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Why Are ‘Stories’ So Popular?

The short, snappy format continues to dominate the social media landscape. But how did this happen, and why are stories more popular than ever?

Stories in 2020

‘Stories’ have become synonymous with social media – it’s hard to separate the two. The short-form, vertical format entered the mainstream in 2011 with the launch of Snapchat. Nearly 10 years later, despite Snapchat dropping in popularity, the rise of Stories continues elsewhere.

As we reported last week, both LinkedIn and Pinterest have launched their own versions – joining Instagram and Facebook in adopting the format. Rumours that Twitter are planning their own version of Stories, called ‘Fleets’, have also been circulating the media. All the major social media platforms are attempting to emulate the runaway success of Instagram Stories, which is used by 500 million people every day. 

Source: Buffer

A relatively new social media company named Bytedance harnessed the popularity of stories to create TikTok – which has over 1 billion downloads and 800 million active users to date. This was then replicated by Instagram with IG Reels. Social media companies are quick to take the ‘tried & tested’ features of a rival platform and implement them into their own service. 

As a result, The social media landscape is starting to look rather homogeneous – every platform looks the same (compare Facebook & LinkedIn‘s recent re-designs). But we should remember that social media companies simply adapt to ever-changing consumer preferences.

So the real question is: why do we love Stories so much? Here’s two key reasons.

They’re mobile-first

The attention span of the modern consumer is getting shorter. We’re being bombarded with so much information on our devices that our attention has become fragmented. Using social media can be mentally exhausting, which is why we spread those 177 minutes of smartphone activity across the entire day. Most people check their phones around 150 times a day. Stories slot perfectly into these ‘micro-moments’. Instagram, for example, has a maximum 15-second duration per story, compared to 60 seconds on the feed.

Of course, stories aren’t usually posted in isolation. The reason the format is called ‘stories’ is because they’re typically divided into parts, like the chapters of a book. It’s all about presenting content in small, manageable chunks. The average feed caption has doubled in length since 2016 – big blocks of text can be off-putting to social media users.

Compare this to Stories, where you can drop in and out whenever you like, and pick up a story wherever you left off. If one story doesn’t interest you, you can simply tap to the next one with minimal effort.

In the case of Instagram, it even orders stories based on how likely you are to watch:

All these actions make engaging with stories incredibly simple, which is one of the reasons why they’re so popular. Humans are cognitively lazy and are hard-wired to prefer the simple over the complex. This is valuable advice that can be applied to many areas of marketing, including content creation.

They’re less ‘polished’

Social media users have long felt pressured into presenting their ‘best selves’ online. Instagram in particular is known for it’s carefully-curated feed posts. However, there is mounting evidence that users are abandoning the ‘Instagram aesthetic’ in favour of more genuine, unpolished content. Stories are the perfect way to realise this.

The reason this shift is taking place through stories is because they’re temporary. They’re only viewable for 24 hours, meaning creators are under far less pressure to post the ‘perfect’ shot. As you can’t directly like or comment on a story, users are more likely to post what they want, not what will generate the most likes.

Let’s not forget the fact that stories are simply great fun. Pen tools, filters and gifs allow people to truly express themselves. Newer features such as interactive stickers gave us new ways to interact with our audiences. No expensive cameras or photo-editing software needed.

Concluding Words

We’ve seen so many creatively executed stories over the years, and expect to see countless more moving forward. Almost every major social media platform has incorporated a version of the stories format. As we’ve outlined, the reason Stories continue to be incredibly popular is because they seamlessly slot into modern life. They’re simple, fun and mobile-first. And they aren’t going anywhere.

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