Instagram vs. Snapchat: Which Is Best for Your Business?

Does it ever feel like you learn more about your friends’ lives from their pictures shared online than from conventional, in-person or over-the-phone conversation? You probably do!

Image-sharing social networks Instagram and Snapchat have hundreds of millions of users each, and are growing all the time. Instagram even syncs with many of the other social media platforms many of us use every day, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, which dramatically increases its ubiquity. (How many times a day do you see a fancily-filtered picture on Facebook?)

Instagram and Snapchat have immense reach—which can absolutely be leveraged to promote your business. To help you choose which of the two is the best new addition to your company’s marketing strategy, here’s a breakdown of each platform’s basic capabilities and what features they offer business users.

Instagram Basics

Instagram is an image-centric offshoot of Facebook launched in 2010. Its mission is to make “a world more connected through photos.” Two features characteristic of Instagram are its sophisticated photo filters (in addition to basic editing capabilities) and its integration with other social media platforms. Currently, you can post Instagram pics to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Tumblr, or check in on Foursquare by tagging the photo’s location.

User photos and activity can be public (available to all users) or private (visible to a select group of friends and followers). You can also send images directly and privately in messages to friends. Your edited/filtered photos can be printed from the app, too.

Instagram allows you to easily create a library of polished, professional-looking images directly in the app. Post individual photos, or thematic sets. These photos automatically appear in your followers’ feeds and are searchable (if public) by locations or hashtags.

Community is another major appeal of Instagram. Followers can share images with each other, comment and like each other’s activity, and engage with brands by tagging them in photos.

The Instagram app and account are free and available in the App Store and Google Play store. There’s also a beta version for Windows phones.

Using Instagram for Business: “Every Brand has a Point of View”

At the end of 2014, there were an estimated 300 million Instagrammers. Big-name users include celebrities (from Taylor Swift to Oprah to Jimmy Fallon), sports stars and teams, news outlets and journalists, and politicians—even President Obama. Instagram reaches many different audience demographics with a wide range of interests and needs.

In addition to its huge number of diverse users, Instagram offers an incredible medium for visual branding. Both the content and the style of your photos, photo sets, and videos extend your branding—and therefore the narrative of your company. And because Instagram is so community-oriented, every image or photo set is another opportunity for your customers to engage with your content, and for you to respond.

Your visual content can be promoted in curated channels on trending topics, or you can purchase in-feed photo ads or 15-second video ads. “Carousel ads” are a fairly recent offering, allowing users to swipe and see several connected static images from an advertiser. Since Instagram’s parent company is Facebook, it has access to Facebook’s enormous user base and powerful analytics tracking.

Get more tips for using Instagram as part of your marketing strategy and stay up-to-date on new features at the Instagram for Business blog.

Snapchat Basics

While Instagram is about cultivating a library of images over time, the fundamental characteristic of Snapchat since its launch in 2011 is that the images and videos produced using the app are temporary. (Check out that ghost logo—a perfect match for the ephemeral nature of Snapchat content.)

There are two different types of Snapchat content created by users: “Snaps” and “Stories.” Snaps are photos or short videos sent to a single recipient, which self-destruct after being viewed once (although it’s possible for the recipient to save the photo with a screenshot). Stories are videos shared with multiple friends and viewable unlimited times for 24 hours before they expire. Photos and videos may be captioned (and drawn on, and stickered). There’s also a real-time video chat function.

The Snapchat app and account are free and available in the iTunes App Store and on Google Play.

Using Snapchat for Business

Snapchat has close to 100 million users per day, with a majority logging in and creating content every day. An estimated 60% of mobile phone owners between the ages of 13 and 34 use Snapchat. Naturally, Snapchat has begun leveraging this long reach with advertising opportunities.

Early on, Snapchat’s advertising options were limited to paid Snaps integrated into users’ Recent Updates feeds alongside friends’ Snaps. But in the last year Snapchat has introduced several new advertising features—all with the same short life of its consumer-created content. Last summer, it launched “Live Stories,” fan-centric video montages of live events. Within the 24-hour period that these videos are live, they may receive as many as 20 million views.

Discover, a network of companies’ channels offering daily editions of their sponsored content, was introduced in January. These channels may feature brand-new, Snapchat-exclusive content, or select best-of content from companies’ other publications and social media channels. See how five major companies have begun using Discover.

In May, Snapchat rolled out its 3V (“vertical video views;” Snapchat claims vertical ads are nine times as likely to be watched to the end as horizontal ads) advertising feature. Like Live Stories, these 10-second video spots receive a huge number of views despite their short lifetime.

Advertisers going the video route can select either Discover or Live Stories channel. Ads may also be targeted to audience demographic by location or gender demographic. However, Snapchat’s ability to track analytics and measure the performance of these ads is still somewhat unsophisticated. And there has been some backlash around the cost of Snapchat’s Discover spots—reportedly $750,000 per day—particularly since the videos must conform to a vertical format (likely requiring a Snapchat-specific cut of an ad) and disappear within a single day.

Instagram vs. Snapchat: Which Should You Choose?

Your company’s target audience, budget, and unique philosophy and voice should all come into play when considering which platform is best for you. Both platforms have a huge number of users, although Instagram’s audience tends to be wider and Snapchat’s more geared towards teens. Both offer a range of advertising options, to accommodate businesses with budgets big and small.

Where the two differ most is in the lifetime of content and in user engagement. Instagram is a slower burn, accumulating many engaged and loyal followers over time. Snapchat advertising—true to the platform’s roots—is short-lived but effective. Which is more suited to your company’s personality and needs?

Have you experimented with using either of these image-sharing networks for business? If so, what advice would you give those just starting out?

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