All posts in “stories”

Why unskippable Stories ads could revive Facebook

Prepare for the invasion of the unskippables. If the Stories social media slideshow format is the future of mobile TV, it’s going to end up with commercials. Users won’t love them. And done wrong they could pester people away from spending so much time watching what friends do day-to-day. But there’s no way Facebook and its family of apps will keep letting us fast-forward past Stories ads just a split-second after they appear on our screens.

We’re on the cusp of the shift to Stories. Facebook estimates that across social media apps, sharing to Stories will surpass sharing through feeds some time in 2019. One big reason is they don’t take a ton of thought to create. Hold up your phone, shoot a photo or short video, and you’ve instantly got immersive, eye-catching, full-screen content. And you never had to think.

Facebook CPO Chris Cox at F8 2018 charts the rise of Stories that will see the format surpass feed sharing in 2019

Unlike text, which requires pre-meditated reflection that can be daunting to some, Stories are point and shoot. They don’t even require a caption. Sure, if you’re witty or artistic you can embellish them with all sorts of commentary and creativity. They can be a way to project your inner monologue over the outside world. But the base level of effort necessary to make a Story is arguably less than sharing a status update. That’s helped Stories rocket to over 1.3 billion daily users across Facebook’s apps and Snapchat.

The problem, at least for Facebook, is that monetizing the News Feed with status-style ads was a lot more straightforward. Those ada, which have fueled Facebook’s ascent to earning $13 billion in revenue and $5 billion in profit per quarter, were ostensibly old-school banners. Text, tiny photo, and a link. Advertisers have grown accustomed to them over 20 years of practice. Even small businesses on a tight budget could make these ads. And it at least took users a second to scroll past them — just long enough to make them occasionally effective at implanting a brand or tempting a click.

Stories, and Story ads, are fundamentally different. They require big, tantalizing photos at a minimum, or preferably stylish video that lasts five to fifteen seconds. That’s a huge upward creative leap for advertisers to make, particularly small business who’ll have trouble shooting that polished content themselves. Rather than displaying a splayed out preview of a link, users typically have to swipe up or tap a smaller section of a Story ad to click through.

And Stories are inherently skippable. Users have learned to rapidly tap to progress slide by slide through friends’ Stories, especially when racing through those with too many posts or that come from more distant acquaintances. People are quick with the trigger finger the moment they’re bored, especially if it’s with an ad.

A new type of ad blindness has emerged. Instead of our eyes glazing over as we scroll past, we stare intensely searching for the slightest hint that something isn’t worth our time and should be skipped. A brand name, “Sponsored” label, stilted product shot, or anything that looks asocial leads us to instantly tap past.

This is why Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg scared the hell out of investors on the brutal earnings call when she admitted about Stories that “The question is, will this monetize at the same rate as News Feed? And we honestly don’t know.” It’s a radically new format advertisers will need time to adopt and perfect. Facebook had spent the past year warning that revenue growth would decelerate as it ran out of News Feed ad inventory, but it’d never stressed the danger as what is was: Stories. That contributed to its record-breaking $120 billion share price drop.

The shift from News Feed ads to Stories ads will be a bigger transition than desktop ads to mobile ads for Facebook. Feed ads looked and worked identically, it was just the screen around them changing. Stories ads are an entirely new beast.

Stories Ads Are A Bigger Shift Than Web To Mobile

There is one familiar format Stories ads are reminiscent of: television commercials. Before the age of TiVo and DVRs, you had to sit through the commercials to get your next hit of content. I believe the same will eventually be true for Stories, to the tune of billions in revenue for Facebook.

Snapchat is cornered by Facebook’s competition and desperate to avoid missing revenue estimates again. So this week, it rolled out unskippable vertical video ads it actually calls “Commercials” to 100 more advertisers, and they’ll soon be self-serve for buyers. Snap first debuted them in May, though the six-second promos are still only inserted into its longer-form multi-minute premium Shows, not user generated Stories. A Snap spokesperson said they couldn’t comment on future plans. But I’d expect its stance will inevitably change. Friends’ Stories are interesting enough to compel people to watch through entire ads, so the platforms could make us.

Snapchat is desperate, and that’s why it’s already working on unskippable ads. If Facebook’s apps like Instagram and WhatsApp were locked in heated battle with Snapchat, I think we’d see more brinkmanship here. Each would hope the other would show unskippable ads first so it could try to steal their pissed off users.

But Facebook has largely vanquished Snapchat, which has seen user growth sink significantly. Snapchat has 191 million daily users, but Facebook Stories has 150 million, Messenger Stories has 70 million, Instagram Stories has 400 million, and WhatsApp Stories (called Status) leads with 450 million. Most people’s friends around the world aren’t posting to Snapchat Stories, so Facebook doesn’t risk pushing users there with overly aggressive ads except perhaps amongst US teens.

Instagram’s three-slide Stories carousel ads

That’s why I expect we’ll quickly see Facebook start to test unskippable Stories ads. They’ll likely be heavily capped at first, to maybe one to three per day per user. Facebook took a similar approach to slowly rolling out auto-play video News Feed ads back in 2014. And Facebook’s apps will probably only show them after a friend’s story before your next pal’s, in between rather than as dreaded pre-rolls. Instagram already offers carousel Stories ads with up to three slides instead of one, so users have to tap three times to blow past them.

An Instagram spokesperson told me they had “no plans to share right now” about unskippable ads, and a Facebook spokesperson said “We don’t have any plans to test unskippable stories ads on Facebook or Instagram.” But plans can change. A Snap spokesperson noted that unlike a full thirty-second TV spot, Snapchat’s Commercials are up to six seconds, which matches an emerging industry trend for mobile video ads. Budweiser recently made some six second online ads that it also ran on TV, showing the format’s reuseability that could speed up adoption. For brand advertisers not seeking an on-the-spot purchase, they need time to leave an impression.

By making some Stories ads unskippable, Facebook’s apps could charge more while making them more impactful for advertisers. It would also reduce the creative pressure on businesses because they won’t be forced to make that first split-second so flashy so people don’t fast-forward.

If Facebook makes the Stories ad format work, it has a bright future that contrasts with the doomsday vibes conjured by its share price plummet. Facebook has over 5X more (duplicated) Stories users across its apps than its nearest competitor Snapchat. The social giant sees libraries full of Stories created each day waiting to be monetized.

Stories are about to surpass feed sharing. Now what?

We’re at the cusp of the visual communication era. Stories creation and consumption is up 842 percent since early 2016, according to consulting firm Block Party. Nearly a billion accounts across Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Messenger now create and watch these vertical, ephemeral slideshows. And yesterday, Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox showed a chart detailing how “the Stories format is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends sometime next year.”

The repercussions of this medium shift are vast. Users now consider how every moment could be glorified and added to the narrative of their day. Social media platforms are steamrolling their old designs to highlight the camera and people’s Stories. And advertisers must rethink their message not as a headline, body text, and link, but as a background, overlays, and a feeling that lingers even if viewers don’t click through.

WhatsApp’s Stories now have over 450 million daily users. Instagram’s have over 300 million. Facebook Messenger’s had 70 million in September. And Snapchat as a whole just reached 191 million, about 150 million of which use Stories according to Block Party. With 970 million accounts, it’s the format of the future. Block Party calculates that Stories grew 15X faster than feeds from Q2 2016 to Q3 2017. And that doesn’t even count Google’s new AMP Stories for news, Netflix’s Stories for mobile movie previews, and YouTube’s new Stories feature.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even admitted on last week’s earnings call that the company is focused on “making sure that ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” When asked, Facebook confirmed that it’s now working on monetization for Facebook Stories.

From Invention To Standard

“They deserve all the credit”, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told me about Snapchat when his own app launched its clone of Stories. But what sprouted as Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and his team reimagining the Facebook News Feed through the lens of its 10-second disappearing messages has blossomed into the dominant way to see life from someone else’s perspective. And just as Facebook and Twitter took FriendFeed and refined it with relevancy sorting, character constraints, and all manners of embedded media, the Stories format is still being perfected. “This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it” Systrom followed up.

Snapchat is trying to figure out if Stories from friends and professional creators should be separate, and if they should be sorted by relevancy or reverse chronologically. Instagram and Facebook are opening Stories up to posts from third-party apps like Spotify that makes them a great way to discover music. WhatsApp is pushing the engineering limits of Stories, figuring out ways to make the high-bandwidth videos play on slow networks in the developing world.

Messenger is removing its camera from the navigation menu, and settling in as a place to watch Stories shared from Facebook and Instagram. Meanwhile, Messenger is merging augmented reality, commerce, and Stories so users can preview products in AR and then either share or buy them. Facebook created a Stories carousel ad that lets businesses share a slideshow of three photos or videos together to string together a narrative. And perhaps most tellingly, Facebook is testing a new post composer for its News Feed that actually shows an active camera and camera roll preview to coerce you into sharing Stories instead of a text status. Companies who refuse the trend may be left behind.

Social Media Bedrock

As I wrote two years ago when Snapchat with the only app with Stories:

“Social media creates a window through which your friends can watch your life. Yet most social networks weren’t designed that way, because phones, screen sizes, cameras, and mobile network connections weren’t good enough to build a crystal-clear portal.

With all its text, Twitter is like peering through a crack in a fence. There are lots of cracks next to each other, but none let you see the full story. Facebook is mostly blank space. It’s like a tiny jail-cell window surrounded by concrete. Instagram was the closest thing we had. Like a quaint living room window, you can only see the clean and pretty part they want you to see.

Snapchat is the floor-to-ceiling window observation deck into someone’s life. It sees every type of communication humans have invented: video, audio, text, symbols, and drawings. Beyond virtual reality and 360 video — both tough to capture or watch on the go — it’s difficult to imagine where social media evolves from here.” It turns out that over the next two years, social media would not evolve, but instead converge on Stories. 

What comes next is a race for more decorations, more augmented reality, more developers, and more extendability beyond native apps and into the rest of the web. Until we stop using cell phones all together, we’ll likely see most of sharing divided between private messaging and broadcasted Stories.

The medium is a double-edged sword for culture, though. While a much more vivid way to share and engender empathy, they also threaten to commodify life. When Instagram launched Stories, Systrom said it was because otherwise you “only get to see the highlights”.

But he downplayed how a medium for capturing more than the highlights would pressure people around the world to interrupt any beautiful scene or fit of laughter or quiet pause with their camera phone. We went from people shooting and sharing once or a few times a day to constantly. In fact, people plan their activities not just around a picture-perfect destination, but turning their whole journey into success theater.

If Stories are our new favorite tool, we must learn to wield them judiciously. Sometimes a memory is worth more than an audience. When it’s right to record, don’t get in the way of someone else’s experience. And after the Story is shot, return to the moment and save captioning and decoration for down time. Stories are social media bedrock. There’s no richer way to share, so they’re going to be around for a while. We better learn to gracefully coexist.

Facebook wants to fix the ‘Happy Birthday’ spam problem by using Stories

Have you ever turned off Facebook’s notifications or even deleted the app entirely on your birthday, simply to avoid the non-stop barrage of alerts that someone had posted “Happy Birthday!” to your timeline? A fix may be in the works, as it turns out. An update to how Facebook will handle birthday notifications was given a brief mention during today’s keynote address at the company’s F8 developer conference, hinting at a new birthday feature yet to come.

The feature wasn’t one of Facebook’s demos, and the company is declining to share more details about its launch at this time.

However, the general idea is that Facebook could leverage the Stories format to create “birthday packages” that are sent once to users at the end of the day, instead of having users post messages to the friends’ timelines.

This was mentioned briefly alongside other ideas for how Stories will be expanded – like the upcoming launch of collaborative Stories, and a Stories option that allows video clipping, for example.

“And then birthdays,” added Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox in his keynote address. “Instead of all of us writing on your wall to wish you a ‘happy birthday,’ how about we pull together, over the course of the day, a photo and video reel, which you then receive as a package at the end, saying, ‘happy birthday.’”

It’s unclear when this feature will actually arrive, but we understand Facebook isn’t commenting publicly because the product team is still working on what this new “happy birthday” feature will look like.

It’s not likely to prevent anyone from writing on a friend’s timeline, we’d imagine – but it could be a change to how Facebook prompts you to remember your friend’s or family member’s birthday. (Today, Facebook prompts you to post to their timeline, but that could be tweaked to encourage users to leave messages via Stories instead.)

This isn’t the first time Facebook has attempted to fix the age-old Happy Birthday spam problem. It has also done things like group birthday posts together, and it has consistently tried to get people to use video with things like Birthday Cam in 2016,  and later personalized but automated video messages. 

It has also attempted to bundle birthday greetings into recap videos, which is the experience that sounds most similar to what Facebook is now teasing with this Happy Birthday Stories feature. Perhaps, the recap video will make a comeback, but be presented not within your News Feed or Timeline, but as a personalized Story built for you.

Of course, if you really don’t like the birthday spam, you could just remove your birthday information from your Facebook profile ahead of the actual day.

Music app Genius launches its own take on Stories, aided by YouTube

Genius, the big database of song lyrics and musical knowledge, is today launching its own version of “stories,” the Snapchat and Instagram-like short form sharing format that’s been rapidly spreading to a number of sites and apps, including Facebook, Messenger, Skype, and even Google. Genius’ “Song Stories,” as the new product is called, combine Genius artist interviews with YouTube content like concert footage, music video clips, and playlists.

As the user moves through the story, they’ll see the sort of behind-the-music details that Genius is known for, but in a more interactive format.

If you’re already familiar with Instagram Stories or Snapchat Stories, you’ll find Song Stories easy to use as well.

As you listen to the song, you can tap to advance through the cards in the Story, tap and hold to pause a card, or do nothing and watch the story advance automatically, appropriately synced with the music.

On some of the cards, you’ll also be able to swipe up to access additional YouTube content directly.

For example, a Song Story might point you to other YouTube videos to watch, like concerts, covers, interviews with the artist, themed playlists, and more.

The collaboration between Genius and YouTube is notable, given YouTube’s plans to launch a revamped premium subscription service in the near future. A deeper integration with Genius could be a competitive advantage for YouTube.

And while nothing was announced in terms of a YouTube product today, this launch signals a closer and productive working relationship between two companies – despite the fact that Genius already works with YouTube Music’s competitor Spotify to power its “Behind the Music” feature.

“At YouTube we’re working every day to push the envelope and find new ways to enhance the overall music experience by better connecting artists and fans,” said Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s Global Head of Music, in a statement. “This project with Genius provides a more immersive way to explore music—it’s the perfect example of innovating in pursuit of this goal.”

“Genius and YouTube, the two biggest sources of musical deep cuts and rabbit holes on the planet, are natural collaborators on this mission,” added Ilan Zechory, Genius’s co-founder and president.

Not all bands and artists have been given the Song Story experience, however.

At launch, there’s a Gallery of Stories available on the Genius website, featuring artists like Lil Uzi VertCardi B feat. 21 SavageJoy DivisionTroye Sivan, and others. It remains to be seen how widely the Story format will roll out across the Genius database of song info going forward.

Google takes AMP beyond basic posts with its new story format


For the most part, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project was about what its name implies: accelerating mobile pages. Unsurprisingly, that mostly meant quickly loading and rendering existing articles on news sites, recipes and other relatively text-heavy content. With that part of AMP being quite successful (if not always beloved) now, Google is looking to take AMP beyond these basic stories. At its AMP Conf in Amsterdam, the company today announced the launch of the AMP story format.

The overall idea here isn’t all that different from the stories format you are probably already familiar with from the likes of Instagram and Snapchat. This new format allows publishers to build image-, video- and animation-heavy stories for mobile that you can easily swipe through. “It’s a mobile-focused format for creating visually rich stories,” as Google’s product manager for the AMP project Rudy Galfi called it when I talked to him last week. “It swings the doors open to create visually interesting stories.”To launch this format, Google partnered with CNN, Conde Nast, Hearst, Mashable, Meredith, Mic, Vox Media and The Washington Post. Like all of AMP, this is an open-source project and publishers can extend it as needed.

The idea here is to start surfacing AMP stories in Google’s search results over time. For now, though, this is only a preview that is meant to give developers and publishers time to support this new format.

Indeed, the first thing publishers will likely notice, though, is that there’s no tooling yet for building AMP stories. To some degree, that was also the case when Google first showed AMP for regular posts, though developers quickly wrote plugins for all of the popular CMS systems to support it. “Publishers that have been working with AMP stories managed to build fairly easy integrations with their existing CMS systems,” Galfi told us.

Even once tooling is available, though, publishers will have to create AMP stories from scratch. They can’t just easily recycle an existing post, slap on an image and call it a day. The success of the AMP story format, then, is going to be about making the right tools available for building these stories without adding overhead of developers, who are not necessarily all going to be happy about the fact that Google is launching yet another format that it may or may not support in the future.

It’s also still unclear how Google will surface these stories in search and how publishers can ensure that they’ll be included here. Because these AMP stories live separate from regular posts, Google will likely give publishers another means of pinging it when new stories go live.

For now, if you want to try an AMP story, head here and search for one by the launch partners. You’ll find AMP stories under the new “Visual Stories from” header in the search results.

While I’m not sure if publishers will fully embrace this format, I have to admit that the existing AMP stories I looked at made for a nice diversion. The Washington Post used the format to experiment with a timeline of North Korea’s participation in the Olympics, for example. Vox, unsurprisingly, used it for explainers, among other things, and Mashable probably went further than most by using video, sound and animations across most of its stories.