Stories used to be tales of folklore and fantasy filled with fables from faraway lands told around campfires, before bedtime and even from pulpits. Anthropologists have long considered story-telling to be universally central to the human condition. How we tell stories is always in flux, but more recently, the changes are rapid and constantly shifting. Oral histories moved from being passed down generation to generation like heirlooms to something tangible thanks to the invention of the printing press. Today, technology—specifically the mobile phone and social media—challenges and shifts how and why we share information, sometimes in the span of a few months measured in app updates and channel changes.
Think about our shift in behaviour in just a few short years: we moved from content consumers to savvy social content creators. Who else can remember hours carefully crafting the perfect MySpace page or creating an interesting Facebook persona or the ideal Twitter following, and even more recently spending time thinking about your ideal Instagram aesthetic? In 2011, a humble app with disappearing snaps in the form of photographs and video launched to the horror of helicopter parents and the curiosity of users who have only ever regarded social media as the act of hoarding content into albums, galleries, grids or even Vines (RIP).
Snapchat’s novelty was an immediate hit with teens and tweens. The maximum ten-second duration of video or photos meant content was fast, uninhibited and less polished than someone fussing over latte art and a pristine copy of Tatler lovingly displayed on a marble table top with the hashtag #SundayFunday. Mostly, it brought fun into the proposition of social media as longevity and curation didn’t factor into the equation at all.
Keen users added graffiti-style scribbles, stickers, lenses and filters to their Snap Stories whilst sceptics guffawed (GUFFAWED!) at it being a teen-only platform and brands thought of it as being childish and unsophisticated for this very reason.
Fast forward to 2017 and Stories seem like they’re everywhere. Instagram, Facebook, FB Messenger & Whatsapp—platforms with a collective active user base totalling 5 billion—have all launched iterations of Stories for their platforms. Stories have even recieved the meme treatment with this take on Microsoft Office’s Excel 2017 incorporating Stories.
Brands that were once risk-averse to avoid diluting precious creative through the look and feel of their social channels are now adding motion stickers and bitmojis to content with reckless abandon.
As a user myself, Stories on Monday to Friday are mundane looks at people’s lunches, random colleagues and other inter-office wallpaper. Saturday and Sunday provide me hangover content galore with the occasional walk through a pretty park, cute Boomerang’d pet or child or canal-side pub stop. More recently, people have taken to Instagram Stories as a way to pimp the new photos on their grid as a way to combat the notorious IG algorithm. This leaves me asking the question: are all my friends dullards or have we reached peak Story?
With social channels replicating what previously made platforms unique to a point of very little differentiation, it’s worth thinking about how much content we need to produce and share, and what content truly adds value. Brands are still figuring their place out in this Story-fied world and trying to keep up with and play back user behaviour. Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how social media platforms evolve and change their tact. With forays into wearables and augmented reality, it’s unlikely we’ll see a shift away from being inundated by people sharing intimate details of their holidays, but I’ll be keen to see which platforms will maintain Stories as integral to the user experience and which will disappear after their 10 seconds of fame.