“What happens when you drop a feature like Stories into a community that doesn’t have that well developed set of norms? Some different set of norms will develop,” Parker Thompson an early stage investor and partner at Angelist recently told me “Your mom, for instance, when she sees your Instagram story, she’s not a Snapchat user so she doesn’t have that context and the experience and the way she treats the feature is just not going to be the same.”
Many people say that Instagram Stories offer a more enjoyable experience because “more people see your story.” But they are thinking of Stories within the context of the learned behaviors shaped by Instagram and other social networks that have pre-conditioned them to equate more views with “success” on a platform.
Snapchat, on the other hand, is focused on facilitating deeper communication between a smaller group of friends, which is why it garners much more engagement. It’s a communication platform, not a broadcast platform. Snapchat did recently introduce a search function for public Stories, allowing users to discover content from people they don’t follow, but the snaps that are surfaced are stripped of usernames or Snap handles. There is still no internal discovery mechanism for finding interest-based user accounts on Snapchat.
And while it’s true that Instagram might have shaved off some would-be Snapchat users, it’s unclear if many of these people would have ever joined the platform to begin with.
“Instagram is still a place for users to show off their day in images and has built an aesthetic around smartphone photography. What brings many users back to Snapchat is… the messaging they do with friends,” says Noah Mallin Head of Social, North America for MEC.
All this isn’t to say that Snapchat doesn’t have problems. Snap is a publicly traded company now and as it grows it will have to deliver value to its shareholders. As the company noted in its S-1, the majority of its users are concentrated among top advertising markets, which bodes well for the company if it can offer innovative ad products and move out of advertisers’ “experimental bucket”.
“To me, Snapchat has always been ahead of the curve. I fondly call it the ‘Snapchat effect.’ They lead and others follow,” Gemma Craven Senior Vice President and Director of Social & Mobile at McCann told me recently. “Snap called itself a camera company and now Facebook is talking about the camera being the most important part of any device, you see it all over.”
“I am confident that they are going to be able to monetize successfully,” she added. To her, Snap will likely end up going after TV dollars by offering more premium content in Snapchat Discover, something Instagram will have difficulty doing.
Silicon Valley loves the spectacle of a no-holds-barred clash of tech titans, and comparing Snapchat to Instagram is certainly entertaining. But, rather than focusing on irrelevant metrics, people should think critically about the different ways people use these platforms to connect with others.
Snapchat is not just another social network. It represents a radical shift in the way we communicate. It has established new norms and broken the mold of what we think of as social media — and that is something that Instagram will most likely never be able to replicate.
This commentary was originally published on Medium.
Commentary by Taylor Lorenz, senior editor and director of emerging platforms at The Hill. Follow her on Twitter @TaylorLorenz.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.