It’s hard to remember a time before they were everywhere, but long ago in Internet time, there was only one name associated with disappearing video: Snapchat.
In 2016 (five years after Snapchat), Instagram got in on the game, adding Stories to their platform with filters, stickers, and text overlay. And in 2017, their parent company Facebook rolled out Stories of its own, with unique filters and the option to crosspost between platforms.
The videos may disappear, but the format is now everywhere, offering rapid-fire cycles of possibility. The only question that remains is, which platforms make the most sense for your brand?
It wins among younger audiences
Let’s start with the OG. Snapchat is beloved by users of all ages, but it’s especially popular with Generation Z. Seventy-nine percent of US teens have a Snapchat account, and they rate Snapchat as their favorite platform.
Compare that to the two percent of Baby Boomers who use Snapchat, and this platform starts to look like the fountain of eternal youth. As other platforms struggle to hang on to their younger users, Snapchat is still growing in popularity with this demographic.
Its users are highly engaged
Snapchat users watch over 10 billion videos each day and send more than 3.5 billion Snaps. One hundred and eighty-seven million daily active users spend about half an hour each day on Snapchat, and open the app about 25 times per day.
It’s harder to use, but that makes it cooler
Part of the appeal of Snapchat is its secret-handshake nature—it can be deliberately confusing, but that’s why users love it. It also offers a lot of features, though they’re not always easy to find. But that means brands who can navigate the app acquire an instant cool factor. It’s kind of like getting your motorcycle license, but for social media.
It’s all about spontaneity
Snapchat’s ethos is authenticity and openness – compared to other platforms, it’s more spontaneous and raw. That’s what draws users in, especially younger audiences, who are resistant to traditional advertising methods.
As a result, brands who use Snapchat to go behind-the-scenes can build loyal followings from users who are as interested in people and process as they are in the finished product.
Everlane, an apparel startup committed to “radical transparency”, grew their audience through a conversational, candid Snap series called #TransparencyTuesdays, where they answered questions and shared product insights and previews.
Geofilters are custom frames that show up for users who take a Snap in a certain location—this can be an entire country, for major campaigns. They’re a major investment, with a price tag in the six figures, but country-wide Geofilters typically reach 40-60% of all daily Snapchat users, offering massive exposure.
Sponsored Lenses are face-altering filters that users can add to their Snaps, to share your branded content with their following. Taco Bell smashed records last year when they released a Cinco de Mayo filter that turned users into tacos, which was viewed 224 million times in a single day.
— Taco Bell (@tacobell) May 6, 2016
Brands that stand out on Snapchat find a way to harness the platform’s spirit of playfulness to capture users’ attention. I mean, who wouldn’t want to look like a taco? That’s part of the genius of Snapchat: to stand out, you just need a great idea that no one can resist.
Ads perform well
Snap Ads are sponsored, 10-second videos that appear in between Snaps—entice users to swipe up and view longer content or visit a website. Ads perform well on Snapchat, pulling in more visual attention than any other social media platform.
The timeline prioritizes friends over brands
In January 2018, Snapchat rolled out a major update that radically transformed the app.
And the reception has not always been warm. A tweet begging for its reversal has been retweeted more than 1.4 million times, and a petition to scrap it has a million signatures and counting. Despite the backlash, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel insists that the update is here to stay—so there’s no time like the present to leap in and learn to swim.
The biggest change for users: splitting Snaps into two feeds. Prior to the update, users could watch Snaps in one stream. Now, feeds are split into “Friends” (for users who follow you back) and “Discover” (for everyone else—including publishers, celebrities, and content creators).
What this means for companies is their Snaps will no longer appear in the same feed as their followers’ personal friends, likely resulting in less exposure. One way around this is to follow your audience back, but even then your Snaps will likely sink to the bottom of their feeds. The new Snapchat timeline is also algorithmic, pushing friends who interact frequently with a user to the top of their feed.
However, the update also came with a new opportunity for companies to share sponsored content, with Promoted Stories. These allow companies to push their Stories to more users and appear on the Discover screen, reaching new audiences beyond their followers.
Oh, and don’t worry about missing the opportunity to captivate audiences with your take on the taco filter. The update didn’t impact branded content like Geofilters and Sponsored Lenses, which will still reach users exactly the same way.
Contrary to stereotypes about middle children, the middle child of the disappearing stories family gets plenty of attention.
Instagram already had a massive user base in 2016, but Stories were like the Nos in The Fast & the Furious. When they launched, they gave users an incentive to check the platform daily and catch all those disappearing videos, increasing time spent on the app to around half an hour each day.
Users skew young, but not as young as Snapchat
More than 500 million Instagram users open the app every day, and 300 million of them are watching Stories daily. Like Snapchat, Instagram skews young—60 percent of users are under 30—but it also includes more older users as well, with one-third of 30-49 year olds using the app.
Instagram Stories share a lot in common with Snapchat Stories
After unveiling Stories, users and brands who had previously used Snapchat for candid videos and Instagram for curated content had both in one place. And brands had the same opportunity. Remember Everlane’s #TransparencyTuesdays? Those can now be found on their Instagram Stories.
Outdoor Voices, which makes workout clothes that fashionable people love, use their Stories to share videos of brand ambassadors #DoingThings outdoors, and approachable fitness tutorials that showcase products while inspiring followers to get active.
Instagram Stories have a lot in common with Snapchat. They also offer face filters that can flatter you with Photoshop-like effects, or make you look like a sea witch or a bunny rabbit (to name a few). Users can also add stickers, text, and recently (to the great delight of the meme-loving masses) GIFs to their stories.
If you thought that a Story was good before, just wait until you add a dancing cat GIF to it.
They are sorted according to an algorithm
Stories from people and brands that users follow show up in a row at the top of the Home feed, sorted algorithmically. A “Discover” tab includes branded content and promoted stories, featuring trending content and videos tailored to users’ interests. As with Snapchat, brands can promote their stories or create ads to reach more users, as well as share all their Stories with their followers.
They can drive direct traffic
Instagram Stories also offer a few special features that set it apart. For instance, brands have the option of adding links to their Stories, which direct users to an external URL after they swipe up and provides a ton of opportunity to drive traffic and engagement. Prior to adding this feature, brands could only have one link in their bio, and couldn’t include functional links in the photos and videos posted to their feed.
They get engagement
Creating a Story is not only easy, but effective: one in five Stories generate a direct message from followers.
Stories also have the uniquely engaging “Polls” feature, which lets viewers vote between two options.
Brands who excel at Stories know how to use these engaging features to keep users coming back – not just to watch, but to join in the conversation and feel like they’re part of an insider community.
The beauty startup Glossier built their following on Instagram by creating a mood board of images, each garnering thousands of likes, before they had even released their first product (they also raised $24 million dollars). They use Stories to engage with their followers, by offering sneak previews of new products, customer Q&As, and introducing the people behind the brand. But they also maintain their dreamy aesthetic, with Stories that are as Millennial-pink and Pinterest-worthy as their main feed, reinforcing their brand values of accessible beauty and casual luxury.
They have a non-disappearing option
“Story Highlights” allow users to pin Stories to the top of their feed. Unlike regular Stories, which disappear after a day as expected, these ones stick around for as long as they’re pinned.
Story Highlights are perfect for showing off your top performing Stories, latest products, biggest announcements, and the spirit of your brand.
They can be viewed on desktop
Even though Instagram is designed for mobile use, users who are looking you up on their computers instead of their phones can now also watch your stories, effectively increasing visibility. You still can’t upload from the desktop version, but given Instagram’s track record of giving the people what they want, that may not be the case forever.
Facebook is the blue whale of social media platforms, with a staggering 1.4 billion (!) daily active users, and 2 billion monthly users. In the U.S., the number of adults on Facebook (68 percent) is about the same as Instagram (35 percent) and Snapchat (27 percent) combined.
Facebook launched their Stories in March 2017, replacing a similar feature called Messenger Day with a more obvious parallel to their Instagram offering.
The two platforms share more in common than just the name. Facebook Stories also mirrors the placement of Stories (above the main newsfeed) and the camera to record them (top-left corner). It’s instantly familiar for anyone who’s used Instagram. So it’s a bit surprising that it hasn’t quite taken off—yet.
Facebook has the largest audience
Facebook hasn’t yet released numbers for how many users are sharing and viewing Stories, but anyone who looks to see how many of their own friends are posting them will likely arrive at the same conclusion: it’s not nearly as popular as Instagram Stories.
The slow uptake might lie in Facebook’s audience demographics, and how they use the platform. Everyone really is on Facebook: 76 percent of teens (ages 12-19) have a profile, but so do 62 percent of their grandparents (adults over 65). As a result, some younger users think Facebook is for old people. They’re using it to message their friends and watch videos, but not to discover content or follow brands the way they do on other channels.
For older users, who are less likely to be on Instagram and Snapchat, the Stories format isn’t second nature. They may just not be creating and engaging with this form of content yet.
It’s a blank slate of potential for brands
Stories may be slower to take off on Facebook than they were on Instagram, but this platform has nothing but potential. It’s a blank slate with great opportunities – and Facebook has been clear that they’re committed to the success of Stories, so we can expect they’ll keep rolling out features to improve ease of use and visibility. And Company Pages only got access to Stories in October 2017, so it’s still a brand new field of dreams.
It’s not limited to one platform
Why should you be posting to Stories? For starters, Facebook has the best ROI of any social media platform, according to 96% of social marketers. Facebook Stories can be integrated with other high-performing ad opportunities on Facebook, like promoted videos and posts in the Newsfeed.
And since you can cross-post your Instagram Stories directly to Facebook Stories without any extra effort, why wouldn’t you? Cross-posting isn’t always a good idea, but given that your Stories will translate perfectly to each platform, it’s worth testing.
It’s an opportunity to bypass the algorithm
Facebook Stories also presents a new opportunity to bring users to your Page.
Many brands have noticed declining engagement since Facebook prioritized personal connections in their algorithm. But the Stories feed could be a way to reconnect with users who aren’t seeing your content in their Newsfeed the same way.
Your friends may not be posting there yet, but some companies are already using Facebook Stories with great results. Paddington 2, the surprisingly popular sequel to a movie about a bear in London, launched a Facebook Stories campaign with a Paddington filter that let viewers try on his stylish outfit (listen, a duffle coat and floppy hat counts as stylish for a bear, okay?)
Viewers also saw Stories of other Paddington characters, as well as iconic sets. This was a perfect fit for Facebook: a family-friendly movie on a multi-generational platform, showing off the most fun features in the app. The result: a three-point increase in awareness of the movie, and intention to watch.
Another example is Japan’s Kao beauty company, which used Stories as well as other Facebook ad placements to launch their Pyuan haircare line. Targeted to women in their 20s (the largest demographic on Facebook), Kao focused on short, high-quality videos tailored to the short attention spans and discerning tastes of their demographic. The strategy resulted in a 10-point increase in brand awareness.
There are opportunities for user-generated content
Facebook is determined to make their Stories more than just a clone of Instagram, and recently unveiled their first truly unique opportunity for brands to take advantage of the platform: Group Stories.
Group Stories allow anyone attending an event on Facebook to contribute to a Story roll, hosted on the Event page and visible in the Stories feed. Event administrators can moderate Stories and approve them. For companies concerned about the wild-west nature of other platforms, this is a reassuring mechanism. If your company hosts events, whether in person or virtually, Group Stories is a new opportunity to promote them and engage with your followers.
Which platform is right for you?
Keep your brand values and goals in mind: are you willing to be casual, informal, and offer candid insights? Do you prefer to keep things polished? Do you want to reach people of all ages? These questions can help you narrow down which Stories platform makes the most sense for you.
Also think about which features excite you most and fit the best with your content strategy. Do you want your audience to weigh in on new products? Try a poll in Instagram Stories. Hosting a launch party? Use Facebook’s Group Stories to engage attendees. Want to gain awareness among younger audiences? Try a Snapchat Sponsored Filter.
The important thing is to take advantage of the full menu of options when you try out a platform. Users get excited about new features as much as you do, so don’t leave them out when considering your strategy.
v Test out an idea on all three, and see where it performs best. Compare engagement rates and views. Many brands had success by rolling their Snapchat strategy over to Instagram, and others will find that cross-posting on Instagram and Facebook yields results.
Whatever you try, there’s one thing you should always keep in mind: users are savvy. If you make content that’s not true to your brand voice and identity, your followers will unfollow. Filters and stickers aside, videos let you build real connections with viewers and keep them engaged with authentic, insightful content.
Show off what makes your brand special and unique (you might surprise people!). That’s what your audience wants to see. Throwing a dancing cat GIF in the mix? That’s just the icing on the cake.
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