In early March, HLN.be introduced a Stories format to our news app. Not only did it attract and engage a much younger audience, but users are spending more time in our app, and the new format has future advertising possibilities.
Stories is a feature introduced by Snapchat, which was quickly adopted by Instagram. Publishers can tell stories in a more engaging way on these platforms, so why not introduce this format in our own apps and appeal to younger audiences?
Stories are primarily a mobile format: vertical, full screen, and easy to navigate with your thumb. They are often made up of a series of elements such as photos and videos, which usually disappear after 24 hours, which increases the sense of urgency. The focus is on the storytelling, not the photography or which filter or effect was used.
HLN.be translated the horizontal design from its desktop Web sites to the app, resulting in a homogenic layout for the home feed and every article: landscape picture, title, introduction, and paragraphs. The format uses the entire smartphone screen and users can tap their screen (instead of scrolling) to continue reading or watching.
Starting in showbiz
Our editor-in-chiefs and management were convinced that Stories would be a great addition for storytelling in our app. The app development team built and rolled out the new teaser positions and Stories in less than a month, keeping it cost efficient.
During the trial period, we introduced Stories in our entertainment and celebrity section. Entertainment content was ideal because it is rich in photos and videos. Well-known celebrity sites like People Magazine, Daily Mail, TMZ, etc. have already proven this via their successful channels on Snapchat Discover.
Next, a small team of editors was given access to a rich media editing tool to build Stories from a set of templates. On average, 22 new stories were published each week. Week by week, they improved their visual storytelling skills, building up to a climax across multiple scenes within one story, using GIFs to add extra wittiness, and writing with a younger tone of voice.
The results were fairly satisfying. We counted more than 55,000 users in the first three months (without any marketing efforts) and more than 1 million scene impressions. The most impressive statistics involved the average age of users, especially compared to our site-wide average.
A total of 17% of readers used the Stories as teasers to read the entire article or watch a full video, which is much higher than our CTR on Instagram or Facebook.
Now that we have refined the product and have an idea of our target audience, we are ready to launch a product marketing campaign in-app, on our Web site, and on social media. It could be the perfect time, since the interest in news on COVID-19 is decreasing and readers are searching for lighter, entertaining content.
We plan to further improve the user experience in the coming months, run some tests with native advertising in Stories, activate the built-in (non-skippable) ads (imagine the viewability ratio!), and we want to copy it to other sections (e.g., sports) or use it as a replacement for special features and long reads.
Inspired at INMA, accelerated by Google
We learned about VG’s (Schibsted) experiments with Stories at the 2018 INMA conference in Amsterdam. VG already published a daily “edition” on Snapchat Discover and successfully reached out to teenagers and young adults. At that time, the editorial effort was extensive, requiring a team of video journalists to make these vertical videos and place them on Snapchat Discover (which hadn’t even rolled out for publishers in Belgium yet).
At HLN.be we shifted into higher gear with the development of Stories in the spring of 2019, when Google rolled out its AMP Stories. Along with the launch of their AMP Stories technology, the first start-up companies popped up with tools to create and publish Stories in AMP. This not only made it possible to publish Stories in minutes (instead of hours), it also made it much easier to integrate this Web format in our products.