We’ve long known a single picture is worth a thousand words, but how many pictures does a whole story involve? If you have spent any amount of time on Instagram or Snapchat in the last year or two, you might already know the answer.
Companies of all sizes and statures have long recognized the value of image-rich marketing, using color to evoke emotion, infographics to simplify complex ideas, and shapes to highlight particular qualities and meanings. Brands create and utilize images to mold their persona, sharing their brand story by giving a peek at the people and purpose behind the logo.
And for some, there’s no easier way to showcase those eye-catching elements than on visual-emphatic social outlets like Instagram and Snapchat, the image-based platforms whose entire existence relies on posting optically appealing elements to engage their viewers.
But as much power as a single image can yield, a thousand words at a time ceased to suffice when Snapchat’s Stories feature – and later Instagram Stories – rolled out and installed a new era of social storytelling. Pioneering features like ephemeral content has forced marketers to craft stronger, more efficient, more engaging stories within the images they post.
With a 24-hour expiration date stamped on every Story, there’s only one place a Story can survive – in the viewer’s memory, but only if it’s worth remembering.
A Magnified Look at Social Media Storytelling
A Cultural Expectation
Storytelling has existed as long as human language, serving to share experiences and information, and eventually cementing its place as a cultural norm. Some stories we share today, such as fairy tales and urban legends, are ones that have evolved through centuries of retellings and embellishments, changing names, places, and happy endings to fit our purposes. And just as humans did centuries ago, we continue to tell stories to inform, engage, entertain, and inspire, only now those stories do not always come in the form of a book or oral recitation.
Brand storytelling isn’t about cherry-picking stock photos or copying the successes of others. To be effective, every story shared must epitomize the brand identity, rising above competing brands and images to engage, enlighten, and inspire the viewer to either take action or seek more information. These stories serve as a chance for brands to momentarily halt their advertising barrage and give their audience a transparent glimpse into the beating heart of the company.
Brands have become as big a part of our culture as the products they represent, from music to clothing to food to social media and beyond. Some of the most successful brands have integrated themselves so deeply in our society not through their products and services, but via a storytelling strategy that speaks to us on a culturally important level.
The Cash Value of a Brand Story
As transparent and genuine as brand stories need to be, there is no hard and fast rule to deter your story from becoming your Call to Action. You simply need to know how to craft a story that warrants an action.
Consider the following:
What do my customers need from me?
How can I connect with my customers on an emotional level?
What drives my customers to make a buying decision?
What honest elements can I add to my story that can help influence a decision?
Let’s look at Coca Cola’s 2014 Share a Coke campaign:
As one of the world’s most iconic brands, the company stayed true to its universal roots by featuring individual names on its bottles and cans, which sent millions of soda drinkers on a scavenger hunt to find the beverage that “belonged” to them. But as obvious as this was a marketing campaign, it was also less obviously a reflection of how people provide the beating heart behind the brand.
In this case, Coca-Cola shared a story about sharing a coke and earned a 2.5% increase in sales from the same 12-week period the previous year. Also, Coca-Cola benefited from an 870% increase in social media traffic, 18 million+ media impressions, and a 7% increase in consumption, among other perks.
A Purpose in Social Media
As digital marketing trends continued to shift to the social sphere, both Snapchat and Instagram rose to the call of an increased need for solid social media storytelling that doesn’t only provide an opportunity for engagement but encourages it. Thus, Stories emerged on each platform to give brands and viewers alike a different, more organized approach to interacting with each other.
Keep in mind, storytelling is not synonymous with story-selling. It’s not just an outlet to promote your good deeds and wild successes to gain positive PR. Storytelling has always been about how we relate to others and the ways we share and understand experiences. Build your social stories around what your users care about, and show them how you understand their needs, likes, and interests.
Truthfully, brands have become so adept at crafting original images and click-worthy content that it often begs the viewer to question its authenticity. But Stories can – and do – change that notion by not featuring your carefully constructed material, but your in-the-moment highlights. And those are the instances that tell the most genuine, unevolved version of your brand story.
A Bird’s Eye View of Snapchat and Instagram
Say good-bye to the self-destructing snap – if you want to. With Stories, users can look at photos as often as they like until the 24-hour timer dings.
Think of it as a well-honed twist on a traditional photo album: users can post photos or videos in Stories, and others can view those posts anytime while they are still live. This gives viewers a play-by-play of what the user has been up to within a day’s span, but without any content taking a deep dive in their rolling newsfeed. Once a post hits the 24-hour mark, it’s gone forever.
Posting to Stories throughout a given day creates a unique narrative for the viewer that details what a day in the life looks like for your brand. It also avoids the one-view-only stipulation that formally ruled Snapchat and lets your image’s legacy live a little longer to create a bigger impact. This gives each of your Snapchat Stories a full 24 hours to inspire and engage before time runs out and something new takes its place. If creativity is ever necessary, it’s here and now.
The first photo-sharing social platform lifted a page from the Snapchat playbook and implemented their form of Stories.
Similar in form and function to that of Snapchat, Instagram embodies one of the most important elements of telling and sharing stories – the personal aspect. By eliminating public likes and comments to posts shared in Stories, users are encouraged to reach out via private message on Instagram Direct. This gives brands a clear invitation to respond and engage by forging a direct connection with its fans.
How to Choose The Right One for Your Brand
If you find yourself unable to differentiate between Snapchat and Instagram Stories, you aren’t alone. The resemblance between the two is nothing short of striking:
Posts disappear within 24 hours
Ability to add doodles, filters, and emojis
Similar privacy settings
Viewers can initiate one-on-one Conversation
Users can post photos and videos
Brands use them for similar purposes
Even so, the two can’t be described as identical. Snapchat trumps Instagram with its filters, face mapping, and reverse motion filters, while Instagram beats Snapchat on hashtag functionality within the app and easier navigation through Stories. Also, each app emphasizes Stories in different extremes, with Instagram prioritizing Stories as the top level idea, as opposed to a second rate feature on Snapchat, and are definitely tools all social media marketing companies should be using.
Given the massive similarities and scant differences, which one makes the best solution for your brand?
There is no single right answer. If there were, either Instagram or Snapchat would cease to exist. But whether you are considering a transition from one platform to the other, or are making the first leap into a social media strategy, there are a few things you should consider before clicking the Sign-Up button:
What platform does the majority of my target audience use? Don’t worry about which platform has the most users – find out which one can put your brand in front of the right users.
What kind of results do I get on my current platform? If you are already active on either Instagram or Snapchat and are thinking of jumping ship because you are not currently getting the results you expect, consider tweaking what you are already doing before you completely abandon your efforts.
Do I have the resources and necessity to manage a presence on both Instagram and Snapchat? Some brands can sacrifice the money and manpower to manage multiple social media accounts. But even if you do have the time, funds, and people to manage both platforms, make sure the results warrant the extra resources you’re forking out.
Which platform does my competition use? Copying the competition does not always give you the same results as your competitors, but it could be a good indication that they have found their target audience on their current social channel, which means you can, too.
Once you make your choice, be consistent in sharing your stories by keeping your result in focus. Remember, storytelling is about understanding and connecting with your audience, so quality – not quantity – should win every time. Now that’s a story with a happy ending.
Ben Shepardson has been creating and managing websites and web content since the early aughts. From the early wild days of SEO to today’s demand for fully-researched content that users crave, he’s dealt with it all. His latest project is NoStop Content, a provider of original, top-notch written content for business owners and media agencies.