Why Instagram Stories are an important lesson in digital innovation

Instagram and Snapchat may both be photo-heavy social networks loved by celebrities, brands and millennials, but, until recently, they represented two different worlds and different experiences.

Snapchat has taught us that in a world of heavily filtered selfies and perfect lighting, there is a place for ‘not-so-serious’ content. This is compared to a meticulously curated Instagram profile that promotes a ‘better’ version of oneself, one that people will like and comment on endlessly. Snapchat offers a momentary glance at the present, while Instagram captures a rose-colored portrait of the past.

However, in August Instagram launched Instagram stories: fleeting content that is only live for 24 hours from the moment of publication, just like a Snapchat story. With this move, Instagram acknowledged the growing thirst for ‘authentic’ social. The move is an important example of how, in today brands in the digital space must be willing to dramatically change their core offering to stay relevant.

Aldo Agostinelli Instagram stories
Users can add text and doodles to Instagram stories, which vanish after 24 hours.

As The Future Laboratory noted in their excellent report on Generation Z, today’s teenagers do not seek the traditional signifiers of success and luxury to which previous generations aspired. Whilst older millennials may wish to present an airbrushed version of themselves online, younger generations aspire to realness.

“Today’s teenagers do not seek the traditional signifiers of success and luxury”

For Instagram, this was problematic: filtered, perfect images were its bread and butter. Stories provided the solution. Not only do they allow users to inject authenticity into their profiles, they leave no digital footprint: growing up online, Generation Z are acutely aware that the gritty reality they present on social today could be used against them tomorrow. They embrace ephemeral content because it gives them a sense of digital security.

Of course, Instagram didn’t take a blind leap. Their move was clearly shaped by studying their biggest competitor: Snapchat, teenagers’ favourite social platform. However, it was undeniably bold: they altered the core premise of their platform – beautiful, carefully curated imagery – and weren’t afraid to tread on their competitors’ toes.

“Instagram recognized that, today, younger generations have enormous sway on those older than them.”

Brands most recognize the significance of Instagram’s updates, made at a time when it was still growing – but with Snapchat edging into the lead in terms of US teen users. Instagram recognized that, today, younger generations have enormous sway on those older than them. They need the teen audience on board because what today’s teenagers, the rulers of the internet, do, older generations will follow. This generation are the first to embrace change, and brands must keep up with them if they want to stay relevant.

“Brands that do not take note of Generation Z will be left behind”

That one of the world’s most successful social platforms has fundamentally changed its offering to appeal to the under 20s should be a lesson to all brands. In 2016, change is rapid and driven by an age-group who were previously just an afterthought. However, brands which do not take note of Generation Z will be left behind.

Do you agree that brands should radically innovate to stay relevant? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet me @agostinellialdo.

Want to learn more? If you enjoyed this blog, you’ll like my post on how working with influencers will turbocharge your marketing.