New media platforms come and go, but the basic premise of journalism remains the same: It’s all about a good story.

Snapchat invented it, and Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and even Skype have followed.

“Stories” is the revolutionary new format sweeping across the world’s biggest social media and messaging apps. It’s more native to mobile phones than any news formats we’ve seen before, and it could soon become easier to monetise than our current online assets.

Major social media platforms have adopted stories, encouraging users to actively share their experiences on an ongoing basis.
Major social media platforms have adopted stories, encouraging users to actively share their experiences on an ongoing basis.

Investing in a strategy to make money online is a bit like planning infrastructure. You don’t build for yesterday or even today’s economy, but rather forecast and design for tomorrow.

To help prioritise and focus, we can look at which formats the social media giants are prioritising. Look closer into the circles at the top of every timeline, and it provides a window into the future of storytelling.

Facebook was designed largely for the early text-heavy desktop user, and it was time for a much-needed update to the newsfeed-centered social media model.

Stories are made for mobile and built around the camera. Rapidly replacing the keyboard, or even the touch screen, it’s the way many young people choose to communicate. We engage with the world through images and videos, and sensors like cameras have become our touchpoint to technology.

Stories are vertical, chronological, 10-second videos with layers of information like geo-locations and time stamps swiped on top. Laced together, they form story sequences. Each shot is ephemeral, disappearing after 24 hours. Users tap to fast forward or backward to skip and rewind, controlling the speed at which they watch.

And fundamentally, unlike almost every video format since the television was invented, stories is not a “lean-back” experience of watching content passively. It’s about engaging the thumb, leaning forward, and letting the audience skip through or replay shots.

Unlike the unnatural experience of pausing for a commercial in the linear narratives of traditional media, stories are natively cut into 10-second slices, so breaks are built into the experience. This makes full-screen, vertical video adverts feel more native.

And because stories are ephemeral and disappear, there’s immediacy to watch content within the 24-hour period, which means more engaged eyes on ads.

If 2016 was the year that “live” became mainstream, 2017 is the year of “stories.” Instagram Stories grew by 50 million users in the last two months alone, reaching a daily active user base of 250 million, and Snapchat claims its average active user spends 25 to 30 minutes on the stories app every day.

So as YouTube continues pre-roll adverts, Facebook experiments with mid-roll commercials placed further into videos, and companies like Amazon and Netflix back a subscription model, stories may offer a more receptive and native monetisation possibility.

However, right now, like many new technologies, there’s no clear path to profitability on the stories format, outside of content marketing, perhaps. Only a select few publishers are enjoying an ad revenue share and actually making money in the stories space, like those that are part of the VIP club of publishers in the Discover section of Snapchat.

But as stories becomes a more popular format and social media platforms vie to compete over migrating TV ad dollars, content creators will need to be rewarded. And when they do, media companies geared toward mobile-first, stories formats may have an edge in a social media landscape where native advertising is currently king.