introduced stories to its platform, and it has slowly become one of the app’s main features. One year later, Instagram’s parent company Facebook did the same, and most recently, Twitter introduced “fleets” as another way to talk about what’s happening. Even LinkedIn got in on the action.
Although the story functions are all nearly the same, none have worked out as well as Instagram.
A 2018 Facebook IQ study shows that out of 2,400 U.S. Instagram users surveyed, about one-third became more interested in a brand, product or service after seeing it while clicking through their Instagram stories. Many creators use stories as a way to more effortlessly stay engaged with their followers; even though these stories still take a large amount of time to curate. Especially for brands, who tend to use the function for more informational messages. Brands use Instagram stories to promote events, products, announcements, and get personal with their followers through takeovers, days in the life and tours. Story users find they are able to easily obtain information about all of these factors, as well as find out about new products or new brands.
There’s actually term for this sort of thing: context collapse. Context collapse is when creators run out of useful things to say to their online audience, especially when that audience gets larger over time.
All of these social media platforms are copying Snapchat by adding a stories function. Yet, these copycat platforms seem to be doing it better because of one particular detail: placement.
For applications like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, the ephemeral content appears right at the top of the screen. This strategic placement gives users the urge to watch an account’s story first, before scrolling mindlessly through their regular feed. By contrast, Snapchat still keeps its stories on the sidebar menu, resulting in this sort of content to become an afterthought. Not only this, but from my personal experience, Instagram has very useful analytical data attached to its ephemeral content. Users can easily see the amount of engagement their stories garnered through profile visits, reach, impressions, follows and navigation. Snapchat only offers the amount of views each story gets.
So, is it worth it for businesses to jump on the ephemeral bandwagon? Simply put, yes. The stories function on any platform is the easiest way to engage with followers. It allows organizations to get personal with their followers instead of relying on metrics such as likes, comments and shares. Stories give brands and organizations the ability to share their location, attach gifs and stickers, do polls and questions, or utilize their creative side with various fonts, backgrounds, and drawing options. Polls are especially useful because they provide additional engagement with followers, as well as very specific insights. Polls give followers a chance for their voices to be heard on what they like or dislike with a product, or even what content they prefer to see from their favorite brands and organizations. Businesses can easily use polls and the other features Instagram stories have to offer to interact with followers, enhance customer service, continue to promote an event or product launch, or share interesting content related to their brand.
Businesses have nothing to lose by utilizing ephemeral content and if it’s done right, there will be a spike in follower engagement while creating fun, creative content and enhancing general social media knowledge.