Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok Are Eating Each Other

Published on November 24, 2020

Snapchat, which launched its own version of TikTok this week called Spotlight, will pay creators through a program similar to the TikTok creator fund. Spotlight runs through the Snapchat app, and will run similar to competing platforms like Instagram Reels—which also mimicked TikTok by allowing users to create short-form videos that will automatically loop.

Snapchat Spotlight represents the company’s first real copycat move after years of being copied by other social media giants. Snapchat, which first created the Stories feature in 2013 before Instagram introduced its own version in 2016, is a go-to social media app for users in their teens and early twenties. The app allows users to share casual content—either directly to their friends or to their entire friends list—through their story. When Facebook ultimately added its own version of the feature in 2017, it represented yet another attack on Snapchat’s strategy, and now Twitter is reportedly launching its own stories feature called Fleets.

Social media giants are clear: short-form video is the future.

Once TikTok started to really take off in the summer of 2019, other platforms began to question how they could mimic the successful platform in new ways—just as they did with Snapchat. Instagram Reels was introduced this summer, just after the Trump Administration threatened to ban the app in the United States citing national security concerns (some TikTok users suspect that Facebook had some influence in this ban, though there is little to no evidence to prove that, especially since Zuckerberg himself called it a bad idea).

Vine, the short-form video app that allowed users to post six second videos to a user-curated feed, was disbanded just four years after it was acquired by Twitter in 2012. The app was wildly popular, but didn’t work well with Twitter in the ways that the platform wanted it to. Teams in charge of Vine struggled to find new ways to make the app profitable, and weren’t able to carve out a cultural impact that compared to the likes of Twitter and Instagram. In other words, Vine wasn’t able to succeed because it placed too much emphasis on integrating with Twitter’s existing user-base, and because it was simply ahead of its time.

Also at that time, social media stars like Kylie Jenner had already found ways to use short-form videos to their advantage in ways that Vine was not focused on. Tools like Instagram and Snapchat Stories were in full-swing thanks, in part, to Jenner’s near constant use of them as a way to record herself singing along to popular music. Jenner’s use of the feature for vanity helped to sell her lipstick, and other users quickly followed in her footsteps. Much like Jenner’s fashion sense inspired widespread trends in the 2010’s, her use of social media became a quickly mimicked move by teens around the globe.

When Vine shut down in 2016, Instagram Stories had just barely launched. Users could record and share up to ten seconds of video at a time(now much longer), either on their stories or to send directly to another user. The platform allowed Instagram users to do what Snapchat users were already doing—sharing smaller bits of their lives on a temporary platform. Some of the most popular creators on Snapchat and Instagram were simply using the platforms to take videos of themselves singing along to popular songs—much like how Kylie Jenner approached the platform.

The video selfies were nothing more than an act of vanity, but they were also a gold mine to social media platforms and brands that advertised on them. They sold makeup, influenced beauty trends and determined hit songs. It even sparked an entirely new problem when augmented reality filters mimicked Jenner’s perfectly sculpted look, allowing users to see themselves with dramatically enhanced features or rhinoplasty.

How the new generation uses social media.

By the time Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat were deep into a culture war over the Stories features, another app had entered the playing field: The Chinese-owned social media service, which launched in 2014, allowed users to record short-form videos of themselves singing along to popular music and advertised itself as a karaoke app. Videos were shared to a feed, similar to how Vine worked, and were permanent, individual posts rather than 24-hour tidbits on a rolling feed. Older generations questioned the purpose of such an app, but by 2016 it was widely used by younger social media users—enough so that many had acquired fame and fortune through their popularity. While it could be argued that Jenner’s social media habits truly influenced an entire generation of teens on social media, there is no question that her signature posting style had suddenly become the norm.

Through, creators like Loren Gray, Jacob Sartorius, and even JoJo Siwa found a platform to create their own empires by lip syncing along to popular music for several seconds at a time. Gray and Sartorius both started their careers on in their early teen years and have now amassed followings of more than 20 million followers each. When TikTok purchased in 2018, it had already been canonized as the next great social media platform for Gen Z users thanks, in part, to the ways that Snapchat and Instagram stories were being used in the years prior. Today, TikTok boasts an impressive 800 million active users around the globe, and the app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times through the Apple App Store and Google Play.

While creators on TikTok don’t exclusively use it to create selfie videos of themselves singing along to music, it’s no secret that the original culture is still there. Users like Charli D’Amelio, who earned 100 million followers on TikTok this week, uses the platform to showcase her dancing skills to popular songs. Addison Rae, who earned an estimated $5 million between June 2019 and 2020 off of her TikTok fame, uses the app almost exclusively for similar purposes. Meanwhile Loren Gray, who was once one of the most popular creators, is still a wildly popular TikTok star to this day.

Gray leveraged her fame to launch a music career, while D’Amelio and Rae have acquired major advertising deals, launched beauty lines, started podcasts, and are venturing into reality television. D’Amelio and her family are slated to become the next iteration of the Kardashians, as her older sister Dixie and their parents have created successful TikTok careers of their own.

How Snapchat Spotlight will influence the success of TikTok

It’s unclear whether Snapchat Spotlight or Instagram Reels will take off in the ways that and TikTok have. Already, Instagram Reels has proven successful only among users that are not also on TikTok, but overall the enthusiasm for the feature has fallen flat after a lot of heavy promotion for its launch earlier this year. Snapchat, which didn’t lose as many active users as many would think in the wake of Instagram Stories, boasts more privacy in its Spotlight feature than both TikTok and Instagram Reels ever have. Spotlight will allow users to share videos publicly while keeping their profile information private if they want to, and it doesn’t offer a public comment section like TikTok or Instagram currently do.

TikTok, which has been called the new Tumblr by Millennial social media users that found solace on the blogging platform over a decade ago, doesn’t offer as much in the way of anonymity. The platform allows for public commenting, and its sharing features across platforms often means that videos easily end up going viral on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Where Tumblr users could be completely anonymous if they desired, TikTok users don’t have that freedom if a video goes viral on another platform or links back to their account in some way. Even if Spotlight is less successful, it could push TikTok to enhance its user privacy features in some way.

Now that TikTok is safe from facing a ban in the United States for the foreseeable future, innovation from apps like Snapchat and Instagram Reels will likely prove to be good for TikTok as well. Spotlight, which also boasts its own creator fund that will pay users for the content they create like TikTok, already proves itself a more viable competitor than Instagram Reels ever did. With three social media giants now vying for user-attention, they’ll have to continue to innovate if they want to capture audiences long term.

The only thing none of them seem to be able to get right? Moderating.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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