I have a lot of feelings about the introduction of Instagram's new and very original feature: Stories. But - spoiler - I'm mostly confused.
One of my favourite things about using Instagram as a creative person was it's simplicity. The app had one function and one format: primarily visual storytelling - it acted as a blank canvas for me to curate and art direct my process so that my audience could see what I was up to in the studio, and how my practice was evolving.
As I mentioned in my last journal post Instagram overtime has become contrived (for lack of a more positive word) in the way that we're not posting raw table-top shots anymore, we are posting our gorgeously messy workbenches that cleverly tell a story about what we were doing, as well as where/why/how we are doing it. I have zero problem with this - most of my favourite feeds are curated - I appreciate the storytelling and the considered imagery - but what this meant was there was a huge need for authenticity - not just on Instagram, but in the realm of all widely adopted social media platforms.
And Snapchat filled this void perfectly.
I began using Snapchat at the end of last year - I took a really confused selfie video on a plane en route to LA from Sydney and I was uncertain of how the app was going to fit into my ever-growing collection of social/sharing/platform applications. I was still getting used to the chaotic UX and I wasn't in the studio, so all I could show was my relatively boring, goofy self, freezing my butt off on our road-trip through the Pacific North-West. I thought, well this is not going to last for me - no one wants to see this. I was wrong - soon enough there were thousands of people watching each snap along with added engagement from followers via screenshots, messages, and plugs on other platforms.
Analytic data aside - I was loving it. It was really refreshing to use an app that made it difficult to spend a lot of time creating posts. I didn't really need to worry about arranging and editing I just needed to swipe across to add a filter, and maybe add a caption without much consideration. Part of the reason Snapchat feels so liberating is the whole disappearing in 24-hours thing (which of course Instagram now offers with their copycat Stories feature).
My opening to this journal post was that I had a lot of feelings about the new Instagram stories - but having said that - I have no idea how to feel. I'm writing this article to work through all the pros and cons, predict what this update will mean for both apps and decide how I want to use each Stories feature (or which one to drop). This may seem melodramatic to most of you, and it's definitely in my nature to over-think situations that would otherwise be simple, but as someone who uses the majority of my social media for business, to increase awareness of my personal brand and to present my work to prospective clients, it's a decision I'm not taking lightly.
Let's start with the most obvious comparison and then move on to the others.
In it's first iteration, Instagram Stories and our ability to customise the content is limited. There are six colour filters vs Snapchat's four, but this is a case where more is not always more - I've only used two of Instagram's filters in three days, one of which I only used because I felt off about my skin (boy did it do the trick - and I only had to sacrifice the existence of my nose).
Instagram Stories' text feature is limited in it's customisation, and when I say limited I mean you can't change anything but the copy. You can't change things like the colour or alignment of your caption, and Instagram's answer to Snapchat's black bar is extremely heavy type with a semi-transparent grey dropshadow. I'm not a fan.
The drawing tool is a necessary evil. I don't like the look of it, but what if I want to play Mr Squiggle with my followers or turn myself into a number of loveable Pixar characters? Instagram has chosen to add more than one line style - and I have no idea why THIS is where they wanted to add more functionality - the tilted, semi transparent pen - I will never use, and the pen with a "subtle" glow looks like something I would use in one of those kitschy but totally kawaii Japanese photo booths but without the kawaii. I like that you can adjust the thickness of the drawing tool - but I'm still unimpressed
One part of Instagram's drawing tool I do like are the colour swatches, you can swipe through to find some nice pastel blush/nudes which is actaully really helpful, because although it's possible to get pastel colours on Snapchat it's a really fiddly and the shade is almost certainly different every time. As someone who is super into consistent colour schemes and branding I would love the ability to create a handful of swatches to use every time on either app.
This is where the custom features end for Instagram Stories, but we haven't even scratched the surface of the filters and overlays available on Snapchat. I don't use the time/location/speed/temperature overlays on Snapchat THAT often, but I like that they're there. It's another way to tell a story about what you're up to/where you are/how cold it is without saying a thing - I love visual storytelling.
As well as the above, the most impressive thing to me about Snapchat is their facial recognition technology, I worked on a project once which utilised facial recognition and the outcome was significantly more shit. Impressive technology aside, the playfulness of the face filters (including of course the enhancements that make you totally bae) and the frequency in which they change keep me coming back most mornings if only out of curiosity. I feel like this is something Instagram needs to worry about - their stories feature is already significantly worse than Snapchat's, and they don't have anything to pull you back in to using the feature after the new toy sheen wears off.
Snapchat's UX is notoriously chaotic and unintuitive (both on paper and upon first using it) - and yet once you've used the app for a couple of days, the gestural interaction becomes second nature. It's rare that any company would trust and have enough faith in their users' intelligence, adaptability and exploration enough to introduce a completely foreign and invisible means of navigation. I've seen the look of horror on the faces of Snapchat n00bs while trying to explain to them how to move around the app, but in the end it works - touch gestures require less thought and are quicker to perform (if only by milliseconds) than locating and tapping a button.
As I mentioned earlier, the beauty of Instagram before its introduction of Stories was in it's simplicity of purpose and of function, but with Stories, Instagram has lost it's simplicity and in it's place is a cloud of confusion of how I should reach out and communicate with my audience. Visually it's confusing to look at - the stories module at the top of my newsfeed looks tacked on, and Instagram now has two separate cameras each with their own interface. Is the introduction of this feature making what was always a compact app too complex?
A big thing for me, and one of the only reasons I'm seriously considering moving my Stories content to Instagram is the reach. Instagram is where my work and audience really flourished so naturally my following on Instagram is substantially larger than my following on Snapchat. Consequently, this means that more people are seeing what I'm doing on Instagram Stories than they are on my Snapchat Stories (14,000 eyeballs vs 4,000 eyeballs respectively).
That's a huge difference for anyone - but let's not forget the fact that Instagram Stories is an exciting and "new" feature that Instagrammers without Snapchat are leaping to try, and that passionate Snappers are sussing out - I suspect the number of views for Instagram stories will drop over time.
Instagram encourages discovery - they did this with the popular page, then the explore feature (which I love), and they're doing this now with the ability to watch anyone's Stories regardless of whether you're following them or not. One thing I've always had a problem with on Snapchat is that you already have to know (or know of) someone to be able to follow them. There's no way to search users based on content - which I acknowledge is a difficult task considering content is changing rapidly (every 24 hours) and the simplicity of Snapchat means we aren't *liking* or bookmarking out content with hashtags.
What this means is that I need to use external resources - other apps and other sources - to grow my following on Snapchat. I need to discover someone elsewhere, find out their Snapchat handle, and then jump back into app to add them. Unfortunately Snapchat is reliant on apps like Instagram and Facebook to push users and to connect people who aren't able to exchange snapcodes in real life. It's a massive barrier that I would love for Snapchat to address.
Another reason I'm confused about this change is the purpose I've assigned to each app. Instagram quickly became a portfolio for archiving work and conveying my process, where as Snapchat is a journal where I can share what I'm up to work-related and not, and speak face-to-screen with my audience in a really casual setting. I guess this calls for adjustment on my behalf, but could I share the same kind of content on both apps' Stories?
I mean, I follow people for different reasons on both apps and it stands to reason, that other people do the same. Those who follow me on Instagram have become accustomed to manicured mess, and art direction - what if the raw, just-rolled-out-of-bed (but-with-a-dog-filter) me is repugnant to them? A great example of what I mean are celebrities - I'm not interested in seeing the Kardashians regrammed pap photos or which magazine cover they're on that day (okay maybe sometimes), but I am super interested in seeing their ridiculous lives from their own perspective on Snapchat.
It feels less dangerous for me to post something goofy, with zero art-direction on Snapchat because it'll be gone tomorrow. Over the past half-year those who follow me on Snapchat have opted into this kind of raw content and don't mind that I go on and on about things that are mundane in my work and personal life. In contrast those on Instagram have opted into a more romanticised version of my life - a big worry for me is if putting this personal content into my Instagram Stories could be more detrimental to my business and creative brand overall than sharing nothing?
On the topic of permanence, one thing I see as valuable for Instagram Stories in direct comparison to Snapchat is that when users message me from the Stories screen, the messages don't disappear. I find it really difficult to talk to people on Snapchat because the content disappears as soon as I exit the message, I mean, I get that people want to send nudes to each other without having to remember doing it the next day, but it makes it hard for nerds like me who just want to have an old fashioned conversation.
I said earlier that Instagram Stories is significantly worse than Snapchat, and performance is from where most of this opinion stems. Instagram Stories is laggy, it's slow to use, there are glitches when I'm watching people's day play out - which is totally understandable considering Instagram hasn't done any updates yet however if you're blatantly ripping someone else off - you better hope you can do it better. When the technology already exists, and the water has already been tested - why can't Instagram create a more seamless experience?
This brings me to my next point - why I'm mentioning it I'm unsure. Brand loyalty is a thing, even in software - it's why I use Netflix and not Stan or Foxtel streaming services - I'm attached to who Netflix are as a company and I have been convinced that they take my feelings as a user into major consideration when making decisions.
There was a time where Instagram could do no wrong in my eyes, (totally rolling my eyes at myself - I'm aware I sound like a ex lover) which was of course before they were sold to Facebook. Facebook is notorious for doing what makes them more money, wins them favour with advertisers at the expense of users and their rights, and cool, you're a business - I totally get it - but it also means that Snapchat is automatically the underdog in this situation even if only in relativity (cough 310 million users monthly cough worth a theoretical $19 billion).
The favourability of video in Instagram's explore page, and the new non-chronological algorithm may seem harmless, but in actual fact they are two ways that Facebook is prepping Instagram for more sponsored content and advertising. Snapchat has yet to introduce a rumoured new algorithm, but up until this point they've kept organic and sponsored content relatively separate which again puts them in the position of being more for users than Instagram.
One other thing that is terrifying is that a large so company can steal so blatantly from another large company. I'm strongly against a corporation stealing from small artists, and I'm also against a large corporation stealing from a slightly smaller company. A few years ago Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for 3 billion dollars and evidently Snapchat didn't comply - it has tried again and again (but failed) to clone Snapchat's widely popular features in the form of other apps. Now it seems they've just given up on masking their plagiarism and plonked it right into Instagram. I'm completely surprised that Snapchat hasn't filed some-sort of lawsuit even after Instagram's CEO admitted that their Instagram Stories is a complete and utter copy of Snapchat's Stories - how is this kind of plagiarism legal? I really want to know how Snapchat feels about this (if you have any articles please leave them in the comments below!).
Even after verbalising all of these points I'm still confused. On a personal level I enjoy using Snapchat - the experience is more seamless, fully-formed and less consequential to my brand (oh and the filters!) but is it wise for me to split my audience across different platforms? Over the past couple of days I've experimented with different ways to use the two Stories features, I used Instagram Stories exclusively for a day (but Snappers were not impressed), today I'm using Snapchat for more personal, vlog-type posts and Instagram for more practice-specific, studio-posts but content on both is now dismal - I'm not interesting or prolific enough to have a substantial amount of content on each and I really don't think I could produce the same amount of content on both.
I asked my audience using both Stories features which they would prefer, in hindsight I could have probably predicted the results, but I found people's more in-depth answers about why they felt the way they did really interesting. I got hundreds more responses for keeping my Stories on Instagram - but this is probably because I have a larger audience there, many of whom stated that they don't use Snapchat and/or would prefer to get all of my content in the same space. I simultaneously got lots of responses for maintaining my Stories on Snapchat (these responses came on both apps which was surprising) and while there were less of these responses, the people who wanted me to stay on Snapchat were super passionate about it. They said that they preferred it because they wouldn't check Instagram Stories and didn't want to miss my content, they felt like Snapchat was more intimate, they were frustrated by the performance of Instagram Stories, and they also liked coming to Snapchat for the specific purpose of seeing people's stories.
And here's what 106 people on Twitter thought (feel free to ignore the typo) :
So I have a difficult decision to make because I can't use both to full effect, but I don't want to disappoint a chunk of my audience. I have a substantially larger group of people who want me to continue using Instagram Stories, and a smaller but more passionate group of people who want me to stay on Snapchat. I think it's too early to say whether or not Instagram users would be more or less passionate the more I use the Stories feature, and I also think it's too early to tell whether Snappers will change their mind about seeing my stuff on Instagram's blatant rip-off.
I had a small fraction of people reassure me that ultimately it didn't matter which platform I chose, they would avidly watch my stories regardless, which I guess kind of takes the pressure off, but I still don't know what I'm going to do, or which platform I will choose to share most of my Stories content if not all. In the grander scheme of things I'm also still incredibly dedicated to getting my YouTube up to scratch and creating content there more consistently - in the realm of everything that's going on in the great balancing act that is social media, I still have a lot to think about - in other words: someone make an educated decision for me I have to get on with my life.
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below on both apps' Stories feature, whether that be how you're finding each one, what you like and dislike, and/or which you would prefer me to use.
You can follow me on Instagram at @furrylittlepeach
or on Snapchat at @furrylittlpeach (no 'e' on little)