The Power of Ephemeral Content: How and Why to Invest in Marketing That Disappears

In the always-on, information-overloaded world of social media, ephemeral content has emerged as a powerful way to capture attention and drive engagement. Unlike standard posts that live on indefinitely, ephemeral content disappears after a set period of time – usually 24 hours.

This fleeting nature taps into deep psychological principles that make ephemeral content unusually compelling and effective for marketing. Brands that aren‘t integrating disappearing content into their social strategies are missing out on a massive opportunity. Here‘s why ephemeral content marketing should be a top priority and how to make the most of it.

The Rise of Ephemeral Social Media

Ephemeral content first took off with Snapchat, which launched its Stories feature in 2013. The format quickly caught on, with Instagram releasing its own Stories copy-cat in 2016. Since then, the popularity of ephemeral content has exploded:

  • Over 1.3 billion people across the globe use ephemeral platforms like Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and Facebook Stories on a daily basis. (eMarketer)
  • Snapchat users watch over 10 billion videos per day on the app. (Snapchat)
  • Instagram Stories alone have over 500 million daily active users. (Instagram)
  • 62% of people say they have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Stories. (Facebook)

While Snapchat and Instagram Stories are currently the dominant ephemeral platforms, the format is gaining steam on other networks as well. WhatsApp Status, YouTube Reels, Twitter Fleets, and LinkedIn Stories have all launched in the past year. Even streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ are experimenting with ephemeral content to promote new shows and movies.

The 24-hour time limit on Stories isn‘t arbitrary – it‘s rooted in behavioral psychology principles that make ephemeral content uniquely addictive and engaging.

The Psychology of Ephemeral Content

There are several reasons why disappearing content is so powerfully compelling from a psychological perspective:

  1. Scarcity and FOMO: The time-sensitive nature of ephemeral content taps into the scarcity principle – people perceive content as more valuable when it‘s less available. This drives FOMO (fear of missing out) and compels users to habitually check their Stories feeds so they don‘t miss anything.

  2. Curiosity Gap: Because ephemeral content is only accessible for a limited time, it creates a "curiosity gap" in users‘ minds. They know they have to watch now or risk losing the opportunity forever. This mental itch is hard to resist.

  3. Variable Rewards: Ephemeral content feeds are constantly updating with new posts from different users, creating an endless stream of novel stimuli. This unpredictability is highly engaging – it‘s the same principle that makes slot machines addictive.

  4. Zeigarnik Effect: Named after psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, this principle states that people remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than completed ones. With ephemeral content, the knowledge that posts will disappear creates a mental cliffhanger that sticks in users‘ minds.

  5. Social Currency: Ephemeral content often features exclusive, behind-the-scenes moments that help viewers feel like insiders. Being "in the know" makes people feel special and encourages them to share and discuss the content with others.

These psychological factors, combined with the mobile-first, highly visual nature of Stories formats, make ephemeral content incredibly effective for capturing attention in today‘s crowded social landscape.

How Brands Are Using Ephemeral Content

Savvy marketers across industries are increasingly leveraging ephemeral content to achieve a range of business goals. Some examples:

  • Humanizing the brand: Brands like Glossier, Everlane and Warby Parker use ephemeral content to take followers behind-the-scenes and showcase the people and personalities behind the products. This unfiltered, authentic approach helps build trust and affinity.

  • Delivering customer service: Brands like Sephora, Lowe‘s and J.Crew use ephemeral content to answer FAQs, troubleshoot issues, and showcase customer stories and testimonials in a more engaging format than standard chat or phone support.

  • Promoting events: Brands like Coachella, Tomorrowland and SXSW use ephemeral content to generate FOMO and encourage ticket sales by showing behind-the-scenes peeks and exclusive artist interviews from festivals and conferences.

  • Driving sales: Brands like Sephora, Kylie Cosmetics and Guess use shoppable Stories and limited-time promo codes to drive impulse purchases directly from ephemeral content. In a Facebook survey, 58% of people said they‘ve visited a brand‘s website for more information after seeing a product or service in Stories.

  • Boosting app engagement: Brands like HQ Trivia, Pandora and Under Armour use ephemeral content to promote challenges, quizzes and special events within their apps, encouraging users to open and engage more frequently.

These are just a few examples of how ephemeral content can be used across the marketing funnel to build awareness, drive consideration, convert sales and boost loyalty. The key is to tailor the content to your brand identity and specific campaign goals.

Ephemeral Content Best Practices

While the informal, in-the-moment nature of Stories is part of their charm, there are still some best practices to keep in mind to ensure your ephemeral content stands out and delivers results:

  1. Hook viewers instantly: Attention spans are shorter than ever. Use strong visuals, motion, text overlays and sound cues to immediately grab viewers‘ attention as they rapid-fire tap through their Stories feeds.

  2. Design for sound off: 60% of Stories are viewed without sound. Make sure your content is compelling and easy to follow even with sound off by using captions, text overlays and clear visual cues.

  3. Drive action: Always include a clear call-to-action in your ephemeral content, whether it‘s "Swipe up to read more", "Send us a DM" or "Use promo code STORIES". Make sure viewers know what you want them to do next.

  4. Post consistently: Ephemeral content is a marathon, not a sprint. Posting to Stories consistently (at least once per day) is key to staying top of mind and building a loyal audience over time. Use a content calendar to plan your stories in advance.

  5. Reuse and recycle: While stories disappear after 24 hours, you can give your best performing content a second life by reposting it to your main feed, saving it as Story Highlights, or repurposing it into different formats like blog posts or emails. Get the most mileage out of your work.

Some tools that can help streamline your ephemeral content creation and optimization include:

  • Mish Guru: An all-in-one platform for designing, scheduling and analyzing Snapchat and Instagram Stories content. Includes a library of customizable templates.

  • Fastory: A mobile-first design platform for creating interactive, shoppable Instagram Stories content. Includes templates, animations, product stickers and more.

  • Storrito: A desktop app that allows you to create, edit and schedule Instagram and Facebook Stories from your computer. Includes team collaboration tools.

By using these best practices and tools, you can create thumb-stopping ephemeral content that inspires audiences to take action and keeps your brand top of mind, day after day.

The Future of Ephemeral Content

As more brands flock to ephemeral formats, the key to success will be creativity and personalization. Some trends we expect to see more of in the coming years:

  • Ephemeral messaging: Brands will increasingly use ephemeral messaging apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp to communicate one-on-one with customers in real-time, delivering highly personalized content, offers and support.

  • Bite-sized educational content: With the launch of Instagram Reels and the explosion of TikTok, short-form educational video is having a moment. Expect to see more brands experimenting with ephemeral how-to‘s, tutorials and tips.

  • Interactive filters and lenses: From virtual try-on filters to branded games and quizzes, interactive AR experiences will become an increasingly important way for brands to engage audiences and differentiate their ephemeral content.

  • Cross-platform ephemeral campaigns: As the Stories format becomes ubiquitous across platforms, savvy brands will create ephemeral content campaigns that span and adapt to multiple channels, telling a cohesive brand story.

  • Longer shelf life: While 24 hours is currently the standard lifespan for ephemeral content, some platforms are experimenting with longer time limits. Instagram, for example, now lets verified users keep their Stories live for up to 3 days. Longer time limits could make ephemeral content even more powerful for brands.

As ephemeral platforms and features continue to evolve and expand, the key for brands will be to stay nimble, test constantly, and always prioritize delivering authentic value to audiences. The brands that can crack the code on ephemeral content will have a significant advantage in building awareness, engagement and loyalty with today‘s fickle, fast-moving consumers.

Key Takeaways

  • Ephemeral content is one of the fastest growing and most engaging formats on social media, with over 1.3 billion daily active users across platforms.

  • The disappearing nature of ephemeral content taps into powerful psychological principles like FOMO, variable rewards and the Zeigarnik Effect that make it uniquely addictive and effective for marketing.

  • Brands are using ephemeral content across the funnel to humanize their brand, deliver customer service, drive sales, boost app engagement and more.

  • To succeed with ephemeral content, brands should hook viewers instantly, design for sound off, include clear CTAs, post consistently, and repurpose top performing content.

  • The future of ephemeral content will be defined by creativity, personalization, interactivity and cross-platform campaigns. The time to start investing in disappearing content is now.

Ephemeral content may be fleeting, but its impact on your brand can be lasting. By understanding the psychology and power of this format and committing to delivering consistent value to your audience, you can use disappearing content to build bonds that stand the test of time.