This Message Will Self-Destruct



The great social media debate of the past year has centered around the two “Stories,” Snapchat and Instagram. We are not here to settle that debate. The two are, by design, extremely similar, and their level of effectiveness as marketing tools is as dependent on which network the brand has already thrown its efforts behind as it is any single feature offered by one or the other. That, and there are more than enough side-by-side comparisons out there already.

We’re pivoting that discussion from “Snap vs. Insta,” to Instagram Stories vs. traditional Instagram posts. What do stories offer that posts cannot? What is unique about how users interact with stories? What are the qualities that attracted 150 million users within five months of launch, and eventually led it to surpass its predecessor?

Millennials, and the younger Generation Z, have had years to develop a critical eye when it comes to social media marketing, and posts from brands don’t always pass the eye test. A certain amount of curation on Instagram is expected, but even that friend doesn’t have an advertising budget. In short, social media marketing that was once meant to meet users on their level, seamlessly integrating itself into a feed of photos from friends and other non-brand accounts, has begun to stick out.

After all, Instagram Stories were created for a reason (Other than damaging Snapchat, of course). Facebook saw the appeal of ephemeral content, that younger users were moving away from the increasingly static, full-life curation that had become the norm on Facebook and even Instagram, and toward more in-the-moment content that, seemingly at least, could not be faked. The same filters that users developed for looking at their friends’ posts have now been turned on brands. Relatability is king, with 65% of Generation Z stating a distaste for ads that portray life as perfect. Stories allow brands to showcase their human-side in ways that traditional posts preclude. The format nearly mandates informality, as even the most well-produced content will disappear after 24 hours.

The disparity in production value from posts to stories has also forced brands to find other ways to engage users, namely, with good storytelling! More than just a buzzword, storytelling is important now more than ever for a generation that, while not categorically opposed to advertising, expects brands to earn their attention. While traditional posts are not limited to still images, the stories format is much more video oriented than its predecessor, and more video usually means more cohesive narratives. The numbers back it up, with 63% of consumers saying that companies that use video know how to reach their customers.

We haven’t even gotten to the elephant in the room: influencer marketing! One could not dream up a more ideal medium for a “takeover” than the, “here one minute, gone the next” Instagram Story. Influencers are known quantities for the user, and provide not just content, but credibility to the brand that they represent. The quick-hitting story format allows influencers to express their personalities and endear themselves to fans in ways that are not possible in a photo.

The rapid rise of the Instagram Story is reflective of the modern user’s ever-evolving preferences around the consumption of social media. Stories are outpacing posts because they are a newer format, designed with newer tastes in mind, modeled explicitly off of Snapchat’s already successful service. And with Instagram opening up its API to allow all brands to purchase Stories ads, there will be even greater incentives for marketers to acquaint themselves with the medium.  We should not expect traditional posts to go anywhere, at least not anytime soon, but brands need to know where the consumer is, and right now, that’s Instagram Stories.