Today, we woke up to a surprise announcement. Instagram launched Instagram Stories, a new feature that allows people to post collections of photos and videos that last 24 hours. If that sounds exactly like Snapchat Stories, well, that’s because it is.
Instagram isn’t pretending it’s being original. In an interview with The New York Times, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom acknowledged that “other companies deserve all the credit” for the disappearing content craze. So why do it?
A number of theories are floating around. Some think that it’s only logical to copy your competitors’ best features. Just look at how everyone’s copied Facebook’s News Feed. The Times chose to frame it in terms of Facebook (which owns Instagram) chasing Snapchat as its great white whale, because 19th century British novels are always the best way to understand social networks popular among the youths.
But really, Instagram copying Snapchat is about one thing: insecurity.
Systrom’s comments to The Wall Street Journal make it clear that Instagram Stories’ upside is that there are no public likes or comments—in other words, there’s no pressure to look popular. Per The Wall Street Journal:
The pressure to attract “likes” on Instagram is so great that teens often delete photos that don’t fare well. One internal survey showed some teens delete about half the photos in their Instagram feeds, according to a person familiar with the data. Mr. Systrom declined to confirm the figure, but said “deletions are fairly high” among Instagram users when photos don’t get enough likes or teens no longer feel the photos reflect their lives.
Instagram knows that one of Snapchat’s biggest advantages is that it’s a safe space for teens. When you post on Snapchat, only you know how many people you sent it to and how many people opened it or replayed it. There’s no chance that you’re going to post something that gets eight likes while Popular McFootballPants gets 124 likes for the picture of him sailing on a yacht with his beautiful girlfriend.
But this move is about more than just making users feel more comfortable. It’s about advertising as well.
Brands are kind of like teenagers
You know who else is insecure about underperforming posts? Brands. Or, more specifically, the marketers who work at brands or at the agencies paid to run brands’ Instagram accounts.
When you’re a corporate entity mingling with sentient beings on a social network, the risks are not unlike the ones teenagers face. Your post could flop while your biggest competitor kills it right above you in consumers’ feeds. You could get bullied.1 You could not get asked to prom, and by prom I mean Cannes.
Instagram Stories eliminates the risk of a post publicly underperforming, and is basically Instagram’s answer to Snapchat Memories.
As on Snapchat Memories, brands will be able to upload a series of well-produced stories and videos from their camera roll to create a cohesive narrative on Instagram Stories. This makes it an attractive vehicle to brands with big advertising budgets. It’s also very likely that Instagram will eventually start selling ads that play between Instagram Stories, like Snapchat does. It’s a risk-free advertising party, and everyone’s invited!
Ultimately, we can be thankful for one thing: It was Instagram, not Facebook, that copied Snapchat. Had it been Facebook, Media Twitter would have exploded, and all that’d be left is the faint, ringing sound of millennial reporters sharing this GIF.
- See: Oreo getting yelled at about moving a factory to Mexico literally every time it posts something on Facebook.