What’s next in the Facebook versus Snap arms race?

Snap’s less than favourable results last week led to a media storm speculating on the future of the platform. Rumours around a potential buy-out have surfaced and some analysts feel that the only future is an acquisition from another major tech company. Meanwhile, other social media giants are continuing to innovate, leading to some interesting questions about the future of the space.

Snapchat has constantly innovated its offering and can certainly be seen as the transformative platform - it was the first platform to release Stories after all. However, it has been unable to compete with social giant Facebook when it comes to scale, where its team was able to quickly produce similar Stories features for Facebook, Instagram, and now WhatsApp.

Snapchat still offers some great opportunities for brands, as it reaches a target audience that is traditionally difficult to measure. Nonetheless, brands struggle to measure the impact of campaigns due to the lack of a conversion pixel - which would allow them to monitor engagement and conversions.

The biggest competition from Snapchat has been Instagram, which has been able to offer a very similar experience for users, but has also integrated a strong brand offering, allowing it to effectively monetise the platform. This has allowed brands to access Instagram’s 700 million monthly users.

Facebook does face its share of challenges too, and new updates are regularly met by scepticism. A recent WhatsApp update was no different when it became the latest platform to introduce a Stories feature, replacing the traditional text status. Negative feedback from users meant that the feature was quickly moved to a separate tab and the original text format was reinstated.

Last week, WhatsApp introduced the coloured text status function that is already hugely popular on both Facebook and Instagram. But, the important question is whether any of these changes will allow WhatsApp to monetise a platform that has been traditionally difficult for brands to navigate?

When new features are released on platforms, brands may be able to target a captivated audience who are curious and keen to test out new features. Another option for brands is to look at the current offering on a platform and identify a novel and engaging way to communicate with users when it is contextually relevant.

WhatsApp creates a slightly different challenge for brands, as visibility on the Stories function is currently minimal. For brands to be able to successfully use the feature long term, WhatsApp needs to make it more visible to users. Facebook has already encountered backlash from users on its introduction of Stories into the Facebook feed, as users felt it made the experience cluttered.

People who have been using Stories on Instagram are naturally going to be reluctant to use the function on Facebook and WhatsApp, as it will involve either creating bespoke content for each platform or duplicating the content from Instagram. Adding Stories to WhatsApp is Facebook’s attempt to standardise the offering for both users and brands. This will hopefully allow brands to more easily create a strategy spanning all of Facebook's platforms.

By testing features on Facebook first, it is slowly introducing the new features, building in time for users to feed back, prior to rolling it out across the other platforms. For brands looking to capitalise on the Stories function, Instagram is the most viable way at present, leading the way in popularity and consumer reach.

However, brands including Diesel, Burberry, the BBC and Just Eat are all already using WhatsApp to communicate with their customers. Although brands were initially unsure about the reaction to brand engagement, users soon saw the value exchange between individuals and brands as a benefit. Some brands have used the platform to speak to potential customers about their preferences, and then make appropriate product recommendations based on the information shared. Although there are some great execution examples, brands need to be wary of being too gimmicky.

Facebook has recently rolled out testing of ads in messenger, which may indicate that this is the next feature to be integrated into both Instagram and WhatsApp. For WhatsApp, this feature could be hugely successful, as it will allow brands to target users using more general targeting methods, rather than engaging them in individual conversations. With Snapchat still facing challenges, Facebook will continue to develop new formats for brands and users, and WhatsApp will continue to be a hugely important part of its growth strategy.

Amit Dar is the strategic partnerships lead at Taptica.

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