The best way to beat your biggest competitor is to straight-up copy them.
That may go against everything they teach you in business school, but that’s the lesson we can draw from the past two years Instagram has spent relentlessly copying Snapchat.
It’s been almost two years since Facebook gave up building its own Snapchat clones and instead announced Instagram had simply created its own version of Snapchat’s signature feature.
Since then, Instagram has gone on to unabashedly copy a whole bunch of other features, from face filters to disappearing messages. It now happens so routinely, in fact, that we’re legit surprised when the app introduces an original feature not lifted directly from Evan Spiegel’s playbook.
And while Spiegel may prefer to call out Facebook for the privacy features it hasn’t copied, that doesn’t change the fact that this strategy has proved to be unbelievably successful.
With 300 million daily users, Instagram Stories isn’t just more popular than the entirety of Snapchat, but Facebook now predicts its many versions of Stories will soon be more popular than Facebook’s News Feed — a format the social media giant actually invented.
Worse for Snapchat, Instagram’s increasing dominance has coincided with lagging user growth and the departure of influential users like Kylie Jenner. (Instagram can’t take all the credit here — Snapchat’s unpopular and clumsily rolled-out redesign was an unforced error that hurt Snap as much as it helped Instagram.)
Instagram shows no sign of slowing down, either. And really, why should it when the current strategy is going so well. This week, the company announced that it was doubling down on ads in Stories.
Elsewhere, developer Jane Won discovered Instagram appears to be testing a feature for adding longer videos to Stories, which, naturally, looks remarkably similar to Snapchat’s version of the feature.
Next week the company is set to host an event where it’s rumored to be launching its own version of Snapchat’s media hub, Discover. The as-yet-unnamed Instagram feature will reportedly include content from influential users and publishers as well as videos up to an hour long. The app could also announce that it’s finally reached that 1 billion user milestone, which would pour extra salt on the wound for Snapchat.
There are still important differences between the two platforms, by the way. Snap’s focus on creativity and augmented reality is an important selling point for the app, whose AR filters are still better than Instagram’s. Snap Maps is still one of the best discovery portals on social media (though Instagram says it’s redesigning its own Explore tab, so don’t be surprised if they incorporate a map in some way).
For users, the copying might feel old or impolitic, but for as much eye-roll emojis as the updates inspire, Instagram just keeps getting bigger, which in turn validates the strategy.
And no matter what side you fall down on, it’s hard to argue with the bigger lesson: sometimes straight-up copying is enough.