A Search For Differentiation Among Social Video Clones

Instagram and Facebook have both added “story” features to their services in an effort to snap up Snapchat users. Will Snapchat get crowded out by these copycats?

Snap, Inc. just went public, raising billions of dollars in the process, but it’s daily active user growth is slowing, and it’s facing more competition than ever around its core capability: personal short-form video, or “stories”.

And recently, Facebook announced that they are launching what can only be described as an exact replica of Snapchat’s story functionality. This makes them the second-such major social platform to do so, following Instagram’s launch of stories in August.

Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) has had a pretty successful foray into storyland, accumulating 150 million daily active users as of January. For comparison, Snapchat reported 158 million daily active users as of Q4 2016. With only 8 million DAU separating them, Instagram now has an user-base on par with Snapchat’s—and they were able to do it in a shockingly short amount of time.

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Two things will determine which platform will win out in the end: what innovative functionality they add on to this now proven concept, and how well they monetize.

Snapchat is staying ever so slightly ahead of the curve with better filters, sticker functionality, and lenses that leverage facial recognition. These enhancements drive some users to create their content on Snapchat, post it there, save it, and then also post it to Instagram—a cumbersome process that leads me to think we’ll eventually see some sort of reckoning. Users will have to choose which platform is right for them over the long term.

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While Snap Inc. is leading on the innovation front (they’re the first movers on the concept, they have the best video enhancement features, they’re launching original content, and their first physical product, Spectacles, has been getting a lot of attention), its status as the platform du jour is in jeopardy if Instagram and Facebook are able to leverage their robust pools of user data to offer better ad products with more granular targeting and analytics.

Snapchat is playing catch-up in the ad game, but they appear to be on the right track, having recently announced plans to allow advertisers to buy placements via third parties instead of requiring a direct partnership with Snapchat. The change removes a high barrier to entry and will give access to many more advertisers.

As each platform experiments to find better ways to monetize their audiences, advertisers would do well to take advantage of the ensuing ad product arms race, and use new placements as opportunities to engage with their customers in creative and unexpected ways.


If Snapchat’s ad products become more widely utilized, and they can stay ahead on content and product innovation, they can tread water against this oncoming tide of competition, but the potential secret to their long term success may be something less tangible: Unlike Facebook and Instagram, which are basically blank canvases, Snapchat has a distinct and likeable brand personality.

Filters and lenses inspire creativity, which is a benefit in and of itself, but they also infuse users’ content with the playfulness of Snapchat’s brand. By becoming an active participant in the conversation, Snapchat establishes a relationship with its users that won’t be easily replicated by the likes of Facebook or Instagram.

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