If Instagram’s Stories feature looks familiar to you, you’re not alone. Instagram Stories are the social media giant’s response to Snapchat’s successful model. Before the introduction of Snapchat in September 2011, Our posts were permanent components of our social media presence that we painstakingly filtered, cropped, and edited to show our best selves. There were no fleeting posts which lasted for an entirety of 10 seconds only to disappear into a deep dark digital abyss.

Then Snapchat saw an opportunity for a more transitory social media experience. A few months after launching, Snapchat had 100,000 users and by August 2016, they had over 150 million users. In an effort to compete, Instagram hijacked Snapchat’s model with the launch of Instagram Stories. And it was a success. Today, more people use Instagram Stories (200 million) than use Snapchat (160 million).

While Snapchat may have come first, Instagram Stories have become a favorable platform for brands due to the large audience, transparent metrics, easy search functions, and the ability to directly tag people and share links. Of course, before fully committing to an Instagram Story campaign (or any campaign), it’s important to understand the different social media platforms and how your target audience uses them

So what makes this new story-focused social media model so attractive and how can brands leverage this functionality?

A More Authentic Social Media Presence 

Whereas Instagram feeds are filled with pristine, heavily-filtered images, Stories allow for a more authentic and transparent glance at the content that appears in a user or brand’s feed. Kevin Systrom, co-founder and chief executive of Instagram, said “Our mission has always been to capture and share the world’s moments, not just the world’s most beautiful moments. Stories will alleviate a ton of the pressure people have to post their absolute best stuff.”

That being said, brands should not completely abandon their beautiful content, but instead use this function to take their followers on a journey of how they arrive at their more polished images. A well-known brand or influencer could post a professional photograph on the feed but take us behind-the-scenes at the photoshoot in their Story. A restaurant that posts beautiful photographs of their dishes can use their Story to feature the chefs hard at work in a loud, chaotic kitchen.

Stories have the unique ability of humanizing a brand by showing the real working people behind them. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the prettiest content but it bridges the gap between brand and consumers, especially those coveted Millennials (and Gen Z) who are interested in the experience. This group of 18-35 year-olds have $1.3 trillion in buying power and turn to social media to influence their spending habits. Brands and social media influencers can use Instagram Stories to better demonstrate these products and influence millennials who want to experience it personally.

One-On-One Communication

Three months after launching Instagram Stories, Instagram added a new feature which allows users to broadcast live video. Followers are also able to comment and react to the stream in real time. Not only does this type of feature allow for a one-on-one communication between a brand and its users, it also allows a brand to analyze their live stream and pinpoint where its users had that a-ha moment and reacted the strongest.

For example, if a university is giving a tour around campus to prospective students, it can gauge what part of the stream users seemed to enjoy most. Was it the newly renovated dorm rooms or the cafeteria center or maybe the campus quad? It will be easy to determine after analyzing the real-time reactions to the stream. Colleges big and small are using Stories to stream events like convocation and the first day of classes and present unique aspects of student and campus life. Instagram Stories also include a new polling feature, which brands can use to increase interactivity with their followers and measure sentiment about certain topics.

Live, Current Content

There’s nothing more current than a live feed. A limited sale, for example, that is only available for 24 hours (as long as the Instagram Story is active) would be an excellent use of this feature. Instagram Stories are ultimately a way for loyal followers to feel up-to-date and in-the-know.

Social media is meant to be interactive, authentic, and current. Consumers want to feel connected to their brands and Instagram Stories have made this all the more possible.