Instagram Moves From Perfectly Curated to Surprisingly Real with "Stories"

Over the past few years, a shift in user behavior on Instagram has led to an overall decline in sharing on the platform, despite an ever growing user base. On August 2nd, Instagram introduced a new feature named Instagram Stories. Stories allow users to share photos and videos in a slideshow format, with the ability to filter, doodle, and type over each image, and posts disappear after 24 hours. All without being added to their main grid. Instagram Stories function nearly identically to Snapchat Stories, however, Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram reiterated that their mission “has always been to capture the world’s moments, not just the world’s most beautiful moments.” Stories are a simple new format of creative expression being brought to the platform.



Snapchat pioneered this format in 2011, and until now, there has been no other outlet for this form of communication. The difference between privately sharing a fleeting 10 seconds with a small group compared to posting it on your permanent profile is simple; it’s the imperfection. It’s the difference between being in-the-moment versus the curated moment. The desire to share these imperfect moments is not new to Instagram users and is the same mentality that led to the rise of the rise of ‘Finstagrams’ in 2015.

With the introduction of Instagram Stories, they are lowering the bar for sharing perfect photos, while also aiming to eliminate the anxiety of over-posting and bothering one’s followers. Many believe this is a blatant rip-off of Snapchat. However, Instagram views this as a necessary evolution of their platform dictated by user behaviors, and that this is not a matter of conforming nor debating who invented what, but rather about adopting a new format of communication while tweaking and improving certain aspects to make it their own.


Stories are located in a bar on top of the traditional feed and users can view them at their own pace by tapping to go back, or swiping to move onto another person or brand’s story. Users can share as many photos and videos as they want, and they will all disappear after 24 hours. While they won’t automatically appear on their grid or their feed, users have the option of saving Story photos directly to their grid one at a time. Determining who can see the story is based on the user’s privacy settings, thus if a profile is public, you do not need to be following a user to see their Story.

Snapchat and Instagram share many of the same functions, but there are a few noticeable differences that Instagram hopes will distinguish their version and lure avid Snapchatters to their platform.

– Instagram Stories have six different stylized filters as opposed to three on Snapchat.

– Instagram offers three different brush types for drawing: standard, translucent highlighter, and color-outlined neon, as opposed to Snapchat’s single brush.

– You can hold the screen to pause a story or tap the left side to go back an image, whereas Snapchat only allows users to skip ahead to the next post in the story. However, both Stories automatically progress to the next person’s story. Instagram’s rotation transition between Stories is a nice touch.

– Users can add photos that have been taken within the last 24hrs from their gallery to stories with a simple drop-down menu.

– The order of the stories in the queue will be determined by an algorithm, and your favorite accounts will be at the front as opposed to appearing in chronological order.

Many of the changes aim to improve upon and enhance key elements of Snapchat Stories, however not all of the differences are improvements.

– You cannot see who has taken a screenshot of your Instagram Story, whereas Snapchat warns you – a key privacy feature.

– You cannot download your entire day’s Story at once.

– Currently, there are no lenses or location based filters.

– Users cannot like or comment on stories directly, instead they have to respond privately via Instagram Direct.

Filters and Lenses are a cornerstone to Snapchat, but keep in mind this is only the third day for Instagram Stories compared to the fifth year for Snapchat. One cannot overlook Facebook’s recent acquisition of MSQRD, a video filter app with many similar features to Snapchat Lenses and Filters, as well as the extensive research and development in facial recognition technology that the parent company has been heavily investing in for several years.


Given the recent changes to Snapchat, such as the new Memories feature, where users can add previously taken photos to their profile and the new Stories on Instagram, one might ask: what is the difference between the two now that they both share the same features? Snapchat is still the more personal and intimate platform, with peer to peer communication at the forefront. However, they recognize the importance of having a carefully curated profile. Conversely, Instagram has excelled at the curated format, while still realizing consumers want to share more updates, more often, with less permanence. The two platforms have similar objectives and have taken aim at one another to win users, but are approaching them from different directions.

Users on Instagram tend to follow those who are not in their normal community, but rather those who inspire them – artists, fashionistas, food bloggers, etc. While users definitely follow similar people on Snapchat, they tend to see them at their silliest or in the middle of the project, not at the end of the project. They are much more exposed and vulnerable, with no post processing for the curated moments, which adds to the intimacy of the platform. It is in the moment. But, with Snapchat Memories, is it really?


At the moment, there are no paid advertising opportunities with Stories. This is not unexpected as it is common for platforms to have a trial period to test consumer response and usage before beginning monetization. Though monetization is on their road map, as Systrom stated, they “look forward to introducing new advertising and other business opportunities as part of Instagram Stories.”

Things to consider:

– Photos and videos in Instagram stories are vertical and take up the entire screen. Thus, brands will still need to make custom creative to fill the screen, which has larger production implications for costs of content that only lasts 24hrs.

– If consumers start using stories more and stop scrolling through their feed, this could mean less reach for Instagram ads as they stand today. This is possibly a reconciliation for the 56% decline in organic engagement over the past year.

– With the influence of the algorithm, those who watch your story on Instagram will be your dedicated followers.

– When paid opportunities do come, they will have access to the shared data, targeting and retargeting capabilities of the Facebook/Instagram partnership.

– For accounts who have opted into Business Tools, reach and impressions from Instagram Stories are included in top line aggregated metrics. Insights will combine metrics from feed and stories.

We have already seen a few innovative examples of how brands can use this feature to spark conversation and UGC submissions. See the Red Bull example where they had followers vote on the next photo for their grid.






From a brand perspective, DigitasLBi agrees with Instagram and recommends that brands experiment with the new format as we wait for paid opportunities.

From a consumer perspective, will we see a shift in Instagram behavior? Is this too late for Instagram? Maybe. It’s definitely too early to tell. Instagram has always been a leader in high-quality filters and still feels like a social platform, whereas Snapchat is more a messaging app with cool camera features. However, one thing is clear: users will have to make a choice between updating their Instagram Story or their Snapchat Story because updating both could prove to require too much effort.

From a business perspective, this is a huge opportunity and expansion for Instagram to leverage their 500 million monthly active users, 300 million daily actives and 250 million users on its Direct messaging feature, compared to the 150 million on Snapchat. This comes at a crucial time, with growing worries that Snapchat could take away from Instagram’s advertising momentum as early as Q4 of this year. Their repeated attempts at creating standalone apps with similar features have failed, which has caused Instagram to put these new features front and center of their well-established platform, and, as Systrom put it, they “will be judged by where we go from here, and what we make of it in the future.”