This week Instagram released what is being called a “down to the pixel” copy of Snapchat Stories feature called, yes, Instagram Stories. Just like Snapchat’s Stories, Instagram’s are set to disappear after 24 hours and do not offer any feedback mechanism aside from a reply. Users can either take new video or photos for the story or include anything from their photo roll taken in the last 24 hours. They see Stories from the people they already follow above their “regular” feed.
Ben Thompson at Stratechery thinks it’s a good thing for Facebook not just to copy Snapchat Stories but to introduce it to Instagram’s user base. “The first mistake most incumbents make when building new products in response to threatening new competitors is to attempt to win on features,” says Mr Thompson. He adds: “Snapchat’s Stories is a great product that has already gone through years of iterations; why, but for pride, would you build something different?” Facebook has already tried building slightly different variations of Snapchat products in order to attract Snapchat’s younger audience, but hasn’t had much success. Why not try cloning it?
So if it’s not about different features, or “better” features, what can Facebook offer this time?
“The fact features don’t offer useful differentiation does not remove the need for differentiation: the key is figuring out what else can be leveraged,” says Mr Thompson. In this case, Facebook isn’t just launching a Snapchat clone and setting it up to compete on identical features, it’s leveraging the Instagram user base. Instead of going out and building a new user base for the app, Facebook is using Instagram not only to reach these users with the Stories functionality but also to allow those users to share those stories with their existing followers. This is an easier and faster ramp-up than Snapchat offers new users, who need to build a social graph from scratch, which isn’t that simple.
Yet even though Instagram is not trying to compete with Snapchat on features, and can leverage its user base to get users to try it and to enables them to have a great initial experience, it’s not all rainbows from here.
First, the product match just isn’t there. Instagram is all about sharing your best (and edited) self while aiming for as many likes as possible. Stories are ephemeral, feedback-free, and supposedly authentic and unstaged. This means the two functions are kept separate in the app, which, in the current interface, is a bit awkward. I wonder if Facebook will spin the Stories functionality into a different app once adoption ramps up and is stable.
Second, will Instagram’s user base, which is more varied both demographically and geographically than Snapchat’s, even warm to the idea of sharing something that isn’t their “best selves” and without any public signs of popularity? I’m assuming that it might be nice as a distraction initially, to understand what everyone is talking about, but will they end up using it?
Third, what are the advertisers going to do? Snapchat’s advantage is that even without public signs of success, there are several products that appeal to advertisers and “engagement levels are much higher” than Instagram. Yet the flip side is that the feed-driven Instagram content “is engaging across a broader cross-section of users.” Will advertisers adopt Instagram Stories or will they be content reaching out to Instagram’s user base via the proven feed?
Finally, the kids aren’t buying it. They know Instagram is for their beautiful and best photos and Snapchat is for spontaneity. They’re not switching over their ephemeral posts to Instagram. Instead, they’re using Stories to advertise their Snapchat handle. I’m not sure that that is the use scenario that Instagram was hoping for!