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The Snapchat Copycat: Instagram Stories

Hi there! My name’s Morgan. I’m a social media intern at West Virginia University and a current senior marketing student here. And I also run WVU’s Instagram (with some guidance and help from Tony and Candace, of course).

Instagram Stories – the Snapchat copycat. I initially disregarded Instagram Stories, released in August 2016, and was annoyed that it was the platform’s attempt at catching up with Snapchat (and I’m still kind of annoyed, but it’s fine). Short clips of photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours? Seems familiar.

If you’re ignoring this feature because you think you have all of your bases covered with Snapchat, you’re missing out on a great new area to place content. Instagram already has a massive amount of users – many more than Snapchat does. The 200 million users who use Instagram Stories alone far surpasses Snapchat’s daily users. And Instagram accounts are so much easier to find than Snapchat accounts. There are so many reasons to take advantage of this opportunity.

WVU’s social media team decided that we would test the waters with this new feature. We thought it was important to be able to differentiate a Snapchat story and an Instagram story due to their similarities. While our Snapchat is more playful with lots of emojis and fun content, our Instagram displays amazing shots of campus, of Mountaineers out and about with WVU flags, and of current events at our university. We wanted to keep this theme throughout all of our Instagram Stories too.

A screenshot of West Virginia University's Instagram feed displaying photos of Morgantown, the WVU campus, and Mountaineers traveling.  

WVU’s Instagram, followed by 60,000+ users, has almost doubled the number of followers we had when I took over the account in May 2016, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Our feed mainly consists of user-generated content. We collect tons of photos from other accounts that we come across through hashtags, tags, and DMs and repost them (with photo credit) when we feel the time is right. A lot of the photos we receive don’t make it onto our Instagram, but Instagram Stories gave us the ability to show off some great photos that we just might not have room for on our feed. By implementing Instagram Student Features on Stories, we take submissions from real WVU students and display their top five pictures on the story for 24 hours.

This was our first step into the Instagram Stories world and it’s taken off ever since. There are many features of Instagram Stories – things that are impossible to do on Snapchat – that I now absolutely love.

Placing multiple text boxes on one photo allows for more freedom. Whereas Snapchat allows just one text box, Instagram provides you with the option to place as many as you'd like. You can place an opaque or translucent background behind the text too to help it stand out on your photo.

The option to swipe up to either send a direct message or follow a link is helpful for continuing a conversation with your audience. While both of these features are also on Snapchat (yes, you read that right; you can now add links to your snaps), you can utilize them on Instagram too. Many people swipe up to send us a message commenting on the story or to enter a giveaway. We recently did a giveaway of WVU’s Official 2017 Fan Shirt and easily hundreds of people, if not more, direct messaged us straight from the Instagram Story for a chance to win one of these shirts.

And swiping up to follow a link lets you get creative. I took a hint from BuzzFeed and started incorporating our own WVU BuzzFeed quizzes and articles into our platforms this summer. Anyone can create a BuzzFeed account and make their own content. The content that I create on BuzzFeed can cover anything from the history of WVU to WVU-inspired “spirit animals” featuring some well-known WVU fans. Then, I share the final product on Instagram Stories. I typically begin the story with the first couple of questions and answers on the quiz and then leave them with a cliffhanger by telling them to “swipe up” to see the next answer and more questions on the BuzzFeed quiz itself. Originally, my idea was to use this as content solely for Instagram Stories, but we killed a few birds with one stone with this and realized we could share our posts and quizzes on all platforms. (Wanna see some of our BuzzFeed posts? Head over to and take a look!)

The ability to use any photos on your phone’s camera roll taken within the past 24 hours is a game changer. Snapchat would put that ugly white border around a photo from your camera roll if you tried this (but it just recently got rid of the border for those photos and videos taken in Snapchat and stored in Memories), but it just shows as a normal photo on Instagram Stories. This means that you can use graphics made on a computer to make things more brand friendly, use photos from events held earlier in the day, or use photos from an article. Have a photo that was taken more than 24 hours ago that you want to put on Stories? A simple screenshot can fix that.

Now, we are searching for new ways to utilize the feature to make the most of it. Snapchat is better suited for live, in-the-moment content. But Instagram Stories can be used for live content and so. much. more. Think graphics, memes, videos, giveaways, messages, and the list goes on. Wanna show off a cool event but can’t decide whether to put it on Snapchat or Instagram Stories? Why not both? We often show football and basketball games through the story features on both Snapchat and Instagram, but we have different ways of featuring the game on each platform. We tend to stick to 5-8 nice photos on Instagram while we use both videos and photos with text and emojis on Snapchat. All you need to do is make sure the two stories aren’t exact clones of each other. Tailor both stories to their respective audiences by using both of their amazing respective features and you’re good to go.

And don’t get me wrong; we’re still trying to solve some problems within Instagram Stories. Though over 200 million Instagram users are interacting with the feature, we typically see only about 10,000 out of our 60,000 followers view our stories. And after the first post on each story, the number of users who view each additional post tends to decline. I’ve tried experimenting with different intro graphics and even turning my phone on airplane mode to upload the entire story so that everything will post all at once when I turn my phone off of airplane mode, but nothing seems to help this decline in views.

By using Instagram Stories, we’re engaging more frequently with our Instagram followers and through different means. Rather than just seeing the one photo we post per day, they’re able to see a variety of different things from us in one place. Even if you’re annoyed that Instagram is getting eerily similar to Snapchat, even if you think that your Instagram audience also follows you on Snapchat and can see this kind of content on Snapchat instead (hint: wrong), and even if you don’t have a huge master plan on how you’ll best utilize Instagram Stories, give it a shot. It might just become your newest obsession (not talking from personal experience or anything, of course).