In 2016, it seemed nothing could stand in the way of Snapchat. The temporary image messaging app boasted 158 million daily active users (DAUs) in its fourth quarter with a seeming monopoly over their unique communication network. B2C marketers clamoured to get their voices heard to the 23% of the 12+ UK population who had signed up to the service, with Snapchat including an application programming interface (API) to encourage advertising and with a predicted 1 billion advertising revenue coming to them in 2017. As the year came an end there was talk of Snap Inc becoming the first social brand to rival Facebook, with rumours of one of the largest initial public offering in tech history planned for the new year. So, what exactly happened in 2017 to make it go so wrong?
On August the 2nd 2017, Instagram announced on their blog the launch of ‘Instagram Stories’, a new media sharing tool for the platform. Marketed as an extension of the Instagram app where you ‘don’t have to worry about over-posting’ due to the fact ‘photos and video will disappear and won’t appear on your profile grid or in feed’. In a matter of days commentators were awash with claims that at best Stories was clearly Snapchat-inspired, and at worse that the new feature was directly copied. At the time it was unclea
r what direction Instagram was likely to take Stories to avoid the negative press, with many suggesting the feature would soon take a different shape. When eventually confronted however, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom admitted that ‘[Snapchat] deserve all the credit’ and that ‘This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your spin on it.’
The next year saw fierce competition from both parties to ensure their places in the media sharing market. Instagram began systematically taking more and more features that once made Snapchat a unique platform, not only utilising hallmark tools like selfie-filters and adding letterboxed text to the images but even going as far as to include Insta-versions of Snapchat’s famous dog and flower-crown face filters. In 2017, Snapchat took a page out of Instagram’s playbook and borrowed a feature from Facebook, introducing the ‘Your 2017 Story’ allowing users to look back over their most popular content from the last year and repost to their followers. However, without a significant alteration to the platform and with Instagram hot on their heels at every turn, Snapchat began to see growth fall significantly towards the end of 2017.
Despite its falling growth, Snapchat is currently succeeding in holding on to the loyalty of its users. According to insights from analytics firm SimilarWeb, while there was a swift decline of DAUs on the release of Instagram Stories this number has since recovered and indeed ended 2017 slightly higher than the same quarter two years before. This success has however unfortunately not been reflected in B2C marketers using the platform. Though Snapchat has not declined in users, Instagram Stories’ wild success in its first year has led to a cross-sector migration of brand marketers looking to invest resources in Instagram alone, whilst a reported over 50% of brands using Instagram having posted at least one story in the last year. This shift was reflected amongst social influencers too, with marketing firm MediaKix reporting that top influencers were posting 33% less to Snapchat and 25% more on Instagram Stories last year.
The most recent figures released by Facebook on Instagram Stories’ DAUs is a reported 300 million in November last year, a figure shared too by WhatsApp Status. This push for video services in the new year is to be expected after Zuckerberg’s announcement that he was going to ‘fix Facebook’, most likely by changing the way his sites manage video content. This announcement was accompanied by the recent trial of taking Instagram Stories cross-platform, allowing users to post Stories to Instagram, Whatsapp, and eventually Facebook Messenger in an effort to continue combatting Snapchat. For marketers, the new year will also see far more encouragement for video advertising on the platform. Not only has Instagram been notably pushing brands who regularly use Stories further up the feed algorithm, but they have also recently announced the introduction of carousel ads in stories allowing three pieces of content to be played in-between user feeds.
While Snapchat’s user base appears to be holding strong for the time being, 2018 is so far looking to another difficult year for the app. At the beginning of January Snapchat released a major update completely redesigning the classic interface that was met by widespread criticism amongst users, some even starting campaigns to bring back the original version. At the time of writing, over 83% of reviews for the new update are negative, with the app’s PR frantically telling users over Twitter that while ‘it is not possible to revert to a previous version of Snapchat’ they would be happy to resolve issues through customer support. The one saving grace of Snapchat’s 2018 has so far been the tentatively positive reception of their newly launched Merch Store allowing users to purchase Snapchat merchandise directly through the app’s interface, a move that is expected to be later opened up to brands and influencers. How Snapchat react to this update’s overall setback will fix the dye for the tech giant’s future in the social media market. Without any significant changes to the platform’s use of its own format even Snapchat’s loyal daily user base will start to question; what USP can the app introduce that Instagram can’t make better?