Stories: The New Social Media Story

How Stories on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook are enabling a new storytelling language. What are they anyway? And why you should care!

Over the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of helping Future Documentary Masters students at University of the West of England with a whistle-stop tour of the main things to consider when making plans around social media for TV programmes.

Every year before I’ve talked about:

  • Making and planning content that’s as shareable as possible. Like a stone being thrown into a pond, the more shareable your content is the more people it’s likely to reach via social media – the more waves your content will make.
  • Short form video for social media – being immediately attention grabbing, being collaborative to reach more of your target audience, creating discoverable content and having a consistent and sustainable approach all help to make the most of your efforts.
  • Video is naturally an area of particular interest to TV makers, and images and videos can make for the most engaging content on social platforms. The more your content is engaged with (people liking it, commenting and sharing it for example), the more the platforms think “hey this is great content!” and push it into other peoples’ streams – the more ripples you’ll make in the pond again.
  • And increasingly I’m working with people around defining their core and target audiences to really be able to put their audience at the hear of their social plans.

But this year it felt like there was a shift in the storytelling arsenal that social media platforms offer. Storytelling is an area of critical importance for broadcasters, who are already in the business of telling stories, but it’s an area that all brand publishers need to get up to speed on to be really effective on social media.

Stories, as in the format of Stories on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, are now totally leading the way in regards innovative and engaging new ways of telling stories on social. With Instagram stories reportedly being used by 400 million users every day and stats so far making it look like sharing via Stories on Instagram will surpass normal sharing (via peoples’ usual feeds) sometime during 2019, now’s the time to pay some attention to Stories if you haven’t already.

So what are Stories?

Although they’ve been around on Snapchat since 2013, Stories have felt like something of an outlier for mainstream brand publishers until fairly recently. But the rise and rise of Instagram and their adoption of the Stories format in Aug 2016 is leading to a new breed of engaging, creative and playful stories being published.

The main difference between standard social media posts and Stories is the format.

Vertical video and images: It shouldn’t make a huge difference but it does, at least in practical terms for producers. Stories use vertical video and images, native to smartphones of course, but not native to all the other social publishing platforms. One of the key upshots of this is that social producers aren’t able to re-format their content for Stories as they’ve been able to do for Twitter and Facebook etc etc. The vertical format doesn’t crop so easily from the largely horizontal image and video assets that we’ve all been working with, so new content largely has to be created for Stories.

Short and sweet: Technically Stories are just a series of images and/or videos that last up to 15seconds which people have published into a chronological playlist called a Story. There are various apps you can use to edit your videos into 15 second segments and although you can create them live, natively within the platforms, it’s fair to say that creating some of your core video/image assets for Stories out of the social platforms gives you more control over what you’re creating.

Self-destructing content: The other main defining feature of Stories across Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook is that they only last for 24 hours before no longer being visible to others. Truthfully most Stories’ features are inspired by/nabbed from Snapchat, where the main feature of all content is that is disappears. It’s intended to mimic real, physical human conversation which isn’t permanently archived and it’s a feature that we know appeals particularly to younger audiences who don’t want a massive legacy of content following them around.

Raw content style: Perhaps that self-destructing content means people aren’t spending huge amounts of money making really shiny, polished content very much. Although Instagram is much more curated feeling than Snapchat, Stories often have a much more rough and ready appearance than images and videos being published in other social places. There’s a quick rather than slick approach being taken in many areas. At their the basic end they’re incredibly easy to put together too, which adds to the slightly bish-bash-bosh aesthetic.

Fun and engaging: But the real difference with Stories is that you can easily add not only emojis and stickers on all sorts of themes and brands to your content, you can add fun/silly/lovely filters to your images and selfie footage but you can also add questions, polls, gifs, reaction sliders, hashtags and your location – which are all great ways to not just enhance your content but to put people consuming your content into a much more involved and engaging role. You’re requesting their reactions through the content itself, which although this is possible through good planning in other social content, for Stories it’s at the heart of the publishing experience so everyone is doing it.

For those who haven’t dabbled in creating a Story yet it’s insanely easy, here’s a video of me having opened Instagram and clicking the camera icon top left. You can see I simply select an image from my phone’s camera roll and then edit it adding a location, hashtag, a question, a sticker and a gif.

If you’re not terribly up on Stories yet you can find loads of great examples, here are some Instgram accounts which are regularly posting great Stories, you can see them listed in circles at the top of the account’s profile: BBC Springwatch, Historic Royal Palaces, The Guardian and BBC Newsbeat who often call for and the include User Generated Content in their Stories. Or with more polished production, The Economist. NB: Due to their self-destructing nature they’re sort of hard to link to!

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