Complete Guide To Social Stories Formats

 

This guide covers the key facts marketers need to know about social media stories. We’ve included detail on the most popular stories channels, Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, WhatsApp Status and Snapchat Stories, as well as shining a light on other social platforms which are innovating in the stories space, including YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and Tinder.

We’ll include key specifications of stories on each platform, including the length of videos supported, how long the stories last, how users can customise their stories, and whether or not ad placements are available.

Our aim is that you’ll finish reading this article with a better understanding of social media stories, especially as they relate to you as a marketer.

Social media stories: platform-by-platform comparison

 Max vid. lengthStory lifespanContent customisationAd optionsOutbound linksStandout features
Snapchat60 secs24 hoursFilters, text, handwritingyesyesFilter customisation, Snap Originals
Instagram15 secs24 hoursFilters, text, handwritingyesyesAR filter studio, Filter customisation
WhatsApp30 secs24 hoursStickers, emoji, text, handwritingno (coming 2020)noChoice between text-first or image-first
Messenger20 secs24 hoursFilters, text mode, handwritingyesnoemoji/message reacts, choice of filters
Facebook20 secs24 hoursFilters, type mode, effectsyesyesWatch Party, Support non-profit
YouTube15 secs7 daysFilters, stickers, textnoyesStickers linking to videos
Netflix (historical beta)??nonenonoUse of stories-type format by media platform
LinkedIn (under dev.)TBCTBCTBCTBCTBCTBC
Twitter (beta)2 mins 20 secs24 hoursPhoto, video or GIF uploadTBCyesLonger Fleets for whitelisted publishers
TikTok15 secsForever (unless deleted) Music, effects, filters, text yesYes (limited trial) Music library

Stories on Snapchat

Max. video length: 60 seconds
Time before story disappears: 24 hours
Content customisation options: filters, text, handwriting
Advertiser options: yes
Outbound links: yes
Standout features: excellent range of filters, including customisable filters, AR filter studio

Such is the ubiquity of social media stories today, it’s easy to forget Snapchat was the first social platform to offer this type of experience.

Snapchat invented stories back in 2013, and the youth-focused platform remains a key focus for marketers targeting this growing area of social media.

Snapchat stories provide lots of options for the user, including a grid to help with composition, multiple snaps in a single shot, a photo timer, and, of course, lots of filters, which tend to transform the subject in extreme and comical ways. Users can also add text to their stories, and some of the filters are customisable, with options to change attributes like colour and texture.

The stories component of Snapchat is contained in the ‘Discover’ section of the app, which users can access by swiping right from their home screen.

Discover is split into two sections: one showing stories from people the user has added as a friend; and below that, a ‘For you’ section showing a personalised selection of stories of other users, which you can skip through with a tap, or press and hold on to share with a friend. The user has to swipe down to exit the series of stories this produces.

Another feature is ‘Snap Originals’, Snapchat-produced stories that show off the potential of the platform. Snap Originals series have included popular hit, ‘The Dead Girls Detective Agency’, and ‘Will From Home’, starring Will Smith.

Snapchat has a well-developed offering for advertisers. See WordStream’s guide to Snapchat ads for detail on this topic. 

Stories on Instagram

Max. video length: 15 seconds
Time before story disappears: 24 hours
Content customisation options: filters, handwriting, multiple frame layouts
Advertiser options: yes
Outbound links: yes
Standout features: Boomerang, Superzoom

The first major social platform to imitate Snapchat’s stories feature was Instagram, which launched Instagram Stories in 2016. In terms of functionality, the new feature was essentially a carbon copy of Snapchat Stories, and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom has said words to that effect on the record.

While this Facebook-owned platform may have borrowed heavily from Snapchat to create its initial stories offering, there’s no doubt that Instagram is now one of the social platforms leading the way in social stories.

With a maximum length of 15 seconds, Instagram stories are at the shorter end of the spectrum, along with YouTube stories. However, brands with a longer narrative to share can use a third-party app such as CutStory for Instagram Stories to divide a longer video into multiple clips to post as consecutive Instagram stories.

Of all the social platforms, Instagram has perhaps the richest stories offering. Alongside a wide selection of photo/video filters, the platform offers innovative features such as ‘superzoom’, which zooms in on the subject of the video while adding effects; ‘boomerang’, which adds slow-motion to the action of a video story; and multiple-frame layouts, which enable the user to layer up multiple shots in a single story.

Since summer 2019, Instagram users have been able to create their own augmented reality filters to use with Instagram Stories, via Facebook’s Spark AR Studio platform. If this is an option your brand would like to explore, we recommend reading Later’s Ultimate Guide to Spark AR Studio for Instagram, which includes some great best practice tips.

Instagram has a popular Stories ads offering for business accounts.

Stories on WhatsApp: WhatsApp Status

Max. video length: 30 secs
Time before story disappears: 24 hours
Content customisation options: stickers/emoji, text, handwriting
Advertiser options: no (announced for 2020)
Outbound links: no
Standout features: choice between text-first or image-first

Stories are incorporated into WhatsApp in the guise of a status update feature, under the name ‘WhatsApp Status’.

WhatsApp statuses appear under the Status tab in the WhatApp UI. If you’d like to post a WhatsApp status, you will find you are able to post a photo, video, GIF or a customised text image, which will be visible to your contacts for 24 hours. The customisation options here are few and far between: you can add stickers or emojis to your status, but there are no fancy filters or layouts to play around with.

Up until now, WhatsApp Status has arguably had limited value from a marketing perspective, relative to the likes of Snapchat and Instagram. There hasn’t been provision for ads within the feature, and there’s no support for outbound links. With that said, WhatsApp Status may provide an opportunity for B2B sellers to catch their contacts’ attention through a novel channel.

WhatsApp Status could become a more important focus for marketers in the near future. Facebook has announced that WhatsApp will add Stories Ads to its Status product in 2020, as well as adding richer message formats for businesses.

Stories on Messenger

Max. video length: 20 seconds
Time before story disappears: 24 hours
Content customisation options: filters, text mode, handwriting
Advertiser options: yes
Outbound links: no
Standout features: emoji/message reacts, selection of filters

Before Facebook implemented stories on its flagship platform, it launched them on its instant messaging spin-off, Messenger.

Stories on Messenger are less feature-rich than those on Instagram or Snapchat, but there are more customisation options here than you’d get with the likes of WhatsApp and Twitter. The core of Messenger’s customisation offering  is its filters, which enable users to change the look and sound of photos or videos captured through the feature. Handwriting and text mode options are also available.

In the Messenger UI, new stories are signposted with a blue circle around relevant users’ profile pictures. Within the story view, friends can react with a message or emoji.

Marketers can place ads in the Messenger Stories feature by choosing Messenger-focused settings within Facebook Ad Manager.

Stories on Facebook

Max. video length: 20 seconds
Time before story disappears: 24 hours
Content customisation options: type mode, filters and effects
Advertiser options: yes
Outbound links: yes
Standout features: Watch Party, Support Nonprofit

The relationship between Facebook Stories and Messenger Stories is unique within social media. In a sense, the stories themselves are the same, as stories created on one platform are automatically (and non-negotiably) posted on the other too.

However, there are significant differences in the UX of posting and viewing stories between Messenger and Facebook.

Facebook Stories can be created on mobiles apps, desktop or the Facebook Lite app. They are presented at the top of the newsfeed on all these platforms – a clear signal of the rising priority of stories within Facebook’s offering.

On Facebook, the scope of available Stories formats and features is far greater than on Messenger. On desktop, these include Live Video, where the user can livestream via their webcam; Watch Parties, where the user queues videos to watch with others; and Support Nonprofit, where users can ask Friends to contribute to a good cause via the Story. Meanwhile, Facebook Stories posted from the Facebook app offer similar options to Messenger stories.

Facebook has a very well-developed advertising offering for Facebook Stories, with options to target ads by objectives including reach, brand awareness, video views, app installs, conversions, traffic and lead generation.

Stories on YouTube

Max. video length: 15 seconds
Time before story disappears: 7 days
Content customisation options: stickers, filters, text
Advertiser options: no
Outbound links: yes
Standout features: stickers linking to videos

YouTube Stories enables popular channels to send short video or image updates to their subscribers. These Stories differ considerably from the leading social story formats: they have a maximum length of 15 seconds, and they last a whole week – a reflection of the long intervals YouTubers need to produce the regular video content on their channels. The stories are available to view only in the YouTube app, where they appear at the top of the ‘Subscriptions’ feed. YouTube Stories can be produced only in the YouTube Play app. 

Perhaps the most valuable feature of YouTube Stories from a marketing perspective, is the option to add stickers linking to the user’s YouTube videos. This is a great way for channels to maximise engagement from their subscribers.

The YouTube Stories feature is currently in beta testing, and can only be used actively by accounts with more than 10,000 subscribers.

Stories on Netflix

Max. video length: ?
Time before story disappears: ?
Content customisation options: no
Advertiser options: no
Outbound links: no
Standout features: option to add Netflix shows to ‘My list’

Here’s one to watch. Netflix doesn’t currently have a live stories feature, but that might not be the case for long.

The video streaming subscription service launched a limited trial of a new stories-style feature, called Netflix Extras, in 2019. The trial added a new tab, marked ‘Extras’, to the menu of the Netflix app UI. When the user selected the tab, they were shown photos and videos of films and TV shows available on the platform, with options to add them to ‘My List’, or to set reminders to continue watching a show.

Netflix’s Extras trial demonstrates how design elements of social stories are influencing other media industries in their efforts to drive engagement and retain customers.

Stories on LinkedIn

Max. video length: TBC
Time before story disappears: TBC
Content customisation options: TBC
Advertiser options: TBC
Outbound links: TBC
Standout features: TBC

At present, LinkedIn is one of the few social platforms without a story feature. However, that looks set to change, as the business-focused platform has revealed it is testing LinkedIn Stories internally.

Writing on LinkedIn Pulse, LinkedIn Head of Consumer Product Pete Davies said:

“We’re currently testing LinkedIn Stories internally, and we can’t wait to test it with our members in the coming months. We’ve learned so much already about the unique possibilities of Stories in a professional context. For example, the sequencing of the Stories format is great for sharing key moments from work events, the full-screen narrative style makes it easy to share tips and tricks that help us work smarter, and the way Stories opens up new messaging threads makes it easier for someone to say, “and by the way… I noticed you know Linda, could you introduce me?”

One of the few specifics Davies revealed in the blog post is that the stories being tested are full-screen. He notes his excitement “to see how Stories will bring creativity and authenticity to the ways that members share more of their work life.” It remains to be seen how that translates into features and UX.

LinkedIn has trialled a stories feature before, with a 2018 limited release for students in the US, called ‘Student Voices’.

Stories on Twitter

Max. video length: 2 mins 20 secs (or up to 10 mins for whitelisted publishers)
Time before story disappears: 24 hours
Content customisation options: photo, video or GIF upload
Advertiser options: TBC
Outbound links: yes
Standout features: focus on text stories

In March 2020, Twitter started testing a new story feature, initially with users in Brazil only. The feature is named Fleets, a portmanteau of ‘fleeting’ and ‘tweets’.

With Fleets, Twitter users will be able to post text, GIFs, videos and photos to their profile. The Fleets disappear after 24 hours, and cannot be liked or retweeted by other users.

Here’s how fleets are appearing on Brazilian Twitter testers’ homescreens.

Upon the announcement of testing for Fleets, Mo Aladham, a group product manager at Twitter Brasil, wrote:

“We hope that people who don’t usually feel comfortable Tweeting use Fleets to share musings about what’s on their mind.”

Fleets will stay live on users’ profiles for 24 hours, or until they remove them manually.

Brazilian journalist Filipe Espósito was among the first commentators to share their experience of Fleets.

According to Espósito, photos of users who have shared a Fleet are visible at the top of the home screen. These photos are ringed with a blue circle when that user’s latest Fleet(s) has not been viewed, or a grey circle when it has been. You can view a user’s Fleet(s) by tapping one of these circles, and can then scroll through the user’s Fleets vertically. (On Instagram Stories, this is done horizontally).

Fleets are primarily text-based, although there are options to upload photos, videos or GIFs. The character limit is 280, and there are no options to change the font style or text alignment. There are no ways to customise images with stickers, filters, handwriting, and so on, but on the plus side, the photo/video quality seems to be better than that of Instagram Stories.

While users are not able to retweet or like Fleets, there are some options for interaction, in the form of messages and emoji reactions via DM. Users who post a Fleet can click to see the details of each user who opened it.

An interesting aspect of Fleets from a marketing perspective is that anyone can post clickable links on them, which opens up the prospect of using Fleets to channel users to key targets such as business websites and online product listings.

Since Espósito’s description of Fleets is based on a limited test of the feature, it remains to be seen how closely the version of Fleets rolled out worldwide will correspond to his experience.

TikTok

Max. video length: 15 seconds
Time before story disappears: videos are permanent unless deleted
Content customisation options: music sync, filters, text
Advertiser options: yes
Outbound links: yes (limited trial)
Standout features: music library

It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say stories are a feature of TikTok. Instead, we’d describe TikTok as a social platform built around stories.

The Gen Z focused social platform, which is set to reach 10 million UK users in 2020, is primarily based around short video posts with rich customisation options, much like stories on Snapchat and Instagram, for instance. A key difference with TikTok is that the videos can be set to music from the platform’s vast library of songs.

TikTok videos and social media stories are not quite the same, since TikTok videos don’t disappear, and are distributed more publicly within the app. However, the presence of core stories-type characteristics such as filters and a short video length on TikTok warrants its inclusion in this guide.

For much more detail on this platform, see our marketer’s guide to TikTok.

How should marketers approach social stories in 2020?

Social Media Today writer Ann Smarty identifies storytelling as one the the most important evolving social media trends to embrace in 2020.

Smarty notes that Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status are both now used by over half-a-billion people per day; that stories are on-track to eclipse posts in feed as the most common way for people to share across all social apps; and that a quarter of millenial and gen Z social users now use stories as a place to find information on brands and products.

Simply put, stories are an increasingly important link between brands and customers on social.

Which social stories platform should marketers focus on?

The most globally popular social media Stories features (excluding TikTok) are on Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook/Messenger and Snapchat.

Infographic: Facebook's Snapchat Clones Have 500M Users Each | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

According to research published by Statista, stories on Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp were tied on roughly 500 million daily average users (DAUs), as of Q1 2019. Snapchat Stories were somewhat behind these platforms, but still significant, with 190 million DAUs at that time. As the chart above shows, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram stories usage has grown significantly in recent years, while Snapchat Stories usage has plateaued since the start of 2018.

While these figures would seem to indicate WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram are the key platforms for marketers to focus on, they don’t tell the whole story.

Uptake of stories on each platform, and overall, is varied geographically and demographically. So, the best platform to focus on for marketers in one country might be different to the key stories platform across the border. Equally, the most suitable platform for businesses in one sector may differ from the most suitable platform for businesses in another.

Our advice is to look at which social stories platforms other players in your industry are using; or if you want to take an alternative approach, which platforms are being used by other brands with similar audience demographics to your own brand. Once you’ve identified the most promising platforms, you’ll be well placed to work towards experimenting with posting stories.

Social media stories have their own cultural conventions and trends, which are best understood by native users of the relevant social platforms. With this in mind, we strongly advise getting a keen social stories user to create the content for this aspect of your social media marketing. Of course, you could become that person by investing your own free time in playing around with stories on your target social platforms. 

We hope you’ve found this guide to social story formats helpful. As stories continue to proliferate across social platforms and grow in usage, the question is no longer whether or not businesses should be marketing via social stories; instead, it’s a matter of which platform(s) to focus on. Use the information in this guide, plus research into how businesses like yours are using social stories, to make the right choice for your brand.

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