It's hard to imagine life without them, but last month marked 2 years since the birth of Instagram Stories, and given the impact the feature has had on users and brands alike, it's surprising there was no cake. Once criticised for being a ‘Snapchat rip-off’, Stories now has over 400 million daily users.
To celebrate, we’re looking back at the Story so far (pun intended) and the updates that, as Chris Cox said, set the Stories format “on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends”.
Rewind to August 2016 and Instagram had a problem...
Remember Snapchat? The platform was all the rage with the cool kids, who loved it for its filters and the ability to be more frank and adventurous with the content they shared as it would only last for 24 hours. Compare this to painstakingly curating your Instagram feed, which led to a decrease in number of posts per user, and it becomes clear why Instagram decided to adopt an ephemeral format. Stories launched to a mixed reception, mostly due to its striking similarities to Snapchat.
At first, users were able to share their photos and videos of up to 15 seconds long, adding effects such as filters, layers and text. But @kevin and @zuck were just getting started and the number of daily active users would reach 100 million in just two months.
First brands to tap into the platform have seen some impressive results. Nike experienced the potential of Stories for business, with their first campaign generating 800,000 views! Folks at Instagram knew from day one that winning users over was not enough, and that they had to bring value for brands as well.
...proved to be an update-heavy month for Stories. Live video was introduced and the Story interface was slightly updated to promote the feature - now you could check the “top live” via a widget, helping you discover popular accounts sharing live video. This was part of a Facebook-wide push towards live, but also Live content fits well with the lower-quality, ephemeral feel of Stories in a way that would never work on the IG feed.
Additionally, users could enjoy a more personal experience, sharing Stories via private message to a friend - talk about sliding into DMs, amirite?
With a rapidly growing user-base and constant testing of features, it wouldn’t be long until Stories would introduce new features to brands.
Instagram kicked off 2017 with the introduction of skippable ads, where 15-seconds long sponsored videos or 5-second photos would be shown to users in between viewing Stories of their friends.
Facebook would introduce their own version of Stories and we were blessed with all the juicy memes:
April & May 2017
Were also BIG for the platform in terms of updates - users could add stickers, followed up by face filters later in May. Instagram introduced Story search, where users could add geotags to their Stories and search other Stories based on their location.
Instagram Business accounts with more than 10k followers could also create “Swipe Up Stories” as of May, helping them drive traffic & sales. This was a big deal, as previously you could only put links in bio, and with 200 million daily active users, it was hard not to take advantage of this new feature. We’ve seen brands getting super-creative with this:
Previously, live videos were easy to miss - as a follower, if you weren’t logged in at the time, you’d miss it forever. That became a thing of the past when users became able to save their live video to be displayed on their feed for the next 24 hours or discard it immediately.
To cement the popularity of vertical video and keep their user base engaged, Instagram created direct photo and video responses to Stories. You could use all the creative tools including boomerangs, face filters and stickers.
Did you know Instagram has a desktop version? It’s (understandably) not very good. But in August 2017 they introduced Stories to instagram.com. This was also new for the users who used the platform on their mobile web-browser rather than the app (if that’s you… what are you doing?! Get the app!)
Dun..DUN-DUN. What you now know as ‘dramatic’ was the only superzoom effect introduced, along with some neat Halloween face filters. Seasonal face filters would later become a staple, and many more superzoom effects would be added. Do you think these features were a good addition or just a gimmick? Vote in the poll..which you can now also do as of October 2017.
“Ephemeral” was stretched that month as Instagram enabled users to add photos from camera roll, even if you took them more than 24 hours ago. #tbt all the way!
Boldest change to the mechanic and one that would allow users and brands alike to get even more creative - Highlights. Brands like @nomos_glasshuette and @converse are using this feature really well to show off their products and events, while influencers are now able to neatly organise their Stories this way. This still allows you to be “raw” with your content as the Highlights don’t interfere with the flow of your feed.
GIF stickers were launched thanks to integration with Giphy. Doesn’t get any better than that! Still, the seemingly innocent feature sparked some controversy in March as some users discovered a sticker depicting racial slur. The feature was suspended completely until being reinstated a couple of weeks later once the issue was addressed and fixed.
Don’t have a photo to share but got some wisdom to spread? Type mode was introduced for you!
We were also blown away by this experiment in February, which revealed that Stories ads had reached 44% more users whilst driving a 23% higher conversion rates than Feed ads. Not only that, they had 78% more link clicks!
iPhone X’s camera has pushed the boundaries of the portrait mode, but now you could skip upgrading your phone just for the feature, as Instagram introduced “Focus”. All you need is a face in the frame and the app will do the rest. Mm, dat blur.
The emoji slider is something that you never knew you wanted. But it’s so much fun to slide!
While you’re at it, you could also start sharing feed posts in stories as of May - this is an effective way to get some engagement on your feed as your Stories extend your reach a bit further.
You know when your mate tags you in that Story that you actually aren’t embarrassed about? Me neither, but for those rare occasions, as of June you could share their Stories in yours!
Brands were also given yet another opportunity to sell their products via shoppable tags:
Music was also introduced in Stories (although I still screen-record songs on Spotify. We either need more songs added to IG library, or I should stop listening to obscure bands).
By this point, Stories have 400 million daily active users, which is TWICE as many as Snapchat at the same point.
Engagement to the max! You can now ask a question, or ask your friends to ask you a question.
There, you’re all caught up. We believe that Stories have perfected social storytelling and pushed the popularity of vertical video, which has now culminated in IGTV. So what’s next? Well, we’re hearing rumours of a standalone shopping app. We are also seeing more brands switching to vertical videos, and if the trend continues, feed posts might become a thing of the past. Let’s catch up again in two years?