WHAT DOES INSTAGRAM STORIES MEAN FOR SNAPCHAT? AND WHAT CAN THEY DO ABOUT IT?

INTRO

This is a collaborative post by Boye Fajinmi (futureboye on Snapchat, boye on IG) and Seth Shellhouse (ALRIGHTbrother on everything).

So we both love writing about cool things and we have a mutual man crush on all of our insights and stuff, so we decided to co-author an article on Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat Stories. It’s lit (probably, sort of). Take a look and tell us your thoughts. We’ve never co-wrote something before, but What A Time To Be Alive, right? We decided to make it like a Q&A interview, and we had no idea what the other would write and how much. After we both answered the questions, we read each other’s answers and posted conclusions. Its like: imagine if this was an episode of Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, except we’re not as funny and we’re actually talking about real things, and there is no video element. So it’s not really like an episode of Between Two Ferns at all, but we go places no man has ever gone before. Enjoy.

1. At its best, FB is a wartime company. We’ve seen them take on and take out every opponent who has challenged their rise to dominance. They seem to thrive on competition. Comments/examples?

Boye:

Following Facebook’s platform, business & story has been one of the most exhilarating rides since it’s inception to where it is now. NO one can deny from day 1, Facebook has been a speeding train knocking everything out of it’s path. Anyone who isn’t on board or threatens its success, just gets thrown to the wayside, from angry co-founders to Fortune 500 Companies, and there’s no slowing it down. With Zuckerberg at the helm, Facebook is becoming the type of company we haven’t ever seen before.

There are tons of examples of how Facebook has not only helped boost companies from the likes of Buzzfeed & its acquisition of Instagram several years ago to really hurting a product like Google + or look no further than the existing issues with Twitter. There was a time when people compared the two, now that notion is laughable.

Zuckerberg, who seems to have the same amount of power as most world leaders, is adept at understanding his competition and what is threatening to his business. Why else would he pay 20B for What’s App when everyone is laughing, or better yet offer Snapchat 3B when no one knew who they were? Even still, make his whole company crank out a feature like Live Video? It’s because he’s SMART.

Zuck see’s the future, so every move Facebook makes should never be taken lightly. The real question is, will they continue to succeed? My thought is likely, as long as Mark remains in power. Not many other companies (if any) have 1.5B daily active users (btw on just one of its several properties), and not many companies have continued to hit on such a high level.

Seth:

Yes. Facebook kills EVERYONE who opposes them.

Facebook has a proven history of letting competitors invent the model and then perfecting it for the market: making it super intuitive, palatable to the masses, edgeless, ad-friendly and not too weird. They are a better business than any social network that has ever existed. They are the Henry Ford of Social Media. Henry Ford didn’t invent the assembly line, Ransom Olds did. But you’ve never heard of Ransom Olds. And your kids have never seen an Oldsmobile. They’ve also never seen a Friendster. And they never will.

Facebook is a wartime company and they always have been. There are so many examples of how they have shipped reactively in order to use both their competitors strengths AND weaknesses against them to bring about their demise, that it’s probably a waste of time to rattle them off. But I’ll throw out a few that come to mind. This may not all be accurate, but I’m sure someone will check the timeline in reality against the far less reliable timeline in my memory and provide corrections…do my research for me, nerds (*Deebo voice). Facebook took the Livejournal concept of connecting kids to share with each other across a closed social web and brought it to college. RIP Live Journal. When Twitter started gaining traction…Facebook launched the Newsfeed and notes. Not quite RIP Twitter, but definitely a wheel chock in growth. MySpace got a little creepy? Open Facebook to anyone over 13 using a real name and valid email address and split out profiles and pages. RIP MySpace. Vine started getting popular? Prioritize video and launch Instagram video. RIP Vine. YouTube Live getting popular? Twitter buys Periscope? Weight Facebook Live above everything else. RIP Periscope. Everyone is sharing photos on Friendster? Friendster patents tagging? Loosen registration restrictions and add photos. RIP Friendster. Google + launched? Yeah, let that one go. Google + was a twisted monster that no one wanted…it bodied itself out of despair and loneliness. You guys get the idea. This section is boring. I don’t want to write about it anymore.

2. Instagram Stories. Was this a smart move? Was it strategic or reactive? What was the motivation and will it work to Facebook’s advantage or make them look bad?

Boye:

On the warfront, most are no stranger to the seemingly constant battle between Snapchat & Facebook to be the king of social attention. For the past several years, Snapchat has been on a tear, completely owning the 12–25 year old demos, and sky-rocketing past Twitter through their impeccable user experience. Facebook has tried and tried, time & time again with old products like Poke & Slingshot to take them on, but really hasn’t succeeded.

Last week, when Instagram straight up copied Snapchat’s most popular feature, and went as far as to call it the same thing (stories), that was a crazy brazen move that feels strategic & potentially desperate, because even though Instagram has double the user base, Snapchat just keeps growing & quickly.

The biggest debate is was this a good move or not. Initially I found myself angry for Snapchat, but ultimately, it was a declaration of war & objectively Instgram felt the enemy had a better product, so they decided to copy it. Time will tell though whether it was a good move or not, and many would say, that for Instagram it’s both good and bad.

Instagram has about 250M more users than Snapchat, all of which might think that Snapchat is copying Instagram! Piggy backing off of their large user base, Instagram has an existing following of brands that are already making money, and can get more viewers off of Insta than snapchat. Good for them, but now they have a confused user base that doesn’t know if they should be on Instagram Stories or Snapchat Stories, which could get complicated.

Seth:

Before I answer that, let’s rewind one month to the launch of Snapchat Memories. I’ve heard it argued that Memories was an attempt to put a nail in Instagram’s youth-market coffin. The story is: given Instagram’s well-documented plummet in engagement and loss of favor with anyone under 30 (due to burnout, spam, the dominance of Instatutes and ads and NOW the much maligned algorithm) Snapchat smelled blood in the water and, with Memories, took a shot at tearing out Instagram’s guts. Plausible. But honestly, I think that Memories is a good feature and was a necessary step on Snapchat’s road to becoming the one-stop-shop social/messenger/camera platform for the next generation. Memories makes it much easier for brands to use their other content for Snapchat, and adds the essential element of storage to a platform that already handles messaging, personal broadcasting and news. It makes sense independent of whatever is happening up north. If Memories WAS a shot at IG, however, it backfired horribly, because it prompted atomic retaliation from War Machine…I mean Deadpool…I mean Facebook. They brought a top scroll and that top scroll brought hell.

So was shipping Instagram Stories a case of panic over the decline of IG engagement and the loss of Gen Z? Or was it retaliation for SC Memories? There’s definitely a case for panic. Instagram has been in an engagement plummet over the past two years and has gotten so bot-heavy, spammy and overrun with scroll-over algo-selected content and ads that I sometimes find myself daydreaming about breaking out the old black book and seeing what Hipstamatic is up to these days. I’ve been sort of tired of it…and I’m not even young…so I understand why so many young people have hit snooze on the platform entirely. Retaliation would make sense too. Snapchat is Facebook’s most dangerous rival since Twitter. With their monopolization of Gen-Z America, Snapchat is for-real threatening the future of Facebook. The two companies have been publicly duking it out in total-video-views for a year…and IG has been the weakest link in FB’s video arsenal. Let’s be honest…before Stories, wasn’t nobody watching video on IG. Nobody. And not to bring up old shit, but let’s also not forget Facebook’s jilted SC acquisition attempt. In 2013, Facebook offered Snapchat the Tinder meal plan of all Tinder meal plans and still got swiped left. What’s the old saying? Hell hath no fury like a Zuckerberg scorned? Is this a case of: “If I can’t have you no one can”?

I don’t think so. I don’t believe either of those scenarios…because FB isn’t a killer, she’s a serial killer. A killer can be passionate, but a serial killer is cold and calculating. Facebook is a bitch. She is a Kanye-sitting-awake-in-her-room-late-at-night-for-7-years-thinking-about-Taylor-Swift bitch. She plans.

I’m more apt to believe that this was Facebook’s plan all along for Instagram. I think big blue has been sitting on this feature since they folded Slingshot (‘member Slingshot, y’all?) just waiting for the most strategic moment to strike. And they found it. They found the moment when Snapchat veered a little too far into the realm of edited, evergreen, ad agency content. They found the moment when people were critically burned out on mutli-platform content and personal social brand management and curation. They found the moment when their community had peak interest in Snapchat-type features and they struck. They let the venom sacks fill and when the time was right, they basically took Snapchat’s entire product and released it as a killer feature on a platform that everyone’s already on.

Brilliant in its simplicity, Clarice. Facebook knows that people are burned out on social. They know that people have more platforms than they have time for consumption or creation. Most of all, they know that they can defeat SC in the real business of social: advertising and marketing. FB has more robust, more transparent analytics. They know that there are thousands of social media managers who don’t like having to make variant content for variant platforms, or build more communities on more platforms. They know these social professionals are lazy and can go home an hour early every damn day if they can just eliminate one single platform. Facebook also knows they have a monopoly on the olds and the internationals…all of the people who are curious about Snapchat but too confused or too late to the pool to dip their toes in. And they made Stories a little more accessible and intuitive than Snapchat, so the olds and the internationals and the social pros can easily figure it out. And Instagram is super public. Olds and companies love public.

SO NOW all of those older people, those traditional brands, those small businesses that could benefit from a more public platform, those international kids…they all have less reason to experiment with SC.

AND, now that they have an entirely similar product, Facebook can more easily sign all of your favorite celebrities to exclusive agreements. And they can afford anyone…They can put Kim Kardash, Kylie Kardash, Kanye Kardash and Jay-Z Kardash under a contract that prevents them from using “similar products”. And don’t think they won’t. If they were gonna spend billions to buy a platform, don’t think they won’t spend billions to body a platform. *note: I keep hearing the Kardashes are already under a Keek type agreement with Snapchat that prevents them from using IG Stories…all except Jay-Z Kardash and Blue Kardash, but that’s just a rumor here in LA.

3. Does Snapchat take this seriously? What can/should they do to hold their ground and continue to grow in a market that is limited by consumer hours and eyeballs?

Boye:

I think Evan Spiegel is likely on two sides of the coin. He has supreme confidence in his product and mission, and it trickles down to his team, who is mostly just slightly annoyed and laugh at the idea of Instagram Stories, who have copied them and is unoriginal. They also have a slew of exciting upcoming products and are the master of the original user experience that Instagram has replicated.

After Evan & Zuck’s initial meeting several years ago of which Evan made Zuck come see HIM, Spiegel, not only turned down $3B, but also bought his whole team The Art of War. He doesn’t play around. He is young in his days as CEO, but he already seems to exhibit the traits that keep people like Jobs & Zuck on top.

There’s no denying though that this product release is a THREAT. Thinking about it, technically now, any feature that Snapchat creates, Facebook & Instagram can now replicate, from filters to stickers.

If I were Evan, I would continue to keep my cool. It’s now the little things that count, the distribution, the strategic partnerships, the small little features, the marketing, the sales teams. Everything.

Some will land on team Snapchat & some will land on team Insta, but it will be rare for people to use both for stories.

Evan has to continue to be bold, confident & do something no one is expecting that’s defensible, in the same way that Mark has done time & time again.

It’s a tech holy war, and it’s far from over. At the end of the day though, consumers win, they get all these cool options, but they will only ultimately go where all their friends are.

Seth:

What can Snapchat do??? How can They avoid a dip in the crowded deadpool with all of FB’s former challengers? Well, this is a tougher question. I think the simple answer is: Snapchat can innovate. They will never beat FB at the social-as-ad network model. They may never become all-things-to-all-people the way FB and its suite of products very well may. But they do have the youth, and the youth want what’s next…if SC can give the youth that, and keep the youth loyal until they reach that magical age (like 28?) where their brains lose flexibility and stop trying new things, Snapchat will survive long term.

The short term goal in releasing unorthodox, game changing features or products would be to attack Facebook where it is most vulnerable: agility. Facebook may be able to innovate at light speed, but they can’t ship at light speed. They are a monster corporation now, with a lot of shareholders to answer to, and they have to ship with extreme caution…even on Instagram. Snapchat could, with the right schedule of old-people-confusing releases, continue to stay ahead. Perplexing innovation would also allow them to continue to beat Facebook at the one game it’s never won: coolness.

So if Snapchat were to ask me for survival advice (which will never happen…real talk), I might offer the following:

Do something next gen. and counter-intuitive. Everyone in social always does intuitive, and Facebook always beats them at it.

Get creative, be weird…and not fake “oh-look-another selfie filter that appeals to the LCD” weird (although you should keep making those, they make basics feel less boring). Think about a risky, dangerous, sharp tool that spurs a unique type of communication. Lightning struck once for Snapchat with ephemeral. Before we knew how easy it was to save Snaps, this app gave us the perfect platform to share all of our worst behavior under the pretense that it was not going to be on the web forever. If you asked the people who made Snapchat huge in the first place (college Sophomores in 2012 y’all…I Ate-a Pie forever!) why they used Snapchat…and I did…in dozens of focus groups and highly informative Tinder dates…the answer was: “cuz u can send noodz”! Dammit give us a new way to send noodz! Maybe lean back on ads and all the partner content that no one watches and focus on what we do in the shadows.

Game it, bruh. We all know that wearables and deeper AR are on your map (oh read my uninformed but scintillating-ass post on that right HYA) and you have an opportunity to use them on a broad scale in a way that no one else has. Maybe encourage your users to stop gaming social and start social gaming. Pero like…what’s the next generation of social gaming? Is it real world? Is it AR? Can gamification make everyone’s garbage content more interesting or useful?

Leaning on gaming is something that Facebook itself has done in the past. Remember (was it 2009?) when FB realized that core product wasn’t engaging enough to keep casual users coming back all the time? Remember how they solved that problem? Farmville.

Mostly, I think I’d say: give up on trying to be the NBC to Facebook’s ABC and be fucking Netflix. Continue to evolve your model, look more at peer-to-peer and put brands where we all put brands…somewhere off to the side where they can give people who have given up on life and human relationships and creativity something to do. Stick to your guns on not being totally ad-driven. Confuse the shit out of old people and that college buddy who’s VP of Social at The Nobody Cares Corporation. Don’t worry about building a partner content network. Don’t try to be a news source. Or even celebrity fueled. Focus on what made you popular in the first place: nekkid human-to-human interaction. Maybe it’s not about ads. Or being considered an entertainment industry powerhouse. Or famous users. Telephones, pencils and musical instruments did a great job of connecting people without selling ads. Be a damn pencil or something. I don’t know.

Long story short: I like FB/IG. And I like SC. I want them both to survive. I use both of their products, and hell, I could conceivably work for either of them at some point. But I don’t really think either of them can be all things to all people, and if SC continues down that path, the ghost of social future sees their name on a lonely tombstone right next to MySpace. And no one wants to be next to MySpace.

Conclusions!!!

Seth:

One thing that Boye nailed that I sort of overlooked is that we really are in uncharted waters here. Facebook is a unicorn…it’s THE unicorn, as far as any of us know. We have no evidence that another one exists or will in our time. And yeah, Zuckerberg is a special kind of business person…I kinda called him Henry Ford but Boye said it better. Also man…poor Twitter. I feel like we both, at some point in our responses referred to Twitter in semi-past tense. Obviously this isn’t the case, but it’s amazing how quickly the tides, and even more-so public perception can turn. This really is a high stakes game. It sort of reminds me of fighting. One missed cue, one slow move, one ineffective offensive can leave you open for a knockout and that knockout can cost you your ranking and start your slide to the bottom. Sweet science boo.

I think we’re pretty much in agreement on Facebook’s motivation behind shipping IG Stories…which, unless we’re missing something, is pretty transparent. And I think we are both of the opinion that this is a much larger, graver move than most people think. Shots fired, y’all…shots like super fired. What I think Boye has way better insights into is the inner workings of both companies, especially Snapchat. He definitely has a better barometer for how Snapchat is reacting to the fact that Facebook can build or buy an answer to all of their features, and it sounds like they still have a lot of cards to play (sidenote: after we wrote this, FB launched core product MSQRD integration in Brazil and Snapchat shipped a gamified AR filter). I’m more paranoid and, if I were Snapchat, I would be looking for something potentially patentable. Regardless, we definitely both agree that Snapchat needs a game-changer. There was one place we diverged…Boye said that Snapchat should focus more on partnerships, and yesterday they announced an entire slate of NBC programming created specifically for the platform. I actually think this makes sense, but I would rather see Snapchat focus more on UGC and peer to peer until they crack semi-pro production for the app. On the other hand, their handling of The Voice sounds like a solid step towards combining a UGC social activation and a TV series in a meaningful way. The other thing I didn’t touch on that Boye nailed was that people will follow their friends and that may create factions and enough user base for both SC and IG. SO. Real REAL final conclusion: stock up on popcorn. This bout to get good.

Boye:

I gotta say, Seth’s voice & tone is on fire. He boils down this tension like a schoolyard Shaman. More people should think in this way. I think combined we communicate what everyone is thinking. First off, we both agree, Facebook is King of the Castle. We also agree that Snapchat is like the itch that will never go away to Facebook. One thing I didn’t mention that Seth covered was Snapchat Memories. I agree with him, ultimately, even though it was seemingly a good move, it opened up a world of pain for Snapchat IMO. They crept into a different territory that was off brand which has enabled them for attack on things like their stories feature. Now both of the apps are moving too close to each other in experience. What if Memories started to allow likes and followers? Yikes, but don’t be surprised if it happens. Also one thing that I’d hate to see, that could be a likely possibility, is a war on talent. Facebook has all the money in the world, and like Seth alluded to, content is king. Facebook could easily do exclusive deals with major artists in the same way that Apple Music, Tidal & Spotify are doing. Could you imagine a world where you could only find DJ Khaled on Snapchat, and nowhere else? Personally, I’m already annoyed by the notion of having two similar user experiences in two different places. I don’t know what to do anymore. What are brands like Nike going to do? Create the same stories for each platform? Double Yikes. Speigel & Zuck can do all they want to “win” but it’s going to be an up-hill battle, and more so for Snapchat. I think even if Snapchat goes into different sectors like AR it will still be a struggle. If Snaps wants to win, they should create the next Snapchat before “the next Snapchat” comes along. If they can do that, then pass me the popcorn Seth, cuz shit’s about to get real.

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Built the grid so I could spend more time off of it. https://www.sethshellhouse.com/

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