It's only been two weeks since the launch of Instagram's new Snapchat-cloning 'Stories' option, but already some have declared it a Snapchat killer, a means for Facebook to finally fend off, and even crush, their fast-growing rival. And while it's still too early to provide any definitive stats on the Stories effect and how it'll impact Snapchat's evolution, marketing intelligence company SensorTower has given us some early data on Snapchat vs Instagram usage in the wake of the Stories launch.
The result? There's been no noticeable decline in Snapchat usage as yet.
SensorTower's data is based on information from its mobile panel, which is comprised of millions of users in more than 30 countries, giving them an indicative baseline for overall use. And while, as noted, it's only been two weeks, the data does suggest that maybe both Snapchat and Instagram Stories will be able to co-exist by appealing to different market subsets - through there are some clear differences and noted usage trends emerging, based on feedback about Instagram's new tool.
In a post on Medium, Ziad Ramley, who works on the social media team at news network Al Jazeera, has outlined their experiences with Instagram Stories thus far, noting some important differences between it and Snapchat.
Ramley notes that they've been getting a heap of comments on their Instagram stories, that multiple people can be logged onto their Instagram account at once (which can't be done on Snapchat), and that videos are in higher resolution, all great benefits of the new platform.
But there is a catch.
Ramley says that because Instagram Stories content is delivered in higher quality, the trade-off is that load times on those Stories are slower, and that's lead to a significant reduction in viewer retention.
As you can see from the chart, the viewer drop-off for Instagram Stories is steep - Ramley says that Al Jazeera is consistently losing 40% of their viewers by the second shot, which, by comparison, you'd not see a similar fall away from Snapchat till around the 10th Snap in a sequence.
Ramley contends that this is entirely down to those slower load times.
"Part of the reason that Snapchat videos are lower resolution is so that you can go from Snap to Snap to Snap seamlessly. It may take a few seconds to load someone's Snapchat Story initially, but once you do you usually breeze through it. That's not the case with Instagram Stories. I often experienced load times several seconds long between the first and second shots. And between the second and the third. And the third and fourth. And so on."
Ramley also notes that while their view counts are much higher on Instagram, the view rate, by comparison to their total Instagram audience, is quite low, with only around 10% of their 438,000 Instagram followers watching their Stories content. Driving traffic to Stories content, too, Ramley says, is inefficient, however they do see great potential in the platform, particularly if they can iron out these early kinks.
These are some interesting observations on the new offering and its challenges, particularly around comparative view counts and reach. One of the most significant advantages of Instagram Stories over Snapchat is a much bigger audience, but the risk is that your reach is also governed, essentially, by Facebook and their notorious algorithms. Yes, you might have more followers on Instagram, but will you be able to reach them with your Stories content? And if Instagram changes their algorithm to reduce the reach of brand Stories in future, will that be a problem?
And another key question based on Al Jazeera's findings - do viewers care about quality more than speed?
"There's a certain type of audience on Snapchat and I don't think that it's going to slow down at all. Most of the customers we work with said they don't plan to stop creating on Snapchat any time soon."
As reflected in data from comScore released earlier this year, while Instagram and Snapchat are both popular among users aged 18-24, Snapchat's engagement is higher, meaning more of those people are spending more time in app.
That's an important element - younger users who've spend a lot of time on Snapchat will likely be less inclined to switch across, whereas those in older demographic brackets, where Instagram has more market penetration, may opt to stay on Instagram and use the Stories functionality on that platform instead (if at all).
This seems to be the pervading belief, that Snapchat will still be able to maintain its hold on younger users, but older audiences may find the more user-friendly interface and familiarity of Instagram more welcoming, thereby slowing Snapchat's growth in that segment.
That likely means both options can co-exist, and it may also be enough for Facebook to slow Snapchat's overall growth, which would appear to be their main intention. But then again, the trends developed amongst younger age brackets can define future behavior, and it's unlikely Facebook will want to stop at that and let the kids play on Snapchat.
So how's Instagram going to get those younger users to switch across?
The aforementioned issues with load times are one aspect, but it's also likely that Snapchat will be able to keep a hold on younger users because of their engaging filters and lenses, which Instagram doesn't have just yet. But Facebook does have an option on this front - the expectation is that Facebook, which is running several tests on an expansion of their MSQRD video filters, will soon introduce the image-altering tools to Instagram Stories too.
Facebook's running a test of Olympics-themes MSQRD filters within Facebook itself
But even mimicry won't be enough - what'll be most interesting to see will be how each platform responds next, what they can provide that's new and original and that'll draw new attention to their respective offerings. This is how Snapchat has seen success thus far, by providing innovative, industry-leading tools and functions that users simply can't get anywhere else. If Instagram's able to do the same, with a new, fresh take that people can't get on any other platform, Stories could quickly become the preferred option.
But on form, you'd have to bet on Snapchat making a bigger splash and retaining their audience.
This is why the next step is so important - Instagram Stories was a huge, major move, a bold challenge to Snapchat in a way we've not seen before at such a large scale. But Snapchat isn't done with yet. Two weeks of data isn't enough to suggest what will happen to each platform, anecdotal experiences are not enough to decide on the fate of each option. What happens next will be the big shift, and no doubt each platform is working on something major to strike the next blow.
The battle between Instagram and Snapchat will no doubt rage on for some time yet, but I wouldn't expect either to take a backwards step, now that they're standing toe-to-toe.
And it should be an interesting time for users and social media marketers alike.