Facebook’s 2012 purchase of Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock now looks like one of the best acquisitions in recent tech history.
In fact, the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo recently observed that “Instagram is becoming Facebook’s next Facebook.”
And the rapid growth that makes Instagram look like Facebook circa 2009 to 2013 could accelerate even more now that Instagram has updated its mobile website, giving it a number of features that were previously only available in its iOS and Android mobile apps. The most important new feature added, photo sharing, will let users of the mobile web app post photos to Instagram.
As TechCrunch’s Josh Constine explained, “Until now, users could could only browse, Like, follow, search, and see notifications on the stripped-down mobile web site and desktop site.” But now they’ll be able to post photos and browse a lightweight version of the Instagram Explore tab.
The new functionality could be especially important in international markets where high-speed mobile internet is not widely available, making it more difficult for users to download and use the full Instagram app. Roughly 80% of Instagram’s users are based outside of the U.S. and the company is clearly making an effort to better serve its international user base.
The latest shot at Snapchat?
Facebook’s embrace of Instagram’s international users, including those in developing markets, stands in stark contrast to the stance of Instagram’s chief competitor, Snapchat.
Snapchat recently came under fire after it was reported that the company’s twenty-something CEO, Evan Spiegel, had stated in 2015 that “This app is only for rich people…I don’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain.” The claim was made in a lawsuit involving a former Snapchat executive, who had apparently offered suggestions to improve the company’s performance outside countries like the U.S.
Snapchat has denied the report, but it’s worth noting that while Instagram has a web app that is now growing its functional footprint, Snapchat still doesn’t have a mobile website, so even if Snapchat CEO Spiegel isn’t anti-“poor countries” as claimed, it doesn’t appear that Snapchat is willing to go to the same lengths as Instagram is to court new users in places where a mobile web app would help its adoption.
Meanwhile, even though Facebook has been criticised by some observers for copying features from Snapchat, the tactic doesn’t seem to be bothering users. For example, since launching its Snapchat Stories clone, Instagram Stories has now surpassed 200m daily users, well above the 160m daily users Snapchat Stories reported in Q4 2016.
For brands active on Instagram and Snapchat, the divergent strategies are worth noting for a couple of reasons.
First, Instagram’s willingness to offer a mobile web app and bring it closer to parity with the features of its native mobile apps could increasingly have an impact on the companies’ respective growth rates. In the past year, Snapchat appears to have hit a growth plateau and if it doesn’t find a way to get its growth engine fired up again in a big way, it could find that it has permanently lost ground to Instagram, which has gained 100m users in the past four months alone.
Second, for brands looking for a platform through which they can reach a global audience, it increasingly appears that Instagram is eating Snapchat’s lunch. While Snapchat could argue that its smaller, first-world-dominated userbase is more valuable, as Facebook brings Facebook-like self-serve advertising to Instagram, Instagram’s massive reach coupled with granular targeting could make it a much more versatile and attractive ad platform.