Marketing Mondays: Instagram Stories

On August 2nd, Instagram introduced its new Instagram Stories feature. For brands that have been using SnapChat Stories, this product is almost a carbon copy with some differentiators. For those that have not yet explored SnapChat, I’ll explain a bit of the context behind both of these products.

Instagram Stories is a new feature in which users can share multiple photos and videos in a slideshow format (your “story”) without having to worry about over posting. Each story disappears after 24 hours and is not posted to your Instagram feed or profile grid. For Millennials and, even more so, for Gen Z, this feature provides the ephemeral nature of sharing that drew these younger audiences away from Facebook and toward SnapChat. And, for Instagram (and Facebook), this provides a feature that can (potentially) lock in its own users, preventing them from testing and moving over to SnapChat.

Why did Instagram copy SnapChat?
There are a limited, albeit large, number of potential users available in the world. The world’s population is ~7.4 billion people. China is the largest market with ~1.4 billion people, followed by India at ~1.3 billion people and then the U.S. with a mere ~324 million people. Meanwhile, there are ~3.6 billion internet users today, globally. Every social network, chat app and content publisher is vying for those users’ eyeballs and time, so they can sell ads to brands. The larger companies, such as Google and Facebook are investing heavily in bringing internet to the other ~4 billion people that don’t yet have access to the internet, so they can grow their reach and ability to sell ads.

As seen in the chart below, Facebook alone dominates in the number of users that it has captured with ~1.6 billion users globally, as of April 2016. But, when you add in its other properties – WhatsApp at 1 billion users, Facebook Messenger at 900 million users and Instagram at 400 million users – Facebook’s reach becomes even more astounding.


So, with this much reach, why would Facebook/Instagram copy the Stories feature from Snapchat? Because each platform captures a different audience segment. And, Facebook knows it needs to both guard its existing audience, and capture the next generation of young audiences that brands so aggressively covet. In fact, that’s why Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 – to reach younger audiences. While Facebook started in 2004 as a closed network for college students to connect with “friends”, it quickly expanded as a platform for anyone to connect with close friends and family. Today, it is a catch all network to connect with anyone that you’ve ever met.

Younger audiences that recognized this trend, and wanted to capture and share their lives on a platform where their parents weren’t watching their every move, jumped over to Instagram. Instagram offered a simple, visual platform to publish selfies and other photos with beautiful filters, presenting an ideal – or even aspirational – image of users’ lives. And, the user’s profile settings could easily be set to private, so that only people whom the user accepts can follow the user and see her photos.

Facebook saw their young user base making this jump to Instagram, so they bought the platform – for a sum that only four years ago was considered mind-boggling, but, today, is considered a steal. As Ben Thompson writes in his post, The Audacity of Copying Well, Facebook and Instagram offer complementary use cases. Thus, instead of simply absorbing Instagram and its features into Facebook, Facebook had the foresight to understand that the best thing it could do with Instagram was let it live on as its own entity so not to alienate Instagram users, while integrating Facebook’s ad technology into the Instagram platform, offering brands the ability to target Instagram’s younger audiences.

The Snapchat generation (Gen Z), which came after the Millennials that grew up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, grew up with warnings from parents and broader society to be careful about what they post online. Photos, videos and statements can live on forever on these open platforms and be discovered with a simple Google or Facebook search. Enter Snapchat.

Founded in 2011, Snapchat offered an alternative to social networks as well as mobile text messaging, both of which kids’ parents had access to. Snapchat, after all, is a photo messaging app first and a social network second. Snapchat offered a private place in which to share photos that would disappear within 24 hours. The very nature of the platform, the value proposition, was to be ephemeral – to provide a refuge where young audiences could be their youthful selves without fearing future repercussions for actions and statements made today. Like Instagram before it, Snapchat saw droves of young users adopting the platform. And, in 2013, Facebook offered Snapchat $3 billion in cash to acquire the platform. But, in an amazing show of confidence, Snapchat founder, Evan Spiegel, turned down the offer with a long-term view of growing the business. Today, Snapchat has over 200 million users and growing and is valued at over $22 billion. No wonder people consider the $1 billion acquisition of Instagram a steal, given its user base of over 400 million people today.

In fall of 2013, Snapchat introduced Snapchat Stories, which has since become Snapchat’s power feature – the ability to create slideshows of your life through photos and videos. The experience is almost rough and clunky, giving the appearance and feel of being more “authentic” and real. It was around this time that Facebook, after its failed attempt at copying Snapchat features through a new app called Poke, decided to offer $3 billion to acquire the growing photo chat app. Ever since Snapchat turned down Facebook, Snapchat and Facebook/Instagram have increasingly competed over features to captivate their users’ attention. For example, in August 2014, Snapchat launched Live – a feature that allowed users to follow (and contribute to) live events. In January 2015, Snapchat launched Discover – a feature that enabled users to discover new Snapchat Stories and content from publishers and influencers. Later, in June 2015, Instagram launched a new Explore page enabling users to discover trending content and places based on its users engagement (similar to Snapchat Live). In September 2015, Snapchat acquired Looksery to power its new animated lenses feature, dubbed “Lenses”. And, in March 2016, Facebook acquired MSQRD, which offers similar imaging features. So, it was only a matter of time before Facebook attempted to copy Snapchat’s power feature. This time, though, it may work.

Should your brand use Instagram Stories or Snapchat Stories?
Instagram Stories already seem to be getting plenty of engagement. The stories appear on the top of your Instagram app and seamlessly integrate into the Instagram experience. I’ve been seeing a range of brands, influencers and regular users (friends that I follow) testing out Stories, and it’s a fun addition to my content feed. Given the head start that Facebook/Instagram have on Snapchat in developing their ad tech and revenue model, I can see Instagram Stories hitting a positive nerve with brands as a great way to elevate the content that they share on Instagram and, eventually, targeting new audiences with promoted Instagram Stories.

But, as usual with social media, there is no clear cut answer as to whether or not a brand should participate in Instagram Stories or Snapchat Stories.

A good place to start is comparing the core users for each of the platforms with the audiences your brand hopes to reach. Snapchat’s core users are 13 to 24-year-olds, falling squarely in the Gen Z bucket. Furthermore, 77% of college students use Snapchat. And, the platform touts ~100 million daily active users amongst its ~200 million total users. Meanwhile, Instagram’s core users capture both Gen Z and Millennials: 41% of its users are ages 16 to 24, and 35% of its users are ages 24 to 34. Instagram touts ~75 million daily active users amongst its ~400 million total users. Some fast math will tell you that Snapchat and Instagram likely capture a similar number of Gen Z users, while Instagram also gives a brand access to the Millennial audience that is growing in buying power.

So, if your brand’s target audience falls within these core user bases, then it’s time to experiment and test which platform proves to support your business goals.

How to use Instagram Stories
This video from 9TO5Mac provides an excellent tutorial on how to use Instagram Stories.

*BONUS: How to use SnapChat
Many people over the age of thirty find Snapchat daunting and intimidating. If you haven’t explored Snapchat yet, below are two must read blog posts from Mark Suster explaining the platform: how to use it and why it’s important.

Now get out there and experiment.

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