Instagram continues to mount pressure on Snapchat by adding to the tools and options available within Stories, including features which go beyond what's available within Snap Inc.'s original Stories offering.
Their latest update is the ability to reply to Stories content with a photo or video.
As explained by Instagram:
"From selfies to Boomerangs, now you can be even more fun and playful when you respond to friends. To reply with a photo or a video, tap the new camera button while you're watching a story. You can use any creative tools in the camera, including face filters, stickers and Rewind. Replies also include a sticker of the story that you can move around and resize."
That last element is particularly interesting. Rather than simply replying, you can also reply with an image of what you're responding to, adding more context and streamlining the interaction.
"When a friend replies to your story with a photo or a video, you'll see it in your inbox. You can tap to view it and also see a sticker of the original story that's only visible to you. As with disappearing photos and videos in Direct, your friends will know when you've taken a screenshot or replayed a reply."
The tool provides an extra, fun way to interact via Stories - one which is not available within Snapchat (you can only reply to Snapchat Stories with text responses). At the same time, the option also gives more focus to Instagram's direct messaging tools, which they updated back in April, merging permanent and disappearing messages into one single inbox.
At the time of that announcement, Instagram said that the number of people using direct messaging in their platform had grown from 300 million to 375 million within 16 months, while 85% of people's direct messages went to the same three friends - showing that while people are more open to direct connection in the app, they tend to keep it more intimate. This new option aligns with those trends, providing a new way to utilize DMs on Insta, in conjunction with Stories (which now has 250 million daily active users on its own), while also giving you another way to engage with friends in addition to posting content for all to see.
Catering to those more intimate engagements is also what's motivated another Instagram feature which is reportedly in development, that being the ability to segment your followers into lists within the app, and only share your posts with specific users.
Sharing content in a more private, intimate way was one of the key reasons why Snapchat originally gained ground - with more and more people signing up to Facebook, including your parents, relatives, grandparents, etc., Snapchat became a better alternative for younger users to share what they wanted without risk of judgement. That's also why Snapchat's user interface was designed to be less intuitive, it was made to keep older users away.
It seems Instagram is also looking to keep connection with this ethos - while Snapchat's headed more in the other direction, with new features like Snap Maps and search upping the discoverability factor to expose users to more content.
Of course, Snapchat is still all about friends - as they've made clear to platform influencers who are unhappy with the lack of cooperation they're seeing from Snap Inc. And Instagram, too, has recently added more ways to discover Stories content, they're definitely not reducing the capacity to find things on the platform. But with private Stories replies and lists, they're keeping in touch with that secondary use case of maintaining more intimate connection, which is clearly in demand.
Both platforms have their means to facilitate this, but Instagram, with its larger user base, and improving options, may actually be winning out - again, putting more pressure on Snapchat, with an aspect they've long lead the way on.
It'll be interesting to see how the new option impacts Stories and direct messaging usage.
From a business use perspective, the option could open up new ways to boost engagement - you could ask viewers to respond to your Stories with their own videos and images, maybe to enter a competition or show creative ways in which they're using your products (which you could re-purpose for UGC). It could also help open up connection with fans - and coupled with the recent addition of links in Insta DMs, that may also provide another avenue to connect them through to your owned properties.