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Stories, the collections of vertical photos and videos usually shared for 24 hours, originated on Snapchat, but the format can now be found on Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and even WhatsApp.

"We’re moving to a world where visual statuses are relevant,” said Nusaiba Mubarak, engagement producer, TRT World, speaking at RTE’s Mojocon event in Ireland today (5 May), explaining that “visual statuses” is the term she uses to refer to what others would call “snaps”.

People are increasingly expressing themselves visually, and these visual statuses are currently changing the way they are communicating online.

People's attention is scarce – the human attention span is eight seconds, shorter than that of a goldfish (nine seconds), she explained.

But heavy social media users and new technology adopters have more frequent bursts of higher attention.

Not just social media

Using mobile journalism to produce content in this format can be an opportunity for publishers. But as journalists can now create vertical stories for their more established and, in most cases, larger audiences on Instagram, what value can Snapchat still bring to the table?

“When I look at Snapchat as a product, I don’t see a chat app, a social media app. I see a tool specifically designed for storytelling. Even the most popular social media tools were largely distribution based,” said Sumaiya Omar, social media consultant and founder of HashtagOurStories, also speaking at the event.

To understand Snapchat and its potential, journalists need to understand the technology powering it, she said. Snap, the company behind the app, has products that span searchable Live Stories and shows, wearables (Spectacles), and augmented reality (Snapchat’s face filters called Lenses and AR emojis).

What sets Snapchat apart from other social networks that have adopted this format is Live Stories, a curation feature based on users' locations that enables Snapchat to aggregate views and opinions around a breaking news event faster than traditional media organisations can deploy a camera crew.

With Live Stories, Snapchat has also understood the power of harnessing its community of users. Unlike most other apps that have incorporated these “visual statuses”, live stories on Snapchat are about “us”, the user community, rather than “you”, the individual user posting a story.

“They realised that storytelling is far more effective as a collective,” she said.

“Snapchat is made up of a highly engaged audience. The app opens up into the camera because it’s all about user-generated content.

“Curation of these hyperlocal stories is exactly what will set Snapchat apart. It will cure millennial FOMO – fear of missing out.”

Gathering information

The company has been working on ways to search Stories submitted to its public “Our Stories”, a feature which launched officially at the end of March.

For media houses, using these Live Stories can be a good way to verify reports of news events.

Snapchat can also be a useful tool for interviewing sources and for presenting a range of voices in a news report. People who would otherwise be unwilling to talk to journalists might be more open to being interviewed for a Snapchat Story, as the technology involved, an every day smartphone, and the app, are more familiar to them.

Mubarak explained that some of the people she approached for interviews were happy to talk for her personal Snapchat Story but not so much for a TRT broadcast.

TRT’s Snapchat journalism includes stories about Syrian refugees, as well as reporting from Mosul. Storytelling through the app gives journalists a change to get closer to the raw truth.

In fact, Snapchat was one of the only channels where people could see images from inside Allepo during the offensive in December, as the app was curating stories from mobile journalists filming from locations where large news agencies were not present.

Creative storytelling

Snap’s app and Spectacles are an opportunity for journalists to become better storytellers. Snapchat's limitations in length force reporters to format their stories differently, and Spectacles can help solve the dilemma of filming landscape or vertical.

Recording wide angle circular video with Spectacles can result in content that can be repurposed for different platforms in an easier way.

For small to medium-sized businesses, Omar suggested the following workflow: filming with Snapchat Spectacles; importing the video and making it vertical in Instagram Stories; adding titles in Clips; and then uploading to Facebook.

“If you think that all social media apps are starting to look the same you’re absolutely right – they are.

“I would start off with the best content creation tool and right now, I think that’s Snapchat, if you look past the gimmicks and use it for what it’s great at.”

Edit: A speaker's name has been updated from Sumaiya Seedat to Sumaiya Omar.

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