It’s a story as old as time. Company A creates an innovative new product that disrupts the industry and becomes wildly successful. Within months, Company B has copied the idea. Within a year, every competitor has jumped on the bandwagon. It’s the reason our cars all have power windows, our TVs all have HD, and our phones all have touch screens. Success draws attention.
The latest incarnation of this age-old tale is the spread of Stories, short clips of photos and videos shared on popular social networks that last only for 24 hours. It’s a concept that Snapchat pioneered back in 2013 and quickly became one of the defining features of the service. The ephemeral nature of Stories removes the burden of perfection that comes with permanence. Instead, these short-lived clips are often lighthearted and quirky. Snapchat has cultivated the feature by adding stickers, emoji, voice modulators, and face-tracking enhancements that let their users transform themselves into cats, dogs, and bug-eyed aliens.
People love Stories. So, it’s no wonder that the idea has spread.
Instagram added its own version of Stories last year. Instagram gave it prominent placement on its mobile apps and heavily promoted the feature in the months after release. Despite an initial backlash from pundits and Snapchat loyalists who saw the addition as a blatant rip-off, Instagram Stories has thrived. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 150 million people use Instagram Stories every day.
Now it’s Facebook’s turn to jump on the Stories bandwagon. Late last year, the company began testing the feature on its popular Messenger app, and in recent weeks it added Stories to the main Facebook app as well. Like the Snapchat and Instagram predecessors, Facebook Stories takes advantage of the high-quality video recording available on modern smartphones and provides dozens of filters, lenses, and stickers to spruce up the visuals.
Not surprisingly, the initial reaction to Facebook’s bold copy of Stories has also again been fairly negative.
While the addition of Stories may not be Facebook’s most innovative enhancement, it is an important strategic move. The world’s largest social network is seeing a decline in user-generated content. Members are increasingly sharing links to content they find on other websites, not their own personal statuses, photos, and videos. Instead, many of those people have turned to smaller, fast-paced services like Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp. These camera-first platforms put an emphasis on visuals instead of text, and they’re drawing hordes of tweens, teens, and younger adults. That’s a scary proposition for Facebook, a company that earns nearly all its revenue from advertising.
To combat this content collapse—as it’s known within the company—Facebook needs to stay relevant with this young and trendy demographic. If that means borrowingpopular features from its newer, hipper competitors, then so be it. All’s fair in the relentless battle to remain the largest social network on the planet. Facebook’s goal is to be a one-stop shop for advertisers to reach nearly 2 billion active consumers. This drives it to continually develop new services that keep people coming back day after day. Whether you’re 13, 30, or 93.
Thus far, the uptake for Facebook Stories appears to be slow. It’s been a struggle to find anyone I know who actually uses it, and many people don’t even know the feature existed. My own Stories bar is filled with ghosted out circles that hint at the potential of the service, if only my friends and coworkers would use it. But that’s OK. Stories doesn’t need to be for everyone. It just needs to be that one extra reason that keeps someone—and their friends—coming back to Facebook again tomorrow.