Publishers Weigh In: Snapchat Vs. Instagram Stories

Snapchat-Instagram-StoriesWhat works better for publishers: Snapchat or Instagram Stories?

Both platforms are quickly gaining ground as ways for publishers to distribute their content to wider audiences. Snapchat made its public offering Thursday, and Instagram Stories launched last year with a competitive, video-focused offering.

While each platform claims more than 150 million daily users, Snapchat and Instagram Stories offer different viewing experiences.

Only Snapchat Discover offers monetization for publishers through its platform, although Instagram Stories officially rolled out video ads this week (the day before Snapchat’s IPO, in fact). But publishers don’t share in any revenue, instead relying on sponsored content.

With the platforms offering slightly different ways to reach audiences, publishers are betting on both as they welcome ways to diversify their traffic sources.

AdExchanger spoke to Time Inc., PopSugar and Tastemade about how they’re creating experiences and selling ads on both platforms.

The Content

Snapchat’s roots lie in informal, disappearing messages. Instagram is known for its too-perfect photos of people’s lives. But their video publishing products reverse that dynamic.

The content on Snapchat Discover is more professional and often involves a video or animation team. Publishers tend to create more informal Instagram Stories around live events and breaking news.

“I would liken Instagram Stories to Snapchat organic handles,” said Zoe Ruderman, executive director of content strategy for Time Inc.’s sports, entertainment and style group.

Time Inc.’s pub People was a Snapchat Discover launch partner two years ago. Two other Time Inc. titles, Entertainment Weekly and Essence, recently signed on as well.

For the Oscars, People shot video to capture fans screaming on the red carpet for its Instagram Stories. But its Snapchat presence reads “like a mini-magazine,” Ruderman said. “It goes out every day at 6 a.m., and it’s a very polished experience.”

Tastemade also uses Instagram Stories for more unscripted and authentic peeks at its content.

“For Instagram Stories, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at something we are doing on Tastemade,” said Oren Katzeff, the company’s programming head. And Snapchat Discover is the “front of the house,” showing readers a final product.

User Behavior

PopSugar has noticed that its audiences on Snapchat and Instagram Stories behave differently. Both platforms perform strongly but have differing completion rates. Because users must click on PopSugar’s handle to view the content, completion rates average 90%, according to Chief Revenue Officer Geoff Schiller.

Instagram Stories autoplays through its videos, so completion rates are lower, averaging 49%.

Tastemade’s completion rates vary less by platform and more by length. A full day of programming on Snapchat might be 14 to 18 slides, while Instagram Stories is often shorter. “Less stories or less slides will see a much higher completion rates,” Katzeff said.

Tastemade emphasized the importance of bringing people in quickly. “People are making the decision to stay or not the first or second snap,” Katzeff said.

On Instagram, where Tastemade has 3.8 million followers, it averages 1 million to 1.5 million views for its stories. On Snapchat, where Tastemade said it has “millions” of subscribers, videos regularly exceed a million views.

Time Inc., which declined to share any statistics, echoed the importance of good content that quickly draws readers in. “The fact that we have a high completion rate speaks to the fact that we capture their attention right off the bat,” Ruderman said.

Because these platforms are new, all publishers are seeing user growth. PopSugar’s Snapchat user growth is up 867% year over year. Over the past five months, Instagram Stories grew 367%.


The platforms diverge in terms of what they give back to publishers. Publishers on Snapchat Discover sell interstitial video ads themselves.

Instagram Stories doesn’t have any ad products for publishers to sell – and the potential benefit of mid-roll ads, which Instagram is testing, isn’t clear. Will publishers benefit, or will they have to rely only on sponsored content?

Tastemade and Time Inc. said the direct sales approach for Snapchat Discover yields big benefits.

For Tastemade, the sales challenge is forecasting how much it can sell on Snapchat.

“Snapchat is really more about inventory and the available media within the channel,” Katzeff said. “The more audience we drive, the more inventory we have to sell in the marketplace. Subscriptions make a difference. When there are subscribers coming back every day, we can have a predictable level of traffic each day.”

Time Inc. said it serves as an ambassador for brands, walking many of them through their first Snapchat buy. And it’s seen particular success with takeovers. “We often sell out,” Ruderman said.

On Instagram Stories or an organic Snapchat channel, publishers only have one choice: sponsored content.

Both Tastemade and PopSugar run sponsored content on Instagram Stories, and PopSugar runs sponsored content on its organic Snapchat channel as well. Time Inc. isn’t yet distributing sponsored content on Instagram, but it will sometimes use Instagram to promote sponsored content by pointing users to its location on another platform.

Tastemade will create videos with brands and interweave them into its slides on Instagram. And it’s used the channel to sell its own products.

When Tastemade came out with a cookbook, “Tiny Kitchen,” it created themed video content around tiny kitchens, including a way to buy. “It sold out within an hour,” Katzeff said. That success demonstrates the power of Instagram Stories to drive sales.

PopSugar sells sponsored content in its organic Snapchat channel and in its Instagram Stories. It now customizes sponsored content for each platform. That’s one reason why sponsored content production grew in the triple digits year over year

On Snapchat, for example, it might encourage people to screenshot a clothing picture. “We have become a really low-friction opportunity for brands like Nike to allow users to screenshot and use that to shop or share or communicate with friends,” PopSugar’s Schiller said.

Since all three publishers already have sponsored content teams and direct sales teams, both approaches work. But some are anxious to see if Instagram Stories will offer a more formal way for publishers to benefit.

For example, Instagram will show its video ads between stories. But if publishers sandwich an ad within a 20-slide Instagram Story, shouldn’t they benefit from that mid-roll slot?

“We are open to everything,” Ruderman said. “[Time Inc.] is eagerly awaiting what mid-roll would look like.”

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