How Stories Became the Main Media Format of Mobile Apps

Denis Bondarev

Denis Bondarev, Creative Director at InAppStory customer-centric platform to embed Stories into your app or website. Denis is deeply involved in content trends writes on marketing topics, and has been an owner of media product Stories in Sberbank corporation

Social networks, business apps, and even Google – stories have made their way everywhere. But how and why? In this article, we tell the history of the development of the short content format, why it has become incredibly popular in the era of accelerating content consumption, and why large companies need stories in their mobile apps.

Stories seem to be almost everywhere today: in dating services, banking applications, even the media. In the seven years since the advent of social networking stories as a way to share photos and videos, it’s safe to say the format has been mastered by mobile apps and web pages. Today, it’s no surprise to anyone that you can find icons on Spotify, LinkedIn, or Bumble, each with a series of slides underneath them.

How Stories Became the Main Media Format of Mobile Apps

Source: buffer.com

A feature that has become something more

Snapchat was the first to allow its users to post content that disappears after a certain period of time. That happened in 2013. In the U.S. at the time, Snapchat was the most popular social network among teenagers. Before the launch of Snapchat stories, you could send photos and short videos to individual contacts, but the new format allowed you to do it at once to all your friends in the social network.

Source: devicedaily.com

It was a seemingly obvious idea – allowing users to share posts with a wide range of people at once – but it only came to Snapchat two years after the launch of the service, whereas posts for your entire friend group in Facebook had existed for almost a decade. In any case, the idea turned out to be a gold mine: over the next three years, the audience of the site grew at breakneck speed, and the number of daily users increased almost threefold. As a result, almost every social network in the world and many messengers, from YouTube and Odnoklassniki to Viber and WhatsApp, have integrated the format. However, since the format was borrowed by other social networks, the growth of Snapchat itself has slowed dramatically.

The first and most successful such borrowing was done by Instagram in 2016, fully copying the features of Snapchat’s stories. The company didn’t hesitate to admit the theft of the features, but nevertheless, Snapchat didn’t recover. During that year, the quarterly growth of Snapchat users fell from 17% to 5%, and that can hardly be attributed to anything else.

The essence of the stories format has not changed much over the years: a slideshow in which one story changes to another after 15 seconds and disappears from the feed after 24 hours. The only significant change that Instagram made when adapting it was the location of the section: it was moved from the sidebar, where it was originally, to the header of the application, giving it the most prominent place. And this decision by Instagram to promote the innovation has fully justified itself.

In the first year, the daily audience of Instagram stories reached 250 million users, while Snapchat had 166 million users in 2017. Over the next year, Instagram’s stories audience more than doubled to over 400 million people. Today, 500 million accounts use Instagram stories daily, while Snapchat reached only 280 million daily users in 2021.

In addition to bringing stories to the forefront and successfully copying all the main features from its competitor, the reason for Instagram’s success is considered to be its more concise design and the integration of stories in its messenger application, Direct. In 2016-2017, the use of this messaging service increased fourfold.

In addition to the commercial success, this integration had a more global effect. Because of its high prevalence, it was Instagram that taught the whole world the verb “swipe” and to rotate the newsfeed sideways instead of down. And, apparently, the format of stories played no small part in the fact that the social network reached the figure of one billion monthly users in 2018.

But it was stories that also fundamentally changed the perception of the social network (and according to some, not for the better). They discouraged users from regularly making high-quality posts and looking through the feeds of publications and also filled the information flow on social networks with useless content. Perhaps these accusations are not groundless, but there is no going back to the way it was.

How Stories Became the Main Media Format of Mobile Apps

Following the success of its subsidiary social network, in 2017, stories were added to Facebook itself, and then to the company’s messenger, WhatsApp. Now, there are stories in almost every major social network in the world. One of the most recent was Twitter, which in November 2020 added a counterpart to stories called Fleets, but a year later the social network abandoned the feature. And just a couple of days ago, on June 21, it added another link to this format: the ability to share tweets to an Instagram feed.

Today, stories are an absolutely natural part of social networking, which obviously is not going anywhere any time soon. But in addition to this, the stories format has gradually begun to successfully enter new niches and platforms, for example, companies’ mobile apps. And, apparently, the wave of such integrations is gaining momentum right now.

How a business turned stories into its own media

Naturally, businesses immediately adopted the new format on Instagram. Along with the incredible growth of the audience, the social network has become one of the most important platforms for the promotion. According to Instagram statistics, a year after the launch of the format, one in five stories from businesses received a Direct response from users. In 2021, four million companies post monthly Instagram stories.

How Stories Became the Main Media Format of Mobile Apps

Source: business.instagram.com

Businesses soon picked up the trend and started adding a corresponding section to their own apps. Among the giants that have adopted it are:

  • Airbnb (launched stories in May 2018), where travelers can share experiences;
  • Spotify (in early 2020), where influencers add videos to their pages;
  • Pinterest (in September 2020), where site authors share creativity; and
  • Uber Eats (in 2021), where restaurants integrate Instagram stories into their accounts on the app.

“Stories” was not the most obvious name for the format on social networks. There is usually no full-fledged narrative in Snapchat or Facebook posts – rather, they are individual messages about travels, pictures of food, or funny pet moments. Business and the media have transformed the format, combining a succinct, visual and emotional tone with a classic media narrative. The result is something close to a traditional media publication, advertising, or informational, but in miniature and in a completely new format.

Today, the development of the format carries on in parallel between social networks and business applications. For example, in 2020, Instagram launched Shops (130 million visitors every month), giving users the ability to create a storefront and shop within the app, and in spring 2021 added the Shopping functionality – the ability to mark products in publications, navigate through them to the storefront, and save products to bookmarks. Many social networks and business apps have recently been developing a format for streaming or live-streaming in stories, the former providing opportunities for opinion leaders to communicate with their audiences, and the latter for product demonstrations and unpacking, as well as sessions to answer product-related questions.

The popularity of the format is causing plenty of excitement about how it will develop in the near future. It’s not hard to imagine how short informational stories in a special app could be published, say, from the Internet of Things devices in your home and office. There’s plenty of buzz about adding stories to your services online, too.

Source: https://twitter.com/TheLiddoFox/status/1328748212098895875?s=20

The evolution continues

In early 2018, Google added the stories format. The search engine offered to create stories and publish them on its sites with the help of one of their recommended editors, first to publishers and media organizations, and then to companies as well. Such materials are indexed similarly to articles. Later, in their AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project, Google adapted the solution for the mobile version as well. This clearly shows that stories are on par with such mammoth content formats as articles or blog posts.

How Stories Became the Main Media Format of Mobile Apps

Source: developers.googleblog.com (GIF)

This is not the first year that content on all platforms has naturally become more capacious, dynamic and visual – it’s faster and easier to consume it that way. Today’s stories, both from businesses and social media users, make it possible to talk in seconds about anything, whether it’s a trip to Kamchatka or a new Apple product. Of course, short temporary publications will not replace traditional media formats like articles or long videos, but they will clearly be able to squeeze them out in some places.

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