This week, Instagram introduced Stories, a “new” feature that lets you share all the moments of your day without keeping them on your profile. Multiple photos and videos string together in a slideshow format to become a “story.” The posts will disappear after 24 hours.
The Snapchat direct attack is not a surprising move by Instagram considering Facebook itself has twice tried to copy Snapchat using standalone apps (Poke and Slingshot). Why is Snapchat such a threat to Facebook and Instagram? First, attention is a zero sum game (especially on mobile). Attention paid to Snapchat is attention taken away from Instagram and Facebook. Second, Snapchat owns a more active subset of the social media space. For example, I last posted on Instagram over a month ago. I last posted on Snapchat 12 hours ago. Instagram knows this. Just look at their blog post for this release: “With Instagram Stories, you don’t have to worry about overposting. Instead, you can share as much as you want throughout the day — with as much creativity as you want.” People use Snapchat way more often than Instagram. Frequency of usage leads to increase in attention spent.
Since the release of Instagram stories, there have been countless reviews praising the new feature and declaring it a huge blow to Snapchat’s ever growing ambitions. Instagram’s stories feature is “useful to the masses, with a number of improvements that make it far more enjoyable to use.” It is a great product. It is not a just a copy of Snapchat. It undoubtedly adds its own twists.
So, what affect will this have on Snapchat?
Instagram is 5 times the size of Snapchat with more penetration across different demographics and international markets. Although Facebook is once again copy catting, the company is actually leveraging their existing user base instead of trying to build a new app from scratch.
However, for those of you who believe that Instagram stories will replace Snapchat stories, it won’t happen. Even Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom admits that is likely not the case: “You have a completely different audience. If you’re a business, if you’re a celebrity, if you’re an interest-based account, you can have a giant audience. It’s going to feel very different. I don’t believe these two things are substitutes, and that’s okay.”
What Instagram stories could accomplish is the goal of keeping Instagram users from starting a Snapchat account. But, I’m skeptical.
Instagram is a fundamentally different experience then Snapchat. Like Facebook, Instagram creates a space for users to curate their online persona. Think about it. How many times have you seen people obsess over which filter to use on an Instagram photo and what the best caption would be? On Instagram, people build a persona through images based on how they want the world to see them. Why? The Instagram feedback loop is based on likes rather than views or opens. Therefore, people post photos that will attract more likes such vacation photos, puppy pictures, etc. Additionally, people are always trying to add more followers to increase their like count for their next post. By virtue of this phenomenon, most people have more followers on Instagram than on Snapchat. People have followers that they don’t know at all. They have no problem with those followers seeing a self-curated slice of their life. However, Instagram users are less likely to share live, non-curated moments. More followers leads to more curation and less live, in-the-moment sharing.
Due to its humble origins as an ephemeral sexting app, Snapchat is not built to cultivate an online social presence like Instagram. At its core, Snapchat was and will continue to be a messaging app. Your Snapchat followers are usually people you are comfortable directly messaging. This level of comfort makes you more likely to live share. The difference can most simply be observed through the default home screen for both apps. Snapchat’s home screen is a camera. It invites you to capture the world around you and share your life. Instagram’s home screen is a feed. It asks you to like other people’s photos.
More importantly, who joined Snapchat for Snap Stories? Very few. Through Snapchat, people share different elements of their day with their close friends using photos and videos as a expressive medium. As I mentioned above, first and foremost, Snapchat is a messaging app. Stories is a key feature built on top of the messaging platform. But, messaging is the reason users keep coming back for more. It is much easier to build a platform on top of messaging (WeChat) than pretty much any other type of mobile product. With that said, when is the last time you sent an Instagram direct message? Yeah…
Snapchat will be fine.
Credit: Some of these ideas stem from Ben Thompson’s Stratechery post (The Audacity of Copying Well).