Instagram Stories: What's the chat?

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Instagram is one of the fastest growing social networks. We’ve seen usage double in the last two years alone, and one-third of the entire internet is now on Instagram. No stranger to controversy, Instagram has made a few big changes recently to its algorithm and logo since being bought over by Facebook a few years ago.

Known as one of the ‘Millennial’ networks (note: ‘millennials’ like myself hate this word), 90% of Instagram's users are under the age of 35. Many see its main competitor, Snapchat, as its cooler, less contrived cousin. This was why many were surprised when, last Thursday, Instagram introduced its very own Snapchat-centric feature into the Instagram mainstream: Instagram Stories.

On the face of it Instagram Stories looks just like another Snapchat; but what are the real differences? Here are the top five things we’ve noticed since the launch:

Built in audiences.

Unless your name is Kylie Jenner (would I be a millennial if I didn’t mention her?) it's pretty difficult to build an audience on Snapchat alone, without the use of other networks. This makes the stand-alone network great for those who only want to share snaps with a close few, and great for brands/celebrities who want to reward hardcore fans with special behind the scenes shots - but it does not make for the best reach or most inclusive campaign.

With Instagram Stories, if a brand already has an engaged following, they are a great tool for giving them even more reach for their content. It also works on the sides of the users, as it creates an easier way for new users to find great up-to-the-minute content from their favourite brands.

Snapchat feels cosier.

This has to do with the types of content initially associated with each channel and the way that people engage with it. To put things lightly, there is far less judgement on Snapchat. By this I mean there isn’t a way to judge ‘if people like you’ any other way than views vs. followers. But on Instagram there is the ability to like, which has led to the uber perfectionism of user’s feeds, that seems to filter out real life, and leave only ‘Instagram-worthy’ content. It will be a big jump for users and brands to take that leap of faith to share more personal, less-edited, content on a more image critical network.

Instagram features more creative marker options, but no lenses!

For arty types, Instagram has different pen functions and don’t worry you can still add emojis to your moments. Whether these are right for your brand is a different question, but variety to choose from is good in my book. A downfall for personal users is the gaping hole of lenses. Will I have to draw ears on myself to look like a dog now?!

There’s no way to miss them.

But it is difficult to tell how old everything is, as it only shows a time-stamp when you’re in the story. Instagram stories sit right at the top of a user’s newsfeed, and are more prominent than some normal Instagram content after the new algorithm changes, another controversial switch making it more like Facebook. The upside of this is that so far Stories are organised like Snapchat, by the most up-to-date first, harping back to Instagram ‘golden age’ of the true timeline.

Instagram Stories still have some bugs.

I feel like I have been on an emotional roller coaster with Instagram Stories. At first, I was angered by the Snapchat rip-off; then intrigued by the marketing possibilities. And then I realised I would need to resize images, as stories automatically crop, previously square images - not cool Instagram, not cool. Another itty-bitty drawback is the load time - they take ages to load, much longer than your traditional Snapchat story.

All in all, Instagram Stories are an exciting new tool, with a couple of drawbacks. It will be interesting to see how big brands can integrate this into fantastic up to the minute campaigns, and how brands who thought Snapchat wasn’t for them can back the most out of this, arguably, more accessible tool to communicate with Millennials.