In a bold move to encourage its users to create and share more content on the platform, Instagram has announced Instagram Stories, a feature that lets users post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours.

The feature feels much like Snapchat Stories, a Snapchat feature that was introduced in 2013 and a pivotal part of the company’s growth.

And like Snapchat, the photos and videos shared in your Instagram Story are ephemeral and can’t be viewed once 24 hours have elapsed. Content shared to stories also won’t appear on your profile grid or in the main Instagram feed.

What might this mean for marketers (and for social media)? We’d love to explore further, plus provide all the info on how Instagram Stories will work for you.

How Instagram Stories Work

Stories are rolling out globally on iOS and Android over the next few weeks. And while some users may have the feature available right now, others may have to wait a little longer to get up and running.

Instagram Stories appear in a bar at the top of your feed — and all Instagram accounts will be able to share stories, from your best friends to your favorite popular accounts. When there’s something new to see, their profile photo will have a colorful ring around it.

To view someone’s story, you simply need to tap on their profile photo, and their story will appear full-screen, showing you all of the content they’ve posted in the last 24hrs, the content will play in chronological order from oldest to newest.

Once you’re viewing a story, you can tap to go back and forward or swipe to jump to another person’s story. Unlike regular posts, there are no likes or public comments.


How to Create a Story

To create a story on Instagram, you have to tap a new stylized “+” icon at the top left-hand corner of the screen, The Verge reported. Or you can reveal the story camera by simply swiping left.

Your story follows the privacy settings of your account. If you set your account to private, your story is visible only to your followers. However, you can also easily hide your entire story from anyone you don’t want to see it, even if they follow you. When watching your own story, swipe up to check out who’s seen each photo and video. You can even choose to feature a particular part of your story by posting it on your profile.


A Couple of Ways that Stories Could Benefit Instagram

1. An attempt to increase sharing

When Instagram first jumped onto the scene in 2010, its defining feature was the ability to turn average-looking smartphone photos into professional feeling images using a range of clever filters and editing tools.

What made Instagram stand out could be somewhat of a hindrance for the company now, though, as the bar for content on Instagram has grown increasingly high. Many of the platform’s 300 million daily users see the Instagram feed as a precious place for only their best content.

Speaking to The Verge, Instagram co-founder, Kevin Systrom explained:

If Instagram is built around highlights, we’re filling in the space in between — and becoming more about visual expression in general. We’re capturing all the world’s moments, not just the best ones.

How often people share on Instagram

The average number of Instagram posts per user declined between 2013 and 2015, according to a study reported in The Information. And at the same time video alone on Snapchat has hit over 10 billion views per day and saw a 25 percent increase in just three months between February and April 2016.

Union Metrics put together data on brands and Instagram (note: data came before the change to an algorithm), finding that most brands post 1 to 2 times a day on Instagram (the actual average was right in the middle, 1.5).

Instagram Stories provide a way for brands and individuals to post more without overwhelming people’s feeds. As the company explained on their blog:

With Instagram Stories, you don’t have to worry about overposting. Instead, you can share as much as you want throughout the day — with as much creativity as you want.

2. A new focus on messaging

We’ve seen a huge rise in messaging platforms over recent years, from Facebook-owned Messenger and Whatsapp (Facebook also owns Instagram) growing to over 1 billion users each and Snapchat becoming a dominant platform for 1:1 photo and video sharing and for messaging among teens.

With this update, it feels like Instagram could be about to make a move into the messaging space and become a place to not only share our best moments but discuss our every moment.

Here’s how it works: If you want to comment on something you see in someone’s story, you can tap and send a private message to that person on Instagram Direct.

If Instagram can crack messaging, then the app will become about much more than our finest moments, and with an array of in-the-moment stories and conversations with those closest to us to boot, it could become a truly social network.

5 Ways Brands Can Use Instagram Stories

Brands aren’t strangers to Instagram. We could see a large number jump in and start testing Stories over the next couple of weeks. Here’s our best estimate and what we may see from those first movers:

1. Behind-the-scenes content

If the Instagram feed has become a place for only the most polished, pre-produced photos and video, then Stories could be a way to add some authenticity to the content that appears in the feed. With Stories, brands have a chance to take their followers on a journey and tell the story behind the posts in their feed.

Imagine seeing a brand new post from Nike featuring a well-known athlete pop up in your Instagram feed, and then being able to go behind the scenes with that athlete directly afterward or even see some exclusive footage of the shoot in their story.

This technique could be used by brands of all sizes and industries too. For example, a restaurant could post a picture to their feed on a new dish and then create a story with a well-known food blogger reviewing it. Or a real estate company could take you on a tour around a property they’ve just posted about. The possibilities here are endless.

2. A potential way to beat the algorithm

Instagram recently added a Facebook-like algorithm to filter its feed and show users the posts it determines they’ll be most interested in at the top of their feed.

We’re still unsure whether Instagram will show all stories in chronological order or if they’ll follow the algorithm, but stories could provide a way for brands to stay top-of-mind on the platform even if their content isn’t always at the top of the feed. Experimentation with stories, and being a stand-out early adopter, could help brands to get their followers paying more attention to the posts within their feeds and boost their engagement across the platform.

3. Takeovers

Takeovers have become a big thing for brands on Snapchat. If you’re not familiar with how it works, essentially, one brand will take over another’s Snapchat account for a period and share content.

With Instagram stories, brands could begin to collaborate more with other brands or influencers. For example, at Buffer we regularly feature members of our community within our Instagram feed. Once Stories open up globally, we could share a photo from one of our community and then allow them to jump on our story and share a little more context about the photo or video in our feed.

4. A rise in 1:1 communication

When social media first hit the mainstream, there was a lot of buzz and excitement about being able to talk directly with your favorite celebrities and brands. Stories give brands the chance to get back to the roots of social media and engage with their followers on a 1:1 basis.

For example, we could see brands running Q&A sessions via Stories with people sending questions via Instagram Direct and the brand answering them within their story. We could also see stories being used to send 1:1 video messages to followers.

5. Live, timely content

There’s a lot of excitement around live video content at the moment. And Instagram Stories could give brands a way to produce live video content on the platform.

Live video is extremely engaging, and though Instagram Stories won’t allow for a long, uninterrupted broadcast like Facebook Live or Periscope, it could allow brands to make their Instagram accounts the place to go for live, interactive content.

Benefit Cosmetics have used Facebook to broadcast makeup tutorials, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York used Facebook to share the opening of a new exhibit. And there’s no reason Instagram stories couldn’t be used in a similar way to these broadcasts and take users deeper into a live event as it takes place.

Over to you

This is certainly a big move for Instagram and one that could shift the platform a great deal. Snapchat has proven there’s a huge market for sharing fleeting, everyday moments of our lives and if Instagram can make stories work alongside its current offering, then this could be one of its most important updates to date.

What are your thoughts on Instagram’s Snapchat competitor? Are you excited to test out stories? How do you think we’ll see brands using the feature?

Share your thoughts in the comments and I’d be excited to join the conversation.