Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last five years, you’ve noticed the rise of Stories in social media. It’s a popular feature enjoyed by hundreds of millions of users across the world’s most popular mobile apps on a daily basis, and as such, it’s becoming a highly effective medium for advertisers. Here at Bidalgo, we’ve been studying the power of Story ads for some time, and it’s clear that not only are they a powerful form of marketing, but they could soon overtake traditional video spots as the dominant form of mobile advertising and app marketing.

The Story of Stories

In 2013, Snapchat launched the “My Story” feature, which let users compile multiple snaps into chronological groups, turning a special day, vacation, or other events into a picture-based narrative. By June 2014, stories had overtaken regular snaps as the social network’s biggest feature, with over a billion Stories viewed per day. As we wrote in Adweek last October, “It’s a uniquely native format that allows for unprecedented creative freedom in a medium best known for its ability to resonate with young, tech-savvy audiences.”

It took a while for other social networks to catch on, but they eventually followed suit. Instagram added a Stories feature in 2016, followed by Facebook, WhatsApp, and others the following year. As eMarketer reports, as of late 2018, Stories see a staggering number of daily active users across all networks: 186 million on Snapchat, 300 million on Facebook and Messenger, 400 million on Instagram, and a whopping 450 million on WhatsApp. During Facebook’s Q3 2018 earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Stories would soon outpace the regular Facebook feed in usage.

Why Do Stories Resonate?

Younger generations tend to gravitate towards social media Story features because of their impermanence. As eMarketer put it, “Especially among young people, the sense of permanence that a Facebook feed offers is far less appealing than the comfort of knowing that whatever you posted yesterday isn’t going to haunt you forever.” Considering how many people have been burned by years-old tweets and Facebook posts, this certainly makes sense!

In their original form on Snapchat, Stories caught on because they provided a way to communicate with many people at once, not just one friend. You didn’t have to send out a Snap a dozen times to share it with a group; you could simply post it to that day’s Story and anyone following you could see it.

These days, a lot of people see Stories as a way to show the real you, as opposed to the version of yourself shown on social news feeds. Influencers especially have jumped on Stories; since their lifestyle is their “brand,” they want to give fans a window into their lives.

Ultimately, there are a lot of different reasons young, savvy social media fanatics love Stories, but they all drive the same conclusion: Stories represent a huge opportunity for advertisers.

How to Make Stories Work for You

So why are Story ads so different from any other advertising campaign, including the more standard video format? These ads let marketers say a lot in a creative way without making demands on the user’s valuable time and short attention span. Of course, creating a compelling Story is harder than it looks. It’s not enough to chain together a few clips or photos and slap on some marketing text. Story ads need to be highly creative, appropriate in tone for the mobile-savvy audience, and able to get their message across quickly.

In the past few months, we’ve run a series of lift tests for gaming apps using Story ads variations such as different winning creative concepts, real-life story-oriented style vs animated gameplay style, different engagement elements such as stickers and poll sliders and different carousel story sequences. Certain best practices started to emerge during these lift tests:

1. Surprisingly enough, animated style showed better results than real-life, story-oriented style in most of the cases.

2. In most cases, poll sliders drove the highest performance uplift among different engagement elements such as emoji stickers, poll sliders, call to actions, and Story progress bars.

3. When we tested video Story ads vs carousel Story ads, initial results showed higher costs for the carousel Story ads.

4. But when we tested evolving storylines against interactive ad tapping in the carousel ad, we found the evolving storylines to work better than interactive ad tapping carousel ads and video ads.

Marketers must also account for platform differences. Though the concept is similar across platforms, using Stories isn’t exactly the same on Snapchat as it is on Instagram, and so on. Snap ads are a single impression that need to be clear from the first frame, while Instagram Story ads are best used in combination with regular feed ads–and the experience needs to be holistic and consistent the whole time. Keep this in mind when crafting a Story ad campaign; make your marketing efforts playful, use the tools at your disposal, and grab the user’s attention with an on-brand Story that fits right into their daily social media consumption.

By now, most marketing pros selling to young audiences should be familiar with the concept of social media Stories, and now you have a better idea of how to use them to grow your brand. Understanding the power of Story ads is critical in this day and age. Make Stories your creative playground and the results will speak for themselves.

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