More than a billion people across the world see or share a Story every day on smartphones, using popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp and Snapchat. These Stories — one of the top ways to share content on social media and a mainstay of most social and messaging apps — are slowly making their way into ecommerce app categories, including food and travel aggregators. Once there, they are playing a role in advertising the service or to drive brand recall among consumers.
In fact, from being static, swipe-worthy images on full-screens, these Stories are now promising to drive user engagement with short-video formats. Entrepreneurs and investors say the next logical step for internet companiesis to build a video engagement layer within apps.
Already, video Stories are seeing early signs of adoption among niche apps, with video expected to permeate all types of apps, from content to rapidly expanding into commerce, communication and community products, including peer-to-peer communication and sectors like telemedicine and education, they say.
What are stories?
For the uninitiated, however, the question to ask is: how did these in-app Stories become so widespread? It was the millennial-focused messaging app Snapchat that launched Snapchat Stories in October 2013 and invented the format as we know it today. These were vertical-only engaging content shared by users that automatically disappeared after 24 hours. They took up the full screen, were short-form and primarily video. They could be viewed as a series and skipped with a single tap, and one could also swipe to see related content — the only other user interaction they permitted.
By taking up the whole screen, Stories grabbed attention, making them one of the first media formats to adapt to a mobile platform, and did not require viewers to rotate their phones or squint to see content. Their temporary nature encouraged users to share a lot more freely, without worrying about making the content look like a work of art. Their short duration and often engaging video format meant users were far more likely to view complete Stories. Stringing together multiple Stories also made storytelling easier and more compelling .
And, over the last few years, Stories have become the primary method of sharing content on social media. “Stories as a format has brought the biggest shift in consumer behavior digitally,” said a spokesperson for Facebook, the largest social networking site. Today, there is an increase of Stories in apps where one would not have expected to see traditionally.
“Apps of the future will have to become more visual and interactive if they want to attract user attention,” said Satej Sirur, CEO of automated video creation platform Rocketium. “We are moving away from a world of static content to a rich, visual world that combines different types of media, and businesses will have to adapt how they communicate with their users.”
Consumers have less time and shorter attention spans than ever. So, platforms that can integrate interactive formats across videos, articles and images to provide users with information, and prep them about a product without being intrusive, will eventually end up being successful.
E-commerce in travel, fashion, food and health are areas where video Stories will help customers discover products and services, and up the engagement quotient with brands. For example, food delivery app Zomato has videos of many of its restaurant partners, while Amazon India has a video product display for its high-value products.
In May 2018, Airbnb launched a feature allowing users to create Stories from their travels and experiences. Last month, Spotify said it was testing a similar feature for artists to share visual content with followers, while Uber added vertical videos of driver journeys to its app.
“We are seeing increasing interest in vertical videos from businesses of all sizes. Tech-savvy businesses are using our video automation to create Stories from existing content on their platform,” said Sirur of Rocketium.
Video streaming app Netflix has introduced vertical video previews of new shows and movies, while Medium, LinkedIn, Skype, and YouTube have also added their own spin to the Stories format. In India alone, YouTube is using more Stories to promote content. “Content and commerce can no longer be viewed as independent campaigns; video will be the combining force which will help intersect content and commerce apps,” said Rohan Choudhary, vicepresident, Product and Founding Team, Glance at InMobi, a mobile marketing and advertising technology platform.
For companies that want to add the Stories feature to products, especially video-format ones, the challenge lies in choosing the right platform – Will it be app-only or a combination of app and website? What devices and browsers to support? Should they have video or only images? Which are the regional languages that they need to support, and what unique creative features will they enable?
The answers to these will determine the user experience and have a bearing on how it is implemented technically. Regardless of these choices, however, the engineering teams will have to figure out how to store and process large amounts of images and videos. They will need to come up with a way of creating impressive-looking videos from user images, clips, text, and audio.
They will also need to optimise the technical architecture so that every video gets rendered as quickly as possible. Designers will have to come up with engaging video formats so that users have something unique to create each time. The engineering team will have to make it easy for designers to create and make new formats available to users.
In fact, new streaming and encoding formats like AV1, HEVC, DASH, HLS and others have made video delivery cost effective. New age Platform as a Service (PAAS) has also made it possible to encode and distribute video on the fly, which has made streaming much more accessible to all players.
This is an industry that hinges on predictive analytics to enable creators to evaluate customer preferences based on their viewing patterns. This is aimed at getting a greater understanding of their audience, determine the optimal length of content and altering the content in real-time to drive increased viewership on their platform.
“We are at the beginning of a whole new innovation cycle with video at the core of user experiences. Creating and distributing video content will become a lot easier as more apps and services build in features to allow video sharing,” said Miten Sampat, vice-president – Corporate Development, Times Internet.
Story behind the scenes
For creators, vertical videos enhance video creation ability and Stories have emerged as a key way to get noticed, said video creator Sejal Kumar, who has over one million subscribers on her YouTube channel and more than half a million on Instagram. It also helps in getting instant opinions from viewers on what they would like to see, she said.
Video creators such as BB Ki Vines, Sejal Kumar and Ashish Chanchlani are adopting Stories to tell the story behind the scenes, share some daily moments with fans, and also give the audience a vicarious experience by taking them along on adventures. “Our trends suggest that when users opt for vernacular content, they are predisposed to consuming it in video formats, which indicates that the ability to understand content may be better through a visual medium instead of text when it comes to local languages,” said Choudhary of InMobi.
Apps such as Myntra, Dunzo, Swiggy and Meesho are also increasingly using stories across platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok for advertising.
For instance, online food delivery platform Swiggy used ads in Instagram Stories to find new users and drive app installs. It achieved a 30% lower cost per install and a 17% increase in installs, data shared by Instagram shows.
Dineout, owned by Times Internet, a part of the Times Group that also publishes this paper, ran an app install campaign on Instagram feed and Instagram Stories that featured an animated video, which attracted a 17% lower cost per install. “It won’t be too long before we see video-reviews becoming a core part of mainstream ecommerce platforms as well,” said Sampat of Times Internet.
Stories have also emerged as a communications tool. For Taco Bell, the brand’s content pillars, such as topical content, fan love, collaboration with influencers, and events are now exclusively showcased as Stories. “We have seen the views and engagements towards stories increase exponentially, way ahead of the other formats,” Sambit Dash, head-marketing, Taco Bell India told ET.
Beverages major Pepsi, and a host of e-commerce sites such as Myntra, ShopClues, Snapdeal, Meesho and delivery app Dunzo are also moving to popular Chinese short- video app TikTok to drive traffic. ”What makes TikTok unique for brands is that a user is invested and engaging with the content on the platform, thus adding to the recall value of any brand campaign,” said Sachin Sharma, Director-Sales and Partnerships, TikTok India.
In fact, Facebook believes the use of ads in stories to drive businesses will only increase in future. “With the addition of advertising within Facebook Stories, we have touched upon a more diverse audience, and in the coming years, this will generate more Stories-first ads and showcase the existing creative opportunity in Stories for advertisers and businesses,” the Facebook spokesperson said.
The interactive elements in Stories, such as polls and questions, further enhance the ability of brands to influence audiences from inspiration to action, said Sandeep Bhushan, director and head of India Global Marketing Solutions, Facebook.
This phenomenon is being seen in industries driven by high involvement and deeper interests, such as technology, auto and fashion, he said. On some platforms, especially Instagram, Stories have also completely overtaken the News Feed.
In an Ipsos survey of Stories users commissioned by Facebook IQ, 68% said they use Stories on at least three apps regularly, and 63% plan to use Stories more in the future. More than 300 million people use Stories on Facebook and its Messenger every day. Millennials are more keen on sharing Stories that are personal, authentic and spontaneous, rather than ones that require significant effort for production. The same goes for the way they consume content.
Millennials prefer looking at quick, snackable content which gives them a sense of what peers are doing at the moment. Stories, static or otherwise, seek to fill that very need.