Probably the biggest social media news of the month came on August 2, when Facebook introduced Instagram Stories – a near-exact clone of Snapchat that offers photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours.
Fortune reporter Matthew Ingram noted that this move marked at least the fourth time Facebook has tried to copy Snapchat’s disappearing content, with:
- Poke (2012);
- Instagram Direct (2013); and
- Slingshot (2014).
To say nothing of Facebook’s famously-rejected offer to buy Snapchat for $3 billion in 2013.
The overall question for marketers is why? What does Snapchat have that Facebook needs?
For Ingram, it comes down to Snapchat’s core features:
1. It is private, and therefore there are no public likes or favorites or comments, and
2. Its messages are “ephemeral,” which means that they automatically disappear after a specified period of time.
The disappearing nature of the content means that:
- It doesn’t have to be good (since it disappears anyway); and
- User engagement is higher – users post 3-4x a day, rather than just once a day on Instagram.
Most important, however, is the privacy feature:
With no public likes or favorites, there’s no “performance anxiety” over how posts perform (or don’t).
This, in effect, makes Snapchat unique.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all include a public approval mechanism that contributes to a feeling of failure if a post doesn’t perform well enough; Snapchat does not.
Studies show, for instance, that more than half of teens delete their Instagram or Facebook posts if they don’t receive enough likes or favorites.
This insight is profound – a major reason for Snapchat’s success with teens is the lack of social pressure simply because there’s no public feed.
The jury’s still out on whether the introduction of Instagram Stories will harm Snapchat in any real way.
Last I checked, far more teens were daily active users of Snapchat than of Facebook, meaning the latter social network is fighting an uphill battle.
But Facebook’s latest move in this ongoing fight shows just how difficult it is for disruptive platforms to compete when incumbent tech giants (like Facebook, Apple or Google) can decide to enter the space by either copying or buying their competitors.
Another example of this is the battle over live-streaming video.
A year ago the battle was waged between media darling Meerkat and upstart Periscope. Twitter’s acquisition of – and seamless integration with – Periscope essentially killed Meerkat.
At the time, that looked like the end of the story – until Facebook unveiled Facebook Live.
Now, folks in my DC PR circles default to Facebook Live, rarely talking about – let alone using – Periscope.
The social media arms race for eyeballs is now evolving so quickly that every platform is beginning to copy the functionality of every other.
- Facebook Live has neutered Twitter’s Periscope.
- Instagram Stories is a direct shot at the ephemeral disappearing content of Snapchat.
- Snapchat Memories now allows users to archive their Snaps, which runs counter to the “disappearing content” ethos and differentiator on which it was founded, and effectively makes Snapchat more like Instagram.
As marketers we simply need to sit back and watch as the platforms become more sophisticated and there is likely more consolidation in the social media space.
The true test, however, is where the fans are six months from now.
Wherever the teen and early 20-something eyeballs go, the marketing dollars are sure to follow.