It's hard to imagine that in the year 2010, a mere 6 years ago, iPhones were still more or less a commodity, Instagram was giving us things like this (barf) and people were most definitely not shooting nor watching videos on their mobiles.
Inevitably, smartphones became ubiquitous and they began to rule our lives, one social network at a time. Then along came a (yellow) friendly ghost to revolutionize the way we go about sharing everyday moments.
Below, we ruminate on the state of affairs of social video sharing and how things bubbled to lay the groundwork for vertical to rise.
Remember when owning a flip phone meant serious business? For real though, hanging up on someone - or pretending to - had never been so satisfying. It was the apex of the mobile phone status symbol. Or how about when the
crackberry Blackberry addiction was a real ailment (RIP)? I personally knew many addicts. But nobody could have foreseen that we were on the brink of a second Big Bang: phones were no longer really going to be for - wait for it - telephoning.
That's right, once upon a time, phones served the purpose of communicating by voice. Now, they're extensions of our being, there to support us when we need validation, to keep us eternally connected, to turn off the lights in our home when we've forgotten to do so, to manage our money, to buy stuff (SO MUCH STUFF), to find recipes, to check into flights, to watch TV, to make movies, this list is not nearly done but it's getting too long so I'm gonna stop there.
Woof. Phones are not what they used to be! Another once unquestionable status quo reduced to irrelevancy thanks to the evolution of the telephone? The landscape video format (Hi, Evan 👋).
While vertical video was once considered the most faux pas of them all, the naysayers are now busy eating their own words. We can thank Snapchat for that. No one expected the platform with a once salacious reputation to become what it is today, but here we are and a little LA-based tech startup has forever changed the way
teens all of us communicate (preferably with a dog face or flower crown thankyouverymuch). And by that, we mean that people began interacting via - surprise! - vertical video. Snapchat pretty much owned the format and made landscape seem so passé.
What was Instagram to do, also once the purveyor of major societal behavior changes? While Instagram became second nature to 500 million+ users, overall engagement on the app is trending down in spite of having introduced longer video times that can be posted in either portrait or landscape. Mom and Dad over at Facebook were not going to just sit back and do nothing about it. In fact, they're in the habit of creating problems for their competition.
And right on cue, Instagram Stories was born, heralding a war against OG vertical video platform Snapchat. Sure, they invented it, but why should they have all the fun? While each app's focus initially diverged, Instagram clearly wasn't keen on the fact that camp Spiegel was gaining momentous ground on its user base. The company now known as Snap Inc. was dreaming if it thought Kev was going to let that happen. Pfff.
The release of Stories made a lot of Instagram users say: "Ruh roh. But Insta is, like, my best life. Snapchat is for the raw candid moments. Oy vey." Regardless, it was the opportunity a lot of brands had been waiting for. This release finally allowed them to reach the audience they'd fostered for years before the ghost came along, but in the same vertical format that social media users can't get enough of. Audience-building hurdles, begone!
Let's Get Situated
To quickly recap - before Snapchat: landscape video was the only acceptable form of motion content; after Snapchat: portrait video is the kewlest. It's become synonymous with live, in the moment, candid ephemeral mementos of a person's daily activities. Talk about an oxymoron. But the following question begs to be answered: how did this happen? Isn't candid and raw what Instagram used to be? What were the circumstances that gave Snapchat room to grow?
First and foremost, the popularity of video content is staggering among teens and millennials, but they don't consume media through the traditional networks of yesteryear. Cable? What's that? Network television, come again? Non-static content is viewed primarily through mobile channels, which explains a lot when it comes to the rise of social platforms that prioritize video.
Over the course of Instagram's natural evolution, users have shifted from treating their galleries as collections of personal candid moments, to showcasing only the most aesthetically pleasing highlights of their lives. Editing apps were developed to perfect photos and using the IG filters became an ultra gauche custom.
The thing is, there was never anything wrong with the more informal Insta ways of yore. In fact, it's precisely what catapulted the social network into stratospheric success, connecting users to one another with visual content that appealed to the human nature of voyeurism. Its popularity was no coincidence, and businesses the world over began adopting the platform as a marketing channel fairly quickly.
The Great Divide
Things can't always stay the same. Instagram's purpose and usage progressed organically as it began playing a bigger, more important role within our society. Brands became more active than ever on the platform, harnessing their voice and reaching the millennial consumer in ways no company a generation ago could have dreamed of.
Through the years, people inadvertently developed some serious Insta skills, sharpening their eye and morphing into smartphone photography pros. With a (pretty good) camera in their back pockets at all times, Instagrammers became masters at seizing moments, composition, editing and, well, hashtags. It made grids more follow-worthy, formed tight communities of creatives, and encouraged everyone to collectively up their game.
Instagram moving toward the more curated is precisely what allowed Snapchat to flourish and thrive. People didn't all of a sudden not care for personal candid social shares, it's just that IG evolved into something else.
While Instagram was busy churning out the new releases, Snapchat was claiming its territory, laying the foundation for what would eventually become the ubiquitous vertical video format. Before long, the perceptive folks at Instagram likely noticed that a lot of their users were spending less and less time at Haus of Kevin, and a ton more time at Maison Spiegel. When #TeamKev released their own version of Stories (don't worry, Evan still got the girl), the world order was restored.
Insta Stories had a lot of brands rejoicing because they struggled to get their audience to migrate their devotion onto another app, unlike the early Snapchat adopters that had ample time to build their following. The lack of organic discovery on Snap, which we've discussed at length, is one of the major obstacles to growth. All the time and effort that brands put into luring fans onto a new platform can now be focused elsewhere, like, say, perfecting a vertical video strategy. How 'bout that.
Where Do We Go Now?
All of this talk brings us to today's state of affairs. With video having taken off in all directions beyond YouTube (Facebook Live, Insta's Boomerang, longer native video lengths and Stories, Snapchat's constant evolution), what's clear is that social media companies have only scratched the surface.
The last few years have demonstrated that video possibilities know no bounds, especially when it comes to social network innovations. One of the key take aways of this exploration is that our smartphones are ruling our lives, for better or worse. It's because of them that vertical video rose to prominence, all signs pointing to it being the future. And in these rapidly progressing times, it's pretty riveting to have a first row spectator seat to the social tech show.
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