Yesterday Instagram launched a new feature that adds significant functionality to the platform: Stories. Stories allow users to post images and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Recording a Story is quick and easy, or you can upload images from your camera roll. Like a Snapchat Story, you can add text, handwriting, drawings, and filters. Tap a checkmark to share your Story and it will be available to anyone who clicks on your profile photo. At the bottom of each Story you can see who viewed it. And, perhaps most importantly, your Story won’t appear in your feed. It’s entirely separate.
Stories are a significant change to Instagram as a platform and will have a big impact on craft and lifestyle brands. Instagram is ideally suited to businesses that focus on style and aesthetics. Launched in 2010 the platform is now a powerful marketing tool and for many of these businesses it’s the dominant way they connect with customers, cultivate relationships, get seen, and make sales.
As a result, our Instagram feeds have become highly polished and produced. We feel pressure to hold back on posting random images of our cat unless it’s a perfectly styled, on-brand cat, or of our turkey sandwich lunch unless we have a food blog and the photo is gorgeous and accompanied by all the right hashtags. Every photo, we feel, must fit within our feed’s overall aesthetic, edited with the same filters, in the same style and with the same colors. The first nine photos, those that are visible when you view a feed without scrolling, should coordinate and tell a visual story about our brand. If a photo doesn’t get enough engagement, it might be best to delete it.
Cultivating a large and engaged Instagram following has become so important that we not only fret over each image, we fret over how often we post. Too many images in a day could overwhelm people, triggering unfollows. It’s best to be careful.
We’ve become highly protective of our feeds. They are precious.
Figuring out how to use Instagram as a marketing tool is now a sub-industry in the online marketing field. You can pay hundreds of dollars to take courses that promise to show you exactly how to create a feed that will drive profits. You can also pay people who run “feature accounts” to highlight your product or hire brand ambassadors to post pictures of themselves using it.
This is the role that Instagram played up until now. Stories disrupts that role considerably. In fact I’d argue that Stories flips Instagram upside down.
First, you can feel free to Go record and share as many Stories as you’d like. They don’t appear in your feed so they won’t mar the carefully crafted aesthetic or overburden your followers. Don’t worry about how popular any one story is. Audience interaction with Stories happens privately through direct message.
Artist Patricia Zapata shared this perspective with me about Stories. “The first thing that came to my mind as an explanation is a painter/artist and the studio where she works,” she said. “Everyone knows a studio is messy – it’s expected. The mess shows dedication and hard work.” That’s the Story, Zapata says. “A painting is a moment in time and the result of your hard work. It will be hung in a gallery (app) as proof of your talent.” For her that’s the photo.
I think there’s a well-matched interplay here between the medium and the kind of interaction it elicits. On the curated, polished image we get a public display of hearts and comments. On the raw, unedited footage we get the personal one-to-one reaction. If the Instagram photo is the finished product then the Story is the journey that got you there. Those private interactions give the app a new feel, more like texting, more intimate and relationship driven.
Zapata has another point, too. “Plus who has time to make a killer video?” she asks. We know that video is important – its evocative and memorable in a way that still photos aren’t – but we also know that making good video is hard. Live video, on the other hand, feels much easier. And now your Instagram account is a place to go live, albeit in short form. When you’re live there’s no expectation of good lighting or sound, of an on-message script or impeccable makeup. Stories are raw and authentic and in the moment, literally; they’ll be gone tomorrow.
One of the first Stories I watched yesterday was from Brittany Jepsen of House that Lars Built, a gorgeously produced lifestyle and craft feed full of fresh flowers, fresh paint, and bright colors. In her Story we see the half-empty trays the flowers came in scattered on the floor, the cardboard boxes with products she hasn’t opened yet. Most importantly, though, we see Brittany in real life, at work, making the photos we’ve admired for so long. And, at least for me, it’s reassuring. She’s a person. And she isn’t perfect.
New functionality brings with it new opportunities for businesses on Instagram, of course. I think we’ll see creative collaborations that combine photos and Stories. A gorgeous image of a place accompanied by a video tour Story, for example, or a user-generated photo of a product paired with a video review Story. Instagram takeovers will get more interesting, too.
It isn’t easy when something that’s become so beloved changes, especially when we feel we’ve finally figured it out, but that’s the nature of life online. It’s ever changing and we’re writing the story as we go.