Instagram Stories is a kind of a big deal for brands

Instagram recently launched a new Stories feature that is transforming the way people and brands interact with visual messaging content.

In an interview with BuzzFeed earlier this month, Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom revealed that Stories now has 100 million daily active users – that’s one third of its total user base - after just two months.

That kind of growth signals that the way people are creating and interacting with visual messaging content is making a notable shift to fleeting bursts of raw, authentic photos and videos peppered with captions, emoji, stickers, filters and other highly engaging features.

This mashup of traditional visual user-generated content with fun, creative messaging capabilities has created a new storytelling format, led by Snapchat.  And it is appealing to a wider and older audience with even more purchasing power.

Snapchat has enjoyed being the platform of choice for this content, particularly among Millennials and Generation Z who make up 86 percent of Snap’s U.S. user base. While smaller than Instagram Stories, Snapchat reports 150 million global active users across its entire platform, and they are getting older. The number of users aged 25+ is growing 2x faster than users under 25.

Apple is also getting in the game now with the rollout of a slew of new iMessage features, including stickers, GIFs, emoji, digital touch, handwriting, tapback and effects (have you seen what happens when you text “congrats” to someone? Pure joy!) These features are making visual messaging more familiar to the masses when they pop over to Instagram Stories.

While iMessage and Snapchat are primarily 1:1 or 1:few messaging platforms, Instagram Stories’ broad reach and user-friendliness makes it an exciting opportunity to engage with people on these new terms. Nike, Mountain Dew, Quaker and Coach were early adopters of Stories and are already seeing staggering results. Here’s why:

User Experience: Instagram is more intuitive and user friendly for first-time users, which is perfectly illustrated by a friend who recently posted to Facebook that she’s on her fourth Snapchat tutorial.

Many digital influencers cross promote their Snaps through their Instagram accounts to help grow their audience and make it easier to find them, which can be a real barrier. Snapchat users must know the exact handle of the person they want to follow; its search and discovery capabilities are extremely limited. I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I’ve tried to find the New York Times on Snapchat and failed.

It will be interesting to see if we’ll see a trend of users and influencers abandoning Snapchat for Instagram as Stories continues to gain momentum.

Reach: Instagram’s global active daily users count has now reached 300 million, nearing the population of the entire United States. Nike generated 800,000 views alone for one of its first Stories; Snapchat simply cannot compete on this level.

Advertising & Commerce: Snapchat ads are notoriously expensive, making CPMs untenable for most brands, especially for content that will disappear in 24 hours.

While both networks can display shoppable content, only Instagram has integrations with shopping tools such as liketoknow.it and Like2Buy to remove friction along the path to purchase. [UPDATE: Instagram announced in early November that it soon will offer shoppable photos for regular posts to a limited number of brands and users; this capability exists today only with paid sponsored content.]

The one unique advertising opportunity that Snapchat offers are sponsored geofilters and lenses. You may have seen pics and videos of your friends in which they transform into licking dogs or a dream-like beauty crowned with flowers – these are lenses. Kraft Mac & Cheese saw a 5 percent increase in favorability and a 15 percent lift in purchase intent after a sponsored lens campaign in which users tried to catch flying macaroni with their mouths. It’s so much fun that my four-year-old wants to play with them every day to see what’s new (and maybe even I do, too.).

This emerging storytelling medium is a pretty big deal now that people don’t have to go to one more social media network. We have Snapchat to thank for Instagram Stories, but its long-term staying power and growth with brands is in question. What do you think? I’d love to know.