Unwrapping Instagram Stories — and Where It’s Leading Us

We’ve been working on the future of online conversations here at Pepo so this week’s introduction of Stories by Instagram was met with great interest.

In this post I present some of my thoughts on these developments and what’s next.

Putting aside the escalating battle between Facebook and Snapchat for the attention of young people, the bigger news is a massive movement towards in-the-moment instant sharing of user-created photo & video content.

Instagram was the pioneer in this space with its dead-simple model for sharing photos and then short videos. The Instagramization of the Internet turned everyone into artists, enabling anyone and everyone to easily turn life’s moments into works of art (at least in one’s own mind, and hopefully in the mind of one’s followers). People built out large Instagram networks as Instagram’s social model encouraged asynchronous following, ala Twitter.

The only problem with Insta, if you can call it a problem, was that the social currency that developed on Insta rewarded likes and followers, which were generated by sharing beautiful photos/videos, while frowning upon less thoughtful posts and over-sharing and feed-flooding. This led users to take great care in preparing their Insta posts, such that typical users only posted a couple of photos per day.

When we talked about Insta here at Pepo (before Insta Stories), we referred to it as the most thoughtful social network; it takes an average about 5 minutes to prepare an Instagram photo, and you only post what you think will generate a ton of likes.

Snapchat, which began as a strictly secret and temporal 1:1 messaging service, then leap-frogged Instagram with Snapchat Stories which enable people to share 24-hours worth of short in-the-moment videos at-once with each of your friends, enhanced with spectacular and fun filters and augmented reality.

While Insta was trading in followers and likes, Snapchat’s currency was fun and laughs, measured in views and reply Snaps. At Pepo we referred to Snap as the instant fun social network; who needs serious FB or Insta when you can just point, click, filter, and laugh your ass off? We also referred to Snap as “human emojis:” Rather than sending my friends a cartoon character to express how I am feeling, I become the cartoon myself — and create a live emoji of me being me #ubu. I send you one, you send one back, I send one to all of my friends, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Ask anyone who was an active user in both Insta and Snapchat prior to this week how they used both services and the likely answer you would get was as follows: Insta for life’s perfect(ly staged) moments, Snap for life’s in-the-moment fun times. (And FB for everything else).

Until this week…

Now, Insta is getting into the in-the-moment instantly share whatever you want space. (Imagine the meetings at Insta over the past year: 
“We own photo and video online” 
“No, now they do” 
“Oh, f” 
“Time to take back our throne.”

Insta Stories, like Snap Stories, encourage users to share everything and to have fun doing it. Now, within Insta, there are essentially two products:

(1) The feed of carefully curated special moments, and

(2) the feed of your everyday fun moments.

It’s a bit disjointed so far (two discreet browse experiences, two discreet content creation buttons), although Insta has done a nice job of providing home screen top promotion to Stories. It’s clear that Insta saw the need to position itself as a more engaging social network; Stories mark a huge push to amp up the original content creation on Insta and to reinvent Insta as your all day social network not your sometime write but mostly read network.

One thing is for sure: People are flocking to it. It has only been a day since Insta stories rolled out and I’m already quite impressed with how aggressively the people I follow have started to embrace it. I follow 2813 people on Insta and more than 150 of them currently have live Stories running — on average about 3 to 4 each. That’s >5% user penetration in my network after 24 hours, with heavy repeat engagement, for a user-gen-content creation app. That’s unheard of. I’m also seeing brands embrace it wholeheartedly; an acknowledgement that advertising can shift from carefully packaged and produced adverts to more authentic quick posts. We’ll see if it keeps up in the days and weeks ahead; I think it will.

What does it all mean?

I’m less concerned with whether this means Insta wins vs. Snapchat. I think they are both going to do just fine. It’s not about staying in your lane for either of them, rather how to build a big f-in engaging highway, and they’ll both need to continuously repave and expand the roads as they go.

My focus is rather on what it means for macro trends.

As stated in the opening to this post, the big winner is of-the-moment photo and especially instant video sharing. Or, put another way, Insta and Snap are training an entire generation on being rapid visual content creators and consumers. (BTW, I think that FB’s push for “Live” is great for brands, influencers, and news, but it’s not mainstream. In-the-moment just-happened video/photo is mainstream. Most people don’t want to be live, they want to be very-recent and slightly-filtered.)

The macro trend of massive embracing of user-generated in-the-moment photos/video will have huge implications on the future of messaging, communications, news, media, and advertising — and we’ll see a further blending of such features across social networks and messaging apps.

Just like status updates became a standard feature of the first social networks, and then link sharing, location sharing, photo sharing, and then pre-recorded video sharing, we should expect that every social network and messaging app will soon incorporate some form of in-the-moment video.

The exciting part, IMHO, will be seeing how there will be different flavors of this. Insta chose to basically copy the Snap model and apply it to Insta’s more robust asynchronous follower network. I’m even more excited to see other more varied implementations of some similar experiences & technologies, such as we are currently alpha testing at Pepo. And, above all, more people getting more comfortable and confident with creating frequent original content with the amazing super-computers in their palms is a great thing.