What Instagram’s Snapchat clone will mean for brands

Instagram Stories offers brands an opportunity to show its audience an ‘everyday experience’ but will consumers care? Only if it’s interesting enough, says Hugh Stephens.

Last week, Instagram announced Stories – the social network’s answer to Snapchat. If you read the well-PR-polished story, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom thought that his day-to-day life wasn’t interesting enough for his own channel’s permanence, and realised that the less formal Snapchat style kind of worked.

Photograph by Paul Jeffers Media + Capital Partners 25 July 2016

So, they made Stories – a direct rip off of Snapchat’s style, both in terms of the 24 hour ‘lifespan’ of posts, the ability to edit and add text (or of course Emojis) or draw small wingdings, and even the name itself.

It’s missing a few things, in particular the face-modifying filters that Snapchat is famous for, but I’m sure it’ll get there. But I suspect Instagram is about to again discover that the success of Snapchat is more about culture than technology.instagram stories snapchat

Let’s rewind briefly to the end of 2012. People are seriously debating whether Google+ will take off (it won’t), and Yahoo is almost still relevant (soon it won’t be at all). Facebook, then with the lion’s share of audience, launches Facebook Poke. It’s a Snapchat rip off, where you can send photos or messages to a friend for a set time and then they disappear.

The new app flopped, eventually shut down after a slow and painful death in May 2014. But why? And what does that mean for Instagram, who hopefully will have amassed the insights from how its parent company failed not that long ago.facebook Poke

The answer is all about culture. In this industry, we often forget that social networks are: (a) social, with people in them; and (b), not somewhere people go to desperately engage with their favourite brands. They go there to engage with their friends, family, followers or community. It’s a culture, and different channels have their own cultural norms – at the simplest degree, that’s why you look stupid posting hashtags to Facebook.

Facebook’s culture has always been about it being the hub of activity – the place of record, for all things in the future (isn’t it great that we can be reminded about our life mistakes four years later).

Instagram is somewhat similar, but a bit less about being directed at a closed circle of friends and family – it is more about individuals (and, of course, brands these days) showing a particular persona to an audience, and seeing how the audience responds.

Party - Instagram Ad (1)

You can become obsessed with how people respond on Instagram – some users reportedly delete posts that don’t get their expected levels of engagement, and sometimes you can clearly see the stress on people’s faces about whether that selfie is really the best selfie to post, or whether they should use one of the other 1,000 options instead.

Snapchat isn’t like that, and that’s why it became popular. Because of its casualness (driven initially by the disappearing posts), it’s less about looking your best, and more about a layer of fun on top of everyday communication. It’s a more interesting WhatsApp.

Different users will have different patterns, but the teen experience is surprisingly consistent, and it’s becoming a core channel for many. That’ll likely ‘boil up’ progressively to different demographics much the same way Facebook once did.snapchat smiley face mobile phoneSo of course, what does this mean for brands?

As someone running an Instagram scheduling service (Schedugram) whose customers range from small cafes through to global agencies, will we see brands making good use of Stories? Probably, but I can’t see it (yet) becoming mainstream – much in the same way Snapchat hasn’t: because brands just don’t have the right ‘vibe’.

Media brands might be the exception, but most brands don’t have the mundane everyday machinations of life to share with their audiences, unless you want to see the social media manager’s lunch every day.

I can see Instagram Stories becoming all about the ‘everyday experience’ of a brand (in particular at live events, like the ‘behind the scenes’ of a fashion show), while their feed is all about the professionally curated and well-selected brand image. Will consumers care? Only if it’s interesting enough, and brands will probably find themselves cross-posting to Snapchat anyway to increase reach.

Instagram Stories 3 phones laser cat

Instagram definitely has a better chance than Facebook of creating that kind of casualness as it’s a bit less ‘creepy’ than Facebook – many people have their parents as friends on Facebook, fewer follow them on Instagram and fewer again will have them on Snapchat.

Instagram also doesn’t have the same sense of knowing everything about you that Facebook does, despite the fact that Facebook has well and truly linked all of that data for advertisers.

It’s clear Facebook and, by extension Instagram, has the technical ability to create a great tool. But can it create the culture? Only time will tell. It’s easy to create a tool, but a lot harder to create or change a culture around it.

Hugh Stephens is the Melbourne-based founder of Schedugram and director of Dialogue Consulting


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