Snapchat vs. Instagram – The Advertiser’s Dilemma

Comparing Snapchat and Instagram’s key features to determine the best platform for advertising.

We’ve witnessed some of the most heated corporate rivalries in our time; Coke versus Pepsi, Nike versus Reebok, Apple versus Samsung. The latest battle to join this storied roster is between two heavyweight social media sites, Snapchat and Instagram.

In one corner, we have Snapchat, the original image messaging app that lets users share pictures which disappear within seconds of being viewed. It pioneered the Augmented Reality filter, making the ubiquitous puppy dog lens a cultural phenomenon, and quickly rose through the ranks to amass millions of daily average users.

In the other corner, we have Instagram, the photo sharing app that shamelessly copied Snapchat’s key aspects and optimized them for its users. Outside of imitating Snapchat Stories, Instagram recently replicated Snapchat’s foundational offering with Instagram Direct, enabling users to share fleeting images via private message. Instagram Direct has already grown to 375 million monthly users. [1]

For brands and influencers, these two platforms can seem identical, making it difficult to decide which one will best help them make meaningful connections with their target audience. With the competition heating up, we break down Snapchat and Instagram’s key features to determine which platform offers the strongest opportunities to influence consumers.

Snapchat Stories vs. Instagram Stories
Stories allows users to publicly post ephemeral photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. While Snapchat invented this social model, Instagram’s clone has already surpassed Snapchat’s daily active users by 84 million, achieving 250 million users within a year of its launch. [2] Snapchat is notoriously secretive regarding the performance of its specific elements, however, recent data obtained by the Daily Beast divulged that the number of users posting to Snapchat Stories remains flat at 51 million users in the third quarter of 2017. [3] Instagram Stories has also increased the amount of time people are spending on the site. Those under 25 spend an average of 32 minutes a day on Instagram, while users 25 and older spend more than 24 minutes a day. [2]

Instagram continues to innovate within their app, adding more than 20 new features within Stories over its first year alone. [2] One key feature that will widen Stories’ reach is the ability to post across sister platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp. [4] Instagram has also proved its ability to create communication channels with Stories, reporting that 20% of businesses generate a direct message from a viewer after producing a story. [3]

With its user numbers, engagement, breadth of messaging, and willingness to share performance data, Instagram Stories is clearly the superior version.


Snapchat Discover vs. Instagram Explore 
The Discover and Explore sections are made up of curated content, tailored to each user’s preferences. It encourages more time browsing, and gives businesses more opportunities to serve customized content to an engaged audience.

Unlike Instagram, which allows for user generated content within its Explore tab, Snapchat is particular about which outlets are allowed to produce videos for Discover, generally choosing credible media outlets. This ensures that branded advertisements in Discover are running alongside high quality videos, versus content that can be considered more amateur. [5]

Even with this differentiation, Discover’s traffic has remained stagnant at 34 million in the third quarter of 2017. [3] Snapchat’s redesign, currently in beta testing, may further distance advertisers, as it gives less prominence to Discover in an effort to personalize content.

Meanwhile, Instagram continues to develop its Explore section, encouraging consumers to spend more time on the platform to investigate relevant posts and videos. While both platforms have a ways to go in developing these sections, it seems that Instagram is at least moving in the right direction.

Snapchat Users vs. Instagram Users
Since its inception, Instagram has found a wide appeal, resonating with Generation Z and Millennials both young and old. In the U.S., more than 50% of users are between the ages of 18 and 29. [2]

While Snapchat had a rocky 2017, it still has a healthy, if static, user base made up primarily of Generation Z’s aged 12 and up. EMarketer further predicts that while Instagram will add 1.6 million users ages 24 and younger in 2018, Snapchat will add 1.9 million users in the same age group. [6] In totality, Snapchat is forecasted to continue appealing to more users ages 12 to 24 in comparison to Instagram.

While Snapchat may then seem like the preferred site to specifically target a younger audience, it’s important to note that Snapchat users are much more likely to send and view private snaps versus using the public Stories function. [1] Unfortunately, these private snaps are not ideal for branded communications. If Snapchat can iron out the kinks in their Discover section, they will have a powerful tool for reaching these younger consumers.

The Winning Platform
Instagram is the standout platform for advertisers who are looking to drive deeper engagement with a wider range of consumers across different age brackets. The only true exception lies with brands that want to hyper target their communications to younger Millennials. In this instance, Snapchat’s Discover section is the best opportunity to serve communications that sit alongside sophisticated and professional content.

1. Tech Crunch
2. Instagram Press
3. Daily Beast
4. Tech Crunch
5. Reuters
6. eMarketer