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Is Your Brand Creating Ephemeral Content? Here's How

When building a brand, our instinct is to focus on longevity and permanence. But here's how you can use ephemeral content to your advantage.

11 mins read time
Wendi Williams
Wendi Williams

Feb 26, 2020

Not every story starts with, "Once upon a time..." In fact, stories today are more likely to start with, "For a limited time!" If you're on Instagram, you know that "stories" have become more than fairy tales – they're blink-and-you'll-miss-it snippets of content shared for just 24 hours. And thus begins the story of ephemeral content – that is, time-restricted content designed to make an impact, then swiftly disappear. Ephemeral content exists for a short time, and is then sent off into the ether(net). Popularized when Snapchat exploded onto the scene, ephemeral content is now the buzz across social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and more. Ephemeral content isn’t difficult to understand, but determining why and how to market it can be. 

When building a brand, our instinct is often to focus on longevity, stability and permanence, which means ephemeral content can feel counterintuitive. And yet, more social media platforms are adopting this format, with savvy brands going all-in on limited-time content. It takes time and resources (and a big shift in thinking) to embrace ephemeral marketing, which is why we’ve compiled this article to answer your most burning ephemeral content questions. 

So, what is ephemeral content (EC)?

There are two characteristics that are always present in the EC equation. First, putting the “ephemeral” in “ephemeral content,” it has to be available on a restricted time frame, typically 24 hours or less. As for the content, you need to have access to rich media that supports your brand, whether it’s video, live streaming, photo carousels or single images. The more compelling the content, the more success you’ll have. If you want to learn more about what makes good ephemeral content, check out this article from HubSpot

Why should my brand invest in creating EC?

It’s the same reason your audience wants to consume it — FOMO. You’ve likely heard this acronym in the last few years, and that’s because it strikes such a chord with businesses, consumers, and especially social media users. FOMO (fear of missing out) creates a sense of urgency and drives followers to engage with your content and your brand. Similarly, you don’t want to be the only brand on the block without a Snapchat filter or relevant Instagram story, right? EC is a perfect example of the evolving nature of social media, the way we market it, and the way in which users interact with it. With timelines full of hyper-targeted ads, relentlessly changing algorithms and dwindling attention spans, it’s easy for a brand to get lost in all the noise. EC helps you stand out. It's still relatively new, and fairly disruptive in the way it gets pushed in front of your audience. It defies the algorithms that bury traditional organic content, and encourages quick, in-the-moment engagement.

Are there any downsides to ephemeral content marketing (ECM)?

The efficacy of ECM is all in how you use it, but, as with any type of marketing, there are pitfalls you’ll want to be aware of. The biggies are:

  • Less time. More content. The crux of EC is its brief lifespan. While this builds urgency around limited time deals, or anticipation for coming events, it can also leave a big void in your content. To compensate for vanishing content, you’ll need to post more frequently to ensure your social platforms continue to look robust. That’s where having a trusted marketing partner (like us!) can really help.

  • Missed opportunities. Sometimes, FOMO becomes AMO (actually missing out). Featuring temporary content does increase the risk that some of your audience won’t see it in time. However, EC can also help you dodge algorithms, leading you to new followers and lead generation — so it’s often worth the risk.

  • Limited capacity. Right now, EC is only widely used on social media (Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are the top ephemeral content social media platforms). However, as other platforms and providers see the impact of EC and the appeal of ECM to brands, they’re beginning to make inroads into offering this type of content. (And, if you’re not sure which social media platform is the best for your brand, read our blog on how to find it.)

  • Into the unknown. Because ephemeral content is relatively young, there aren't any broad studies on ROI, and some critics argue that's because there isn't much to report. However, on a smaller scale –and one that's more impactful to your business –tracking your return with EC is simple and effective. Because EC has a finite run time, it becomes much easier to analyze metrics once an EC campaign is complete. This also means it's a great way to run tests for larger potential campaigns.


How do I create ephemeral content? Isn’t it just like posting a picture or video?

Not exactly. EC tells a story – so it makes sense that Facebook and Instagram both call their EC offerings “stories.” Essentially, you’re taking the user on a journey, asking them to interact with your brand, and giving them an avenue to continue their engagement. (By the way, for EC and other content, you can find some great tips to build a social media strategy on our blog, right here.) All ECM should contain:

  • A narrative – give your story a beginning, middle and end

  • A sense of urgency – play on the user’s FOMO

  • A CTA that encourages conversion

  • Links back to other applicable content to continue the relationship

  • Authenticity – no need for ECM to be splashy or over-produced

  • Humanity – users want to see themselves reflected in your content

  • Consistency – ECM can be a unique offshoot of your brand marketing, but it must still align with that brand

Besides photos and videos, what can I use to create ephemeral content on social media?

EC must utilize rich media to tell your brand story, but from there, the possibilities are endless. Get creative, and think of out-of-the-box ways to utilize ECM, like these:

  • Memes

  • Filters

  • Photo collages and carousels

  • Live-streaming product launches

  • Demos and how-tos

  • Flash sales

  • Day-in-the-Life/Behind the scenes

  • Influencer takeover

What are some ephemeral content marketing examples of best practices?

Ask for engagement. If you never ask, you’ll never receive. Create content that demands a response from your audience.

Create urgency. We aren’t talking about over-the-top “ACT NOW” marketing, but there’s something to be said for letting your audience know they only have a short time to take advantage of exclusive deals.

Tag to your heart’s content. Utilize geotagging, hashtags and name tags to boost the shareability and reach of your content, and make sure it gets in front of the right crowd.

Go under the influence(r). Partner with influencers that know how to tell the stories your audience wants to hear. There’s no need to shoot for the stars; find active and authentic users to get behind your brand and really show it off.

Partner up. Enlist the help of an agency or content marketing specialist to help you build a strategy for ECM. Not sure where to turn? That’s why we’re here! Contact us and we can point you in the right direction.

Don’t Get Ghosted

Disappearing acts are all the rage for social media content. But though your content may vanish, make sure your brand does not. Proper use of ephemeral content marketing can help you target new audiences, increase engagement and keep your brand in the social spotlight. Ephemeral content will keep gaining popularity. Now is the time for you to create a strategy for it.


Level Up Your Content  Our content strategy was voted "Best Content Marketing Program" by the Content  Marketing Institute.  Learn How Our Team Can Help

Wendi Williams

After beginning her career in broadcast media, Wendi spent the next decade writing for clients in a variety of industries, including healthcare, business and tech. She’s been writing since she was 8 years old, and more than 30 years later, doesn’t foresee slowing down anytime soon. Her passion is using words to bring brands to life, and telling their stories in unique and engaging ways. She shares a life of wonder, curiosity and exploration with her husband, two children and pet lizard.

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