LinkedIn has warned its advertisers that it is eliminating its video stories, thus becoming the second social network, after Twitter pulled the plug in July on Fleets, to realize that strategies based on literal copies of other social networks’ features don’t always pan out.
When Instagram decided to copy Snapchat’s ephemeral stories format, it took a product from a social network oriented at a youth market and that many adults found confusing, and democratized it to make it easily accessible for a wider range of users. Instagram Stories, which attracted more users than Snapchat in June 2017, did so not by stealing them from its rival, but by appealing to people that did not use Snapchat because they did not understand it or did not feel comfortable with its sociodemographic orientation.
To give us an idea, Snapchat’s ephemeral stories were not exactly the product of a poorly thought-out idea: its creators had been testing this format for several years since its inception as Picaboo, as in “now you see me, now you don’t”, which then required no less than 30 iterations before managing to launch Snapchat. If anyone thought that technological entrepreneurship simply coming up with a good idea, they should think again.
After Snapchat’s success, Facebook tried to buy it for $3 billion. When the offer was turned down by Evan Spiegel, Mark Zuckerberg told his people to start copying Snapchat’s functionalities like there was no tomorrow. The rest is history. Snapchat was able to hold on to some of its most loyal users in the United States, where it was strongest, but the market gravitated towards Instagram. Stories changed the nature of Instagram and gave it a new style, characterized by ephemeral content, but oriented towards a more habitual, more constant use. And the first to see the potential of this type of format and incorporate it into its arsenal was the company that owns Instagram, Facebook, which launched it in March 2017, albeit without too much success.
In 2020, both LinkedIn and Twitter launched their own ephemeral videos, with exactly the same result, proving that originality meant nothing in the world of social networks: after some time trying to gain traction, Twitter found users who had uploaded a Story to Instagram would replicate it on Twitter as well, while it took LinkedIn a while to see that the format was not at all suited to a professional-oriented social network, and that it merely convinced some companies to use it as an advertising medium. Unsurprisingly, users lost interest in these ads and stopped clicking on them.
Copying is not necessarily a bad thing, although in the case of companies like Facebook, this approach reflects its monopolistic muscle. Copying by a small company is not the same as a behemoth with unlimited resources to launch, promote and practically impose their format on a rival, something that future antitrust laws will surely take into account in order to protect innovators. But when a company takes a rival’s idea, it has add something that provides a different value proposition, aims for a new market segment, or adapt it in a way that gives it a different spin; if not it runs the risk of creating a clone of no value and is limited, in the best of cases, to users replicating the same content they had already created on the original network.
The case of Twitter and LinkedIn, which at least have quickly recognized their mistake and have eliminated the format, is completely clear: if you copy, copy well and add something. Let’s see if it serves as a warning for the future.