UPDATE May 4, 2017 — Instagram’s usage statistics are changing quickly. After mimicking some of Snapchat’s key features and arguably implementing them more effectively, Instagram’s seen a massive boom in growth. We want to make sure that our articles have the most up-to-date, accurate information available, so we’ve updated this post to reflect new numbers from Instagram where applicable. We’ve preserved the original text of this article and have clearly denoted updates below select passages.
It’s no secret that Instagram poses a major threat to Snapchat. With Instagram Stories (a feature that closely mimics Snapchat Stories, which is at the heart of the platform) and the recent launch of Instagram Live Stories, Instagram may have found a way to woo its massive user base into making it the new home for their short-form, off-the-cuff, impermanent content.
Snapchat’s growth numbers stalled following the introduction of Instagram Stories in August, signaling a clear cause for concern when it comes to Snapchat’s competition. And though Snapchat’s growth numbers have rebounded some in recent months leading up to its IPO, it’s clear that if Instagram isn’t already winning the fight for users looking for platforms for their fleeting content, it’s poised to do so.
It’s not as if there’s a sudden mass exodus from Snapchat, but Instagram Stories are performing well, which isn’t great news for Snapchat. There are a number of factors that might factor into an influencer’s decision to choose Instagram over Snapchat for Stories. Larger potential audiences, better tools for search and discovery, more transparent engagement metrics, and the ability to link out of the platform are all attractive selling points for influencers. Here are the top 5 reasons why influencers might be leaving Snapchat for Instagram and what they mean for fleeting content platforms.
Snapchat’s enjoyed relatively steady and impressive growth over the last several years, but its user base is still much smaller than Instagram’s, which means that the potential audience for influencers is smaller, too. Instagram boasts over 600 million monthly active users while Snapchat has just over 300 million monthly active users.
UPDATE: Instagram reported at the end of April 2017 that it now has over 700 million users.
A key part of having an audience is finding ways to grow that audience. That means getting in front of new users, accessing new demographics, and engaging new people. The largest platform has the greatest potential for tapping new audiences, and Instagram has the clear leg up there. Because the content and features of each app’s respective Stories platform are so similar, it may be getting harder and harder for influencers to justify using Snapchat over Instagram when the potential for reaching new users is so much higher on the latter.
Furthermore, Instagram offers influencers a larger audience for three types of content: photos that stay on profiles permanently, photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours (Instagram Stories), and live video streaming (Instagram Live Stories — disappears upon conclusion). It gives influencers the opportunity to build their audience on something that sticks around.
Another key component of growing an audience is being discoverable and searchable. Though Snapchat’s Discover page is a great place for users to find the biggest things that are happening on the platform from publishers and brands, there isn’t much opportunity for organic discovery for influencers through the app itself.
Instagram has some degree of curation and suggestion, meaning that influencers may be suggested to users based on their likes and current follows. Its Explore page also gives users the opportunity to find accounts beyond big publishers and brands, upping an influencer’s chances of being discovered by new users organically through the app.
Searchability is also a big factor. Instagram’s search feature is easier to use and makes finding someone by name easier. Snapchat’s new search function requires users to know the handle of whomever they’re searching for, which makes finding and following a specific person much harder on Snapchat than it is on Instagram.
Snapchat’s long had something of a difficult interface. It’s second nature to its power users, but can be intimidating or even hostile to new users, which is a major barrier to entry. Twitter’s run into something of the same problem. Those who use it often understand and like Twitter’s interface, it can be difficult for newcomers to get the hang of curating a feed, engaging with content, and creating their own content.
Instagram’s interface, by way of contrast, is notoriously intuitive. It’s simple and straightforward and doesn’t require much in the way of explanation, so the barrier to entry is much less significant. What’s more, users may be more likely to use a platform that’s easy to understand more frequently. If finding, following, and engaging with content is easier on Instagram than it is on Snapchat, users may be more active on Instagram, making an influencer’s following on the platform not only bigger, but more valuable, too.
One feature that likely makes a big difference to influencers is the ability to link to content outside of Instagram from within Instagram. The ability to link to website content, videos, merch pages, or brand pages for sponsorships or partnerships is a huge plus for influencers. Snapchat doesn’t have the same capability, which potentially limits an influencer’s value outside of Snapchat. Snapchat does have linking and deep linking capabilities for publishers and advertisers, but influencers and average joes are stuck directing traffic the old fashioned way.
It’s not that it doesn’t work — even the old school method of passing along a URL sees engagement, but it’s certainly significant that Instagram makes linking outside content quite a bit easier, if only through linking in a user’s bio.
Discrepancies in engagement can be tough to track, but looking at the numbers for Instagram Stories sheds some light on a turning tide in the race between Snapchat and Instagram Stories. In October, just two months after launch, Instagram was reporting that Instagram Stories reached 100 million daily active users. In February, Snapchat reportedly reached 160 million daily active users.
UPDATE: In mid-April 2017, Instagram reported that Instagram Stories has climbed to over 200 million daily active users.
Instagram Stories is still technically smaller than Snapchat, but it’s also only about six months old and it’s managed to capture a user base near two-thirds as large as Snapchat’s. That’s a big deal.
The other side of the engagement equation is visible metrics. On Snapchat, there’s no way to gauge the popularity or influence of another user. This is part of Snapchat’s brand, though — users, even celebrities and influencers, are all treated pretty much the same. There’s no way to see whether or not someone’s a “big deal” on Snapchat. Users themselves know how many followers they have, but it isn’t displayed like it is on Instagram.
As such, Instagram comes with a certain amount of clout that goes along with a high follower count, just like Twitter. And though it’s not quite the same for Stories, Instagram photos give users the ability to see how popular individual posts are in likes and comments. That doesn’t really exist on Snapchat — there’s no way to tell what kind of engagement a post is getting.
That’s arguably part of the charm of Snapchat, but for influencers, for whom a following is a kind of currency, it might make just enough difference. After all, the content is largely the same, the format’s largely the same, and the potential audience is much larger. Time will tell whether or not influencers are jumping ship from Snapchat to Instagram en masse, but there are certainly a few good reasons why they might be picking Instagram Stories as their newest preferred platform for fleeting content.