The Story Format: Will it Work on YouTube?

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Since their first appearance on Snapchat in 2013, the story format has been synonymous with personal social media engagement. The format allows individuals and their families and friends to share some of the most momentous occasions in their lives through social networks, allowing them to frame various real-time rich media content—posts, videos, and pictures—in a convenient and brief narrative package.

Currently, both Instagram and progenitor Snapchat hold the lions’ share of story format engagement, especially among younger users with other platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp not far behind. Far known for its own phenomenally successful brand of social media entertainment, YouTube has launched its own story format, with the hopes of letting YouTubers engage their followers through more frequent video updates.

A Storied History

Stories were a game-changer for Snapchat, which had previously only allowed individuals to send casual pictures and videos to others that would delete themselves not long after. This was a remarkable departure from the old service in that stories had permanence, however briefly, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.  


Stories allowed users to not only preserve moments that they think need to be shared a little while longer but also recount segments of their day, giving an intimate play-by-play narrative of important life events from their perspective.

Today, stories have moved beyond Snapchat.  Analogous options are now available in different forms across multiple social media websites, among them Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. This large-scale adoption of the format was fueled by its popularity with brands, who benefitted from the ability to make their stories feel genuine and relatable to their target audience.

YouTube Reels

YouTube Reels was introduced in 2017, initially through a limited release. This game of following the leader still retains its parent service’s indelible mark. Reels are discovered through the up next lists for nonsubscribers and are available in the subscriptions tab for subscribers.

Unlike its Snapchat counterpart which lies on top of everything else on the user interface, YouTube Reels is located on a different tab in the dashboard. Upon its launch, it was introduced to a select audience of users for testing and feedback purposes.

Reels are short, rough videos, not longer than 30 seconds, but have the option to add filters, stickers, and music as with its counterparts in Snapchat and Instagram.

Because production values on YouTube tend to be much higher than other websites, the upload schedules of most of its content creators are slow. Reels aim to provide most types of YouTubers (barring vloggers) with a means to create an alternative of engaging the audience with regularity in between their usual uploads. It also gives them a reason to do their story posts within the website instead of elsewhere.

Far from Identical

Critics and naysayers would be quick to decry this move as a shameless cash grab and, if they were less charitable, a hollow and futile attempt at playing catch-up through shallow imitation. But YouTube Reels is more than just an attempt to mimic Instagram’s and Snapchat’s success.

Early on, YouTube Reels has shown key design advantages over their similar story counterparts in sites like Facebook. By separating them into their own tab, the stories become optional content that can be viewed at leisure, in contrast to being omnipresent and intrusive within the homepage itself.

Reels also last much longer than the 24 hours allotted to stories in most platforms, typically being viewable for up to a week. Unlike the story features in Instagram and Snapchat, which are part of a continuing narrative, each Reel is a nestled and self-contained narrative of multiple short videos.

Still, in its infancy, Reels are restricted to users with more than 10,000 subscribers, unlike its more established counterparts that are readily available to users in general.

Features and Issues

YouTube Reels offer creators the opportunity to build meaningful community engagement and rapport through personalized short updates. However, it is not without its own set of drawbacks and issues, some of which reflects a longstanding issue with YouTube itself.

Creators such as long-standing YouTuber Philip DeFranco have their reservations with the new feature, pointing out key design flaws such as the features that let commenters respond only with pictures and other short videos and the lack of connectivity options. Not only reduces opportunities for engagement but may cause problems if it proves too troublesome for viewers to use. In addition, the feature lacks video linking and swipe-up options.

YouTube may be missing an opportunity to boost its viewership and foster further growth for its users. By narrowing the service down to those with 10,000 subscribers or more, its benefits would not be available to newer creators, who would miss out on any of the benefits lent to them.

Newer creators in the site have hitherto been put at a disadvantage due to its current algorithms, which favor larger, established channels. Although acquiring 10,000 subscribers does not sound like a lot—especially given the truly massive volumes of larger channels—newer channels have difficulty establishing this presence in a site as saturated as YouTube.

Smaller channels thus struggle to create sufficient engagement to both be seen by users and profit from the site’s revenue sharing service. Had this feature been available universally, smaller fledgling channels would’ve stood to benefit from this opportunity to build engagement with their budding fan communities.

A Future Beyond Longform?

One other lingering criticism of Reels is how it meshes with how YouTube is used by brands.

Stories in Instagram let brands connect with their audiences and customers. Currently, Instagram rules the commercial application of the story format, which has been used for lighthearted and casual videos, exclusive sneak peeks, and behind-the-scenes footage of people involved in the brands and its promotions, often those that will end up on YouTube.

YouTube, meanwhile, has made a name for itself as the source for video content that people sit down and watch, which usually makes it the go-to platform for a brand’s longer and more serious video content.  Attracting brands to market their story content could turn YouTube into the one-stop shop for hosting videos.

For YouTube to try and capture the market that Instagram has made its niche is a huge gamble. Although it seems like an inviting option, short-form videos are not what people go to YouTube for. It’s a huge stretch to assume that audiences will be tempted to watch on YouTube what they could typically get elsewhere.

Whether YouTube should expand their reach with this new feature or should it focus its energies on staying in its lane at is unclear at this point. Time will tell if this move toward story content would accomplish its stated goals.     

Date: February 9, 2019 / Categories: Analytics, / Author: Rich Drees


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