In case you missed the news: Say hello to Instagram Stories. They’re a totally new function for Instagram, but they’re not new for anyone who’s ever used Snapchat. Per usual, Instagram is copying Snapchat‘s style.
What will Instagram Stories mean for Instagram? For users? For brands? Here’s our take:
What are Instagram Stories?
There’s no dancing around this: Instagram Stories are pretty much a direct rip-off of Snapchat Stories. Users create vertical, full-screen photos or videos, then draw or write on top of them and, if they’d like, add a filter.
When you share a Story to Snapch—er, to Instagram—the Story is live for your followers (you can also put limits on the audience for your Stories) for the next 24 hours. After that, the Stories disappear.
Once you’ve updated to the latest version of Instagram, when you log in, you see a row of circles at the top of your feed that you can swipe through—even this looks like Snapchat’s Discover function. Those circles are the Stories of people and accounts you follow. When you tap on them, you launch into the full-screen video and photo experience. Once you’ve begun exploring Stories, you can swipe right to continue exploring, or tap to get back to your normal, vertical scroll Instagram feed. Next time you return to your feed, there will be a colorful circle around the profile photos for the accounts that have added something new to their Story.
One major difference between regular Instagram posts and Stories is that there are no likes or comments on Stories, though you do have the option to message the person who posted using Instagram direct—a function that hasn’t really taken off among Instagram users… perhaps until now.
Why did Instagram decide to make the change?
Instagram is trying to find itself. The reality is, the channel has been faltering a bit lately. People have historically gone to it for a curated experience, but that’s actually been part of the problem—people have been sharing less on the app.
As The Information reported at the end of June, “Five times as many people now use Instagram as did in 2013. But despite that strong growth, Instagram has seen a worrisome trend. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of photos shared on average by each Instagram user fell…”
At the same time, growth hasn’t been great for brands, especially since the app went to a Facebook-style algorithmic feed instead of a chronological feed.
According to Locowise, the engagement rate for brand pages on Instagram in 2016 was only at 1% of followers—and that’s up from the lowest point in February of this year. Profile growth for brands is also at the lowest level since early 2015. Many blame these dips on the algorithm changes as well as users spending more time in apps such as—you guessed it—Snapchat.
The bright side
If you ask us, these updates are in many ways an improvement on Snapchat. In classic Facebook style, they’re taking an “if you can’t buy ‘em, beat ‘em” approach. They’re taking what is awesome about another formats, and riffing off of it in an improved way.
First, Instagram Stories could go a long way toward improving engagement on the app.
Instagram Stories give people a more intuitive and natural way to find stuff that matters to them. It’s much easier to cut through the clutter.
And while it remains to be seen how Instagram can balance the weight of advertising and user experience, Instagram is much better poised to nail this than Snapchat is. The fact is, it’s incredibly hard for users to interact with brands on Snapchat as it exists now, it’s also incredibly expensive for advertisers and difficult to prove ROI. But Instagram is well-poised to help brands make a big impact with Stories.
In a way, this change opens up new opportunities for marketers and social media community managers to create more meaningful content. Think of it this way: Watching a Story is more meaningful engagement, since you have to scroll across and tap to watch it, it doesn’t just automatically show up in your feed. Plus, at this point, Instagram (like Snapchat) is showing you exactly who views your Story.
But perhaps most importantly, twice as many people use Instagram every day than use Snapchat.
Bet that $3 billion is sounding pretty good right now…
What remains to be seen
It’s going to be interesting to see if people step up their use of Instagram now that they can more freely—and less permanently—document their day-to-day experiences without feeling like they’re “spamming” their feed.
Can Instagram pivot their users to that type of thinking? If so, it could be very bad news for Snapchat.