Virtual war. That's what Instagram declared yesterday when the Facebook-owned social media giant rolled out their latest update sharing an all too familiar user experience touted by rival platform, Snapchat. What are they doing? How could this happen? Why are they doing this? After turning over a few stones, we saw this coming from a mile away. Facebook and Instagram ultimately decided that if you can't buy them, become them.
The What - Instagram Is Introducing Stories
In case you're living under a social media rock or your Wi-Fi stinks at work (like mine), Instagram rolled out what they call "Stories." This new feature "lets you share all the 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." Users will now have the ability to post creative content (including the use of text and drawings tools) that is separate from your profile and feed; the Stories then disappear after 24 hours.
What I found most surprising is what they call the feature: your Story. I'm no lawyer but my first thought was doesn't this cross the legal line of infringement of Snapchat's flagship feature, Stories? That's neither here or there and honestly up for another discussion at another time. Back to the main point. The deal here is that Instagram is taking the angle of how users don't have to worry about "over-sharing" and clogging follower's feeds. This feature's model is what make's Snapchat so great and popular.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out what Instagram's strategy here is: they're trying to take market share away from Snapchat. In other words, they're trying to deflate Snapchat's platform and kill their momentum of quickly becoming the next best social media platform offered. They're looking to take a chunk of the 150 million daily active users, 10 billion daily video views, and the most used platform by millennials since 2012.
My very first impressions is that it is very similar to Snapchat almost to a T. You're able to quickly create content by clicking the button on the top left corner or swiping the screen left to right. The friends you are following appear on the very top of the feed in chronological order (at least for now). You are able to see who views your content by swiping up similar to Snapchat, and unlike Snapchat you are able to customize who sees and doesn't see your stories.
I spoke to friend of Fstoppers, Von Wong, about his thoughts on the new feature introduction:
Instagram solves the discoverability problem of Snapchat and beautifully combines permanence with ephemerality. Though I've been posting almost daily stories in Snapchat, I have nothing to show for it. No track record, no success metric and no reason to encourage people to follow me — except for my success on other platforms.
Instagram provides not only the beautiful portfolio, it now fills the gaps between posts and provides valuable engagement statistics. It's more efficient. I still think Snapchat still has the fun and advantage in messaging but Instagram is the more valuable place to invest your time as an influencer.
Note: Engagement fall off on Instagram is very high for me right now, I think it's both a question of audience and buffer. It will take things to stabilize so maybe it will change.
The How - This Potentially All Started In 2013
Facebook Didn't Get What They Wanted, For Once
The foreshadowing of this "virtual war" potentially started in the fall of 2013. While Snapchat, founded by Evan Speigel and Bobby Murphy, was quickly gaining traction as one of the most used apps by millenials as stated earlier, Facebook took notice and was interested in purchasing the platform. By interested, I mean 3 billion reasons why they were interested. Late 2013, Facebook indeed offered Snapchat a $3 billion cash offer, and Snapchat respectfully declined. This was odd. You usually hear Facebook acquiring social media giants like Instagram and Whatsapp, but this was quite the contrary.
In fact, it was reported by Forbes that Zuckerburg met Spiegel in late 2012 and tried scaring the Snapchat founders that they were planning to release a similar app, Facebook Poke, which proved later to be a flop.
Spiegel, Snapchat's CEO and co-founder, stated, "I think trading that for some short-term gain isn’t very interesting," and that the founders sensed weakness and opportunity with their growing app.
For once, Facebook didn't get what they wanted.
Facebook Started To Remove Snapcodes From Profile Pictures
Whether it was intentional or not, promoting your own Snapchat has proven to be more challenging compared to other social platforms. Naturally, users found different ways to cross-promote their Snapchat accounts on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A few ways were embedding your Snapcode, a user's scannable QR code, or including your Snapchat username in your bio.
While this trend of cross-promotion was catching on, Facebook discreetly began to remove Facebook user's profile picture who used a Snapcode without any notice. Von Wong claimed his Snapcode was removed without notice.
After finding this out in June, I did some more digging and found more interesting information that I was not aware of. According to a report done by Digiday this past April, Facebook and Twitter wanted publishers and brands to stop promoting their Snapchat accounts on their platforms. According to Digiday's report:
Facebook does have an explicit policy against publishers or brands promoting 'third parties' in their profiles or cover photos on the social network. It was a policy that was explicitly outlined in an update to rules regarding branded content, which were given to publishers this month.
Facebook also has been known to be strict about how its users promote Snapchat, not just on Instagram and in Messenger. The messaging app has prevented people from sharing Snapchat links in messages, because they were classified as spam, according to reports.
'These platforms are designed to keep attention from the other platforms. It’s not in Instagram’s best interest to build another platform’s audience,' Rezvani said.
This makes total sense from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram's perspective, they aren't in the business of promoting competitors platforms. Why should they be?
The Why - At the End of the Day, It's All About the Pie
Why did Instagram, owned by Facebook, decide to do this? At the end of the day, you guessed it, it's all about the money. Snapchat has been finding effective ways to monetize their app catered for both users and advertisers (even presidential campaigns). So effective in fact that they are reaching 41 percent of consumers ages 18-34 in the U.S., projecting to earn $300 million in 2016, and anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion by the end of 2017.
They have portals designed for ESPN, Cosmopolitan, MTV, etc.; they are finding effective ways to show ads via stories; geo-filters and face scans have proven to be huge successes for advertisers as well. It's a money-making machine that even the most hesitant of brands are beginning to warm up to. An example of the geo-filter's advertising creativity was Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator promotion:
But at the end of the day there is only so much piece of the pie, all advertisers have budgets and it is a business more than some would like to believe. Cutting as much as you can is crucial for these giants, and apparently they'll do it by any means necessary.
What Does This Mean for Me and You, the User?
My bit of advice is to evolve, never become too complacent and too comfortable with one platform if you're serious about building your brand on social media. At a snap of a finger things change. Never put all of your eggs in one single basket. If so, you're leaving yourself very vulnerable when change comes.
This is great for those who weren't completely on the Snapchat bandwagon, especially if you have the leverage of a solid following on Instagram. For Snapchatters, who knows. It will be interesting to see how Snapchat responds to this, if at all.
So I'll leave to you guys, do you think Instagram's move will be successful? Or will this be another flop for Facebook's battle with Snapchat? Share your thoughts in the comments.