This week, Instagram announced the launch of their new ‘Stories‘ feature, and the internet immediately freaked out about it.
At first, I dutifully joined in with the freaking-out, because it’s not often I manage to jump on board a bandwagon early enough to feel part of it, and seriously, Instagram: could you BE any more blatant in your copying of Snapchat? I feel like we should all be following you through the street, ringing a bell, and shouting, “SHAME! SHAME!” or something – it’s really THAT blatant, and also kind of cringeworthy to see such a huge platform essentially put its hands up and say, “Yeah, we’re all out of unique ideas, so we’re just gonna use someone else’s – ‘kay?”
For shame. (SHAME! SHAME!)
The whole time I was metaphorically ringing my bell (Terry took my real bell away from me, unfortunately…), and tut-tutting over it, however, there was a little part of me saying, “But Amber: you’re totally going to love this, and you know you are.” I tried to suppress that voice, but the next morning I woke up, and the first thing I did was to update Instagram on my phone, and then check it repeatedly to see if I had access to ‘Stories’ yet. And, after a few hours, I DID have access to Stories. And guys? I kind of love it.
I mean, yeah, sure, it must suck to be Snapchat right now, and there’s just no getting away from that, but at the same time, I have to admit, I’m much more likely to use this new Instagram feature: partly because I already have a following there, and it makes more sense to me to publish content to that existing audience, rather than trying to build a new one on yet another platform, but also because, as far as I can tell, this seems like a good compromise between the “staged” Instagram we have now, and the more candid Instagram of the past, which everyone seems to miss, but which no one seems prepared to try to recover.
I include myself in that statement, by the way: I’ve done my fair share of complaining about how Instagram has chaaaaanged: about how it USED to be all about documenting your life, and sharing little behind-the-scenes snapshots, and now it’s all about “curating” the perfect feed, creating the perfect flatlay, and basically fictionalising your life, to the point where it’s barely even recognisable as YOUR life. I complain about that, but I still do it: I think we all do, and I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with that.
To be honest, I’ve been becoming increasingly frustrated by some of the complaints I’ve been reading about Instagram (and social media in general), and how “fake” it all is. Why do people expect gritty reality from social media, after all? I know I’ve talked about this before, but I think most of us at least try to present our best selves in public – even if that just means pulling a comb through our hair before leaving the house, or giving the living room a quick tidy when we know people are coming over. I don’t visit my friends and demand to see their messy cupboards, or expect them to open the door in their PJs, so why would I expect people to air their dirty linen on social media, just to be “relatable”?
I don’t, is the short answer to that: and I’m pretty sure you don’t either, which is probably why we’ve arrived at the Instagram we have now – all themed feeds and carefully chosen photos. It’s a highlights reel rather than the story of our lives now, and once you’ve started down that road, it’s difficult to get off it. I, for instance, wrote this post, talking about how you totally don’t need to have an Instagram theme, because it ruins the spontaneity of the platform… and then, a few weeks later, I got myself an Instagram theme. D’oh. Now that I have it, I can’t quite bring myself to break it, either, because as much as I, too, miss the “good ol’ days”, where it truly was a record of people’s lives, I can’t help but notice that the flatlays and “themed” photos get more likes and comments than the “real” ones do, and if you TRULY don’t care about whether people like your content (both figuratively and literally), then you are a much better person than me, and I mean that in all sincerity.
I think Stories will help to change all of that, though. Like Snapchat, the photos and videos you upload to your “story” are only live for 24 hours: there are no comments, no “likes”, and they don’t become part of your grid – although there is the option to send individual photos to the grid if you want to. When I first started using Snapchat (which is EXACTLY the same), I found the temporary nature of it, plus the complete lack of feedback, pretty bizarre, really: as I got used to it, however, I found it really liberating to be able to post something without worrying about how many likes it would get, or whether it would look good in my “grid”… this is what makes Snapchat so interesting, I think. It’s much more real, much more spontaneous, and it’s basically like watching a reality TV show featuring your favourite bloggers, and other people you know – and who wouldn’t be interested in THAT? (If you just said that YOU wouldn’t be interested in that, I’ll just point out that you’re now 1,000 words into a blog post about Instagram Stories, so…)
The problem with Snapchat, though? For me, it’s that it’s kind of hard to use. I feel stupid even saying this, but I’ve had to Google almost everything I’ve ever tried to do on Snapchat, and I STILL constantly forget how to access various features. I only follow a handful of people there, purely because there’s no easy way to find out who’s using it (You have to know the person’s Snapchat name in order to follow them, and to find out THAT, you mostly have to just rely on them mentioning it on Twitter or something), and I’m STILL cringing over that time I accidentally sent a snap of my own face to an extremely popular fashion blogger, who now probably thinks I’m some kind of psycho stalker. This is the kind of thing I’ll be having embarrassment flashbacks about for the rest of my life, seriously: and let’s not even talk about the time I realised I’d been sending all of my snaps, not to my “story”, as I’d thought, but to one specific person. (That time was known as “last week”, and I’ll probably never get over it…)
Because of all of this, I liked Snapchat, but I hardly ever used it: most of the time I’d completely forget I even had the thing, and then I’d remember, post a series of snaps of my dog, and then promptly forget about it again. I THINK I have around 50 followers, but then again, there’s no way to know that for sure without counting them all, and who has time for THAT? On Instagram, by contrast, I have 11,000 followers: I open up the app multiple times a day, and because I’m automatically given access to the Stories of everyone I’m following, I don’t need to search for user names, or feel like I’m the only one who didn’t get invited to the party of the decade. (Actually, I still do feel like that, but that’s par for the course with me, really…) I don’t really want to like it, because it’s still basically just stealing at the end of the day, but so far I’ve been really enjoying watching everyone’s stories and creating my own – and I think I’ll like it even more once the furore dies down, and all of the stories stop being just one person after another pointing out that, hey, this is just like Snapchat! YA DON’T SAY!
Well, it IS like Snapchat… but I like it, and I think it could potentially be a bit of a game-changer for bloggers. Instagram is already huge, obviously, and, for some people, it’s become a complete replacement for blogging. Brands have been very enthusiastic about it – I now get quite a lot of requests for sponsored Instagram posts as well as blog posts – and because uploading an Instagram photo is so much easier than writing a blog post, bloggers have been quick to take advantage of that. My prediction is that Stories will encourage people to spend even more time on the platform (The day the feature launched, I ran my phone battery down twice – and I wasn’t even playing Pokemon Go that day, either!), and that will, of course, make it more valuable to sponsors. I already get quite a few people approaching me about featuring things on Snapchat, even although I hardly ever use it, and only have… however many followers I have… and I can see the same thing happening here. I like the fact that Stories allow you to get back to the original premise of Instagram – real-time documentation of your life – without worrying about flooding your followers’ timelines, or messing up your “grid”. And, yes, I’ve apparently become the kind of person who talks very seriously about her “grid”: I kind of hate myself right now, not gonna lie.
There is, however, one thing I’ll miss from Snapchat:
Filter? WHAT filter? No, I ACTUALLY have butterflies flying around my head all the time, like an Elven princess. Doesn’t everyone?
[P.S. If you want to see too many videos of me opening my mail, and deciding what to wear every day, you can follow my Instagram Story here.]