Why Instagram will not kill Snapchat

Screenshot 2016-08-03 14.53.19

By Mark W. Schaefer

The social media world woke up yesterday and found out that Instagram had implemented a new functionality called “stories,” which makes it look a lot like …. Snapchat. In fact, they pretty much copied them stroke for stroke.

The social stream blew up declaring this is the end of Snapchat. But it’s not. I’m going to tell you why, but first I need to revel in an “I told you so.” It happens so rarely that I can’t pass this up.

In March I penned a post called “A Balanced View of Using Snapchat for Marketing.” I thought it was time to reign in the irrational Snapchat exuberance and pointed out several challenges for marketers including the fact that Facebook wants to kill them:

  • Snapchat has no meaningful intellectual property. There is nothing really stopping Facebook (or the apps they own like Instagram, Messenger, or WhatsApp) from copying anything they do.
  • Facebook already owns the hearts and minds of marketers. As Facebook responds to the Snapchat challenge they will be able to better serve advertisers and monetize more quickly.
  • Facebook has virtually unlimited resources. They have more engineers, more money and more technology than Snapchat can imagine. Snapchat is going up against Goliath.

So … I told you so. Facebook has Snapchat in its crosshairs and the Instagram move (owned by Facebook) is just the first shot in the battle.

Why Snapchat is still powerful

The rewards of mimicking Snapchat can be huge for Facebook with the potential to spark engagement, user growth and ad dollars. Early this year, Facebook copied Twitter’s Periscope and other video streaming apps like Meerkat, with “Live,” which has been a big hit.

Now Periscope is limping along. Meerkat gave up. Will the same thing happen to Snapchat?

No, I don’t think so. Snapchat is not going away, at least for now.

First and foremost, this is not entirely a tech skirmish. This a battle for hearts and minds and Snapchat owns a deep emotional connection with 18-24 year-olds. Snapchat is their place. Facebook is their parent’s place. This power cannot be over-estimated. No matter how loud Facebook thunders at them, this generation will probably stick with Snapchat.

The second thing to remember is that most people use Snapchat differently than social media gurus. The Snapchat audience is not trying to build a brand or attract a massive audience. They are using it as a personal messaging service. And it works really well. Snapchat is more than stories.

The third consideration is switching costs. The Snapchat tribe has their friends there. They have their groups set up. And it’s not easy to move those social connections to a different network.

This is why Google+ failed in its bid to unseat Facebook as a dominant social network. The switching costs were too high. We already have one social network and it works fine. Why do we need another one, Google?

The same goes for Snapchat. We already have one. Many people will think that they probably don’t need another Snapchat-like place.

What’s next for the Instagram and Snapchat War?

The Facebook moves will probably not kill Snapchat but it will dramatically slow the company’s amazing growth. For example, I am already on Instagram. I like it. It’s a place of fun and comfort. Adding the pressure of creating yet another social network on Snapchat is a pain in the ass, honestly. It’s one more time suck I don’t need. So I may just stick with Instagram, and others will too, since it is now an easier-to-use alternative.

In just one day I am now seeing friends post stories on Instagram that I used to see on Snapchat. Am I going to go see them on Snapchat too? Probably not.

A second critical point here was contributed by my friend Natchi Lazarus. He notes that Snapchat is still very US-centric. In a place like his home of India, Instagram is well-established and people there are already beginning to “snap” on Instagram. It is likely that in a single day, Facebook halted Snapchat’s international expansion.

The Facebook-Snapchat death match will now turn to innovation. Most of the first reviewers are saying that Instagram is now BETTER and more fun to use than Snapchat. So how will the cool kids at Snapchat counter? Rest assured, they will be rolling out new ideas at a furious pace, which will make this fun for all of us!

For Snapchat, the key to the battle plan is cash flow. They need money, and they need it now, to compete against the giant. But the more ads they show on the platform, the more it infuriates their core audience — there is already a backlash. This is a high-stakes dance: monetize aggressively without driving their fans elsewhere. Striking this balance is literally a matter of their survival.

Perhaps the larger issue here is that Facebook is sending a message to the world. Snapchat rejected a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook in 2014. Facebook is showing start-ups everywhere what the response will be for such arrogance. Will any new company ever be able to take on Facebook and its awesome power? If Snapchat doesn’t survive this battle, we may have our answer.

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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