Adapt or Die: Instagram Direct(ly) goes after Snapchat

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I think we like to do things quickly, even if it means giving up a bit of quality in exchange. For example, every text messaging native (early millennials) would compose only the bare minimum to be understood, often ignoring vowels that brought little to no value to their goal. The same goes to instant messaging (IM), the name of the medium itself hints that the quickest form of communication should be used at all times. IM gave birth to thousands of abbreviations and acronyms that ended up being used on a daily basis, even verbally.

So when given the choice to communicate even faster (more efficiently), will trendsetters dare to shy away from the challenge? Obviously not, that’s why postal services were invented, why e-mail grew in popularity, same for short message services (SMS) and instant messaging (IM), and that’s why teenagers have recently flocked to the newest, fastest, sexiest means of communicating: Snapchat.

Inspired by Anthony Weiner’s lack of sense, the LA-based start-up has made a loud name for itself in a relatively short amount of time. It recently passed up offers from Facebook and Google to be purchased for a whopping $3 and $4 billion respectively, an unheard amount in Silicon Valley.

Yet the idea and app itself are so simple that their success practically feels like it should be attributed to sheer luck. Facebook and serval others tried copying the app when it was still in its infancy but that only fuelled the success of the little white ghost.

But success stories like these aren’t uncommon in Silicon Valley. What is uncommon, however, are success stories that last longer than a few years. The problem with most startups is that they lack the ability to stay relevant to a customer with bipolar demands and a very short attention span. It’s hard catering to teenagers.

So when Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion (at the time), they were celebrating for two reasons: they’d all become millionaires, and because the challenge of staying relevant to their target audience was now owned by someone else. In fact, while Instagram is still very popular, it’s spotlight has definitely been lost to Snapchat.

So why did Snapchat succeed? Like I said earlier, luck was definitely a factor, even the founders agree. But their product brought something that has always been in demand since long-distance communication started: it allowed two people to send each other messages with fairly little to do, making communication as seamless as possible through pictures.

Competitors took note, and while they learned from Facebook that copying would lead to no avail, they chose to produce an alternative that promised to bring their customers the same value. Instagram was the first to do so by launching Instagram Direct: an added feature to its existing mobile application where you can now share pictures to a specific person or group of people, rather than publishing to a defined group of people.

The idea means that Instagram changed the objective of their original product (which was to make pictures look beautiful in a few clicks and just as easily sharable to friends), to now also allowing the less-pretty pictures which tell a story of what you’re doing to your friends.

Snapchat recently did the opposite and tried going after Instagram by introducing a timeline-like feature they call, “My Story,” thereby allowing your friends to see the pictures you choose to share with everyone for 24 hours.

All this shows two things: the importance of images in today’s digital world and the importance of adapting to stay relevant in the eyes of very demanding customers who rarely know what they want.

This week Instagram showed their reaffirmed investment in both by renewing their faith in the power of images, but also by adapting their services to a consumer who always wants more agility when communicating.

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