Snapchat and Instagram Stories have quickly changed social publishing. What should we know about creating captivating Stories on Instagram and Snapchat?

Since the advent of Snapchat, we’ve seen other platforms like Instagram adopt the format, and publishers have even begun to implement similar digestible stories on their own websites.

So what can we learn from the Stories tactics of innovative and leading publishers?

It all comes down to creating stories that are snackable and delight their audiences, by entertaining them, informing them, inspiring them, or showing them something new. Here’s what we learned by analyzing leading publishers. 

Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat Stories 

Before we dive into the general content trends, there were a few things that we noted anecdotally. For example, here are two New York Times takes on the current immigration policy, on Instagram Stories and on Snapchat.

On Instagram, the Stories typically tend to use one sentence or quotation per screenshot, often short and to the point. Sometimes they’ll keep the same visual and tack on another sentence in the next snapshot, to really emphasize a point.

New York Times Instagram
The Instagram Stories visuals tend to go one of three ways: they’re either very simple and aesthetically pleasing, or they’re loud and eye-catching, or they’re focused in on eye-grabbing person or snapshot that’s going to emotionally resonate with the viewer or create a “thumb-stopping moment”.

On Snapchat, some of the above trends do reoccur. However, we noted that more tends to occur in just one visual in a Snapchat Story, unlike the quick tapping one might do through an Instagram Story.

New York Times Snapchat

The visuals of Snapchat Stories tend to be a bit more complex — there seem to be more animations and professionally shot videos. Snapchat Stories also tend to be wordier than on Instagram, oftentimes with paragraphs of text.

Onto the content trends themselves. 

Your publication’s brand, but distilled to its truest nature. 

Our analysis showed that Stories give your audience exactly what they want from you. We don’t mean engage-bait, but high quality, digestible content that has no frills.

For example, let’s see this played out across just one publisher, BuzzFeed.

When we looked at several of its prominent Instagram accounts, we saw that Stories on BuzzFeed News focused on teaching users something new (while gamified), BuzzFeed had entertaining content like quizzes, Tasty revealed behind-the-scenes looks at its kitchens, and Nifty showcased products that could innovate viewers’ lives.

BuzzFeed News

Each of these was true to the MO of each channel, delivering the kind of content that made these users follow the account in the first place.

BuzzFeed Tasty

A few other trends we noticed, below. 

1. Spotlight on a story 

Some publishers used Stories to direct followers to a particular “story of the day”, or inform them about a breaking news story.


We saw several publishers like Bustle, the LAD bible, Bloomberg, and TechCrunch all used this method to highlight a timely story and encourage followers to swipe up for more.

CNN cave

CNN, NowThis, the Guardian, and other news publishers did a quick turnaround on breaking news or current events, distilling news down into digestible pieces. 

2. Taking followers into someone else’s shoes

Much like we’ve noted for other types of content, a Stories trend we noted was telling very human stories. Publishers tended to use quotes right from the subjects, often giving a voice to the voiceless.

This strategy also allows publishers to create a “why you should care” angle for hard news, by humanizing the story. This is a tactic we’ve seen do well.

3. Humanizing storytelling itself 

For some publishers, the telling of the story becomes the story itself. In Stories, we see publishers often giving a voice to their journalists and creators.

CNN Story

We see this both with those covering more serious topics like CNN (above), to those who publish more lighthearted content like the Dodo and Barstool Sports.

The Dodo

This sort of behind-the-scenes access can build trust with followers and make them feel connected, or a part of a community. 

4. Inside peeks with celebs and public figures 

A popular tactic we’ve seen before, publishers are using Stories to give followers access to celebrities, athletes, or other prominent figures in their niches. (Or… puppies in the case of the Dodo).

Wired (above) and the LAD bible both do snackable Stories with celebrities, appealing to the quick format of Stories.

It doesn’t have to be celebrities necessarily. For example, some of Vogue’s Stories feature designers and inside peeks with them at fashion shows. 

5. Behind-the-scenes access to events

Not only do the Stories provide access to celebrities, but publishers are using Stories for event reporting, taking events to followers who may have been unable to attend or gain access to an event.

We saw publishers doing this across niches.

Quartz QZ CES robots

For example, Quartz took its followers to CES, Teen Vogue showed off its own summit, the Dodo took followers to “The Best Dog Day Ever”.

By giving followers access to these industry events, they can feel more connected to the community and informed.

6. Building community

Speaking of, publishers are using their Stories to simply add some fun, ask opinions, and give advice on follower questions. As we saw before, BuzzFeed gameifies content on Snapchat and Instagram, getting users excited with shareable results.

Others, like Bleacher Report Football uses an Instagram Stories feature to ask users to rate the kits of World Cup teams, which can spark some discussion.

Bleacher Report Football

GQ’s Instagram Stories give advice on fashion questions and ask users’ thoughts on different men’s outfits.

GQ Instagram
Again, it’s about reaching your audience with exactly what they care and are passionate about.  

7. Deeper context

Stories also present an opportunity for publishers to go more into detail around articles — it’s the long-form version of an Instagram or Snapchat post.

For example, Curbed’s Stories take followers deeper into its real estate posts.


We also saw magazine publishers like Teen Vogue and others create in-depth, behind-the-scenes versions of their print cover stories.

For example, the above story gives context into the magazine’s March 2018 cover issue.  

8. Satisfy curiosity or teach something new

Stories can be used to quickly teach followers something new or pique their curiosity.

So Yummy Story

This example from So Yummy reveals “secrets from employees” at McDonald’s. We also see other publishers taking this tactic like Quartz, Teen Vogue, Gizmodo, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal, for a variety of topics.

Washington Post

Hard news publishers, like the Washington Post, can take this tactic to help distill complicated current issues for everyday people.  

9. Inspire with actionable content

Inspiration is a commonality across many social media platforms. It works in Stories too, with fashion, food, craft, and gadget publishers creating inspiring and actionable Stories.

Harper's Bazaar

This Snapchat Story from Harper’s Bazaar was all about inspiring followers to try a new hairstyle. As we mentioned, we saw other publishers like GQ, Tasty, and Food Network all creating actionable Stories.

10. Branded content has the go-ahead

Sponsored content and brands are also featured in some publisher Stories. As we’ve seen in the past, if it fits into content naturally or the product is useful to the audience, it can work well.

For example, here’s a natural content fit with UNILAD. The brand, New Amsterdam Vodka, takes place as a prop in a humorous video, which is on par for the publisher.


And here’s an example from High Snobiety. For the fashion publisher, it makes sense to just highlight the product, as stylish followers will be more receptive to it.

There’s a variety of tactics with Stories that are worth exploring and experimenting with. It comes back to knowing your audience, and the value of the content that you’re creating for them.

As always, the content itself is king.
For a look into the content trends that social audiences care about right now, try NewsWhip Spike.