Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram… There’s a lot to learn about what makes a good story.

Towards the end of 2015, Miami- producer DJ Khaled got “lost at sea” when driving his jet ski at night through local canals. Khaled live-snapped the entire ‘ordeal’ and posted it to his Snapchat story, attracting the attention of fans and — when news of the incident went viral — a much wider audience who became curious about his music and major s.

Between 2013 and 2016, Snapchat hit over 10 billion views per day. Simultaneously, Instagram’s audience grew five-fold, but people started posting fewer pics. So, on August 2nd, 2016 Instagram added their own story feature, uniquely named…ahem…‘stories’.

Snapchat has long been at the forefront of stories, which allows individuals and brands to post successive clips of the mini-moments of their day-to-day lives. Now, with Instagram and Facebook Messenger introducing the feature, the way we communicate on social media is getting a shakeup. Red Wire takes a look at what it takes to make a killer story, how much is too much, and some rules of thumb.

What’s in a story?

Got something fairly mundane, unpolished, or secret to show? Enter stories — a simple and short-lived way to share snippets of your life.

Stories do not appear on your main profile page. On Snapchat, they live in a list at the bottom right of the screen. On Facebook Mobile, they’re above your inbox on Messenger, and on Instagram they stay at the top of your home screen. All platforms last for 24 hours before vanishing, but the process to create one is roughly the same.

How to make it happen

Firstly, open your app and click your story camera. On Instagram, this is the top right hand of your screen. On Facebook, it’s up top in Messenger, and Snapchat immediately opens with the option. Secondly, take a picture or record a short video by tapping or holding down the recording button in the centre of the screen.

Thirdly, overlay your pic or video with text, emojis, or drawings. Snapchat and Instagram let you take photos and record video with ‘lenses’ — think puppy ears, deer antlers, and alien faces — that fix themselves to your face and even change your voice. Finally, publish your creation to your story, where it will live for the next 24 hours. Remember, anyone in your Instagram/Snapchat network can view your story – if you only want a select person or group to see it, just skip the ‘my story’ option and send it direct (both Snapchat and Instagram have direct message features).

Shots of Wholefoods' Instagram, including sales and recipies

Source: Wholefoods Instagram

Each clip you publish is added to the end of your story, so, depending on when people view, they can watch things unfold as a successive reel, or bit by bit.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, there are plenty of other great features to make use of. Instagram lets you publish recent (taken within the past 24 hours) photos and videos from your camera roll to your story – great for a beautifully edited photo or video you may have taken earlier. Special features like ‘Boomerang’ help create short clips that run on loop. You can download these clips to your phone, and on Instagram, tag people in them by typing @ and their handle.

When watching someone else’s story, you can direct message someone by hitting the ‘send message’ option, or ‘chat’ on Snapchat. Lurkers beware: on Instagram, you can also see who has checked out your stories. Got all that? Here’s a video.

Why am I doing this again?

For all its extras features (lenses, bitmojis, and more), the process becomes pretty intuitive. People like stories because Instagram photo feeds, in particular, have become increasingly ‘over-produced’. Stories are there for a good time, not a long time. They don’t have to be polished. In fact, their mode of creation — scribbling on top of a photo, adding emojis and text — encourages a scrapbook-style and spontaneous sort of play. Over-posting is less of an issue here too, as each clip is gone the next day.

For brands, stories work well when they can offer behind-the-scenes content or connect followers directly with experts. NASA, for example, uses Instagram stories to let scientists speak about research and help people get excited about the projects they are working on.

Stories also enable existing content to travel further. The Huffington Post lightens news photos via Instagram stories with bright captions and tags, repackaging existing content in a whole new way. New York University takes students on behind-the-scenes tours of the campus, and Mercedes-Benz took viewers behind the scenes while filming their commercials in stunning locations around the world.

Huffington Post's Instagram Story featuring Barack Obama

Source: Huffington Post Instagram

Huffington Post Instagram Story featuring a proposal at Bejing

Source: Huffington Post Instagram

Product reviews and Q&A-style interactions work well here, too. On Snapchat, ethical clothing brand Everlane has ‘Transparency Tuesdays’ when it answers customer questions, while lifestyle brand Refinery 29 uses stories to post recipes and DIY tutorials. The timely nature of stories means that it’s also great for giveaways, special promos, and product launches. Qantas, for example, found itself on a content goldmine when it Snapchatted the entire journey of delivering an Australian ice cream to a homesick Aussie in New York City.

The (unofficial) rules

There are so many ways to use stories, but making one worth watching requires some simple guidelines:

The best stories are entertaining narratives with a beginning, an end, and a point. Subjects and themes work well, even if they are mundane: perhaps you’re trying a new recipe, or going on a road trip, or simply moving through your day. Whatever the action, consider opening with a frame that marks the start of a story, and then add to the tale from there.

Instagram Story showing a woman with pink sunnies and raspberries on her fingers, by J. Crew

An Instagram Story by J. Crew promoting the launch of their latest sunnies

Shake up the perspective. Try different angles for each shot to keep things interesting, and remember that stories are fun and, at best, funny. Emojis, for example, can take a picture to #100 in a flash: A pair of eyes floating over a view, a happy face on a cheeseburger, or a haircut emoji on your new ‘do – the possibilities are endless.

Put thought into your text, too. A well-placed quip can do wonders.

Chihuahua with blonde Kahleesi wig. Caption "One day the iron throne will be mine."

Text can make or break a story. Source: Chilulu

When building video, look at the camera when talking. It’s more personal, direct and compelling to watch. And don’t be afraid if a video or photo feels raw and unedited. Most stories are sporadic, not polished. That’s the point!

Review before you post: If you don’t like a video you’ve shot, shoot again till you do. And once your story is finished, sign off so viewers know when one chapter stops and the next begins.

Quit while you’re ahead: 20 consecutive selfies with a puppy ear filter might lose you some fans, unless (like me) you’re super adorable and versatile in dog form. While stories afford you much more leeway with the volume of content you post, make sure you’re offering something of value to your audience. Otherwise, you may find yourself narrating to nobody.

Happy snapping!

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Camilla Gulli

Editor

Camilla Gulli,
Editor

As Editor at Red Wire, Camilla is particularly passionate about diversity in tech, content marketing, social media, and disruptive platforms.

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