The allure of short lived content (and how brands can use it)

Posted by Samantha Steele

 Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 47 seconds

Why create content that lasts for only a short while? The appeal of ephemeral content is very real, and brands can use it to great success.

What's the appeal of content that lasts mere seconds?

In a world where a digital footprint lasts a lifetime and can cost you not only opportunities, but also your reputation, there's something immensely appealing about producing something that can be fun, silly, embarrassing, and last in a tightly controlled, short-lived bubble.

As marketer Gary Vaynerchuck explains, "The norm of the internet age is to create platforms in which everything is saved - everything is stored and documented digitally. Snapchat went the opposite direction and is predicated on our reality: moments are temporary and that’s exactly the feeling and behaviour that Snapchat mapped to."

Since SnapChat's inception in 2011 and rapid rise to global fame, all major social networks have rolled out a similar feature: messages that are uploaded in a 'story' format and last for a limited time.

Ephemeral, or disappearing, messaging has skyrocketed in popularity since Snapchat was introduced. In fact, since Snapchat's arrival to the social media scene, Facebook and Instagram have launched their own versions of some of Snapchat's most popular features. - HubSpot

The most popular of these mimics was Instagram Stories, which was launched in 2016 and was openly acknowledged by the tech industry as simply cloning Snapchat. Says Instagram, to explain the feature:

With Instagram Stories, you don’t have to worry about overposting. Instead, you can share as much as you want throughout the day — with as much creativity as you want. You can bring your story to life in new ways with text and drawing tools. The photos and videos will disappear after 24 hours and won’t appear on your profile grid or in feed. - Instagram Stories

As from April last year, Instagram Stories had an astonishing 200 million users per day. Many of these are teenagers, as The Atlantic points out in their article:

Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. - The Atlantic

It's quite clear that short-lived content isn't the fad it first appeared to be: it's now a mainstay of social media platforms.

The success of this type of content can be explained by several factors:

  1. Content inundation on social media - short-lived content prevents repetitive content
  2. New algorithms and the rise of non-chronological content
  3. The ability to personalise and animate content
  4. Very direct statistics are provided by "Story" platforms (particularly Instagram stories)

I'll go into each factor below.

1. Content inundation on social media - short-lived content prevents repetitive content

Social media platforms started out as quiet places to get away from your parents (anyone remember MySpace?), but they're now a thriving community of everyone you've ever met: colleagues, family members, friends, and yes, brands too. As TechCrunch points out, platforms like Facebook have become inundated with content such as:

never-ending sponsored posts from Tasty, CNN, and other brands that have embraced the platform. - Tech Church

Short-lived content allows users to, first of all, post multiple pictures around anything mundane without blasting their newsfeed (and risk losing followers). This also prevents repetitive content - like seeing 20 posts about an event from one source. Second of all, this also allows users to specifically choose which people or brands they see content from. Instead of relying on algorithms, users have more freedom to choose which fresh content they engage with. Speaking of algorithms...

2. New algorithms and the rise of non-chronological content

The effect of changing algorithms on social media platforms are another reason for the success of short lived content. Arguably the biggest change that algorithms have brought to the average user's social media experience is taking away the chronological, immediate experience of engaging with content as soon as it's published. Instagram (with the word "instant" part of the portmanteau that forms their name) has been the hardest hit by the change they implemented in their algorithm.

Unlike a "newsfeed" that platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter use to display content from friends and brands, instant stories aren't controlled by algorithms. Instead, these "stories" are purely chronological and display in a "story" tab as soon as they're published, with the newest pushed to the front.

3. The ability to personalise and animate content

Hardly a main reason for the content's success, but the ability to personalise photos with stickers, drawings, and text is another reason why short-lived content has become a whole different experience on social media platforms. This also makes the content less polished, more "real" and is an easy way to be playful and add your brand's tone to your content, as explained by TechCrunch.

Stories viewers are used to off-the-cuff tone, shaky production and selfie monologues, allowing these creators to speak to directly to their audiences without much fuss. - Tech Chruch 

4. Very direct statistics are provided by "Story" platforms (particularly Instagram stories)

If you use the Inbound methodology like we do, you'll know that data and tracking is absolutely key to running a successful marketing strategy.

If you have a business account, you can tap on the analytics icon to see additional details. Instagram lets business owners track the impressions; reach/viewers; and the number of taps forward or backward, exits, and replies a particular photo or video in your story receives. Impressions tallies the number of times a particular photo or video was seen, whereas reach tallies the number of unique viewers who saw a particular photo or video in your story. In addition, you’ll have analytics data for the number of times tappable elements like Location or #Hashtag stickers are tapped. - Social Media Examiner

The added insights that Story-like features give you - such as seeing who viewed your story, who skipped it and when - are an invaluable part of online tracking. People and brands enjoy these stats, and with interactive polls, hashtags and for brands with enough followings, the posts can also be an opportunity for CTAs ("Swipe up to read our post").

Another pro for a brand is that the story indicator also shows that you have a live story on your advert, so those uninterested in your advert may also be interested in clicking through to your story, giving you added interaction with fans.

As you can see, there are many reasons why short-lived content is so popular among both people and brands.

Here are 4 ways you can use it to great effect:

  1. Stay relevant Your content needs to be interesting NOW - you won't have an audience coming back to visit your content later. Make sure you're sharing interesting and timeous stories that your viewers.
Make like a toddler and keep asking ‘why’. Why will anyone be interested? Why will my audience be interested? - Seven

2. Keep up with current events Don't use the news for cheap piggy-backing on current events, but make sure your content is relevant and reacting to the real world in real time.

3. Make a narrative One easy way to do this is to condense versions of your blog posts into step-by-step content or simply tell the salient facts through your Story.

Many Instagram users are looking for cooking and decorating ideas and other household topics, and Instagram Stories lets you share this kind of information in an interesting, digestible format. - Social Media Examiner

4. Be authentic A big part of the appeal of short-lived content is how real and raw it is, so be sure to keep your messaging authentic, real, and relatable.

There are some brands really getting the short-lived feature right - make sure you're one of them before the technology leaves you behind. To understand all the jargon around content marketing, visit our terminology guide for assistance.

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Feature image by Samantha Steele