Beginner’s Guide: Stories on Social Media (it’s not just Instagram!)

Modern Stories

Stories—on Facebook, Instagram, and even WhatsApp—are how more and more people are experiencing the world. For businesses and advertisers, these fleeting virtual vignettes are prime real estate for marketing to your buyers, because, as the old adage goes, consumers buy experiences, not products or features.

So, what are Social Media Stories?

Stories are a collection of images or short videos that may or may not use filters or overlays or GIFs and may or may not be related to one another. One frame might have a user’s picture of a cat with a relevant GIF, followed up by a video of a toddler with a Lizzo song overlay, and the next might be a 15-second video about a dreaded dental visit.

Viewers can either sit and watch the story frames as they progress, or they can tap through manually to advance the frames or skip ahead to a different account altogether. The kicker is that all of the frames disappear 24 hours after being posted, unless, for example, they get socked away as Stories Highlights on Instagram.

With nearly 3.5 billion active daily social media users among a global population of 7.7 billion people—who spend an average of four hours on a mobile device every day—there’s no denying that your customers want to see and engage with you where they spend all of that time. Enter Stories, which are the perfect medium for telling your brand narrative, offering a peek into your operations, posting exclusive discounts or offers, promoting or launching new products, and more.

Here are five apps where your Stories can do more than sell. They can turn your faceless brand into a living, breathing—and totally relatable—storytelling machine.

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Snapchat Stories

Snapchat is the OG of Stories, which it calls snaps. After Snapchat launched in 2011, it took Facebook a whopping seven years to see the potential of Stories. During those years Snapchat took off with a niche audience that has massive purchasing power: teens and young adults. Snapchat is so popular with this demographic, in fact, that 90 percent of accounts belong to users ages 13 to 24.

Why use Snapchat? With 190 million daily active users generating more than 3 billion snaps per day, you can’t afford not to be using Snapchat—especially if you’re marketing to the teen through fresh-out-of-college set. The Gen Z demographic, in particular wants authentic, transparent Stories more than they want to watch Stories from influencers and celebrities, which makes it a great platform for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Instagram Stories

Unlike Instagram posts, which are pretty static and can easily get lost in a feed, the app’s more than 500 million daily Stories created by brands and buyers alike are more dynamic and engaging. You can apply filters, add text, emojis or stickers, GIFs, conduct polls, ask questions, draw freehand and more. Every day, 200 million Instagram users visit at least one business page, and 60 percent of users say the platform has helped them discover new products.

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Why use Instagram? There are more than 25 million businesses on Instagram, and one-third of the Instagram’s most-viewed Stories come from brands. And, with Instagram’s checkout feature, businesses can engage users, build brand awareness, and lead shoppers from start to finish through the buying process—all in one place. Instagram Stories are a no brainer for reaching your target buyers.

Facebook Stories

Creation and consumption of Stories are up a mind-blowing 842 percent since early 2016 when Facebook launched its version of the feature. Today, Stories engage more than 500 million daily users, or one-third of Facebook’s 1.56 billion daily global users. Facebook Stories have also lit a fire under millions of advertisers, who have already bumped up advertising budgets to leverage Stories.

Why use Facebook? Stories are outpacing feed content by 15x! Brands can continue posting to their feeds on Facebook, but Stories are the here, the now, and the future for businesses wanting to reach target demographics where they are. And, if you’re already on Instagram and have a Facebook business page, you can link the two for easy crossposting.

YouTube Stories

YouTube Stories, currently in beta, is built for YouTubers who want to post 15-second “on the go” snippets (called Reels) for their fans, rather than the longer-form videos devoured by the platform’s more than 1.9 billion monthly users. YouTube Stories appears to offer most of the same bells and whistles as every other platform, but until the feature rolls out universally, it’s hard to say what it will look like for businesses.

Why use YouTube? Not everyone can be Ryan (better known as Ryan ToysReview, who made $22 million last year), but businesses can leverage YouTube stories to build the kind of meaningful connection with viewers that can’t always be achieved with a 5-minute-long staged marketing video.

WhatsApp Stories

Although it’s disguised as “status,” WhatsApp sees 500 million daily Stories among it’s more than 1.5 billion monthly users. As the second-largest story-sharing product in the Facebook Portfolio after Instagram, WhatsApp is rising as an inexpensive way for brands to engage with leads and customers. For brands using WhatsApp Business—including the likes of Netflix, Hellman’s, and Absolut—the Stories feature has proved incredibly effective at engaging with customers.

Why use WhatsApp? Mobile messaging apps are where commerce is heading, according to a Nielsen Facebook Messaging Survey, which found that 53 percent of respondents are more likely to shop with a business they can message directly. Nielsen also found that 67 percent of shoppers anticipate chatting more with businesses via apps over the next two years. Brands can engage customers through automation or with an on-call community manager, whether giving customers a peek into a product launch, answering questions, or offering a look at how marketing tackles the midday slump (Giant Jenga anyone?).

Step Up the Stories

Businesses are expected—now more than ever—to act as human as possible, with a relatable voice and approachable digital presence. When consumers see the humanity of your brand, it’s easier to build that buyer relationship, but it all starts with transparency. In a Sprout Social report, 81 percent of people surveyed said that brands have a responsibility to be transparent on social media, which is a higher standard that they have for nonprofits, friends and family, politicians, and even themselves! But more than half of consumers in the report said that they are more likely to buy from transparent businesses they can trust.

So, whether you dip your toes into the storytelling waters of tried-and-tested Instagram or dive in headfirst with WhatsApp, businesses can benefit from the unwavering consumer trust that these apps can foster—and it all happens through authentic, silly, real, engaging, and transparent Stories.

Action Items:

1. Check out social media Stories on each of the social outlets mentioned above. Get a feel for how Stories work on each platform.
2. Pick a platform (or two!) & share your Stories! If you usually share Stories on Instagram, try out a new platform.
3. Keep up with your preferred platform by sharing social media Stories regularly.


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