Every few months, it seems like there’s another eager to copy Snapchat’s Stories feature – where users can create approximately 10-second-long videos that are available for all of their followers to view, and disappear after 24 hours. First Instagram announced it was introducing Stories in 2016, followed by YouTube, Facebook, and Skype in 2017. Even dating apps like Bumble and Match started testing their own version of Stories.
Now, TechCrunch reported this week that Airbnb is getting into Stories, testing the idea among a small group of users. The idea is that users will share photos and videos while traveling, in order to give other users ideas of places to visit when they’re in a particular city.
There are few details so far — according to an FAQ page, it’s only available for iPhone users that have the latest version of the app. Airbnb didn’t respond to a handful of questions from VentureBeat about how the feature will work. An Airbnb spokesperson told TechCrunch simply that “We’re always testing new ways to help our community members tell their stories, and this is one idea we are exploring.”
While Airbnb is neither the first nor the last app to copy Stories, this time feels different, simply because Airbnb isn’t a social app in the same vein as other Stories competitors. Airbnb is still an app that people go to when they’re making one big purchase, and because of that, I don’t forsee Airbnb’s Stories feature taking off the same way that it has on other apps.
At first glance, it’s easy to see why companies are so eager to adopt Stories. According to data from social media agency Block Party, the number of accounts that created or viewed a Story in Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger, rose 842 percent between 2016 and 2017, to more than 970 million accounts.
But companies looking to copy Stories also need to take into account that among Facebook’s family of apps, Stories are given prime real estate at the top of the news feed. This can mask just how sticky Stories actually are.
For example, I look at Stories a lot. Particularly on Instagram, where Stories sit at the top of your feed and are highlighted in blue if you haven’t watched them yet. Looking through all of my unwatched Instagram Stories is as satisfying as dismissing an email or Slack notification.
But it’s mostly a way for me to kill time in line at the coffee shop or waiting for the subway. I find that when I open an app to watch Stories, I usually just exit the app once I’ve watched all of them. And because Stories are so short — 10 seconds long at most — I usually forget what I watched an hour after doing so. While I was writing this article, I tried to recall what I saw on Instagram Stories that morning. Of the 10-plus Stories I scrolled through, I could only recall what one was about.
And I don’t open the Airbnb app when I’m looking for a few minutes to kill — I open it when I’m planning a trip. I spend maybe 30 minutes comparing various listings. Then after I book a listing, I usually open the Airbnb app once before I leave for the trip, to check the address of where I’m staying and communicate with the host, a second time once I land in the city, and a third time to write a review. The Airbnb app then gathers dust in my iPhone until I’m planning for a trip another few months later.
That seems to be the issue Airbnb is trying to solve with Stories, and other new features like Trips and Places. Introduced in November 2016, Trips and Places allow users to book reservations and look at reviews for things other than lodging. During an unveiling of the features, CEO Brian Chesky said that Airbnb was inspired to launch Places because “finding the good hole-in-wall joints takes a lot of time and research. We want to fix this.”
But travelers spend a lot of time and research finding the good hole-in-wall joints because they want to make sure that they find a place that’s worth their time and money, and I don’t think Stories is the ideal format for a user to get the information they need about a restaurant or museum they may want to visit.
I rarely take the time to research a place that I saw someone a friend visit in their Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook Stories, because I use Stories to take a very surface-level look at what my friends are up to. And I wouldn’t be surprised if many Airbnb users feel the same way.
One way I think Airbnb can salvage its dive into Stories is with features that makes it easy to jump between other videos, photos, and reviews in order to assist with the research they will need to do to plan a trip. It appears that Airbnb is thinking about this as well. Its FAQ page encourages testers to post around 10, 10-second long videos to create a visual timeline showing off what they did during the trip, as well as to post 1-2 sentence long captions that give other travelers tips on what to do in a particular place.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about what Airbnb’s Stories will look like in practice – if the company ends up doing a wider release of the feature at all – but it’s a good reminder that the stickiness of Stories app hasn’t really been proven outside of social apps. And companies need to ask themselves if Stories – a format that encourages users to spend just a few seconds creating or viewing a video – is really the best way to encourage users to stick around longer in an app. Especially when they’re trying to figure out the best experience to spend their money on.