April 6th, 2017

We recently saw a fairly momentous event in the world of social media. Facebook launched their ‘Facebook Stories’; an unashamed copycat feature from Snapchat Stories. When we say copycat…they didn’t even change the name! Facebook had already rolled out what now appear to be test formats of Stories with Instagram and Whatsapp (both depressingly owned by the giant) but saved the coup de gras for their own roll out. Instagram and Whatsapp’s features simply copied the ability to post video/picture stories that vanished within 24 hours. However, they lacked the addictive filters (a.k.a lenses) that can be applied via Snapchat. Think flower crown, face swap the and aptly nicknamed vomiting rainbow.  Not to be outdone, out innovated or out-thought, Facebook have copied these overlays as well. Seriously you wouldn’t get a closer copy using tracing paper…

Boo hoo right? All four platforms are incredibly successful in their own rights and none of their owners are going to be worrying about whether payday is coming on a Friday or a Monday this month. On the other hand, it does raise an interesting question for those of us who make a living off social media. As we have discussed previously, marketing revenue becomes a central function of social platforms before, and especially after, they go public. At first this would appear to be great news for social media agencies and businesses running social campaigns but this focus on stories may well make life a little bit trickier.

 

No Users = No Revenue

Social platforms may get pressure from shareholders to increase ad revenue but their main priority will always be the satisfaction of their users. If at any point this focus reverses, users will inevitably leave the platform and ad revenue will depart with them. Why do we bring this fairly obvious point up? Well we can sit here as social media marketers and raise concerns about how marketing to a platform’s userbase is going to become more complex but the fact will always remain that ad revenue will always play second fiddle to the user in the minds of Messers Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Spiegel.

 

What’s the Problem?

It is what this cloning represents. Facebook are so convinced that this is the part of the future of social content that they are willing to give almost all the credit to Snapchat in a ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ esque maneuver. That by itself is fine – we don’t care if Facebook get a little dent in their pride. The problem is that if posting videos and photos as part of status updates becomes a central focus of social platforms instead of a variety of posted content, it makes it far trickier for businesses to get in front of their potential customers.

Let’s be very clear here. We believe that video content is the future of social marketing and will form a central function of any digital marketing campaign. This should not be a Eureka moment in terms of video bursting onto the scene – it is in fact already centre stage. Marketers are, and will continue to have to, make video a central part of their content creation strategy. Facebook Stories has not changed this.

The crux of the difficulty lies with the potential for users to be more concerned with throw away content such as Stories when compared with what might be more traditional feed based content. Social media will always have its critics for the often trivial nature of the content and the addictive scrolling that has become a part of day to day lives, but this is not some sort of commentary on a disposable society. It is a commentary on how accessible social media users will be to businesses and marketers with temporary ‘Stories’ having now seemingly become a staple addition to major social media platforms (obviously Twitter has not adopted it but they are fast falling out of the big leagues).

 

The feed will remain

“Pump the brakes” I hear you say. The news feed is not simply going to become an obsolete function of social media, replaced by each user desperately trying to become their own private media broadcaster. Of course not. The feed will remain for the time being as a bastion to the written word and longer lasting, reusable content. In turn this still means that there is a considerable amount of real estate for Facebook (and other platforms) to drop in advertising and allow businesses to get in front of users. Rumours even abound of Facebook providing space in the Stories function for advertisers – it does seem like the next logical step for Facebook’s marketing platform!

 

Where does that leave us?

It leaves us with inconclusive answers; we don’t yet know how popular Facebook Stories will be and the ramifications of users having to choose whether to post their Stories to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Whatsapp. Regardless though it does point towards a change in the way that at least a portion of content across the social media landscape is being consumed, which will always have an impact on marketing.

The main point being that space for advertisers in news feeds has been, and is, continually reducing which will be further compounded by the distraction of Stories. Does it mean that social media advertising is on its way out? Far from it. It means that those who invest in video content and highly engaging sponsored content will win big, whereas those who try to gain visibility in an ever more competitive and varied landscape will find their returns further contract.

The marketing platforms available to businesses and the mediums through which they communicate with consumers is in an ever changing state of flux. Does the adoption of stories by Facebook and its subsidiaries change the landscape? Potentially.

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