Disappearing Content Is Marketing Magic

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Digital and permanent are no longer synonymous: Although it once was the case that content posted online stayed there forever, platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram Stories have changed this with disappearing content. Now, users of these platforms have the security of knowing that their content doesn’t have to follow them forever.

Launched in 2011, Snapchat today has close to 200 million active daily users. Its main competitor, Instagram Stories, was launched in 2016 and now counts more than 300 million daily active users. The success of these platforms suggests that disappearing content is here to stay, and companies—and marketers specifically—should take advantage of the opportunities it presents.

Disappearing content brought about a sea change in social media, experts agree. “When disappearing content entered the social media landscape, its popularity was largely driven not by what it was, but by what it was not,” says Justin Kerby, founder and managing partner at CAVE Social, a content marketing agency. “In September 2011, social media networks offered users a permanent experience. When something was posted to the web, the intention was that it would stay online forever. This was daunting to many, especially a younger generation that wanted to express themselves.”

Kerby goes on to say that Snapchat was “going against the current” when it pioneered disappearing content, capitalizing on ephemeral expression, which he calls a “much needed missing component of social media.”

Experts cite a number of reasons for the popularity of disappearing content. For Shelby Rogers, a content marketing strategist at DigitalUs, a web design agency, there are three: exclusivity, immediacy, and fun. She asserts that disappearing content has an “element of ‘you had to be there’” that appeals to a younger demographic that “prioritizes not missing a thing in life.”

In terms of immediacy, disappearing content has a real-time element that is a “change of pace for social media users tired of seeing the same viral video posted 20 times over,” Rogers says.

As for the fun element, platforms like Snapchat and Instagram Stories offer a range of filters and other opportunities to be creative while simultaneously lacking “the politics of Facebook and the cynicism of Twitter,” according to Rogers. These qualities, she says, appeal to users who are “tired of the bickering and comment wars” and are “looking for something much more fun.”

For content marketing consultant and author Kate Talbot, “the ability to share your daily life in a way that is authentic and true to yourself without it affecting your overall social media aesthetic is very much why disappearing content has become so popular.”

She goes on to cite two specific reasons for disappearing content’s rise in popularity. The first is the “immense pressure to be perfect” that often comes with social media use: Snapchat and Instagram Stories offer “another way to express yourself and daily life with content that wouldn’t have to be posted and shared with everyone.” The second is that younger people have sought a social space where they could digitally express themselves without having the content seen by their parents, who tend to be on more established platforms such as Facebook. Talbot says this “led to the rise of social media influencers creating content that was native to Snapchat,” and that this content is more about sharing their “authentic side.”

When it comes to which platform to use, most split their disappearing content between Snapchat and Instagram Stories, opting to put “more intimate, day-to-day events” on Snapchat and “more professional disappearing content” on Instagram Stories, according to Rogers.

And while Snapchat and Instagram Stories are the two most widely used platforms, others do exist. Facebook, for example, made its own move into disappearing content with Facebook Stories, which it launched a year ago. But so far, Facebook’s version doesn’t have quite as much of a following. “Facebook Stories might not be successful right now due to its majority demographic being older and less in tune with up-and-coming social media,” Rogers says.

Facebook also attempted to buy Snapchat in late 2012 and early 2013 for more than $3 billion but was turned down. Since then, Instagram [which Facebook did acquire in 2012] and Facebook have incorporated many of the features of Snapchat, like disappearing photos and videos in private messages, filters, geo-tagging, and stories.

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