Every week - almost every other other day at the moment - Snapchat or Instagram brings out a new feature which adds a little more to their case for marketing attention. Of course, that's not always the aim - Snapchat has repeatedly stated that it's focus is on helping users maintain relationships with friends over marketing or influencer content, while Instagram, too, is adding new features that cater to greater privacy. But still, while us social media observers commentate on the battle between the two platforms, which offer largely similar features, marketers are trying to get a handle on which platform is best for them, which should they be building a presence on - and spending money on - to establish themselves within.
The answer? There is none, not a definitive, all encompassing one anyway. Sure, Instagram is larger, but there's a lot more too it than that.
Here's a quick overview of some of the key considerations and comparisons to better inform your thinking on whether Instagram or Snapchat is a better option for your business.
Size Does Matter
First off, as noted, Instagram is bigger. Alot bigger in most respects.
As per their Q1 reporting numbers released back in May, Snapchat currently has around 166 million daily active users. Of that, around a quarter (40 million) post stories to the platform every day.
By comparison, Instagram has 700 million total users, with more than 250 million now using Stories every day.
In pure numbers and reach, Instagram is a better option, and that may well prove the key differentiator, particularly if raising brand awareness is your key goal. Instagram's decision to copy Snapchat's Stories functionality is clearly paying off, and the platform is reaping significant benefit. But still, size is not everything. There are a lot of other elements to consider when assessing which option is a better fit.
In their various pitches, Snap Inc.'s spokespeople have tried to angle the conversation away from raw user numbers, and towards engagement, where Snap believe they can win out. That approach makes sense - as Twitter's found out the hard way, trying to compete on raw numbers against Facebook (which owns Instagram) is not going to work in your favor, and the capacity to use Facebook's global network to expand Instagram's reach gives the platform a huge advantage.
As part of their Q1 performance report, Snap Inc.'s Chief Strategy Officer Imran Khan noted that users are now active in Snapchat for 'over 30 minutes per day', which is an improvement on the '25 to 30 minutes' per day they listed in their IPO documentation in February.
Facebook hasn't reported how much time users spend in Instagram individually for some time - last April Facebook said that users were spending 50 minutes per day, on average, across Facebook, Messenger and Instagram, while back in 2014 Instagram reported that users were spending 21 minutes per day in app. You would expect that this figure would have increased in the last three years, especially given the amount of changes the app has seen since then, but at the same time, you'd also expect Facebook to have released that data if it worked in their favor, which could suggest that Instagram's average usage is not actually higher than Snapchat.
But then again, you're also talking about averages - more users will inevitably mean the average time per session also goes down, so it's not a definitive win either way.
On balance, the available data suggests that Snapchat is no worse than Instagram for engagement, and is likely better - and a more engaged audience could mean one more willing to spend with the brand who can get its platform approach right. That's the angle Snapchat's pushing, though thus far their average revenue per user data doesn't reflect this.
It's very early days for Snapchat in this regard, but again, based on available info, there's no clear winner in this category.
Millennials Love Snapchat?
The next key consideration is audience make-up, with the pervading view being that Snapchat is the best platform for reaching a younger audience. Which seems largely true, based on the data - and depending just how young you're looking to reach.
Both Instagram and Snapchat skew young - the majority of Instagram's audience is aged under 30, while Snapchat also says their audience is primarily under 34, with more resonance with users under 25 (60% of Snapchat users are under 25, and nearly a quarter have not yet graduated from high school).
More women than men use Instagram, which is also the trend at Snapchat - the platform hasn't released specific demographic stats, but back in 2013, 70% of Snapchat users were women, a trend which is likely still in effect, at least to some degree.
Given this, if you're looking to reach a wide range of younger users, Instagram still looks like a better option - more users overall, and a general younger slant. But if your focus is on really young users, then Snapchat likely wins out.
The final consideration here comes down to functional and presentation tools on offer.
Given Instagram Stories is pretty much a direct copy of Snapchat Stories, the two are obviously very similar. One key differentiator is discovery. Instagram has more search options available, making it easier to find relevant users - and importantly for marketing purposes, businesses to follow. Snapchat recently added it's own search capacity, and now also has Snap Maps, but the tools are not as functional as what Instagram has on offer in this regard.
Instagram Stories (left) search versus Snapchat search
In terms of content, the presentation options are largely the same - you can record short videos or images and put them into a story. Each platform has its own features and tools, but really, they're likely not enough to sway your decision one way or another.
That said, Instagram does allow you to insert links to other profiles within Stories content, which can be great for brand collaboration, and to add searchable location stickers, which can help to improve discovery. Snapchat doesn't offer the same - though you can add content to location and event based stories.
Earlier this week, Snapchat released a new update which enables businesses to add direct links within Snaps, which is a significant update - Instagram also offers the capability to add links within Stories content, though access to the feature is fairly limited (only available to verified profiles and business profiles with more than 10k followers).
Links in Stories on Instagram (left) and Snapchat
It'll be interesting to see if Instagram now releases their link option to all to keep up, or if they push the release of their in-development 'Shopping Tags' tool to cool the buzz around Snapchat's new addition.
But again, there's no definitive winner here - both options are very similar, Snapchat probably wins out on links right now, but Instagram won't be far behind, particularly if the option proves popular.
It's worth noting too here that Snapchat is about more than just Stories, but from a brand perspective that's probably where you're going to see the most value. In the same way, Instagram has it's own functions aside from Stories, but in for comparative measure, the two Stories elements are the key focus - if you're deciding on whether to use one or the other, it's the Stories tool that will influence that head-to-head battle the most.
The other argument to consider here is that you don't have to choose - just use them both. And that's also a valid consideration - if you have capacity to use both and experiment, you'll then be able to make a more informed decision, which is relative to your business, but again, the purpose of this post is to compare the two to give you some measure of each. They don't always directly compare, and they don't always have to, but if you're looking for some perspective, these are the data points to factor in.
As you can see, there's nothing definitive one way or another, the key element in all of this is where your audience is active, which platform the people you want to reach are using. The only real differentiator seems to be age - Snapchat appeals more to younger users, which may make it a better option if that's your target audience. But then again, you might find you need to be on Instagram to make the most of your efforts.
Really, it comes down to your target market and their interests - and in how you use the Stories options on each platform to create resonant, interesting material that appeals to those users.