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Snapchat v Instagram Stories: The Great Social Media Debate

By Nick Borelli
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The debate is on! Which should you elect to use for your events in 2016 and beyond: Snapchat or Instagram Stories?

The battle between Snapchat and Instagram Stories is on. So how do you know which is the right choice for your needs? Which platform best meets your values? Once you learn what one offers that the other does not, their track record, and which is best positioned to lead your event towards its future goals, the choice may become clearer. Both are multi-billion dollar organizations backed by huge sponsors and will no doubt be utilized by your attendees during the next year and likely beyond. Measuring each platform’s strengths and weaknesses will enable you to make the right decision for campaigns of awareness and event engagement. Before we get into the many ways these candidates are different, let’s spend a moment showing you just how much they have in common.

Snapchat v Instagram Stories: The Great Social Media Debate

Rivals Square Off – The Scandal of Social Media

In 2013, Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook, offered to buy Snapchat for 3 billion dollars. That’s billion with a “B”. At the time it looked like a win-win for everyone. Facebook had experienced its first demographic decline in engagement with the 13-18 crowd and Snapchat was showing all the right signs to be the emerging leader in that age group. At the same time, Snapchat was US only, was not in a position where it was currently taking in revenue, and would likely have to go head to head with Facebook and the other social media giants without the benefit of their more mature infrastructures. The year prior, Facebook bought Instagram for 1 Billion dollars in order to hedge their bets on having a product that was natively mobile in order to not suffer the sad fate of Yahoo and other web-based giants who got lost on small screens and slow adoption. The Snapchat offer was less about technology and more about diversification. Snapchat offered new and unique ways to gain revenue which Facebook desperately needed because their platform quickly hit a saturation point of available ad opportunities that didn’t disrupt the user experience. Long story short, what looked like a slam dunk for both ended up as a rejected offer by Snapchat.

Almost immediately after the rejected offer, Facebook released an app which they thought would crush Snapchat – Facebook Poke. By all accounts, this app failed. Even though it had the backing of Facebook and its user base and featured many of the exact same Snapchat features, this imitator failed to gain traction in the app marketplaces. All this history is to show you that if Facebook can’t buy an app, they will clone it and use its best asset (1.7 Billion users) to try and defeat you… but that doesn’t mean it will work. Which brings us to August 2016 and the release of Facebook owned Instagram new feature – Stories.

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Meet The New Candidate - Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories is a new feature bolted on the existing Instagram experience adding another place within the app to upload photos and videos to that are only seen for 24 hours. They’ve created Snapstagram. This strategy differs from Poke because it does not require anyone to download another app but, instead, adds value to its 300 million users. This isn’t a move to gain additional revenue opportunities, this is about market share and the battle for the teen demographic which Snapchat has been ruling for a few years now.

Here’s how Instagram Stories work:

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Press the + Circle at the top left of your Instagram Feed

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Take a photo / Video

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Choose to modify it

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Add text, text color, placement

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Draw on it

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Send to your stories

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Modify your stories

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Set parameters

Meet The Incumbent – Snapchat

Snapchat is the preferred social media of 13 to 25 year olds and continues to gain major growth with users between the ages of 25 to 35. Its users are addicted to their feed content and are more likely to see each and every post in their feed than any other major social media platform. Each post to Snapchat Stories can be seen by followers and friends for only 24 hours creating FOMO moments that compel users to consume everything.

Now that we know these two rivals and the traits they share, it’s time to see their unique strengths and weaknesses and how that will determine which is best for your event strategies.

Topic 1 - Discoverability

Snapchat

One of the most challenging problems for event professionals using Snapchat has been building a base of followers. Since Snapchat does not have a search function or utilize hashtags, finding someone new to follow through the platform itself is impossible. This is why you’ve been seeing Snapchat’s QR code-like Snapcode images all over social media. It’s pretty much required to use other social media channels to guide people to your Snapchat profile which is an uphill battle because you’re diluting and splitting your messaging and you’ll never convert everyone to following you there. As an example, have you seen how many people have changed their Twitter profile pictures to Snapcodes? It’s an awkward mess that makes investing in Snapchat as an event marketing resource difficult.

Instagram Stories

Instagram, however, makes it very easy to be discovered. Hashtag searches allow you to join in on conversations around relevant topics, searching can help you find the account you’ve been looking for, and boost posting lets you target specific consumers who would want to know more about what your event has to offer them. Tagging others in your posts such as presenters, sponsors, and other collaborators allows an event to not only gain exposure but to also leverage other networks as well. The percentage of users currently utilizing Snapchat Stories is still pretty low which means it is that much easier for your Stories to be seen by your (more likely) larger Instagram audience.

Verdict – Instagram Stories Wins.

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Topic 2 – Engagement

Snapchat

The reason people are willing to jump through all those hoops in order to find accounts to follow on Snapchat is because their experience is unlike any other in social media. Snapchat has inspired to much imitation because they rebuilt the social media feed experience because they started as a messaging platform. With one to one messaging as their first priority in the development of their experience, Snapchat has always felt more intimate than any app on the market. Opening right into a camera facing you, the expectations are clear – while other social media show off the world as you see it, Snapchat focuses on you directly. For your brand to be successful on Snapchat, you need to have a face and personality talking to your followers and not just a brand’s logo combined with images and copy. When you use Snapchat correctly (with all its bells and whistles like Stickers, emoji, and filters) your brand will connect more strongly than any other digital communications can with potential attendees or clients. Engagement during events is heightened further through the use of On-Demand Geofilters which contextualize experiences, create further FOMO, and provide a closer connection between brands and followers.

Instagram Stories

Perhaps relating to the ease of follower acquisition, Instagram followers are much less likely to see every post in their feed. In fact, in the summer of 2016, Instagram changed their feed hierarchy from chronology to one based on an engagement algorithm. This means that the Instagram posts at the top of your feed are no longer the most current but are the posts you are most likely to engage with based on past behaviors. At the time of this change, Instagram noted that the average user only sees 30% of the posts in their feed on a given day. Instagram Stories offers the best solution to engagement gap between Snapchat and the core Instagram posts by using the same formula of disappearing content that Snapchat uses. The challenge is that user behaviors are already fairly ingrained on Instagram. Less bells and whistles and a less intimate feeling that comes with larger audiences means less opportunities for impactful activations on Instagram. This could really swing the other way however as Stories become more important and if they adopt more of Snapchat’s features such as On-Demand Geofilters and stickers.

Verdict – Snapchat Wins.

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Topic 3 – The Numbers

Snapchat

  • Users: 150 million daily active users (Adweek 9/14/16)
  • Average Time Spent Per Day: 19 minutes
  • Percentage of social media users from 18 to 24 years old in the US: 62% (eMarketer)

Instagram Stories

  • Users: 300 million daily active users (500 million monthly) (Instagram 6/21/16)
  • Average Time Spent Per Day: 20 minutes
  • Percentage of social media users from 18 to 24 years old in the US: 59%  (eMarketer)

While close in two of these key areas, double the active user base and a much larger number of adult users gives Instagram the clear edge.

Verdict – Instagram Wins.

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Final Topic – The Future

Snapchat

The future for Snapchat looks much more uncertain. In technology, it’s not about who has the most innovative product but who can get it in the hands of the most amount of people and show the most amount of value for consumers. The case study that Snapchat must be thinking about now is Meerkat. Meerkat was the talk of the app world for months as it pioneered mobile live streaming with its intuitive design. Celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and outlets like Mashable quickly adopted it into their regular rotation and it looked like they would be a major player. Than Twitter launched Periscope which benefitted from its user base and crushed Meerkat completely. Now mobile live video is the hottest trend in digital mass communication with big players like Facebook and Google fighting for market share.

While Snapchat has innovated and has earned its loyal audience, the jury is still out on their longevity unless they are bought out by one of the larger online forces. Event marketers and planners should keep a close eye on engagement numbers on their Snapchat posts and split test them with Instagram Stories. Log the difference over the next few months on similar content. Which way your numbers trend will give you the information you need before you invest too far in one path versus another.

Instagram Stories

Instagram looks very stable for the immediate future. It’s in the top three of almost all of the most important demographics and is often only second place to its parent company, Facebook. Willingness to bolt on the latest in communications trends, the addition of brand metrics, and integrated advertising with Facebook has made Instagram a more and more powerful tool for event brands. As soon as Instagram adds On-Demand Geofilters (and they will) event attendees will have one more way to engage with event brands through this app while also easily discovering other attendees; which increases overall engagement.

Verdict – Instagram Wins, Probably.

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In Conclusion

If you can elect only one social media platform to promote and engage with your events, Instagram seems to be victor. That said, Snapchat makes an excellent running mate to Instagram. Since Instagram’s feed and stories are not separate apps, they benefit from the best of both worlds to make it a very versatile standalone choice, but most nuanced marketing strategies call for multiple tactics to be used in order to achieve multiple goals. Like any good running mate, Snapchat currently enjoys a rabid base who will follow it anywhere.

To get the most from your efforts, use both for different goals in order to take advantage of what makes them unique.  Just remember, regardless of which you choose, be informed on the issues and vote for the social media that will represent you the best!

about the author

Nick Borelli
Nick Borelli is the President and Strategist for Borelli Strategies which focuses on consulting, coaching, and management of digital marketing for events and event companies. He is also an international speaker and the International Marcom Chair for the International Live Events Association.  
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