Ephemeral content, or temporary content that disappears after a set period, has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Platforms like Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and Facebook Stories have tapped into the human desire for fleeting, in-the-moment experiences.
For marketers, ephemeral content provides opportunities as well as challenges when it comes to engaging audiences and measuring campaign effectiveness. In this article, we’ll explore the rise of ephemeral content, its appeal to users, strategies for leveraging it in marketing, and implications for advertising in an ephemeral world.
Ephemerality has its roots in the analogue world. Snapshots, live performances, spoken words—all examples of ephemeral experiences. So what makes ephemeral content so appealing in the digital environment?
Providing Authentic, Unfiltered Experiences
Ephemeral content features people sharing “real” moments, often spontaneously and sans editing. This can make the content feel more authentic than highly curated, permanent feeds.
Snapchat was one of the first social platforms to make ephemerality a core feature. Its photos and videos typically include silly faces, rambling rants, and unglamorous scenes—a stark contrast to the carefully staged images on Instagram feeds. Similarly, Instagram Stories offers a backstage pass into users’ unfiltered lives in a way their grid posts don’t.
The temporary lifespan of ephemeral content leads users to share more freely and candidly. On Snapchat or Instagram Stories, they may reveal sillier, less composed versions of themselves.
This candour originates from the feeling that any mistakes will disappear rather than linger and potentially resurface later. Ephemeral messaging apps like Confide, which deletes messages after they’re read, tap into this appeal for sensitive or confidential discussions.
Ephemeral content encourages more frequent posting to keep up with constantly refreshing feeds. It provokes a reaction in the moment before the content disappears.
There’s an urgency around viewing Stories right away to avoid missing out. This real-time engagement differs from leaving comments or liking archived social posts. Brands can spark interaction by posing questions in Stories or prompting viewers to vote on options.
Enabling In-the-Moment Expression
Unlike permanent posts, ephemeral content lets users easily capture and share fleeting moments as they happen throughout the day. Instagram Stories expanded on Snapchat Stories by incorporating AR filters, stickers, polls, music, and more—further facilitating spur-of-the-moment self-expression.
The variety of interactive, creative tools makes storytelling more dynamic while maintaining a low barrier to entry with simple point-and-shoot mechanics.
Brands are still figuring out how best to use ephemeral content in their marketing strategy. Here are some ways they’re leveraging its unique advantages so far.
Ephemeral content is ideal for capitalising on real-time events and trends. Brands can create bite-sized content tied to holidays, news, or viral sensations. For example, on Halloween, brands might share themed AR filters on Snapchat or Instagram for users to try.
During awards shows or sports events, brands can post commentary or reactions in Stories. Ephemeral content allows brands to chime in on relevant conversations at the moment.
Providing Backstage Access
Just as users enjoy the candidness of other users’ Stories, they also appreciate seeing the unpolished, behind-the-scenes glimpses of brands provided via ephemeral posts.
For example, restaurant chains can show prep in the kitchen, while consumer brands can reveal office antics. Followers get to witness the brand’s personality in action. Humanising a brand fosters affinity and trust.
Conveying Limited-Time Value
Ephemeral content is ripe for limited-time deals and sneak peeks that generate excitement. For instance, UK clothing company Missguided uses “Snapchat-first” tactics to preview new collections on Snapchat 24 hours before Instagram and 48 hours before other channels. Beauty brand Glossier has offered sneak peeks of new products on Snapchat. The ephemeral format adds FOMO urgency to these exclusive previews.
From simple sticker polls to branched video stories and mini-games, ephemeral content enables diverse interactive experiences. For example, fast food giant Wendy’s promoted their breakfast menu on Snapchat with a Yoga Story letting viewers guide a breakfast sandwich through yoga poses via touch gestures. Interactive ephemeral content makes users active participants, heightening their connection to the brand.
The biggest challenge for ephemeral content marketing is measuring value and impact. Vanishing content means lost data. However, some metrics exist.
Platforms provide engagement indicators to demonstrate how many users interact with ephemeral content. On Instagram Stories, brands see metrics like views, replies, exits, and links clicked. Third-party tools like Iconosquare track views and interactions over time. While engagement rate stats don’t capture as nuanced a picture as permanent post insights, they offer a barometer of ephemeral content resonance.
Users screenshot ephemeral content they want to save, which can be tracked via platforms’ developer tools. Screenshots imply content was intriguing or useful enough for permanent keeping. Brands occasionally encourage screenshots, like directing viewers to pause and capture a coupon code revealed in Stories.
Paying to boost ephemeral posts helps quantify their reach. Social platforms offer various advertising units for ephemeral content, like Snapchat Commercials between Stories or Instagram Story Ads. Brands can target these ads and view metrics on impressions and clicks. Ads also prolong content lifespan for a wider audience.
Brand Tracking Studies
Offline surveys and focus groups gauge how ephemeral content affects brand awareness, favorability and purchase intent over time. Participants are asked if they view a brand’s ephemeral posts and what impressions they glean. Direct qualitative feedback provides context to analyse the marketing impact beyond self-reported analytics.
As ephemeral formats continue to evolve, what does this mean for marketing and advertising as a whole? Here are a few potential implications:
The Need for Agile Content
Ephemeral content requires marketers to think and act quickly to produce timely reactions. Being nimble with content development, from ideation to distribution, becomes more crucial. Brands may need streamlined review processes and access to content production tools. Overall, ephemeral content demands more agile content workflows.
Measurement strategies must also shift to accommodate evanescent content. Less emphasis on comprehensive metrics analysis, and more on real-time monitoring of engagement rates. Potentially exploring emerging indicators like emotional analysis through facial recognition. Relying more on active listening with online communities. Ephemeral measurement demands focusing on right-now signals versus longer-term statistics tracking.
As brands dedicate more resources to ephemeral content, marketing budgets may need restructuring. Lesser investment in polished evergreen assets, greater spending on always-on content capture and distribution. Platform ad units built around ephemeral content could also command increasing portions of ad spending. Budgets will likely need reorientation around real-time content.
Shaping Future Platforms
The embrace of ephemerality suggests it will be a hallmark of platforms to come. New networks will likely be built around ephemeral principles from the outset. Even incumbent social giants like Facebook are expanding their ephemeral offerings, following the engagement patterns their users now expect and crave. Ultimately, ephemeral capabilities will be a necessity for any platform wishing to hold users’ attention spans in the years ahead.
Ephemeral content has rapidly become entrenched in social media and is reshaping user behaviours, platform features, and marketing techniques. While presenting new challenges, its benefits can be powerful.
The spontaneity, candour, and urgency of ephemeral posts can break through the noise and make brands feel more relatable. As marketing continues adapting to fleeting formats, brands must refine strategies to flourish in an ephemeral age.