Social Wars: Instagram vs. Snapchat (Spoiler: Instagram is winning)
A war is brewing. It’s a silent one – fought by features and follows.
We all know where Vine went. Twitter is kept afloat by Donald Trump at this point. And things like Periscope and Meerkat, while initially innovative, are now inert. Pinterest, an eCommerce sweetheart, has all but disappeared, with employee turnover making this apparent. Facebook will always exist, and is basically the Google search of social media, so no discussion needed. And YouTube, like Facebook, always stays relevant. The real duel — for individual users and brands — is between Instagram and Snapchat.
Why do I care? Well, in addition to working a Associate Director of Data Analytics at Fluid in the retail business world, I am an Instagram influencer myself (@rigelgemini). I know how these social networks perform for users trying to produce content. And I have watched with interest as the pendulum has swung back and forth over the last couple years.
So let’s take score.
Instagram vs. Snapchat: The Platforms
Both platforms have made sure to stay true to features and feelings that made them special in the first place. For Instagram these features are: the “instant feed” which is not sorted by an algorithm (mostly) but by timestamp, photo editing features for the pocket photo artist, and the ability to discover new tastemakers. For Snapchat these features are: the disappearing snaps and stories, eye-dazzling filters, low discoverability (no way to find new users), anonymity (not revealing who everyone follows, no post history, etc.), and a clunky-as-heck interface. This has made Instagram all about carefully curated stunning images. Whereas Snapchat is about fun, quirky, organic, real-life moments that, after expiring, will be lost forever.
When Instagram launched Stories last year, it began full “feature warfare” with Snapchat. And over the last 6 months, it has slowly lifted every Snapchat feature (disappearing messages, live broadcasts, and even stickers), which we can only assume will end with Instagram launching even better “filters” of their own. This has resulted in a mass migration back to Instagram since… well why do we need Snapchat now? And Snapchat would die on the “vine” (pun intended) long before it adopts the Instagram features that it has worked so hard to differentiate from.
Some Instagram Live broadcasts (which a la Snapchat and unlike Facebook are not saved) now receive thousands of viewers. I was watching Willow Smith the other day talking about her new word “flawful” (a play on the Beyonce term “flawless) for ten minutes broadcasting to about 5K users. Now if you were a brand, wouldn’t you want to be live on what’s basically an Instagram television channel? Indeed, fashion publishers like Allure and Esquire have already started with Live broadcasts, and many fashion brands will soon be developing ways to harness the attention of their online audiences. In fact, I would actually recommend fashion & beauty brands partner with established users with a large social following for Live broadcast.
Snapchat has some staying power, however, and Gen Z users have invested lots of time and emotion into the platform. But Instagram swooped in right as Millenials were starting to use Snapchat, and made sure not to lose that population. Many people I know simply use Snapchat for filters and then upload images or videos directly to Instagram stories or posts. And just at the moment brands were starting to explore Snapchat and create their accounts, Instagram swooped in. Now it will be much easier to continue focus their attention on Instagram.
Back to Retail
Both Instagram and Snapchat were built with retail in mind. They have competitively rolled out features over the last year to bring retailers into the center of their networks. Snapchat launched Discover early on, and immediately pulled in brands and publishers. And they have covered every red carpet event from NYFW to The Oscars.
Instagram, however has shown a deeper commitment to retail eCommerce by rolling out many more features, beginning with taggable outfits on posts, adding features like tappable links and “Learn More” in stories, website profile links, and not to mention a whole marketplace of third party “Like2Buy” vendors.
Instagram has kept their users’ trust by not allowing the platform to become a direct sales mechanism (which Pinterest did perhaps on overload). Paths directly to products are still very clunky. Links in captions aren’t clickable. Basically, Instagram has prevented Instagram from becoming a social shopping system (at least when they can’t make money off of it directly through ads ;-)).
Does it really come down to features?
Yes, it does. Features are what make a platform fun to use, and as we know at Fluid in the world of retail web design, features are what make a platform valuable.
On this topic from L2 via Business of Fashion: “While it’s too early to tell how well Instagram’s new shopping functions are working, it’s also clear that the platform is committed to harnessing the potential of its catalogue-like feed. When it launched its own version of Snapchat Stories, a stream of content that disappears after 24 hours, Instagram made the tool more brand-friendly by enabling tagging. And according to L2, Nike’s first Instagram Story earned 12 times more views that the brand’s previous best Snapchat story.”
To this I would add that influential people who are on the platform are what give it a draw. And I’m not talking about myself as an influencer here, though I wish I mattered that much. I’m talking about Rihanna and Justin Bieber and Gigi Hadid and Selena Gomez and, yes, the Kardashians. (Who remembers the last time Rihanna did a Snapchat post?) And when Kim Kardashian stopped posting on Snapchat for the last couple months, I think everyone else took a break from the platform, too.
But which is having a bigger impact?
I’m not going to make this about conversion, because this is about advertising. Retailers should move away from thinking of social media as direct sales channels, which they aren’t. According to L2 via Business of Fashion: “L2 reports that only about 1.5 percent of online sales in 2016 can be attributed to social media, even if 75 percent of shoppers discover products there.” Instead, they are mass media platforms like television, where eyeballs are the metric.
Instagram has become the virtual million dollar showroom. They’re where you go when you want glossy content and you want your product to be desired. For established companies, they can expand your reach. And for new companies, they can put you on the map.
Retailers are clearly making a choice to put their dollars with Instagram instead of Snapchat, now and projected into the future. It helps that Instagram & Facebook integrations allow media buying to be a one-stop shop with targeting.
Galloway from L2 is already predicting that Snapchat will not IPO this year or will IPO and disappoint. And I would agree. I think they have missed the opportunity where their userbase is growing. And now their platform has atrophied, and is losing active users by the day.
So that is my first bold prediction of 2017: Snapchat is about to vanish… like a Snap.