Snapchat wants to rival Facebook, but it should worry first about Instagram.
Although Instagram and Snapchat were launched within just a year of each other — in October 2010 and September 2011, respectively — fashion brands have made Instagram a cornerstone to their strategies while Snapchat remains, in most cases, firmly in the experimental bucket.
Most designers were hesitant to join Snapchat. They weren’t sold on its unfiltered nature that was inherently antithetical to the fashion industry’s pristine aesthetic. Many still aren’t — especially higher-end designers, said Jodie Chan, director of Altuzarra’s marketing and communications. She ultimately decided it’s “not viable for our brand and relevant to the demographic we are trying to reach.”
However, with time, a range of designers began to see the value of sharing behind-the-scenes looks at their personal lives and the business. Marc Jacobs joined Snapchat in fall 2016, just in time for New York Fashion Week, and then Burberry and Louis Vuitton followed by sharing announcements and photos from special events on the platform. So did Rebecca Minkoff and Prabal Gurung, longtime personal users who decided to let fans catch glimpses of their work lives. During the end of 2015 and early 2016, brands were clamoring to get on Snapchat.
Then Instagram announced Instagram Stories, and everything shifted.
Snapchat meets its match
In August 2016, Instagram launched Stories, a feature that allows users to share photos and videos on their accounts that are visible for just 24 hours. In essence, Instagram now offered the best of both worlds — its glitzy photos, juxtaposed with the short clips for which users love Snapchat.
“As Instagram encourages more polished content, as well as tools that support content that feels instantaneous and ephemeral, that seems to address what it could have potentially lacked, in comparison to a platform like Snapchat,” Chan said.
Suddenly, brands that had been regularly active on Snapchat lay dormant, opting to share fleeting content on Instagram instead. As a result of Instagram Stories, Snapchat’s growth slowed by a whopping 82 percent. Snapchat had 122 million active users in Q1 of 2016 and 143 million by the end of Q2, raking in an impressive 17.2 percent growth rate. However, by Q3, its growth tumbled to 7 percent. At the same time, Snapchat did away with its autoplay feature, which had helped bolster story views for brands.
Instagram, on the other hand, already had a captive audience of 300 million users daily, who now only had to look at the tops of their screens to view Stories. According to TechCrunch, by October, its Stories feature had already amassed 100 million daily users.
“Snapchat was certainly the social darling of 2016, and brands were smart to leverage the platform at the time,” said Camilla Opperman, research associate at L2. “However, Instagram Stories have proven to have greater reach than Snapchat, and brands are realizing that their resources can be more efficiently allocated towards Instagram.”
Meanwhile, the demographic differences between the two platforms remained telling. Today, Instagram users skew significantly older: 51 percent of its user base is above age 35, compared to just 14 percent of Snapchat users. These older users, in many cases, have more disposable income than their younger Snapchat-using peers, making Instagram particularly appealing to fashion brands.
“Instagram has a number of things working to its favor: It’s got a larger follower base and an older audience that’s more likely to be spending,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, an e-commerce advisor and the former chief retail strategist at Shoptalk.
The resource crunch
For fashion brands, many of which have nimble, short-staffed digital teams, the ability to have the capabilities of Snapchat and Instagram in one place has been particularly advantageous, according to Kyle Wong, CEO of Pixlee.
“Content generation is hard. These brands have a limited bandwidth to manage these social platforms,” he said. “Most fashion brands out there probably have one person max running social media accounts. They are spread thin between keeping multiple channels updated, rather than engaging the community on those channels.”
It’s also more laborious to create a follower base on Snapchat, which requires users to know a retailer’s exact username in order to follow them. With Instagram Stories, brands already have a built-in following that doesn’t require additional promotion.
“Instagram is definitely more brand-friendly than Snapchat,” Opperman said. “Most fashion brands already have Instagram accounts, so it’s much easier to move to Instagram Stories than learn the entirely new Snapchat platform. Instagram also has a leg up in discoverability, as Snapchat lacks a robust search function, making it difficult for consumers to find brand Snapchat accounts.”