The Story Wars

In the Snapchat versus Instagram game, it’s not about who did it first — but who can do it better.

Photo credit: Mashable.

You should have seen by now that Instagram launched it’s own version of ‘Stories’ this week. As you can imagine, it was met with mixed responses. Many are blaming the company for not innovating — and instead copying Snapchat, feature by feature.

But let’s be clear; everyone is copying everyone in social these days. And frankly, long term — no one cares, not even Kevin Systrom. He wasn’t the first to create filtered photos either, but he certainly took that idea and went far with no shame.

“This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.” — Kevin Systrom.

What really matters here? Reach.

Brands (and individuals) want to be able to produce content that gets views, clicks, and engagement. They want content that shares, and inevitably sells. Instagram Stories aren’t going to close the doors at Snapchat, but — it is a platform that already has a built-in community model and twice the daily reach (300M daily active users) as our friends over at Snapchat (150M daily active users).

That said, they have a long way to go to completely take away the power of Snapchat as a platform; not only the fun, interactive features like faceswap, but also geo-targeted filters, the branded discovery channel, and live content curation.

Instead of arguing over who will win, here’s what I think both should be building to really get ahead.

Features and Functionality:

Snapchat:

  • We’re already snapping live-time happenings, in short segments. Let us live stream, and for longer than 10 seconds.
  • This is only for a select few, but let users toggle between multiple accounts. Instagram did it. You can too.
  • Keep bringing new, interactive filters and keep it steady, but keep it controlled — we don’t need choice-heavy clutter.
  • Allow us to tag other brands, and other users. And take that a step further, with an actual click follow-thru to their account.
  • Integrate more capabilities into the on-demand geofilters. A PNG file is great, but — designers can create so much more that users will enjoy.

Instagram:

  • We see a few photo filters in Stories but you’re going to have to bring us new, engaging features that we’ve never seen before. If you’re focused on distinguishing content and promoting a more thoughtfully crafted story — leave the selfie filters.
  • You should also let us tag users in our stories.
  • You need to quickly create new ways for brands to create content that is actionable. Think beyond the ads and promoted Stories.
  • Let me click through for something I want! With Stories, I don’t want to start hearing people say “link in profile.”

User Discovery and Onboarding:

Snapchat:

  • You desperately need a better user discovery engine. I don’t want to use QR Codes, or guess the username of someone. Let me type a name or brand and show me some options of who I might mean.
  • What about featured accounts every week — handpicked by the Snapchat team?
  • Allow users to create a story of let’s say, 10 snaps, that serves as their personal trailer, giving potential followers a snapshot into what they might see.

Instagram:

  • What happened to the “Discover People” feature? It disappeared. Bring that back please.
  • Let me recommend a user to follow, with a direct recommend tool. And make it a one-click action for that person to follow who I recommended.
  • Create a way to recommend a story in a more user-friendly way than saving, and sending via DM.

As both continue to innovate and throw in new features that hit us with surprise and delight, we get to be the active users, participating in the competition. It will be interesting to watch the flux in daily active users — and the evolution of content in distinguishing between the two. Ultimately, both brands have a long way to go in proving their competitive worth to users.

Remember — in the end it’s really not about who did it first, but who can do it better.

Dan Connolly is CEO of Level Studios, a purpose-driven digital design firm. Follow Level on both Snapchat and Instagram @ LevelStudios.