If you have looked at any digitally focused publication or updated Instagram in the last 48 hours, you are likely aware that Instagram rolled out their new Stories feature this week. Essentially a carbon copy of Snapchat Stories, Instagram’s new posts appear as icons at the top of users’ feed and allow users to share select content for a finite amount of time. Of course, due to the similarity, the first reaction was to claim they ripped off Snapchat and then compare the two. To the first point, I say “so what?” All of these social platforms are constantly evolving experiments in what draws consumers in; if something works it will likely be adopted by others in some way or another. To the second point, while the look and feel of the two Stories are similar, there are some key functionality differences. Instagram’s current editing abilities within Stories include several lighting filters and the ability to add text, stickers, and drawings. As of now there is no functionality for interactivity in the images, such as with Snapchat’s popular lenses, or location based information and filters. Perhaps these will be added in the future, but I feel as though this will be dependent on a greater tolerance for less than perfect images to be adopted on the platform. Much of Instagram’s growth can be attributed to the platform’s function as a portfolio for artists, models, photographers, and content creators. This has encouraged a particular standard for imagery that is much higher than that of the content on Snapchat. It is yet to be seen at scale if that standard will remain for content in Stories or if the new functionality lends itself to less produced imagery.
While Instagram has become the home for production quality content, it has also supported sharing real time content. One of the drawbacks of the platform was the display of the feed when a user posted several images quickly, effectively taking over their followers’ feed. While it might have been great to see the live action, 10 pictures of the same game or concert could get old quickly. Knowing this, many users may have avoided Instagram as their real time sharing platform. Stories now allow users to share their real time experiences without overtaking the feed. Since images posted to Stories are not automatically added to the user’s profile page, this allows them to share lesser produced content without disrupting the look and feel they have curated for their profile, saving only the best images for permanent display. Instagram Stories also grant users the ability to control who among their followers can see a story, a feature not available on Snapchat. Alcohol brands such as Ketel One have already utilized this functionality by limiting the visibility of their drink recipe Stories to user over the age of 21.
From a brand perspective, the advantage of Instagram Stories over Snapchat is the ease of discovery. There is a built in audience for brands’ Instagram Stories in their current followers. One of Snapchat’s greatest weaknesses is the lack of a user friendly discovery process. While the onus is on brands to promote their presence on Snapchat on other channels and provide their username or Snapcode, Instagram’s search function, Explore tab, and use of hashtags allow users to discover brands’ content and profiles without an assist from the brand. While brands still need to work to encourage users to follow and provide content worth seeing, the process is much more streamlined. Exploring brand content on Instagram also allows users to spend more time with the brand by visiting their profile and engaging with additional content on their page. In addition, while Instagram has limited outbound linking functionality, brands do have the ability to display a hyperlink on their profile, leading users to webpages, campaigns, and products.
Instagram will be the first to give credit where credit is due, with CEO Kevin Systrom admitting that Snapchat deserves all of the credit for creating the format that Stories is built on. It will be users, however, who determine what the real impact of Instagram Stories will be on both of these major platforms.
Have you used Instagram Stories yet? What do you think about this new functionality?