This post was originally published on the Splash Effect blog.
Towards the tail-end of my summer holiday I was scrolling through Instagram - as you do - and came across this post on the Instagram for Business account:
Instagram was to launch a new feature that completely, 100% was a direct copy of the extremely popular app, Snapchat. I was shocked, though at the same time not surprised at all. If my immediate reaction were a GIF, it would be something like this:
Snapchat - though once known as a mysterious app used by teens for nothing more than selfies and sexting - is an ingenious platform with a powerful storytelling feature that allows users to share snippets of their day in photo and video format, made all the more fun by its robust emoji, stickers, text and drawing tools, lenses and geo-filters. Each Snapchat story lasts 24 hours and is gone once that time has passed. A Snapchat story is not perfect, polished or even beautiful, but it’s real.
Given that description you can understand my reaction when I saw the Instagram Stories announcement:
“A new feature that lets you share all the personal moments of your day, not just the ones you want to keep on your profile. As you share multiple photos and videos, they appear together in a slideshow format: your story.”
“You can bring your business’ story to life in new ways with text and drawing tools. The photos and videos will disappear after 24 hours and won’t appear on your profile grid or in feed.”
It was all a bit too same-same for me.
Immediately, despite being on holiday, I opened up Slack to see what, if anything my team was saying about this revelation. No one had mentioned it yet so I brought it up myself and the following conversation ensued:
If you haven’t already gathered, on the day of its release I was officially, 100% anti-Instagram Stories. I was mostly disappointed in Instagram, which is hands-down my most used and loved platform. Why did they feel they had to blatantly rip-off Snapchat? If they wanted to do something to attract more users to their platform, couldn’t they have come up with another cool, innovative way to tell stories? This annoyed me so much that I signed off of Twitter for the day with this tweet:
But then the feature started to roll out and slowly but surely many of the users I follow started to create Instagram stories. Some, admittedly, were used to tell their followers to just follow them on Snapchat, but most were genuinely sharing parts of their everyday lives that they wouldn’t typically share on their Instagram feeds. This seemingly instant uptake of this new feature made me realize these 4 things amidst the fog of my loathing:
1) The power of Snapchat is not its tech, but its storytelling format.
As a marketer and late-adopter of Snapchat for personal use, I rarely - if ever - use the platform’s messaging functionality. This is partly because few of my close friends use the platform and because I was primarily intrigued by the ability to put compose a multimedia story on the fly. For all of us at Splash Effect, the ability to tell compelling and authentic stories about your brand is the true power of social, and Snapchat’s story feature embodies that. Despite my initial qualms about Instagram’s adoption of Snapchat’s innovation in storytelling, I realized that it was just that: an innovation in storytelling. While Gutenberg invented the printing press, that did not mean that his was the only publishing house, right? And so should another platform have the ability to tell stories in this new, innovative way. The significant uptake of Instagram Stories shows that this storytelling format was of interest to many of Instagram’s users and that what was holding them back from adopting Snapchat into their social media mix was the platform itself, not what the platform does.
2) Instagram Stories users are not Snapchat users.
What I didn’t think of when I first encountered Instagram Stories was how brilliant of a business move this was for Instagram. We know that Instagram and Snapchat both attract younger users, but Instagram is a far more welcoming platform for those aged 35+ than Snapchat. To understand why refer back to the “selfies and sexting” that Snapchat was once known for. Many of Instagram’s most popular accounts are run by mommy bloggers, food bloggers, artists, makers, restaurants, photographers and other brands whose demographic is far from that of Snapchat’s. These Instagrammers - alongside what I would suspect is the majority of their audience - would not touch Snapchat with a barge pole. Even if these Instagrammers themselves might be interested in using the platform to engage with their audience, bringing their audience over to new platform that is likely unfamiliar to them would be challenging. Though building a Snapchat following from the ground up is not impossible when using the right tactics, it is not the right move for all brands. With Stories, Instagram has struck a golden market, giving Instagrammers the ability to share more of their lives and work with their followers without having to start from scratch.
3) A Perfect Balance of the Curated and the Spontaneous
An example of one of the feeds of the embroidery artists I follow. Beautiful, but not very personal.
As a Snapchat user slightly older than its core demographics, I am always looking for new accounts to follow. However, while I usually screenshot any Snapchat code that comes up in my feed, I find that they are few and far between and my Snapchat feed is a sad mix of brands I follow for research purposes, the handful of friends I have who also work in Digital Marketing, a few YouTubers whose YouTube videos I no longer follow, and DJ Khaled. This is disappointing to me as I would love to see Snapchat stories from a number of the accounts I enjoy following on Instagram, but they have yet to adopt and, frankly, I’m not sure they ever will. But, thanks to Instagram Stories the platform has now become more personal, satisfying that same storytelling itch that Snapchat successfully scratches. For example, I follow a number of embroidery artists on the Instagram as hand embroidery has become a new hobby of mine. These artists use Instagram as a way to promote their work, engage with the maker community and drive users to where they can purchase their work on Etsy or other ecommerce platforms. If you look at the feeds of these artists they are honestly quite impeccable. They are crisp and clean - the perfect platform for selling their work. Prior to Instagram Stories the closest you would get to learning about the artists themselves is if they post about their studio or their work environment, though still impeccably styled and framed. While some would call this fake, I call it good marketing. But while I appreciate their content for its beauty and finesse, I was intrigued to know more about them and, thanks to Instagram Stories, I now can. While of course these creators and their followers could move to Snapchat - as many have - that move is not realistic nor strategically smart for their brand as their followers tend to be other makers or users who have disposable income enough to purchase handmade art, aka not the under-24 crowd. Instagram, now complete with its Stories feature, makes for a perfect balance of the curated and the spontaneous, and I think - in time - it will be all the better for it.
4) Discoverability is 🔑
If you’re at all like me you spend a good amount of your spare time scrolling through Instagram’s search feature. This is an excellent way to discover new creators, brands and content that you might like. I have found some of my favourite accounts (not belonging to my personal connections, of course) on Instagram. While Instagram Stories themselves are not discoverable, by discovering new accounts through the search feature you can also view stories by visiting their profile page. This discoverability, for me, is Snapchat’s biggest downside. Part of why my Snapchat usage is far less than other social networks is that it is hard to find new and fun people and brands to follow when they are not in your personal contacts.
So, to make a long story short, while I was first opposed to Instagram’s adoption of the storytelling device created by Snapchat, despite the obvious copy I am actually now quite excited for the doors this feature will open for Instagrammers looking to enhance their relationship with their community. Furthermore, it’s a great alternative for brands who are interested in the storytelling benefits of Snapchat, but are concerned about reaching their target audience on the platform.
That is not to say that the benefits of Snapchat are lost to Instagram Stories. Snapchat still boasts incredible viewership rates with over 800 billion mobile videos viewed per day and is the most popular social network among teenagers and young adults aged 12-24. Ultimately, it’s down to your audience to decide whether Snapchat or Instagram Stories is a better fit, but let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that we now have options. What a time to be alive!