Tell me an Instagram story...
With yet another update on the social media landscape, Vicki Notaro wonders if Instagram's latest function will crack the app's veneer of perfection
The world of social media moves fast. Only 10 years ago Bebo was the website to beat, where you could ask someone to be your other half and innocently write on one another's whiteboard. You logged in when you could, uploaded your unfiltered, unedited photos from your digital camera (with a lead) and life online was simple.
Nowadays, social networking is an entirely different beast. Smartphones mean we're constantly connected and just when you get the hang of one social site, the next cool one pops up. Not only that, app updates mean the popular networks we know and love are always striving to up their game - and mere days ago, one of them caused quite a splash.
Instagram has long been known as the most flawless social network. The photo app is where you go to crop, filter and edit your pictures before sharing them with followers, the result being more a piece of art than an off-the-cuff post.
Yet at the weekend, the app threw a curve ball when it introduced its 'Stories' function. The new feature allows users to add short videos and pictures to an ever-updating feed separate to your exisiting profile; in English, that means that there are essentially now two functions within the one app - the original filtered photo sharing stream that lives on in perpetuity, and a new 'story' that disappears after 24 hours, designed to be instantaneous and less carefully curated.
If that latter function sounds familiar, it's because it's essentially the bare bones of Snapchat. That app has been around for nearly five years, but really gained prominence in the past 12 months when celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian came on board.
According to IPSOS MRBI, 27pc of Irish people over the age of 15 have a Snapchat account. But it's commonly known as a young person's social network; particularly for those older than 35, Snapchat has always seemed a little inaccessible, and also like social media overload for those already maintaining Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
I personally resisted Snapchat for months, despite my job as a trend-savvy journalist meaning I should stay on top of all the latest digital movements. I simply didn't think I could fit another network in to my life, but once I gave in, I came to really enjoy it.
The beauty of Snapchat is that it's quite ordinary; compared to Instagram, it really does look a bit crap, and it's definitely the place to post more casual updates. Yet I like the difference between the two - Snapchat is for messing, Instagram for a more curated feed.
But since Instagram Stories landed out of the blue last week - I've found myself using it more and more. It doesn't take away from my curated profile, but it does add to the experience. I'm now posting to Snapchat less and less, and wondering how many others will defect.
Part of the genius behind Instagram's latest move is its simplicity; compared to Snapchat, it's very user-friendly. Many people who already have the app installed can now view the stories of the people they follow, and handily search for those they'd like to. And for those who associate Snapchat with silly augmented reality filters that turn you into a dog for selfies, Instagram Stories just allow for a bit of text on your photo or video and is altogether less showy than its rival.
However, does this mean that Instagram's veneer of seeming perfection is about to shatter? For an app that's all about aspiration and editing, adding a feature that shows things in the moment, as they are, is surely against its very ethos?
And what about the social media influencers who make money from sponsored posts, those for whom a pretty, curated account is a moneymaker?
Travel blogger Nadia El Ferdaoussi has such a profile; last year, she made a conscious decision to make over her feed and only feature the prettiest of pictures. However she's someone that's taken to Instagram Stories like a duck to water, claiming that the function adds to an influencer's account rather than shattering the illusion.
"I think a lot of influencers are reluctant to let you see behind the veneer and ruin the illusion, but that's why I like Snapchat and now Instagram Stories. It's real, it doesn't need to be edited plus it's quick.
"Now with Instagram, I can still keep that curated feed as well as the disappearing story, so it's the best of both worlds."
El Ferdaoussi says the update definitely has a lot of catching up to do before it reaches Snapchat's level, but she likes it because she can keep everything in the one app.
"Followers who like my account for travel pictures can see behind the scenes of the images I post which means more interaction."
She also says that she likes being able to hear the people she follows speak on their Stories, and it makes you feel like you know the person behind the pretty picture a bit better. Thus, she doesn't think it will have a negative impact on her brand or her follower count. "But if it did, that's okay - this is me."
But for brands looking to crack the online market, will Instagram Stories become a valuable source of advertising in a way that Snapchat hasn't?
Jennifer Hyland is a senior account manager on Edelman's digital team. She says the launch of Instagram Stories shows its parent company, Facebook, is going full-force at taking on Snapchat.
"It might not be able to lure away Snapchat's loyal 150 million daily users worldwide, but it is paying attention to their consumption patterns.
"From a business point of view for both brands and influencers, the big issue with Snapchat is measurement and return on investment. If Instagram can create good enough replicas of some of Snapchat's best features, it can give brands new and much sought-after engagement opportunities, which at present Snapchat can't deliver in a trackable way."
So if you're going to get on board, who's worth a follow? Plenty of high-profile users have already taken to Instagram Stories, and the beauty is, if you already follow them, their stories just magically pop up at the top of your feed.
If not, you can simply search their name in the app - something you can't do on Snapchat and that many users bemoan.
Actress Reese Witherspoon isn't on Snapchat, but she loves to share Instagrams with her almost seven million followers. Thus, it's no surprise that the Oscar-winning A-lister has taken to the Stories function, sharing pictures and video clips from a trip to Venice.
The Kardashian-Jenners are big Snapchat advocates, but eldest sister Kourtney has been trying out Instagram Stories, as she has a whopping 45 million followers on that platform alone.
Closer to home, those who do love Snapchat appear to be straddling both apps - for now. Rozanna Purcell has been active on both platforms in recent days, but offering different views of her life through each portal. Time-consuming perhaps, but if you like the model-slash-foodie, it's likely you'll enjoy the behind the scenes look at her comings and goings.
2fm DJ Louise McSharry, comedian Joanne McNally and 'Xposé' presenter Cassie Stokes have all been dipping their toes in to the Stories water, as have 98fm's Dara Quilty and blogger-turned-beauty entrepreneur Suzanne Jackson. All are big Snappers, but will they defect permanently?
One person who felt a bit blindsided by the move is Snapchat superstar James Kavanagh. Arguably the person who has become most famous from using the app, he's built up a massive following - so big, he's been able to quit his job in PR and become a full-time social influencer.
When the Insta-update happened, he posted a video on the platform saying he felt like he was "cheating" on his beloved Snapchat, and has continued to post there more frequently.
So whether the heavy users can be converted to Stories remains to be seen. One thing is for sure though - Snapchat, you have competition.