Instagram stories vs. Snapchat stories: is Instagram Snapchat’s biggest competition?

Snapchat vs. Instagram: for some, this comparison could seem illogical. After all, the two services offer fundamentally different functions; firstly, Snapchat is primarily used to communicate with a small network of users with whom you can share photos, short videos, and text messages. Instagram, on the other hand, is a photo and video-sharing platform that enables users to post content for a wider audience.

But the two popular social media platforms are steadily evolving to resemble one another closer, in particular since the launch of Instagram stories, a feature that borrows heavily from the original Snapchat version. When comparing the Instagram and Snapchat’s story features, the similarities are evident. Launched in 2013, Snapchat’s ‘My Story’ feature allows users to create stories with photos and videos that are available for 24 hours. Meanwhile, Instagram stories were launched 3 years after Snapchat’s ‘My Story’ feature, and work in the same way. But how do the two formats differ? And could Instagram’s story feature really be a serious competitor to Snapchat, or even oust the app from the market for good?

Snapchat vs. Instagram: background and functions

At a first glance, Instagram and Snapchat have a lot in common. They are both essentially platforms that enable users to express themselves and communicate with others using images and videos. They were also both initially launched as apps. However, the two services originally had very different approaches in regard to their core functions. However, as both apps have gradually started to incorporate similar features into their applications, the distinction between the two services is becoming ever more blurred. In doing this, the providers have cleverly created a strong competition between the two apps, especially when comparing Snapchat and Instagram’s stories features.


First appearing on the market in 2011 Snapchat is a picture-messaging app for Android and iOS devices. Using a vast array of filters, stickers, animations and in-app tools, users have the power to create, customize, and share engaging images. Developers extended the range of functions in 2012, giving users the option to record short video clips, which, like photos can now be edited with a constantly updated selection of fun Snapchat filters. Launched in 2015, these filters, or lenses, are among the app’s most popular features. They allow users to overlay light-hearted and colorful animations over their own faces.   

Snapchat’s key selling point is the fact that all content automatically deletes itself after a given period of time. Compared to other picture-messaging apps, this makes exchanges more like face-to-face conversations. Furthermore, the limited period of visibility means that the contents of the messages often differ to other messengers. This type of communication is particularly popular among teenagers, but the app is also prevalent among users in their 20s and 30s. But especially compared to other messaging services, Snapchat primarily appeals to a younger audience. Snapchat’s enduring success also received attention from the developers of Facebook, who offered $3 billion to procure the app, although this offer was subsequently rejected.

In 2013, Snapchat launched their now famous ‘My Story’ feature. With this feature, users can create a series of several photos and videos, effectively telling a story, or in other words - making a short film or home movie. Characterized by their fast-paced nature, each piece of content in a Snapchat story feature is viewable for 24 hours before they are automatically deleted. A Snapchat story is therefore semi-public; in most cases, the story can only be seen by the user’s followers, but some channels allow access to all Snapchat users. One year later, the Live Story function was added, allowing users to record and watch stories in real time.

Another recent feature was the introduction of an instant messaging feature that allows users to communicate with each other directly in the app. Of course, as with everything else, these messages are also deleted after a given period. The app also supports phone calls and video calls between two users. All these new features simply show that Snapchat is steadily embracing more universal features in order to become an all-encompassing messaging app. The new features are designed to reduce users’ usage of other apps (such as WhatsApp or Facebook messenger) and encourage them to use Snapchat to communicate with their friends on a daily basis. This way, Snapchat can corner a greater share in the instant messaging market.


In 2010, Instagram was launched as a purely photo-blogging platform and has since become the most widely used app of its kind. It is used by individuals, brands, celebrities, and companies alike. The developers of Facebook recognized Instagram‘s potential early on and snapped up the business in 2012 for $1 billion. Initially, the service was only available as an app, which allowed users to upload images from their smartphones and tablets and publish them on Instagram with ease. A web-based version of the platform did not appear until 2013, the same year Instagram implemented its video editing function. The latter feature allowed users to add and edit short video clips. Then, in 2016 the maximum length was increased from 15 seconds to 60 seconds.

At the end of 2013, Instagram also added a function called Instagram Direct that allowed users to send images and videos to other users via private messages. With users now able to communicate privately, the introduction of Instagram Direct has contributed to blurring the line between the image sharing platform and messenger apps. Users can now decide whether they want to share their content publicly, restrict access to their followers only, or send it directly to specific users.

With the app's former default settings, the dimension of the photos were limited to a 4:3 ratio display so that they resembled old Kodak and Polaroid formats. While this is still possible, since August 2015, users have been free to display their photographs and videos in landscape and portrait formats. One year later, in August 2016, the Instagram stories function was finally released, and it was immediately apparent to users of the app that it was a direct copy of Snapchat’s ‘My Story’ feature. Users post a series of images and videos, which are then available for other users to view for 24 hours. But this isn’t the only feature that is strongly reminiscent of Snapchat functions; in order to promote competition between the two apps, Instagram has borrowed Snapchat’s key features. Instagram users can now create and watch live video streams, send photos and videos that are automatically deleted after a given time as well as embed stickers, texts, and filters into their stories. 


In the meantime, Snapchat has also started to copy some of Instagram’s features. Influenced by the Instagram stories’ rewind function (which allows users to go back and replay earlier images in a story), Snapchat stories can also now be replayed in the same way.

Thanks to the sheer number of new functions, the way people use Instagram is also gradually starting to change. In the past, people primarily used Instagram to attract followers and share attractive content with other users, whereas the app is now shifting towards private messaging and fast-paced communication. Instagram’s story feature bridges the gap between these elements as users can decide whether to share their stories publicly or privately.

‘My Story’ by Snapchat vs. Instagram Stories in marketing


Other articles in the IONOS Digital Guide go further into the general marketing options presented by the two platforms – including the story formats. In this guide you can find a compilation of the best Snapchat marketing techniques, and the diverse opportunities Instagram offers for businesses.

Particularly when comparing both apps’ story features, it’s clear to see the increased number of similarities between Instagram and Snapchat (the story formats only differ in their nuances). Both services offer platforms to publish video diaries. These diaries can show, for example, an excursion or events from the user’s day. They are shared with other users for 24 hours. Businesses, organizations, and celebrities can also use both apps to market themselves or their products. Both apps are especially suited to engaging with a younger target group

Stories and their marketing potential

Snapchat’s story function now enables businesses to broadcast ads to their target audience. For example, businesses can insert an advert between individual sections of their story and present it to a previously defined target audience – specifiying by gender, age or place. It’s also possible to create a sponsored lenses (animations overlaid on the user’s face) and geofilters (lenses that are only active in specific locations) for users to view and share. An example of this is when fast food chain Taco Bell caused a stir with its special Cinco de Mayo advertising campaign; with this lens, users could place an animated taco over their face, so that only their eyes and mouth were recognizable. The Taco Bell logo was also visible in addition to the cartoon. The Taco Bell campaign was a roaring success, generating 224 million views in one day, making it the most viewed campaign in Snapchat’s history. Instagram stories have not yet caught up with ‘My Story’ in terms of displaying advertisements, but the app is hot on Snapchat’s heels with Instagram now in a test phase for incorporating commercials into stories. Companies can therefore expect to be able to use Instagram stories for more diverse marketing opportunities very soon. Instagram already offers some marketing options for businesses in the form of sponsored posts, so sponsored stories are sure to be the next step for the social media platform. Aside from conventional advertising space, however, the story format is also suitable for a new kind of campaign – one that really engages with individual users. In filming short clips to create a story companies can advertise their goods and services using snappy, behind-the-scenes videos. This humanizes the business and brings it closer to the user. Stories can also be used to report an interesting event. While there are still many more conceivable marketing strategies that involve Snapchat and Instagram stories the technology is still in its infancy, with many more concepts still waiting to be explored. This gives advertisers an excellent opportunity to generate creative ideas and push the boundaries, which could ultimately redefine the concept of social media marketing. However, with engaging content and innovative ideas for story campaigns, it’s still possible for businesses to make a lasting impression on their followers, particularly with a young target group.

Differences between the platforms

Overall, Instagram offers a larger outreach as the services has far more users than Snapchat – Instagram has more than 600 million users worldwide, whereas Snapchat only has 150 million. Moreover, many companies and organizations already have a number of followers on Instagram, who can all be addressed using the story function. A special additional feature of Instagram Stories is that they can link to another page and link to content outside of Instagram (with Snapchat, this is only possible if the user pays extra).

While Instagram has a broader user base, Snapchat is suited to specifically targeting a teenage audience as the app is primarily used by teenagers and users up to their mid-20s. In addition, marketing campaigns on Snapchat are still relatively few and far between, especially outside of the United States. Therefore, the competition is not yet very large and you can present your company or brand as a progressive ‘early adopter’.

Rather than choose between the two platforms, companies who want to use stories to address their target audience should focus on the different approaches of the two platforms and adapt their stories as best as possible to the requirements of both. For example, while Snapchat stories often convey a spontaneous and youthful feel, Instagram content is often more professional, ‘smooth’, and deliberately curated. Of course, it’s possible to publish the same stories on both platforms, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be aware of the respective service’s characteristics and to consider them in the creation of content.

Does Instagram pose a threat to Snapchat?

With the evolution of Instagram and the addition of the new stories function, it’s absolutely clear that Facebook Inc. is intentionally placing itself in direct competition with Snapchat. Whether swiping Snapchat’s signature features (self-deleting messages, addition of stickers and filters in the stories) really pays off remains to be seen. There is a risk that this bold move could put off some of Instagram’s loyal users. Time alone will tell how users take to the flood of updates; time and time again, it’s been proven that copying successful services does not necessarily guarantee success, even if the responsible company is successful itself. Take Google+ for example; the search engine’s attempt to establish an alternative to Facebook failed, despite the company’s similarly extensive outreach.

Still, Instagram doesn’t have bad odds of stealing some of Snapchat’s share of the market. After all, Instagram already has a huge number of users. Among these, there is a significant proportion of young users, who are most affected by the addition of Snapchat features. Just about every one of Snapchat’s functions is now available in some way on Instagram, persuading many to switch services. According to Instagram, the company won more than 100 million new users in half a year, which undoubtably owes part of that increase to the new story function.

Snapchat vs. Facebook Inc.?

Looking at Snapchat’s range of functions, the app’s main purpose now appears to be gravitating towards instant messaging so one must also assume that Snapchat has much more competition besides Instagram. The market leader in the field of instant messaging is WhatsApp, with Facebook Messenger also being another major player. Like Instagram, both of these apps have already adopted various Snapchat features (with WhatsApp, users can add text to their images and Facebook Messenger allows users to add animations to their videos). Snapchat therefore has the same sphere of influence as its rivals in this field (picture and video messaging) as well as in the new sector of instant messaging.

We will have to wait and see whether Snapchat can stand up to Facebook Inc. This of course also depends on its users; if they decide to remain loyal to Snapchat and continue to use the service, this could lay the foundations of a successful future. Another factor integral to Snapchat’s success is the development of further advertising opportunities and the use of other associated sources of income. This will naturally occur over time with the evolution of the app.

Another recent innovation by Snapchat was the ‘Snap Spectacles’ – these are sunglasses with an integrated camera and a sync function for the Snapchat app. In addition, Snap Inc. (the company behind Snapchat) is allegedly planning to float itself on the stock market in 2017. The long-term success of Snapchat therefore depends on several different criteria. Because of this its rivalry with Instagram and other Facebook Inc. services is expected to continue for a while yet.

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