Instagram and Snapchat — Really?!

I’ve seen so many posts these last couple weeks of everyone summarizing their lists for 2015 — best apps of 2015, worst apps of 2015, etc — just change the adjective, and the list goes on. Long story short, I’ve been inspired to reflect myself over this past years’ technology usage. So what apps am I inspired about and using most? What apps do I find myself losing track of time in? Hold your breath…Snapchat and Instagram! I never even used these apps regularly over a year ago — so what changed?

Instagram is just so sticky. I’ve been a Facebook user since 2004 and it’s definitely been the centre of my social networking sphere. As I get older and I start to feel my free time becoming more precious, Facebook is just too needy. I’m consistently getting notifications, invited to things I couldn’t care less about, and the content from my personal network is getting washed out by all the noise. In addition to all he noise, there are just so many awkward social scenarios on Facebook. When is it appropriate to add someone? Should I accept the invite from my family? Can I delete this this person from my friend list? What does that even mean or imply?!

In come Instagram, suddenly the interactions just became easier. My feed today consist of 166 followers, I’m following 195 people — some are friends, some are celebrities, and some are even brands. It takes me two minutes to catch up on my entire feed, anytime. Instagram has focused on keeping things dead simple. The result is that in two minutes it feels like I’ve caught up with my friends, been exposed to brands I care about, and the best part, it’s not intrusive. Brands are starting to figure this out too. Instagram ad buys are rising in value fast and experience high conversion (determined empirically only through conversations). I’ve never clicked on an ad in Facebook, though in Instagram I’ve gone down the rabbit of clicking some random persons profile, reading their bio, and chasing it all the way to the featured product that was part of a posting. That’s wicked powerful.

Less relevant to me but incredibly interesting, Instagram also has an underground dating side that risen completely organically. Instagram makes it easy to follow anyone you want, some people have private profiles, but the vast majority are public. I’ve been told by more than one single friend that liking four selfies in a row is a direct signal that you’re interested in the other person. If they respond back by liking four of yours, it’s now appropriate to start direct messaging — I bet you didn’t know that? Or did you?! I wonder if the Product Managers had any idea how enabling direct messaging could create a completely different product.

Snapchat. Snapchat has been a completely different kind of surprise for me, it’s not one of stickiness like Instagram. Snapchat has exposed me to the power of user-generated content and constraints. Personally, I haven’t been one to create many snaps of my own, but I’ve been absolutely pulled into channels the live stories. For those of you whom haven’t discovered these yet, Snapchat has been working with major media companies (Vice, Cosmo, IGN, etc.) and given them channels where they can combine video and editorial content à la Snapchat. Unlike standard video content, these are optimized for portrait view — just like the snaps you send friends — and just like those snaps, you can add fun content over top.Unlike what users can do though, each video is normally accompanied by great editorial content, swipe upwards to reveal and read content, swipe back down and go back to video; it’s actually a really great way to discover content. And Snapchat knows this. Channel content is extremely exclusive, only 15 channels, and if your content isn’t up to snuff, you won’t be around around for long. If you haven’t already, definitely check out Austin Carr’s FastCompany article on Snapchat, it’s quite insightful.

Live stories are only around for 24 hours and are essentially stitched content amassed from users. Just a couple days ago, you could have seen new years celebrations from around the globe or watched highlights of NHL Winter Classic. This type of content gives people everywhere a chance to experience events in a very personal way, events that they may have only been able to view from television (from a single perspective), or maybe not even at all. Okay, so Snapchat has some pretty cool content, why is this so powerful? Well guess what, the viewership of live stories is on the order of 10s of millions — Snapchat has unbelievable reach, additionally, this reach is in a valuable demographic (13–34) that’s declining in standard media forms.

So, I guess in retrospect I’m not that surprised that my usage and interests in Instagram and Snapchat has shot up. Both companies focused on their core product, understand their users intimately, and are now positioned to do incredibly powerful things. I’m looking forward to doing this type of reflection again next year to see what comes of it :)

I love the internet.