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Wars of the Digital Age: Instagram v/s Snapchat

When Instagram launched the ‘Stories’ feature on its platform last year, the internet was quick to point its finger and label the medium a ‘copycat’. They weren’t wrong; the update was a complete rip-off of Snapchat’s format. Users posted a photo/video on their profiles and it could be viewed by followers for 24 hours. The company didn’t bother changing the name either, and faced significant backlash for the blatant imitation.

However, the move marked the beginning of the biggest battle in the realm of social media forums. Instagram, or rather its parent company Facebook, didn’t stop there. Soon, stories was launched on WhatsApp and Messenger. And while the memes piled on, their strategy was slowly succeeding. Snapchat had been the first one to come up with the concept, but the other platforms held a significantly larger user base. Within a year of its launch, Instagram Stories had 250 million daily users compared to Snapchat’s 166 million. This even caused Snap Inc’s share price to fall to an all-time low of $12.67.

Over the last year, Instagram has rolled out many more features for its Stories. It added fun filters, direct messaging capabilities, geographical tags, stickers- everything that made Snapchat unique. And then it started beating Snapchat at its own game. It added features like Instagram Live, Boomerangs, self-timer, along with the ability to tag people in stories or add links that people can choose to ‘swipe up’ for. Recently, it even added a polling feature for Stories. Instagram managed to transform the concept that it copied into a tool filled with opportunity for every user. It can be used by ordinary users simply to share their daily on-goings with friends, but it can also be used as a marketing tool with many options for innovation. Everyone from celebrities to companies is now using the application to make announcements, and promote their work and products. It is also used a medium for daily engagement with fans, and this is giving social media influencers a whole new game to compete on.

LOFT, a women’s clothing brand, engaged its followers using a fun challenge with their best friends

It is not difficult to figure out what made Instagram Stories work. The format was developed to be about interaction and engagement, rather than Snapchat’s model of impermanent digital viewing. And it integrated the new feature into its application without making confusing changes to the interface. Every new change that Instagram made was accompanied with a pleasant video that explained how one could use it. On the other hand, one of the biggest complaints against Snapchat was that new users found it complicated. This was such a serious issue that Snap Inc, in its required paperwork to its investors, included a step-by-step guide on how to use the application.

Moreover, Instagram didn’t stop there. Over the last two years, it has constantly made changes to its original features too. It did not stick to the strictly square format of its photos. In February of this year, it started letting users post multiple pictures at the same time. There is also a ‘Collections’ feature on Instagram so users can save the posts they like or found useful. These can even be arranged in different folders for convenience.

The Collections feature on Instagram

To be fair, Snapchat has been working hard to regain its lost popularity. In September of 2016, Snapchat came up with a unique strategy to sell its camera-enabled glasses named ‘Spectacles’. They could only be purchased from vending machines called Snapbots, which popped up in various locations around the United States. These machines didn’t stay in one place for more than 24 hours, in line with the company’s primary format. To find a Snapbot, one had to locate it through a map on Snapchat, and if one popped up near you, it was sure to have a huge queue with people waiting eagerly. It was undoubtedly a very clever move on the company’s part. But this year has not been good to them, and after half a year on the market, sales for the product had already slowed down.

A Snapbot in Los Angeles

The one field in which Snapchat is still unrivalled is its capabilities for Augmented Reality. The dancing hot dog was a massive hit over the summer. Their latest innovation is the collaboration with Jeff Koons. Virtual versions of his sculptures have been placed near famous landmarks around the world, such as The Eiffel Tower in Paris, Central park in New York, etc. And of course, these can be viewed only through Snapchat’s Lens.

Snapchat is struggling, and Instagram is fighting hard to remain at the top. As futuristic concepts like AI are gaining importance, the lines between the virtual world and reality are getting blurred. With everyone competing to come up with the newest innovation and capturing the world’s interest, the results are certainly going to be interesting.

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