Instagram video trims Vine's userbase, but really it's a fight for advertisers

New feature will help Facebook tempt more brands away from Twitter
  • @jjvincent

Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and Vine. Like rival parents conducting a proxy war through their children, the world’s most prominent social networks are continuing to sick their offspring on each other with Facebook’s introduction of video sharing for Instagram – a direct challenge to Twitter-owned video app Vine. 

However, this latest move isn’t just a bid for popularity with users, both companies need to attract advertisers - and video is a key part of that battle.

The new video functionality for Instagram (bought by Facebook last year) will allow users to share video clips of up to 15 seconds long, add one of thirteen filters “built specifically for video”, or edit clips. Like Vine - bought by Twitter in October 2012 - Instagram videos will be integrated directly into the social media feeds of its parent company’s site.

As well as allowing more advanced editing than Vine, video sharing for Instagram also offers a “cinema” mode that stabilises video to make the footage smoother. Other differences include Vine’s automatic video looping and its shorter clip time – only six seconds long.

“We’re excited to see what the community will bring to video,” said co-founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom in a blog post announcing the news. “Whether it’s your local cafe showing you just how they made your latte art this morning or an Instagrammer on the other side of the world taking you on a tour of their city, a mother sharing her joys in parenting as her children laugh and play or your favorite athlete taking you behind the scenes.”

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Hashtags and video clips: it's about directing content

Facebook also took a move out of Twitter’s playbook earlier this month with the introduction of hashtags, a crucial element of social media organization for both users and advertisers.

Hashtags create anchors for real-time events, allowing individuals around the world to get involved with trending stories. It also allows advertisers to reach out to their audience in the same way, or create (fairly) unobtrusive ad campaigns via sponsored hashtags.

The idea of multinational corporations sneaking into ‘global conversation’ may be unappealing, but as ad strategies go it’s got Facebook beat. Ben Popper noted that Facebook have had trouble with their current advertising model, especially with the unpopular ‘Sponsored Stories’ – where companies hijack your posts and “convert you into an unwitting pitchman for a product you may or may not love.”

Sponsored stories were dropped by Facebook just two weeks ago and it’s clear that the introduction of hashtags and video is part of a major reorientation for their advertising strategy.

It's easy to see why: Twitter’s video-sharing service Vine has enjoyed enormous popularity with brands, who are always willing to pay more for video over display advertising, and who can integrate these Vine-adverts directly into the Twitter feeds of confirmed fans.

Vine and Twitter aren't foisting ads on people who don’t want them (well, not all the time – sponsored posts still appear in Twitter feeds every now and again), and the 6-second clip time means consumers don’t feel like they’re spending much time watching an ad.

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Instagram beats Vine in numbers, but are they chasing different audiences?

It’s been a very successful combination, with more than 50,000 brands already using the service and, with 4% of the top 100 Vines created by branded content, compared to only 1% sponsored content in their viral video charts.

When it comes to Instagram vs Vine though there’s one telling metric that gives Facebook the edge –Instagram currently has over 130 million active users each month and over 16 billion photos share since its creation. The most recent figures on Vine give only 13million iPhone users in comparison.

And despite the easily-consumed 6 second clips from Vine, Instagram Video’s longer video length might make it more appealing to advertisers. 15 seconds, as Quartz have noted, is exactly the same length as the average US TV commercial meaning that brands don’t even need to edit down their content to switch it onto Instagram.

However, Instagram CEO Systrom is claiming that they aren't chasing Vine's audience, calling the difference an "artistic choice": "I don't think that one is better than the other." Other commentators have seen this size in clip length indicative of a different approach - Vine's shorter video length is more grab-it-and-go whereas Instagram invites a more considered approach.

Whilst other video-sharing services have already been left by the wayside (Viddy has dwindling user numbers, Flickr never had a complete social network to hook into) it is conceivable that both Vine and Instagram Video will co-exist, for a while at least.