We have seen several battles between the key technology industry players as they compete for market share. And Silicon Valley always welcomes a good fight. If you have been following the latest social media trends, you must be aware of what is happening between Instagram and Snapchat. Both social media giants are trying to impress the users, and their efforts have turned into a battle.
Snapchat has recently launched its version of TikTok called Spotlight (1). It will also pay creators via a program similar to TikTok. Notably, Spotlight would run through the Snapchat app and would run similar to competing platforms like Instagram Reels, a mimick of TikTok. It allows people to create short videos with an automatic loop.
The Spotlight feature of Snapchat represents its first real copycat move after years of other social media giants copying it (2). It is worth noting that Snapchat was the first platform to introduce the story feature. By 2013, Spanchat was doing admirably. Its success was tremendously due to its Snapchat stories feature. The feature attracted companies, and social media influencers looked upon it as a great tool to achieve their ambitions.
Such buzz made Facebook, the owner of Instagram, showed an interest in buying Snapchat. However, the deal did not see the day’s light (3). After some years, Instagram rolled out a feature called Instagram stories. It began a battle between Instagram and Snapchat (4).
In the summer of 2020, when India banned Tiktok and other Chinese applications, Instagram launched a direct competitor, Reels, with the hope to lure some creators on the platform. It is undeniable that the TikTok future is still uncertain in India while facing backlash from several parts of the world (7).
It is the newest opportunity for the Facebook-owned social media platform to bring in users, increase the minutes people spend on the app, and establishing itself as a video entertainment app.
The business owners and social media influencers now have an option between Instagram and Snapchat, along with their new social media layouts.
The Spotlight Videos of Snapchat
According to reports (8), Snapchat would pay out 1 million USD a day to creators for the top-performing posts. Moreover, spotlight users don’t need to have massive followers or even have public profiles to earn money.
Instead, its algorithm would decide what to show Snapchat users based on how often others view a post. If other others watched the same video frequently, it would catch the signal and spur the algorithm to spread it more extensively.
The new feature would help Snapchat in a competitive market for posting online entertaining videos, a space dominated by Facebook’s Instagram and Google’s YouTube. It seems that Evan Spiegel, Chief Executive Officer of Snap Inc (9), has abstained from available metrics like likes and follows, the key drivers of the influencers market, the most-followed users on social media apps.
Users’ likes are private, and there is no re-sharing of videos, and displaying the follower number is also optional on Snapchat. Without those metrics, it is difficult for users to get famous and get noticed and hired by brands to create sponsored content, the primary way young social media stars make a living.
Notably, Spiegel wants to reward popular videos on Spotlight without its creators worrying about consistency or the number of followers.
Notably, all social media platforms are thriving to attract quality content makers. Instagram had been paying some of the top TikTok’s stars to test out its Reels. Instagram has recently started for the first time sharing revenue on video ads with creators like YouTube.
There is no clarity whether the random chance of big payout would pull users’ great ideas from Instagram Reels and TikTok, but it does offer a unique option. On the platform, the user can choose to be private, a break from influencer culture.
Snapchat had been the benefactor of betting on a product that lowers its users’ pressure. As mention, Stories, the short-videos that disappear after 24 hours, became so popular that Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn copied it.
The shares of Snapchat almost tripled in 2020 and at a record 45.38 USD in early November as young people are turning to Snapchat to connect with their friends during the on-going coronavirus pandemic. The app also features tv shows and magazines designed for the young audience.
Notably, the Spotlight feature is not available in India yet. The company stated that it would first start its operation in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Denmark, and France.
Like TikTok, Instagram’s Reels also let people create short videos set to music. People can also share it with friends and followers and allow it to be discovered while browsing the app. It is the newest opportunity for the photosharing app to bring in users, increase the amount of time people spend on the app, and established itself as a video entertainment platform.
The reel allows users to record videos for up to 15 seconds and add music and an array of effects and filters on the top. Instagram has also revamped its explore page and created a specific landing spot for Reels, so creators of Reels can have a new way to build a following.
It also allows both private and public options. However, having a public profile would let users’ reels to be widely discovered. People who want to share their reels only with their friends, reels created under private accounts will only post it in feeds and stories. It is not a new app, and the feature lives entirely inside Instagram.
The launch of Reels came as TikTok was banned in India and was also facing a potential by in the US under the Donald Trump presidency (10). ByteDance, the parent firm of TikTok had also stated that Facebook is looking for troubles as it accuses the social media giant of plagiarizing its product with Instagram Reels. However, in a response, Robby Stein, Product Director of Instagram, stated that both products are different.
“I think TikTok deserves a ton of credit for popularizing formats in this space, and it’s just great to work. But at the end of the day, no two products are exactly alike, and ours are not either.”
– Robby Stein, Product Director of Instagram (11).
It is similar to people who remember when Instagram first launched its Stories feature in 2016. Market accused the company of creating a Snapchat clone. However, Instagram Stories quickly cross Snapchat with regards to daily users and has continued to be a successful product. Such success is the biggest reason why the Instagram team is confident with the Reels. TikTok did it first, but Instagram may do it better.
Just Another Thing
The strategy is to focus on what it does the best; creating easy-to-use technology for users. When people open Instagram to make a Reel, they would be able to slide into a new section of the camera, offering an assortment of tools. They can either record it all at once or as a series of clips and upload the videos from their photo gallery.
Most camera features are similar to TikTok, with options to change speed, apply special effects, add audio, set a time. It is designed with entertainment in mind, an area in which Instagram wants to focus.
According to Stein, with the Reel feature, Instagram is going big with entertainment and making a permanent place for users to lean back, relax, and be inspired. The team is hoping that with the new format, it can have another chapter on entertainment on Instagram.
After the launch of Reels, still, there are some features it doesn’t have yet. People are still not able to have a duet with one another, a core feature of TikTok that allow people to interact, build upon, and remix videos.
Notably, Instagram is now allowing people to upload songs directly into the system. Musicians are looking to use the platform as a space to make their songs go viral. Stein commented that users could add their original audio by recording it to make it go live later. Other people would then also be able to use it and remix it. However, they can’t directly upload an actual song.
It is worth noting that Reels is not its world like TikTok or Vine. It is only another thing to do on the platform and another way to find entertainment beyond scrolling through stories and feeds. The lack of focus may seem like a weakness, but Stein has other thoughts. He stated that it is one of the app’s fun parts and just another format on Instagram.
Social Media Giants: The Future is in a Short-form Video
In the summer of 2019, when TikTok started to hit off, all other social media platforms questioned how they could mimic the successful platforms in more unique ways. Like they did with Snapchat.
A short-form video app, Vine (12), was disbanded within only four years after getting acquired by Twitter in 2012. The app was quite popular, but it did not work well with Twitter the way it intended. Vine’s team was struggling to find new ways to make the app more profitable and could not carve a cultural impact like Instagram and Twitter (13). In other words, it failed because it was focusing too much on integrating with Twitter’s existing userbase, and it was ahead of its time.
By that time, social media stars like Kylie Jenner had already found ways to use short videos to their advantage in ways Vine was not focusing on. Tools like Instagram and Snapchat were in full swing because these celebrities used the features to sell their own products, especially Kylie Jenner. Similarly, when her fashion sense inspired trends in 2010, her social media use was also quickly mimicked by youth across the world.
When Vine had shut down in 2016, Instagram had barely launched its story. At that time, users could record and share up to 10 seconds of video, either n their stories or send directly to another user. It allowed Instagram users to do what Snapchat users were already doing.
Such video selfies were not anything more than a vanity act. However, they soon became gold mine to social media platforms and brands that advertised on them. Businesses sold makeup, influenced by beauty trends and hit songs. It even sparked an entirely new dilemma when augmented reality filters mimicked Jenner’s perfect look, allowing users to see themselves with enhanced features (14).
The Use of Social Media
When Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook were deep into a war over the stories feature, another app had entered the field; Musical.ly (now TikTok). The China-based social media service, launched in 2014, allowed people to record short-form videos of themselves singing along to popular songs and advertised itself as a karaoke app. Users could share videos on a feed like Vine. These posts were permanent, and an individual post rather than 24hr bits on a continually rolling feed.
Even though older generations were questioning its existence, it became a widely used app by the younger population by 2016. Its hit was so massive that it even allowed users to acquire fame and fortune via their popularity.
When TikTok purchased Musical.ly in 2018, it was already recognized as the next great social media app for Gen Z users. In part, the credit for its success also goes to the ways people were using Snapchat and Instagram stories.
Even though TikTok creators don’t use the app exclusively to create selfie videos of themselves singing along to popular songs, there is no denying the existence of the original Muscial.ly culture.
Influencing TikTok’s Success
It is still unclear whether Snapchat’s Spotlight or Instagram Reel’s would see success in the ways Musical.ly and TikTok have. Instagram Reels have already proven successful even among people who are not TikTok. However, the feature’s overall enthusiasm fell flat because of the heavy promotion after the launch in mid-2020 (15).
Many had assumed that Snapchat would lose many of its active users because of the rollout of Instagram stories. Still, it did not happen (16). On the other hand, Snapchat started to boast more privacy in its Spotlight compared to both TikTok and Instagram Reels.
It would allow users to share their videos publicly while also keeping their profile private if they wish. It also doesn’t offer public comment sections such as TikTok or Instagram at present.
Millennial social media users have also called TikTok the new Tumblr who found solace in the blogging space more than a decade ago. However, it does not offer as much anonymity. The app allows public commenting, and its sharing features across several platforms will enable videos to go viral on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter quickly.
While Tumblr users could completely remain anonymous if they wish, TikTok users don’t have that freedom if their video goes viral on other platforms or links bank to their account. Hence, even if the Spotlight doesn’t turn out to be much successful, it can still push TikTok to enhance its user’s privacy.
Notably, TikTok is actively making a comeback in India (17), and it has also made it safe from facing a ban in the US for the near future. In such a case, innovations of Snapchat and Instagram would be proven useful for TikTok.
Since Spotlite is looking to boost its creator fund to pay users for the content creators like TikTok, it can make itself a more viable competitor than Instagram.
The Homogenous Competiton
It seems like it has been the season of new social media layouts with Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat rolling out a new feature in the wake of thick competition.
While the overlapping of social media application features is not new, it seems like the development is coming at the moment’s head. Instagram first launched Stories after it failed to acquire Snapchat, which blazed the trail of innovation of snapshots of daily life and silly filters. Facebook also has Stories for a while now and has even edged with its Marketplace.
TikTok was the big disruptor in recent time and largely to blame for introducing Reels and Spotlite.
It made sense for users to have an overkill of social media applications on their phones, each having its purpose. However, the continued homogenization of the features would quickly change the dynamic.
Because of the saturated users and market, these applications are salvaging one another to take those extra minutes of attention time (18) in the hopes to monetize their platforms.
Simultaneously, users are also posting the same content on two or more platforms to reach their full audiences. Such second-hand proliferation is also prevalent in the engagement drive.
TikTok videos are now shared on Twitter and Instagram; Tweets are shared on Facebook and Instagram. People can also share their posts directly on Instagram and Facebook, both simultaneously. Occasionally, people also find Facebook content; the meme-able Karens parries, High School wrecks, and Boomer Uncles screenshots on either Instagram or Twitter (19).
Even though these social media platforms rival user attention, they will have to keep innovating if they want to capture audiences for the long term (20).
The critical concept that these platforms need to keep in mind is that more is not always more. It is especially true when we enter a pandemic, a period of recession and change. Historically, such time has high points for invention and innovation since the young and creative are often divested from their jobs and are over inundated with spare time.
These platforms believe that they need to be everything to all people. They are worried that if they don’t offer users a place to upload every element people want, they will risk falling behind the race. However, in reality, they are only diluting their offering.
The key is not to borrow innocuous features of the competitors but to bring different elements to make things more exciting and innovative in ways they were never met or considered before.
While LinkedIn and Facebook are struggling to replenish their audience, Snapchat, which has written its arbitrary several times in the past, is still surviving because of the loyal userbase who are there as it is offering something different than everyone else.
TikTok also became successful because it wasn’t following the same rules as everyone else. It offered something new and didn’t require the same design and layout as every other app. It is remaining laser-focused and not expanding its offering to keep the same standards that made it successful. That same approach also allowed Snapchat to remain popular among its massive fickle audience.
Notably, there are high chances that the desperate growth frenzy at the expense of the brand’s distinction points and identity would make it fall flat in this era of hyper-competition and increasing fandom value (21).
Change is in the air, and it not only about a new button or feature.