Just over a week ago, Facebook released video newsfeed feature Facebook Stories. This follows the recent release of Instagram Stories, which was widely perceived as copying Snapchat’s own Stories feature. Also as an apparent attempt to steal its users and perhaps even threaten its IPO as revenge for the takeover snub back in 2014.

So is this move by Facebook the final blow in its assault on Snapchat? Or just an effort to keep up with the shift to camera-based communication and the new way to consume social newsfeeds?
Putting the competition aside and focusing on the trend suggests that video content is king and “stories” are the new newsfeed.

Video newsfeed – the new normal

Video newsfeed features are designed to play short videos one after another continuously. Like watching an addictive TV series when the next episode autoplays before you’ve had time to process the cliffhanger – it’s easy to get sucked in.
Conscientious mobile users would have an instinctive aversion to letting this kind of video feature run over 4G because they know they’ll be burned by mobile bill shock.
But then there are the other mobile users. The one’s who aren’t paying for their own data, don’t care or aren’t aware of how much data these features consume.
In order to keep our network of enterprise customers informed and prepared, we did some original research to find out if video newsfeed ‘stories’ are snapping away at their mobile data.
video newsfeed

The tale of two stories

In the 25 weeks since launching in August 2016, Instagram Stories reached 150 million daily users. That’s the same number of users that Snapchat’s whole app install base reportedly hit around June 2016.
It’s easy to understand how this happens. People loved Snapchat’s video newsfeed feature. So if you offer it to Instagram’s already huge and loyal userbase, of course they will start broadcasting in video format to their well-established Insta followers. This was no happy ending for Snapchat. But hopefully, the young company was a little flattered to have a social media giant brazenly recreate their culture-shifting idea.
So what is this hugely popular feature doing to your data plans?

Feeding the Instagram Stories beast

Our data shows that when Instagram first launched Stories, data usage was 41% higher in the month following launch than the month before. This suggests the launch of the feature had an immediate effect on the amount of data the app was munching through, even during the early adoption phase. Is it an impressive uptick in user activity or a poorly designed and inefficient feature?
video newsfeed analysis - Instagram

Stickers not sticky enough

Looking at Instagram usage just before Christmas when Stickers were introduced suggests that people were playing around with the new feature. Data usage was up 23% month-on-month. But users soon tired of the Stickers with usage dropping back down almost to pre-Sticker levels after just two weeks.

Going Live and getting hungrier

Live Stories, the second update to Instagram Stories, hit at the end of January 2017. This feature contributed to a 28% rise in data usage, an increase that shows no sign of slowing down. Perhaps because people don’t exactly get the option to wait for a Wi-Fi connection to stream a live broadcast. The whole point is to record or watch it live in the moment, not record it and rush into Starbucks Wi-Fi zone to post it. Also tuning in to a highly personal live broadcast is all too tempting when offered up by your favourite brand or sports star.

And then we all got bill shock. The end.

There’s no doubt Instagram has done a real push into the video realm in the past year with this slew of new features. Also taking into account the introduction of Boomerang and the extension of Instagram video length from 15 to 60 seconds last year. The combined effect of these updates on data consumption is huge. Stories was the really noticeable turning point. Instagram now consumes an average of 71.5% more data since Stories was launched than it did before.
When you compare average Instagram data consumption levels from 2016 to 2017, it’s clear the app now eats up data fast. Daily data usage in 2017 averages around 28.4MB per user. This is a rise of 74% compared to 2016, when data consumption was at an average of 16.2MB.
Video newsfeed

Now for a happy ending

While this data is not encouraging, the good news is: it’s manageable. For consumers, this insight should be a prompt to curb your social media addiction. Wait until you are on Wi-Fi to use video features. And maybe you don’t need to live stream your breakfast every day.
For businesses, there are solutions out there that can give you the granular control you need to block particularly data-hungry social media apps (or social media services as a full category) over cellular connections, or cap individual users if they keep running over their data allowance.
Video isn’t going away anytime soon. We need to become smarter about how we consume it without letting it consume us.
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