It seems like just yesterday that Snapchat was the leading social video platform, wowing us with one innovation after the next - from their introduction of Stories in 2013, to their beloved Geofilters in 2014, to their publisher-friendly Discover channels in 2015. We saw more and more publishers go all-in on Snapchat throughout the first half of 2016, hiring entire teams to create vertical video content formatted specifically for the platform and reach the 150 million daily active users that had been accumulated - a majority of which fell into the millennial demographic that publishers were previously struggling to reach.
Then, this time last year, we all witnessed what was arguably the biggest copycat crime of the digital age: the launch of Instagram Stories. Snapchat almost immediately felt the blow from their first direct competitor, with Q3 2016 becoming their lowest percentage growth quarter ever since their data was made public in 2014. By the time Snap Inc. filed to IPO in February 2017, their growth rate had declined by a whopping 82% since Instagram introduced their version of the platform. And now, with 250 million daily active users watching their Stories (and 700 million using their platform), Instagram is giving Snapchat a real run for their money. But does that mean Instagram is better, or just Snapchat’s first competitor? Should we prepare for a Instagram knockout or a Snapchat comeback? More importantly - where should publishers be placing their bets in the coming year? We looked at the strengths and weaknesses of each to determine which of the competing platforms will help publishers come out on top.
With Instagram Stories, it is simply more convenient for audiences to find the content that brands are publishing there. While Snapchat’s Discover section is hidden away in a separate part of the app, Instagram made their version of Stories the focal point of the platform. Instagram Stories also stuck with the auto-advance feature that Snapchat decided to drop (which caused them to see an immediate 9.64% drop in views), and their Explore tab promotes further content discovery so brands and influencers can increase their follower (and view) count. In fact, according to brand ambassador network Heartbeat’s survey of their 13 to 20-year-old users, Instagram Stories generate an average of 2.5 times more views than Snapchat Stories.
Instagram has also been around longer - so most publishers have been able to build a much more established following there than on Snapchat. Plus, 80% of Instagram’s daily active users are outside the U.S., and they’re continuing to push their international presence (while Snapchat has actually penalized foreign markets with lower CPMs). For those publishers that didn’t get a coveted spot on Discover, Instagram provides a real opportunity to ensure their content is reaching as many audiences as possible, all over the world.
Gen Z & Millennial-Friendly
Almost every study around Snapchat’s user base points to one conclusion: Snapchat just gets young Americans. eMarketer found that Snapchat has a 83.4% penetration rate amongst 12 to 17-year-olds in the U.S., and 60% of the users from Heartbeat’s survey mentioned above said they post to their Snapchat Story every day, while only 18% said the same about Instagram, even though that’s where they’ve seen the most views.
Perhaps due to the personal nature of a chat-first platform, or the fact that older users just can’t figure it out, Snapchat has a unique hold on the hard-to-obtain millennial and generation Z audience. According to App Annie, on an average day, 35% of Snapchat’s users won’t be reachable on Facebook, 46% won’t be on Instagram, and 61% won’t be on YouTube. And those Snapchat users that are loyal to the platform are on it more often - the average user spends 25 to 30 minutes a day on Snapchat, and only 15 minutes on Instagram. Snapchat may be the underdog in audience reach, but they’re still getting backed (and getting the most TLC) by the cool kids.
Publisher & Creator-Friendly
One of publishers’ biggest problems with Snapchat was its tendency to remain distant from the content creator community. While the Discover section provided a great opportunity for premium publishers who grabbed a coveted spot - with only 40 other brands to compete with and some of the highest CPMs in the industry (about $22) - publishers and brands that didn’t make the cut were posting several times a day on their individual accounts without knowing how their videos were performing, or even their follow count.
Instagram Stories, on the other hand, introduced a version of Snapchat that understood the value of data to brands - and the importance of brands to their own success. Instagram was the first Stories platform to allow linking out to external sites, which generated 15-25% swipe-through rates a month after launch. Now, one-third of the most viewed Instagram Stories are from businesses, and publishers like Bustle are, according to founder Bryan Goldberg, “making millions [from the platform] — 10 percent of our ad deals touch it in some way.” With more revenue opportunities, more robust tracking capabilities, and more potential for audience reach, Instagram has become the preferred social video platform for publishers of all sizes.
And the winner is… A MULTIPLATFORM VIDEO STRATEGY
While Instagram may have won this round, it is still anyone’s game. Now that Snapchat has taken the blow from their first-ever direct competitor, they’re starting to try out new ways to set themselves apart (like Snap Shows). And as the fan-favorite for younger audiences, Snapchat is still a great place to build an established following. If this battle has taught us anything, it’s that all of your eggs should NEVER be in one basket - because the leader of the game at the beginning of the year may be just another contender by Q4.
The safest way to stay ahead? Create video content for EVERY platform. When it comes to Instagram and Snapchat Stories, that’s pretty easy - as carbon copies of one another, the same video formats (read: short and vertical) perform best on each. And now that both platforms let you link back to your owned-and-operated sites, the Snippet video format is a great way to promote your top-trending news articles. Here is a Snippet video that Revolt TV created in the Wibbitz platform, and published to both their Snapchat and Instagram Stories - immediately after they broke the story on their site: