Instagram and Snapchat, by their nature, are not social media networks. They are messaging apps. Their primary purpose is to send a visual message to a specific audience. While a user’s account may be available publicly, the content on those accounts is not built to be shared widely.
The best indication of this is the fact that there is no sharing function built in. On the contrary, Snapchat was created to send messages that the recipient could not keep, much less distribute to other users. How do you discover new content on Instagram? You follow hashtags and hope for the best. There is no mechanism to explore the app as a social network, to find out what your friends are discovering.
Snapchat and Instagram are closed ecosystems. You can’t Google “cool shoes” and find out what the latest designer is posting on Snapchat. You won’t find a hot new band on Instagram unless you go clicking on random hashtags and listen to 15 second clips. And if you do find something you like? Good luck finding a outbound link to buy that product. Messaging apps are not inclusive and they’re not expansive. They are a dead end street hoping that drivers have been given a map.
So how does a brand get established on Instagram or Snapchat? In all likelihood, they get established elsewhere. Whether it’s in the digital sphere or a brick-and-mortar store, a successful brand must be pre-existing, and transfer its fans over to the app.
The only way a brand could originate on a messaging app is if it creates unique, original content, and gets incredibly good word of mouth, both literally and figuratively. Hashtags and screen captures won’t generate enough organic traffic to your account to create a self-sustaining brand, unless there’s something visually compelling to maintain that attention.
Which is not to say that messaging apps don’t serve a purpose. Millions of people use them on a daily basis, and if those users are already fans, you’ve got a direct method of communication. But when it comes to allocating your marketing resources, it should be understood that Snapchat and Instagram are unlikely to create new customers.