What’s Wrong with Instagram Stories

My perspectives after using Instagram Stories for 24 days and seeing brands, influencers, and civilians dive in (or not). Spoiler: It’s still ripe for Brands.

If you’re not yet up to speed on Instagram Stories, see my launch outlook and follow-up.

It’s No Snapchat

Instagram Stories had the promise be its own animal, and sure enough it is. We’re seeing a different kind of content emerge here, stuff that’s by and large not really that great, as creators who didn’t embrace Snapchat find themselves at the front end of the learning curve of what works for this ephemeral format, while Snapchat pros contribute less quantity, less frequently, missing Snapchat’s delightful features despite the lure of Instagram’s increased reach.

Less Real Realtime

Like Snapchat, Instagram Stories allows uploads from the camera roll, but where Snapchat penalizes the creator by applying a white border to uploaded content, Instagram folds uploads right in with the realtime content. And given the perfectionism already in effect on Instagram, people can’t resist uploading curated, planned pics to their Instagram Stories, effectively negating the realtime, spontaneous purpose of the feature, hobbling its overall impact.

Brands 1 — Civilians 0

The one upside to unhampered uploads is that creators who actually do a good job of strategizing, shooting, and curating their content — generally brands and their agencies — are the one group who are sharing Stories worth viewing. Why? Because they already have a professional understanding of storytelling and how to craft it in small, effective, efficient pieces. Juxtaposed with random civilian snaps it’s quite the contrast.


Instagram seemingly introduced Stories to retain users from the distraction that is Snapchat in hopes of preserving their much-valued eyeballs and engagement, but my experience has demonstrated quite the opposite effect. Where before I’d interact with my Instagram feed, the distraction that is Stories has wholly occupied my designated Instagram time, leaving me disengaged from any traditional feed content. If this is a general trend, coupled with the new asynchronous algorithm, user engagement could drop drastically, especially considering there are no traditional Likes/comments on Stories content, nor the social proof vectors of such behavior.

Interface Challenges

Stories content at the very top of the app interface may distract from feed content, but there’s a deeper disconnect. Stories is effectively a completely separate experience within the same app where we used to and are still expected to experience curated visual content. I’ve noted that before, but in practice what seemed like would be a pivot to casual content just isn’t. We don’t see casual next to curated, we see all kinds of casual and then all kinds of curated, out of timing with feed content and detached from the creators’ profiles. With only screen names displayed, I honestly have no idea whose Stories I’m watching much less how it relates to whatever else they traditionally post. Stories would greatly benefit from another experience vector than its row at the top of the feed so it could better complement its creators’ efforts.

More Ho-Hum than Ha-Ha

Does anybody even care about Instagram Stories? There’s no buzz, no “defining moment” that drew the public to this feature that only it could have provided. The Olympics came and went and I hardly noticed on my Stories feed. There’s still no organic vernacular for a piece of content on Instagram Stories. And its lack of fun features makes Instagram Stories like a 2:00 p.m. party with co-workers and no DJ. So how can Instagram spike the punch bowl?

Outlook for Brands

The time is ripe to stand out and make an impact on Instagram Stories. The difference between good and bad content is palpable, and you can be on the good side. It’s time to leverage your agency’s skills at storytelling and your budgets for photography and video and talent. All my previous suggestions still apply but added to that mix is planned, rehearsed, executed stories — still not overtly selling, still within sensible social media behaviors, of course. It’s not realtime nor spontaneous, but it’s also not inappropriate here, and that’s your key differentiator with Snapchat, where that kind of thing would fail hard.

I’m a freelance social media strategist who’s worked with some of the biggest brands to create interesting ways to reach audiences and grow relationships. I’m always interested in talking social, whether over coffee, in a project, or on a podium, so get in touch if you’re interested in how I can help your brand or people be better on social media.