Since its launch, popular messaging service Snapchat has only been accessible via iOS and Android apps. The Snapchat ecosystem has been totally closed off from the outside world, including the web.

That stands in stark contrast to Snapchat's biggest competitor, Facebook-owned Instagram. In 2012, it made user profiles accessible on the instagram.com website, and most recently, it upgraded its mobile web app to allow users to post content. Previously, content posting could only be performed via the Instagram native mobile apps.

While Instagram has been embracing the web, Snapchat has refused to budge. But that appears to be changing.

This week the company announced a new feature, Paperclip, that will allow users to add external website links to the snaps they post.

One small step for Snapchat, one giant leap for marketers on Snapchat

While Paperclip is a simple feature that is nowhere near as technically impressive as some of Snapchat's other features, such as geofilters and lenses, for marketers active on the popular app, it could be one of the most important, if not the most important, Snapchat has ever added.

As AdWeek's Marty Swant noted:

Until now, the only way users could add links was if a brand bought an ad and included a way to swipe. However, this could make it easier for marketers to gain more organic traffic. It's also a big win for media companies, which now finally have a way to direct users to their actual websites.

In other words, marketers on Snapchat will now have an opportunity to run direct response campaigns that drive traffic to owned properties without buying Snapchat ads and it almost certainly won't be long before marketers start taking advantage of Paperclip.

For instance, fashion marketers could use Paperclip to drive users to their online stores to purchase clothing items featured in their snaps. Publishers can use Paperclip to promote articles on their own websites. And CPG marketers could use Paperclip link to ad campaign microsites that feature coupons, promotions and sweepstakes.

Just the start?

While it's not clear what prompted Snapchat to develop Paperclip, it's easy to speculate that Snapchat's change of direction is a response to Instagram, which has been accused of copying Snapchat features in an effort to dent its biggest competitor.

Unfortunately for Snapchat, Instagram's copycat strategy, as controversial as it has been, appears to be working.

For instance, Instagram Stories, which is functionally equivalent to Snapchat Stories for all intents and purposes, surpassed Snapchat Stories in popularity just eight months after it was launched. With greater reach, some publishers and marketers have reportedly upped their use of Instagram and decreased their use of Snapchat.

Interestingly, despite the fact that it has embraced the web more than Snapchat, Instagram still does not allow users to add links on their posts. There is an exception for users with more than 10,000 followers when they post Stories, but given that Paperclip will be available to all users and on all snaps, this is one area where Snapchat is leading Instagram, at least for the time being.

As AdWeek's Swant observed, "The tool gives Snapchat a leg up on rival Instagram, which doesn't allow anyone to post links other than by putting it in their bio – forcing everyone to ruin a post with overly promotional phrases like 'link's in my bio'."

The big question now is whether Snapchat will stop here or relent and open up its closed ecosystem even further. For instance, will it make at least some of its content available through the web like Instagram?

Time will tell, but the good news for marketers is that as the battle between Snapchat and Instagram heats up, it would appear both are moving more in the direction of open than closed, creating new opportunities for marketers to interact with their users and drive engagement outside of their closed ecosystems.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 July, 2017 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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