Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat Stories

A closer look at the ephemeral content-sharing trend

Snapchat's Stories feature has become an iconic form of social sharing. Instagram introduced its own Snapchat-inspired Stories feature in 2016.

Without the customary components of social media like heart buttons, comment sections and posts that stay forever attached to your profile (unless you manually delete them), users are encouraged to engage in more casual and frequent posting of photos and short videos, which disappear after 24 hours. But who does it best? We've reviewed the Stories features from both platforms to help you decide.

Instagram vs. Snapchat

Overall Findings

  • Stories separate from feed.

  • Ability to hide stories from anyone.

  • Seems like a copy of Snapchat.

  • Original story platform.

  • Post from Snap replies.

  • Visible to friends.

Do stories represent the next major stage of how we share things with each other online? And how do we decide which platform to use for Stories now that there are two major options?

Your audiences on Instagram and Snapchat may differ, a relevant consideration when you're going to post a 10-second photo or video. The features of each platform present subtle differences, too. Instagram will almost certainly beef up its Stories feature given that it's recently been introduced, and Snapchat will probably do the same in order to compete, but for now, we're just getting started with seeing how the world might continue to embrace super casual, ephemeral content sharing.

Let's explore a side-by-side comparison of the features that Instagram Stories now offers vs. what Snapchat Stories currently offers.

Where Stories Live: The Feed

  • Stories displayed at top of feed.

  • Stories shown based on algorithm.

  • Watch all or view specific stories.

  • Access stories from Stories tab.

  • Feed displays all recent stories.

  • Promotional content also displayed.

On Instagram, you'll see a horizontal feed for Stories at the top of your main feed displaying profile photos as circled bubbles of users whom you follow. The bubbles you see will appear according to an algorithm that aims to show you your favorite account stories first. Swipe left or right to scroll through them and tap to view a specific user's story, which disappears 24 hours after it's been posted. Stories that you haven't viewed yet will be circled in color.

On Snapchat, you have to swipe left from the camera tab to access your Stories tab. A vertical feed of recent updates and all stories featuring users you've added (including their photo, name and time they've posted) will be displayed between blocks of promotional content from Snapchat's partners.

Instagram's Stories feed is like a secondary feed that's been combined with the main one to compliment it as a quicker, more casual form of content sharing. Snapchat, on the other hand, is all about ephemeral content sharing, so it only has one form of content to share and is simply just mixed with partner content.

Appearance: Viewing Stories

  • Auto-play all stories.

  • Stories played in order posted.

  • Send messages via stories.

  • View stories in order posted.

  • Tap to skip through stories.

  • Send messages or chat via stories.

On Instagram, you can tap the very first story in your Stories feed to view it and it will play everybody else's stories in the order they appear in your feed. If a user posted several stories, they will play in the order that they were posted. You can tap any user's story to just view theirs (rather than all of them in the order they appear in your feed) and you tap to skip through them quickly if your friend posted several stories. There's also a "Send Message" option at the bottom of every story, which you can use to start a chat through Instagram Direct.

On Snapchat, viewing stories is almost identical to what Instagram now has. Tap the first story in your feed to watch what's been posted in the order they appear (including multiple stories from a user) and tap to skip through them quicker. There's also a chat option that you can access every story that allows you to send a message or start a chat with that particular user.

When it comes to viewing stories on Instagram and Snapchat, the experience is virtually identical. One interesting difference is the ability to rewind through stories by tapping on the left side of the screen as you're viewing them—a feature that Snapchat doesn't have. Another subtle difference is that you have to swipe down if you want to stop watching a story on Snapchat while on Instagram you have to tap the X in the top right corner to stop watching.

Sharing: Posting Stories

  • Photos and videos up to 10 seconds.

  • See a list of users who've viewed your story.

  • Ability to turn stories into regular posts.

  • Send story as a private message simultaneously to posting.

  • Upload photos or videos to edit and post at a later time.

  • Ability to save story to Snapchat Memories.

On Instagram, you can either tap the plus sign button that appears in the top left corner of your main feed or swipes right to pull up the camera tab that allows you to capture and post your own story. Some other features include:

  • Three different drawing tools with several colors to choose from.
  • A text tool to type messages on your photos or videos.
  • Filters similar to what's available while you're editing regular posts. 
  • The ability to save your story to your device before and after posting.

On Snapchat, you can either tap the purple camera icon in the top left corner of the screen on the Stories tab or swipe left/right until you see the camera tab to post a story. Photos and videos that you can customize to be viewed for 1 to 10 seconds. Other features you get when you post a story on Snapchat include:

  • Drawing tools with a color legend you can use to select your desired color.
  • A text tool to type messages on your photos or videos.
  • An emoji tool to put standard emoji, app-supplied Bitmoji (if you link your account) and special Snapchat emoji on your photos or videos.
  • Lenses that animate your face in amusing and creative ways.
  • Filters that include geotags, the current time, the current temperature, your traveling speed and tints that change the colors.
  • The ability to see a list of users who've viewed your story.

Snapchat offers more story features than Instagram—most notably lenses and fun filters. On Instagram's side of things, however, the different sets of drawing tools and easy to use color options are a nice touch, which Snapchat doesn't currently offer.

Privacy: Public Profiles

  • Hide stories from specific users.

  • Allow message replies from only followers or from users you follow back.

  • Ability to turn off replies completely.

  • Allow everyone to be able to view your stories.

  • Ability to allow only friends or custom group to view stories.

  • Allow everyone or only friends to be able to contact you.

On Instagram, your stories are public if your profile is public. Even if you don't follow a particular user, if you can still see their public profile, their profile photo will be circled in color if they've posted a story. You can tap it to view it even if you don't follow them. Instagram has, however, introduced "Story Settings," which you can customize by tapping the gear icon in the top right corner from your profile tab.

On Snapchat, you have full control over who you do and don't want to see your stories. From the camera tab, you can tap the little ghost icon at the top to pull down your Snapcode tab and then tap the gear icon in the top right to access your settings. Scroll down to the "Who Can..." section to:

Snapchat gives users better control of their privacy than Instagram does, given that Instagram stories have to stay public with a public account. This approach could change in the future, but if you have no problem leaving your main content public, then it makes sense for stories to be public too.

Final Verdict

Instagram stories are nearly a complete clone of Snapchat stories that have been built to be integrated with the already wildly successful Instagram app. The interesting thing about Snapchat is that its ephemeral content sharing has made it known for being a much more intimate social platform where users can connect more closely with their friends.

On Instagram, however, users easily rack up thousands of followers and follow just as many accounts back—making it a far less intimate way of using social media. One big problem with the stories feature is that people who follow hundreds or even thousands of users will have a hard time scrolling through the stories feed to view only the stories from the users they're interested in viewing.