UPDATE January 18, 2019 —
Though Instagram Stories has only been around since 2016, the feature has quickly become one of the most popular avenues for sharing social media content. Regarded as a more user-friendly and discoverable version of Snapchat Stories, Instagram Stories is popularizing in-the-moment content and is quickly being adopted by audiences and influencers alike as their preferred social media platform.
Within months of launch, Instagram Stories skyrocketed to attain status as the most widely used feature in any social media app. During this infancy stage, a staggering 100 million Instagram users reported that they viewed Instagram Stories every single day. In April of 2017, that number grew to 200 million, and just 14 months after that, Instagram Stories users doubled again to 400 million daily users. At that rate, approximately 2 out of 5 of Instagram’s 1 billion total users are also viewing or publishing Instagram Stories content every day.
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We can’t acknowledge Instagram Stories’ astounding growth without addressing how it has affected the competitive landscape. As many may recall, Snapchat was the first platform to introduce the now pervasive Stories feature back in 2013. But when Instagram unleashed its own Stories version, Snapchat experienced seismic losses to its daily active user (DAU) growth.
While the abrupt landing (and immediate success) of Instagram Stories undoubtedly accounts for most of Snapchat’s demise, other factors come into play, including:
Combined with Instagram Stories’ stellar performance, Snapchat’s inability to keep up with the demands of everyday users, influencers, and marketers tells the story of a once social king turned irrelevant and unfashionable interface.
Instagram Stories has arguably replaced Snapchat, currently boasting twice as many daily users than the total amount of Snapchat users. The social media world of Gen Zers and Millennials may have once revolved around Snapchat, but the platform’s social relevance has rapidly declined, propping up Instagram in the process.
Before Instagram launched its Stories feature, the app was already a luminary in the social sharing sphere. But when Instagram Stories was released, users flocked in droves to the upper Story section of their main Instagram feed. In a 2018 interview, Kevin Systrom even said that the importance of Stories rivals that of Instagram’s main feed. This is due in part to the repertoire of features that Instagram Stories offers.
While Snapchat has received flack for not catering to the needs of users, creators, and brands, Instagram has flourished on that front. As the platform reached the 1 billion total users mark, engagement on Instagram also reached new heights. The long list of Instagram Stories features has upped the amount of time spent on Instagram to 28 minutes (previously 15-21 minutes before Stories).
Instagram also recently announced that over 1/3 of the most-viewed Instagram Stories come from business accounts. In 2017, there were over 25 million business profiles on Instagram, half of which had created a Story. And while the app’s primary feed features a tremendous amount of sponsored content from Instagram influencers, marketers view Stories as a golden opportunity to reach consumers without interruptions due to its full-screen layout.
With mobile ad spend on track to represent 47.9% of total US advertising spend by 2022, more brands are turning to influencers to create engaging sponsored Stories as a successful campaign strategy. A 2019 report reveals that a third of sponsored Instagram posts are Instagram Stories. The resounding success of Instagram Stories can be attributed to the onslaught of user-friendly features.
Below we explore how Instagram outperforms the competition by constantly introducing new Stories features:
Polling enables users to draw engagement from viewers by asking a question and customizing the poll choices. Once users select an option, they can view the percentage breakdown of total poll selections.
A recent update now allows followers to submit questions for the Story creator to answer in a subsequent Story post. This acts as a conversation starter and fosters community, providing creators valuable audience insights.
In an effort to help Stories creators revisit and showcase their favorite moments, Highlights allows users to permanently spotlight favorite Stories posts on their profile. Users have full curation capabilities to group Stories and customize their Highlights reel, ensuring profile visitors understand what content to view.
Using the text overlay function, users can add interactive tags to their Instagram stories. Stories tags function similarly to in-feed post tags:
For select accounts, creators and brands can implement CTAs, such as the “Swipe Up” or “Learn More,” that prompts viewers to swipe up and visit a website URL while remaining in-app. This function is particularly common when influencers or brands promote blog articles or brand products. CTA functionality is less commonly used to prompt event sign-ups, podcast listens, or music streams.
As a modified sticker function and an extension of shoppable content, creators can do more than just plug the “Swipe Up” CTA to a product URL—now, brands and influencers can implement product stickers to tag specific products within their Stories. This allows viewers to tap each sticker to view product information and ultimately make a purchase.
Taking Stories production to the next level, music can be integrated within the app. Through native Spotify and Soundcloud integrations, users can essentially add a soundtrack to their Story post. The music function enables viewers to click on the shared track to visit within either streaming app. Instagram also provides a selection of pre-selected songs, from which users can select a popular track or browse by musical mood or genre.
Instagram Stories give users plenty of fun sticker options with a vast library of GIFs, emojis, and animated stickers. After taking a picture or video on Stories, creators can search keywords to identify relevant, engaging, and often comical animations to add a touch of comedic art to their Stories.
Just as users can choose from a variety of advanced image filters on regular posts, Stories gives users the chance to swipe through various filters for additional creative freedom. Instagram Stories has a rotating selection of both face filters (e.g. puppy, kauai) and scenery filters (e.g. superzoom, aura).
In order to add a caption or personal artwork, Stories allows creators to overlay their images or videos with text in different fonts, colors, and sizes. Users can also doodle over their Stories using drawing devices of different styles, weights, and colors.
Just like Instagram’s main posts, Stories can leverage the “Boomerang” effect to put a rewind twist on moments captured. The function has become widespread among Instagram users, so the ability to use on Stories is only natural.
In light of Instagram Stories’ rapid growth and popularity with audiences, both content creators and marketers should bear in mind a few important factors.
First, it’s important to note that audiences have specific expectations for Stories content. Despite the fact that users can now upload old photos and videos to Instagram Stories directly from their camera rolls, Stories content is typically expected to be captured in-the-moment.
Stories give users the opportunity to share genuine, unstaged snippets of their lives, and audiences expect a high level of authenticity when viewing Stories content. Marketers and influencers should make an effort to meet audience expectations that come along with the format. In particular, when marketers develop branded or sponsored Stories content with influencers, audiences often value candor over polish.
Second, Instagram Stories changes the way people communicate and digest new information. Though the Stories format isn’t unique to Instagram’s platform, it has become one of the major features driving users to search for and consume new content from the platform’s most popular creators.
In many ways, the Stories format is increasingly becoming a mainstream, even commonplace, form of communication. The sooner that marketers recognize this and adapt accordingly, the more effective their social media and influencer marketing efforts will be.
On top of bringing Stories-style content mainstream, the rise of Instagram Stories has bolstered the platform as a whole. The introduction of Instagram Stories has thus far contributed to a 7-10 minute increase in the amount of time an average user spends in the app per day. On the advertising front, Instagram Stories continues to provide new opportunities for brands to drive conversions without users even leaving the app. It will be interesting to see how the platform’s knack for inventiveness evolves as 2019 takes shape.