Picture: 123RF/GILC
Picture: 123RF/GILC

Stories are becoming increasingly popular with users of Facebook, Instagram and Messenger with over a billion people using Stories on Facebook platforms each day, more than 500 million people using Instagram stories, 300 million creating Facebook Stories and Messenger Stories, and more than 450 million updating WhatsApp statuses. Stories are becoming one of the preferred ways for people to share and discover content they care about in fast and fun ways.

They’re immersive creative formats that enable Facebook, Instagram and Messenger users to view and share everyday moments through photos and videos that disappear (unless saved) within 24 hours. WhatsApp has a similar feature called WhatsApp Status. Users can enhance their stories with creative tools such as stickers, emojis and GIFs, as well as built-in camera effects like Boomerang and Hyperlapse.

Research around the use of stories has revealed that that 68% of people report using them on at least three apps regularly, and 63% plan to use them more in the future. Brands, too, are waking up to the power of this format, with marketers embracing stories to create engaging ads for people that also drive business results. When asked what they value about stories, respondents said they have improved their communication with friends; others appreciate the fact that content disappears within 24 hours unless saved, and feel the format helps them to be more authentic. More than one in three said that they have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Instagram Stories. The stories format is very interactive, with one in three getting a direct message response. Moreover, they’re always vertical - the way most people hold their phones to create and consume content. Vertical content takes over your entire screen, making it more immersive and impactful. For marketers there are a number of advantages to using stories. In addition to allowing the brand to show up in a full-screen, immersive environment, measurement and targeting tools are available for stories ads across platforms. Stories ads can run indefinitely and can be optimised to match the business objective, as well as inspiring people to take action.

The big take-out:

Stories are becoming an effective new way to engage users of social media in an immersive, last minute brand experience.

Not only do things move fast in stories but users can easily swipe away from the story, so marketers have a second to grab their attention with a compelling, engaging slice of visual content. The message must therefore land quickly, with minimal text – no more than 20%. Any single story can contain several quick chapters, scenes or moments. Offering faster cuts from one moment to the next can help keep people engaged.

Stories can be enhanced with elements such as music, dialogue or sound effects. But also remember that many users will be browsing with the sound turned off, so don't rely on sound to convey your message; instead, delight with sound. Bookend the brand: land the product, brand or message at the beginning of the story and then use the end card to reinforce before viewers move on.

Finally, play with the story. They’re still an emerging format so experiment and iterate to learn what works for the brand and its audience.

Elizma Nolte is Facebook Head of Business Marketing for Sub-Saharan Africa.