As Instagram launches a Snapchat competitor, publishers prepare to experiment
Instagram announced today the launch of Instagram Stories, a familiar-sounding product whose name and functionality echo one of Snapchat's central features.
Habitual users of Snapchat will recognize the basic tenets of Instagram Stories: It allows users to publish a here-today-gone-tomorrow story comprised of photos and videos that can be shared within a 24-hour period (The Verge's Casey Newton has a nice write-up here).
Although Instagram Stories has only been public for a few hours, social media editors at two digital-first news organizations are already getting ready to start tinkering with it.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, might just find late-game success with Instagram Stories — which makes the feature worth experimentation, said Helen Havlak, engagement editor at The Verge.
The social networking giant was a late entrant to livestreaming and still dominated the product category with Facebook Live, she said. It's one of the reasons why The Verge, which has nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram, is planning to try it out.
"Instagram has more active users than Twitter or Snapchat, so it looks like a good bet right now and we’ll definitely experiment with stories," Havlak said. "Then again, stories could end up having as short a lifespan as the Bolt app Instagram released in 2014 — but an important distinction is that stories exist within the main Instagram app, so any lift in followers or engagement will also benefit our long-term Instagram strategy."
The Huffington Post, which has more than 750,000 followers on the popular image-sharing app, will also jump aboard, said Ethan Klapper, HuffPost's global social media editor. HuffPost is one of many publishers that put a premium on producing off-platform content, and Instagram Stories is no exception, he said.
"We have a fantastic multimedia team at HuffPost that puts together some really creative photo stories, and we see Instagram Stories as the perfect avenue to bring those stories to our off-platform audience," he said.
Will Instagram Stories be a good fit for news organizations? At first glance, the feature would appear to give journalists something Instagram doesn't currently offer: A sense of continuity across multiple images and videos. By allowing news organizations to build a continuous narrative, Instagram Stories could allow for more ambitious storytelling on the app.
Instagram Stories is also designed to inspire a glut of sharing, which could allow news organizations to increase their social lift on the platform.
An Instagram spokesperson emailed Poynter to say the feature is also a good fit for breaking news.
“With Instagram Stories, a news organization can capture and share moments as they happen and reach the audience they’ve already built on Instagram," the spokesperson said. "Stories are quick to create and easy to use, and are perfect for raw, breaking and behind the scenes content."
The downside? The ephemeral nature of Instagram Stories probably won't inspire news organizations to sink tons of resources into a project — especially since Instagram has been difficult for journalists monetize thus far.
But, as is the case with distributed content writ large, outlets that don't capitalize on new products and features early on often face an uphill battle reaching users once the field gets crowded later on.