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Declaring war on Snapchat

Last night, Instagram announced that they are introducing a new feature on the platform: Instagram Stories. The announcement has come amidst a storm of controversy due to the fact that it bears such a striking resemblance (i.e. is exactly the same) as Snapchat. In fact, CEO of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, openly admits that Snapchat “deserve all the credit” for the concept of Instagram Stories.

Innovation or appropriation?

Systrom suggests “this isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.” He goes on to say that “the feed”, originally invented by Facebook, was then adapted for use by Linked In, Twitter and Instagram. He does raise a valid point. Innovation stems from inspiration from the environment around us which, in this case, is the current social media landscape. How directly Instagram took that inspiration though, is another case.

Moving into the firing range

Snapchat was founded in 2011 and was initially met with skepticism. When it launched, it was inconceivable that it would ever take off as a social media channel, let alone a fully-fledged digital advertising outlet or a means for brands to connect in a meaningful way with their audiences. However, it quickly gained in traction due to its unique and transitory sharing nature. It was appealing for young people to think that their private videos and messages couldn’t be shared afterwards to platforms like Facebook, which (once a domain for younger people itself) had morphed into somewhat of a public directory of peers, parents and colleagues. However Snapchat has grown rapidly in popularity over the last few years, is now worth over $19 billion and has released a number of advertising products, making it a major contender for Instagram.

What is Instagram Stories?

Instagram “Stories” lets you take a video or photo message, and allows users to edit it with basic paint-like text and drawing tools. It also is only available on your feed for 24 hours. Unlike regular posts, there is no capability to comment or like the message, and the “story” can be either sent privately to whomever you chose, or posted to all your friends on the platform at once. If all these features sound familiar, it’s because they are. In fact, the only major point of difference to Snapchat is that Instagram offers the capability to post the content on your wall so it can be shared and viewed, reducing the impermanence of the post.

Strangely, Instagram has taken no pains to really differentiate it’s offering from Snapchat, even down to the language it uses to describe the various features on its new feature. Even the word “story” is taken directly from Snapchat.

But is it “Insta-worthy?”

Instagram’s major drawcard has always been that it was a (more) premium product than other social media platforms, and it has always been an archive of high quality photography in a clean-and-simple format, akin to a glossy travel magazine. In the same token, the downside of the platform was that there was pressure for users to share only those “Insta-worthy” moments; those beautiful holiday photos, or perfectly crafted flat-lays. Meaning that people were sharing less, and the platform was losing traction in a world where people want to share more, more regularly. Instagram “Stories” solves that issue by transforming sharing to a more casual act, but still retaining the ability to still retain those “Insta-worthy” posts by saving them onto your wall.

“Lifecasting”: is this really the future?

It has become somewhat perplexing that we feel the desire to share every moment of our lives with others, every day. This need for “lifecasting” is probably one of the stranger phenomenons to evolve out of social media the last few years. There is an argument for increased connectivity through lifecasting, however this point becomes moot when you are, for example, out with friends or family Snapchatting your every movement in order to connect with other friends. The camera lens becomes a barrier to being present in the moment.

What does this mean for your brand?

The implications of Instagram Stories to its advertisers is not yet clear. The place of social media and digital connectivity is questionable for our combined futures. Are we moving forwards in new and exciting ways? Or is social media slowly edging its way into all the private moments that make up our lives in a farcical attempt to connect us more deeply?
Either way, brands need to get with the times. The alternative is to be left eating dust in the wake of other brands taking up new technology and social channels in ever-evolving, innovative ways.

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