Snapchat and Instagram are locked in a close competition for marketers’ advertising budgets. Which short-form platform deserves your ad spend?

While Snapchat’s ephemeral video platform certainly paved the way for Instagram’s “Stories” feature, the latter has quickly outpaced its predecessor: late last year, Instagram Stories reached 300 million daily users, surpassing avowed rival Snapchat’s daily user count by a wide margin. But while Instagram casts a wide net, Snapchat remains a force to be reckoned with, maintaining a loyal user base of 187 million daily users as of Q4 2017.

As the battle royale between the two social media giants heats up — with Instagram Stories updates and a Snapchat redesign taking center stage — which platform should marketers turn to as they incorporate short-form video into their 2018 budgets? Let’s take a closer look at how the two channels stack up.

Who’s Your Target Audience?

If your brand plans to invest in content on a new social media platform, it’s essential that you understand how your ideal audience fits into the picture. Identifying the age range, online shopping habits, and engagement level of your target consumers, for example, can help you determine whether Snapchat or Instagram Stories is a more effective vessel for your company’s marketing goals.

If you’re hoping to appeal to a younger demographic, Snapchat has the clear upper hand. The originator of the short-form format reaches an impressive 41% of all 18- to 34-year-olds in the US every day. Even if Instagram Stories has eclipsed Snapchat in terms of total daily users, Snapchat’s ability to zero in on teens and twenty-somethings is highly valuable for brands that rely on this demographic.

Instagram, on the other hand, has a slightly older and more international audience. The social media platform announced in the summer of 2016 that 80% of its user base hails from outside of the US. While those statistics may have shifted slightly with the arrival of Instagram Stories, this global footprint could be key for brands whose aspirations include international growth.

What Style of Content Do You Want to Produce?

The type of content your organization produces should also guide your decision. As the original “disappearing video” platform, Snapchat’s interface encourages informal, peer-to-peer messaging and frequent updates from brands and consumers alike. The ephemeral nature of the content shared on the platform means that users are comfortable sending off multiple snaps a day, and display a surprising level of engagement with brands willing to speak to them in their own language. If your company wants to explore this cost-effective, hit-and-run style — or if you lack the resources to regularly produce high-end video content — Snapchat may be your best bet.

On the other hand, if your brand produces a polished end product, Instagram Stories will help you show it off. With dozens of filters, built-in photo editing tools, and integrations with apps like VSCO for amateur photographers and aspiring influencers alike, Instagram has long focused on aesthetic appeal. Now, Instagram Stories presents features specifically tailored to retailers of visually appealing beauty products, apparel, and more. For creative brands, these polished, often interactive videos offer a golden opportunity to increase brand awareness among highly engaged users.

What Does Your Social Media Presence Look Like Right Now?

Although each platform boasts a user base larger than the population of most countries, it’s the quality of these users — i.e., their relevance to your specific brand — that will ultimately determine how effective your ads can be. For example, Instagram Stories capitalizes off of parent company Facebook’s 2.2 billion monthly users and Instagram’s 800 million monthly users.  

For companies that have already invested heavily in Facebook or Instagram advertising, it makes sense to appeal to a (potentially massive) audience that you’ve already spent time nurturing. Brands that have established a footprint on these sites can target users who have already demonstrated interest in their product or service on Facebook, or via sponsored posts in the traditional Instagram feed.

On Snapchat, users once had to actually follow your company’s profile in order to see your content, indicating a high level of engagement and interest in your brand. While this isn’t the case anymore — Snapchat has created channels where brands, businesses, and news outlets can broadcast their content to anyone who wants to take a peek — it still makes sense to advertise to these users. After all, while they may not have followed your brand, they have specifically sought out your content. For brands without an established Snapchat presence, however, it may be a little late in the game to build one from scratch — at least until the platform figures out how best to keep pace with the meteoric rise of Instagram Stories.

Whichever platform you choose, short-form video is here to stay. Although there have been a few casualties on the way to profitability for this type of content (R.I.P., Vine), most brand strategists agree that the changing media landscape — and shrinking attention spans of internet users — have shifted the balance of power in favor of punchy branded content.

Author Jake Dawe

Jake works with our clients and L&T's content management team to create and publish cogent, effective marketing content. A recent graduate of Yale University with a B.A. in American Studies, Jake pursued independent research that traced the evolving voice of ``Shouts and Murmurs`` over ninety years. When he's not writing and editing, Jake is probably watching The Crown or making up for four years of lost pleasure reading. Thanks, college.

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