In early March, Facebook changed up its incredibly well-used Messenger app. Originally a facet of its primary product, Messenger broke off in 2011 and Facebook began forcefully pushing its users onto the standalone app, before making it the only app for accessing Facebook messages on mobile. The move has proven to be a good (if initially frustrating) one, with over 1 billion users and new avenues for monetization created on what is commonly accepted to be the future of social apps: messaging. March’s change has many users baffled, though, with Facebook adding a stories feature to an app that really didn’t need one.
Messenger Day is a confusing add-on to an app most people use functionally to talk with Facebook friends they don’t otherwise have on WhatsApp. The feature, which Facebook unbelievably refuses to acknowledge is another Snapchat clone, is positioned at the very top of the interface and there is no clear way of removing it. The initial reaction online has been almost overwhelmingly negative, with many picking up on Facebook’s shamelessness in assimilating Snapchat’s successful products, and others reporting a damning lack of usage.
The same can be said for WhatsApp’s own Status feature, which replaced the text-only status and is essentially identical to that of Messenger and Instagram. This suggests Facebook is rolling out its tech everywhere it can despite there being seemingly little demand and limited uptake. Personally, I’ve seen neither my Messenger or my WhatsApp contacts actively posting stories, and I feel no need to do so myself given already having Instagram and Snapchat to decide between.
For many, posting to WhatsApp or Messenger is far more likely to mean sharing with family members and colleagues, for example, than on the slightly more personal Snapchat or Instagram (not to mention the multitude of people whose number you just happen to have or the Facebook friends you haven’t heard from since high school). The question is, then, why is Facebook working so hard to shoehorn in stories features it ultimately didn’t need? TechCrunch went as far as to call it a ‘hideous misunderstanding of dynamics of messaging which have Messenger and WhatsApp so popular.’
Across the many different apps with ‘stories’ features, there is actually very little variation. In all cases, stories are temporary, they disappear after 24 hours, they are displayed one after the other in a reel, and they are open to varying degrees of editing and embellishment. Because it began, as a concept, as just another one of Snapchat’s features, stories has gone under the radar in many ways as a game changer for social media.
It seems every major app has a stories feature these days, too. Though Snapchat’s ephemerality fundamentally changed the notion of picture and video messaging, it was in Stories that it had its eureka moment. There was previously no real way to share such a continuous and impermanent log of your day before Stories, and many users have forged sending regular direct Snapchats in favour of just updating their stories on a regular basis. Even Tinder rolled out an ill-fated feature (ditched in 2015) called ‘Moments’, and one Twitter user has mused that his mobile banking app would probably feature stories in the very near future.
The most successful clone, by far, has been from Facebook-owned Instagram. Instagram’s Stories feature is what happens when an idea as game changing as stories is adapted by engineers from the world’s biggest social media company. Thanks to its formidable resources, Facebook has created a feature that, compared to Snapchat, is more accessible and is significantly more reliable. Many prominent Snapchat influencers have reported punishing technical issues that are forcing them away from the app, with little response from Snapchat themselves when contacted.
What Instagram’s stories feature offers is the opportunity for celebrities and brands to engage with their fans and customers in a less aggressive way. Rather than sending direct snaps or messages, brands and key figures can update their stories and let users consume them as part of their catching up with friends. Results on Instagram have reportedly been strong, with TechCrunch quoting one social influencer talent agent as saying that engagement-to-follower rates were ‘insanely f***ing high.’ With more businesses active on Instagram already, users being snatched away from Snapchat thanks to an upgraded stories feature, and engagement levels through the roof, it’s difficult to look past Instagram as the place to be posting stories.
Getting brands on board is an area where Instagram has been particularly successful. 50% of Instagram users already follow at least one business, so giving these businesses the opportunity to share with users in a more personal way is powerful. Some 48.8% of brands use Instagram as a result, a number expected to rise to 70.7% by the end of this year. The most popular brands on the platform - Nike, National Geographic, Victoria’s Secret - have between 49 million and 68.1 million followers, an incredible reach for each post that very few singular ad campaigns could rival. In an approach bordering on complete excess, it seems Facebook’s earlier decision to add stories to Instagram may be its best in recent years.