How’s this for a business proposition; create something that exists only for a moment, with a lifespan shorter than a mayfly’s, that can only be consumed once. It’s like trying to sell bubbles – a hard concept to pitch at board level.
Yet that’s exactly what marketers are now being advised to do on social media platforms. Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are now offering a new genre of content that exists only very briefly and can be viewed only once. After 24 hours, they disappear forever.
It sounds completely unorthodox – especially because most brands will have to invest serious sums into creating content. But because it’s an increasingly popular content format for users of these platforms; brands are inevitably getting in on the act.
It’s hard to say why this content format is so successful. Fear of missing out, also known as FOMO, seems to be a major contributing factor to the popularity of this type of content. Because your photos and videos are only available for a short while, this increases their perceived value and increases the need to view them immediately.
There’s also a lot to be said for audiences feeling more in control of their feeds – Snapchat users choose to open each piece of content they engage with, rather than passively consuming a feed of posts as they do on Twitter or Facebook.
As far as brands are concerned, the fact that audiences know ephemeral content can only be viewed once seems to inspire greater focus. Blink and you’ll miss it – quite literally.
What’s very clear is that there’s been a huge rise in both the generation and consumption of ephemeral content. Since 2016, when the format was popularized by Snapchat, the creation and consumption of ephemeral content have grown by over 800%. The content format soon spread to Instagram, through the popular Stories feature on that platform, with Facebook and WhatsApp now offering a similar option.
It certainly seems to be working for some brands who are using the format. Lacoste got a highly cost-effective result when they experimented with a new carousel ad format in Instagram Stories. The classic clothing and accessories brand saw strong click-through rates with a low cost per click.
Ephemeral content has also worked well for many fashion brands, including Everlane and Burberry, as the fast-format seems to mesh well with the fast-moving world of fashion.
A seismic shift
Ephemeral content is pretty much the opposite of the marketing manager’s much-loved evergreen content – the content on your website that’s eternally relevant, perpetually in demand by your customers and, ideally, never needs updating. This kind of content you can create and then walk away from. But ephemeral content means your job is never done. Content that doesn’t last yet needs to be perpetually created.
This trend is arguably part of a wider shift towards content marketing as a much more significant part of the strategic mix. As Seth Godin memorably said, “content marketing is the only marketing left”.
Ephemeral content essentially forces your marketing team into a perpetual cycle of content creation, rather than building up a bank of longer-lasting content. You might argue it’s a great way to ensure your continuous employment.
The content that’s created isn’t intended to be especially memorable. Whilst some brands may find this frustrating, it’s probably realistic. Consumers are so bombarded with marketing messages and brand imagery that it’s very hard to really capture attention or make any kind of lasting impression. Ephemeral content is just being realistic about the gadfly attention of modern audiences and the value they really place on your marketing efforts.
Ephemeral content insists you entertain. Like most things on social media, this type of content isn’t designed to inform; it’s designed to distract, amuse and delight. It forces your brand to dance for the attention of consumers.
It insists on creativity, novelty and innovation in both style and content. It acknowledges how fleeting audience attention is and how much competition there is for it.
It’s also really important to understand that audiences never opt-in to view ads. Ephemeral content needs to be worth clicking on. It can’t just be ad content re-purposed in ephemeral format – why would anyone choose to consume that?
Brand building, the ephemeral way
Consistency is a significant weapon when it comes to ephemeral content. If you need audiences to continue to engage with your stuff, they need to know you’ll deliver on your promise. Your content needs to consistently entertain or delight.
Ephemeral content works especially well when it’s intimate and ‘real’. For jaded modern consumers, particularly younger ones, polished marketing messages don’t really cut through the cynicism. Instead, using the intimacy of social media to show them the inner workings of your brand can work very well.
Show what you’re working on, day in the life, insider glimpse of events such as product launches or fashion shows or just talk about the challenges you’re facing. All this content works particularly well when expressed in ephemeral content because this medium increases the sense of privilege and intimacy.
This is a new approach for many marketing teams, who have been trained to plan and polish their content before it’s released to eternal view. Ephemeral content ushers in a new era of informality and intimacy which many senior execs are going to find highly uncomfortable.
But it’s proving a more effective way to connect to a new generation of consumers that have previously been hard to engage with.