With Monday’s launch of live video and disappearing photos for messaging, Instagram is plunging the dagger deeper into the heart of Snapchat and now Periscope, Twitter’s live video standalone app. The continued release of new features, however non-innovative, has Instagram (which now boasts over 500 million monthly active members) one-upping its rivals who are slowly falling behind and eating their dust. Thanks to Instagram’s evolution throughout 2016, Snapchat surely must be reeling. First stories, now disappearing messages? “Stop copying us, Instagram!”
In October, Twitter shuttered Vine, its standalone short video app, because Instagram blatantly copied its basic features, distributed them to a larger user-base and inevitably won the ensuing war. Well, this coupled with the fact that Vine was a platform full of absolute video stupidities that heavily contributed to the dumbing-down of our society and the fact that it skirted a fine edge along copyright infringements; showing looping sports plays that would have otherwise been taken down from YouTube for violations of Intellectual Property laws.
At the same time as waging war on Twitter, Instagram has turned up the intensity of its copy/better distribute/win strategy and taken aim at Snapchat. With the release of Stories, Instagram jumped on the 24-hour ephemeral media trend which was set and dominated by Snapchat. You even saw a high percentage of Instagram users encouraging their followers to also follow them on Snapchat where all the non Insta worthy content would be thrown up. Instagram, fearing Snapchat’s rising prominence, adapted to the threat and made a move to block users adding their Snapchat links in the URL field.
Why would a temporary platform with no discovery function threaten a sharp, agile environment full of wonderful content waiting to inspire? Well, these days, 24 hours is a long time in the world of Social Media (who scrolls down anyone’s timeline anymore?) and Snapchat made storytelling fun, which made it too easy. It was a new, fresh and lightweight “pick up and put down” method to tell your life story almost as it happened and it was forgotten about as fast as it was consumed. Instagram had to react to the ‘Everyone has a story to tell” revolution.
In the meantime, Facebook had a huge push into live video which had publishers scrambling for use-cases that were relevant and would resonate with their audience. Live citizen journalism was born and reporting was put into the hands of the masses. This function of going live certainly makes the world more open and honest but, again, it’s a whole bunch of noise to fight through to find some relevant content that we don’t just nonchalantly consume. Naturally, Facebook did as Facebook does and applied their latest live video technology to Instagram and POW! Suddenly, on Monday, your phone was flooded with unwanted push notifications telling you that people you followed were now live and that you shouldn’t miss out because it’ll be gone soon! But what if I miss it? Most videos I saw were just of people staring at their own phone screen at that frog-faced selfie angle (you know, when you accidentally open up your front-facing camera?), saying hi to people watching and counting the likes. It was utterly boring. And this is where we are.
Text, photos, videos, video snippets that last 24 hours, live video, more. There are now so many ways to be digital sensors of the outside world and tell stories that people are going to want to be active on all of the options on all social networks which certainly means a decrease in content quality. This has a knock-on effect to the consumer of all this media. We’re now supposed to find additional time in our day to watch our favourite fashion bloggers across their websites, Instagram’s multitude of sub-channels and Snapchat and still get on with our daily lives and, at the same time, create our own content and tell our own stories. Where is this extra time coming from?
It’s not coming from anywhere because it doesn’t exist. Time is the number one commodity we, as humans, have online. As the owner of a digital marketing agency, The Zoom Agency, I experience this every day. We continually create clear, concise content each day that our audiences can relate to and engage with. We focus on the quality and being where our customers are at the right time, not being where all the potential distribution points are.
There are now more Instagram users than ever before, who are all following more accounts, and those accounts are posting more often. Every Instagram user is now seeing more content than they were a year ago and quite frankly, you can’t keep up with it. Sure, we can hop in and out of the app as our brain craves a stimulus hit at the slightest hint of boredom whilst going about our daily routine but none of this is really meaningful if we’re stretching ourselves to keep up with all the latest.
Since the launch of Instagram Stories, I’ve seen my Snapchat story views decrease from 900 to 350 which means that either I’m posting less (probably) or that people are viewing less stories (also probable). Initial reports after Instagram’s release in August said that Snapchat hadn’t been affected. However, I personally know many people who have quit the app and have shifted their focus to Instagram solely. My personal experience on consumption is that I do not (can not) watch my friends’ stories as much as before. I hardly even enter that screen unless I’ve got to the end of my social media priority line, which usually goes in this order: WhatsApp notifications, Messenger notifications, Instagram notifications, Snapchat notifications, Facebook notifications, News, saved content on Facebook and only then, in that moment, should nothing else occur (in my online AND real life), do I look at Snapchat stories. I struggle to even get to DJ Khaled’s daily dose of inspirational humour. Or is it humorous inspiration?
So naturally, our attention has to be swayed away from other channels because no extra time exists in our lives to be everywhere at once and catching everything that everyone is trying to tell us. We are given free tools (if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product) that enable us to be both creators and consumers. But we are also workers, learners, explorers, lovers, social animals who need contact with other humans on a daily basis. There’s just not enough time for all this. So how do you choose?
Sure we want to experiment and I encourage you to do so. In marketing, we call that A/B testing. But once you find your optimum channel, improve upon it with content of quality. Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) get you down. You don’t have to be everywhere at once. This applies at a personal level and brand level. We have many of our brands who have asked us to “put them” on Snapchat but we’ve analysed and decided against 99% of the time. There’s no way to get discovered unless you promote the account through your existing platforms. So it’s a no go.
Instagram is where it’s at and where it’s going to be at for a long time. They’ve monetised, the ads still appear native and people are engaging and getting to know your brand. The scroll and double tap has become a natural motor function of our thumbs as we browse our feed for that something that engages us with humour, statistics or emotion. Stories within the app take time away from that. Live video within the app will take away even more time!
We want to know what other people are doing, we want to be observers. But sometimes, scarcity is better. It brings more mystery. I’ve personally unfollowed people who took beautiful photos of themselves but after seeing their stories… adiós. This isn’t the person I elaborated upon in my mind. They no longer inspire me and this is my time you’re taking away from me. And it’s something I can never get back.
So, to continue to grow your reputation, focus on quality and distribute it across the channels that are totally relevant to you and your audience. You don’t have to use the latest and greatest unless you really have a good story to tell. Otherwise, you’re selling out and losing out on the long term gains of reputation and trust.
Don’t take away someone’s time without giving them anything in return.
Ben Walker. Founder, The Zoom Agency.