What’s the Story with Social Media Stories?

Discover more about social media stories, what they are, with examples of social media story cases.

Social media has changed significantly since websites like MySpace and other early platforms first came on the scene. With every new platform there are new ways to reach customers, and most platforms are continually working on new features designed to attract more users. One of the newest features to hit social media are “stories”.

What Exactly are Social Media Stories?

People love stories, and the most popular and successful social media platforms understand this fact very well. Brands and businesses with marketing savvy are using Story features to build their own narratives in order to better reach and engage their customers.

Stories first rose to prominence on Snapchat in 2013. This took the form of vertical slideshows that users could create out of all the pictures and videos they’d uploaded during a single day. It took a few years for other platforms to catch on, but in 2016, Instagram integrated a similar feature. On Instagram, stories consist of photos, videos, and other content that’s available to view as a collection, and is ordered and organized separately from an account’s main feed. After 24 hours, the content disappears, but the account can opt to save it by archiving or highlighting the story.

With Instagram’s user base consistently three to four times larger than Snapchat’s, the addition of Stories to Instagram introduced the concept to a much larger audience. Other social media platforms adopted similar features, and now there are Facebook Stories, YouTube Reels,  Twitter Moments, and Skype Highlights, as well as Stories on both Snapchat and Instagram.

So, in just five short years, Stories have gone from being a secondary feature on one of the least-used social media platforms, to being one of the hottest features on Facebook and Instagram, the two platforms that dwarf all of the others. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg himself has noted that Stories have overtaken newsfeeds in terms of popularity very quickly, and says of stories that “I just think this is the future.”

Lessons from the Storytellers

Businesses and brands can use stories in a wide range of ways, to engage their audiences, boost their brand visibility, and ultimately gain new customers. Plenty of brands are already getting in on the action, including the coworking company WeWork, National Geographic, and the Guardian.

Social media story case example #1 – WeWork: people love telling their own stories

WeWork is a coworking company with locations all over the world: dozens of coworking spaces in the USA, along with the UK, Japan, China, India, Canada, Australia, and many more in Europe, Asia, and South America. The brand’s image focuses heavily on the community aspect of coworking spaces, and its Instagram Story content is a great reflection of this.

WeWork’s Story content is as global as the company itself, covering everything from Diwali celebrations in India, to a Pride festival in Mexico City. Stories also focuses on behind-the-scenes content in WeWork spaces around the world, and even allows members to take over the reins to highlight their own “day-in-the-life” stories.

This kind of content has proven hugely successful for WeWork, for one simple reason: people love to talk about themselves, and to share their own stories. Giving WeWork members the chance to tell their own work stories reinforces the sense of shared community that is a hallmark of the brand, and it’s authentic to the brand’s image.

Social media story case example #2 – National Geographic: engage, then add a CTA

With nearly 100 million followers, National Geographic is one of the Instagram platform’s most popular accounts. The stunning photographs and videos it adds to its stories are a great example of how even simple content can be highly engaging.

The hallmark of National Geographic stories is that they use incredible imagery to engage and entertain viewers, and then add enticing calls to action to get people to the website. The ability to add specific calls to action—a feature which isn’t possible on standard Instagram posts—makes stories even more valuable, and National Geographic’s content is the kind that works particularly well. With the Story feature, each individual story can have its own specific CTA, with the option to direct viewers to a website, or even directly to a purchase page.

Social media story case example #3 – The Guardian: no need for a big marketing spend

These days, advertising tends to be more successful when it comes across as authentic and less like a hard sell. The Guardian used that lesson to great effect when it used Instagram Stories to grow its following from 860,000 to 1 million followers in just 4 months. As of the beginning of 2019 that figure stands at 1.5 million.

After starting to use Stories on Instagram, the Guardian tracked its audience data, to find out what kinds of stories and formats people found most appealing. What they found was that the more heavily-produced videos and stories just weren’t worth the effort. Rather than engaging with professionally-produced and presented clips, people responded more to more informal (and less labour-intensive) videos and slideshows.

This is great news for small to medium brands and businesses. If you’re just getting started with social media Stories, you don’t necessarily need to blow your marketing budget on high production values. People respond to authenticity, and low-fi definitely gets better results.

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