What Are “Stories,” and Why Does Every Social Network Have Them?

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Nearly everyone is a member of at least one social network these days. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or even Google, there’s one thing that’s prevalent across all of them: Stories. Why did this happen?

Social networks typically have their own unique purposes. Facebook is good for staying in touch with family and friends, Twitter is great for sharing short thoughts, and Instagram is excellent for posting photos. Despite their differences, all of these platforms have “Stories” that ultimately work in the same way.

What Are Stories?

stories icons

The first social network to introduce “Stories” was Snapchat in 2013. The feature allowed users to upload short videos and photos to a rolling compilation. After 24 hours, the upload would disappear.

This was a big change for Snapchat, which up until that point, was all about sending “Snaps” that would disappear immediately after being viewed. The Stories were also viewable to all of your friends and didn’t need to be specifically sent to individuals or groups.

The idea was to create a longer-lasting “Story” of your day. Each day, you could create a new Story, and your friends could easily pop in and check out what you were up to at any time in that 24-hour window.

Related: What Is Snapchat?

Instagram was the first competitor to introduce its own take on Stories. In 2016, the social network launched its creatively named “Stories” feature. Instagram’s implementation worked much like Snapchat’s, and it was immediately popular.

Facebook (which owns Instagram) released its own Stories feature a year later. WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook) introduced a similar feature called “Status” in the same year. Twitter launched “Fleets,” its own version of Stories, in 2020.

Related: How to Send Disappearing Tweets Using Fleets on Twitter

Why Are Stories Everywhere?

twitter fleets
Twitter Fleets row

We’ve established what Stories are, but why have they seemingly infected every social network on the planet? Of course, there’s no concrete answer to that question, but we can make some safe assumptions.

First and foremost, Stories are popular. When Snapchat debuted Stories, it quickly became the most-used feature in the app. Stories make it super easy to share what you’re doing with others. It’s a low-tech way of creating a running “vlog.”

Before Stories, Snapchat was a task-based social network. That means that people would only open the app to take a specific action, like checking a notification or sending a message. Stories transformed it into an app that people wanted to passively check throughout the day.

Social networks like Instagram and Facebook already had that. People post things all the time, so you feel compelled to open the apps and check for content multiple times a day. You don’t want to miss anything. Stories take that to another level.

The temporary aspect of Stories drives people to use social networks even more. If you miss just one day, you could miss a bunch of Stories that can never be seen again. That FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) feeling is potent, and social networks use it to keep you coming back every single day.

Engagement Is King

In the end, it’s all about engagement. When Snapchat introduced Stories, it didn’t even have a way to monetize its service yet. They created one of the best engagement tools social media has ever seen.

Social networks make money with ads, and they need you to see the ads. Stories are just the latest tool to build engagement and keep you in the app. It’s the perfect recipe for making sure that you come back often.

Of course, Stories can also be really fun to use and view. You can get a good sense of what someone is doing that day, and it’s an easy way to share your own ventures as well. Stories can be whatever you make of them. You don’t have to use them to enjoy social media.

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