“C’mon, just get it already”
It is past 2AM at the library in December of 2014, and my motivation to continue studying is as weak as my once confident stance against downloading Snapchat. I had spent the past 6 months explaining why I was so opposed to it – it was a “pointless waste of time” and “basically the same as Instagram”. My friend and I both knew, however, that this was the night I would finally give in.
I had assumed joint control over her Snapchat, making the past two hours of studying a little more tolerable and a lot less productive. Handing back her phone, I knew I was mistaken in some of my previous assumptions. Snapchat, though still a photo sharing app, was very different from Instagram. It was raw, in the moment, low commitment, and fun. With an eye roll, a sigh, and a semi-sarcastic “Fine”, I signed up. I spent the next hour discovering new angles of all 8 of my chins with 10 contacts as my audience.
Two years later I would be disappointed to find that, like its predecessor, Instagram, the pressure to monetize would blur Snapchat’s sight of its original, simple, and ephemeral value proposition.
At the time of Snapchat’s release, Facebook had solidified itself as the platform to get updates on family and friends, reconnect with old acquaintances, organize group projects, and everything in between. Meanwhile, Instagram had evolved from overly filtered iPhone 4 shots to beautifully crafted photos and videos from photographers, bloggers, businesses, friends, and celebrities alike. Snapchat filled a hole for millennials that people didn’t realize existed. Its magical disappearing photo act was an entirely different playing field; there was no need to fuss over filters or spend hours trying to capture the perfect shot. The photo wasn’t there to stay, and it was liberating. It was the first social platform that emulated similar behaviour to how people interacted face to face (Vaynerchuk, 2016). Moreover, its users were freed from censoring their content for family and potential employers like they had to on Facebook. The attractiveness of this concept was demonstrated by its surge in popularity. Today, the social platform has 150 million people using the service each day, making it more popular than Twitter in terms of daily users (Frier, 2016).
Which edit should I use? Snapchat saved the ridiculous and exhausting analysis paralysis for Instagrammers debating between very similar filters.
Since its inception, Snapchat added new features to its otherwise basic premise – stories, colour filters, geotags, options to speed up and slow down videos, and the now nostalgic puking rainbow face. However, they gradually changed the way we used Snapchat. Somewhere between these features and the more recently added stickers and an elongated caption limit, we began spending a lot more time on individual snapchats. Before these additions, you wouldn’t spend more than a minute on your average Snap. The options to spice up these “Snapsterpieces” threaten the spontaneity and instant gratification that made Snapchat so successful. Dog face or flower crown? Does the manatee sticker or sloth sticker best capture my mood right now? Several takes and minutes later, a Snapchat is finally deemed ready to be shared.
Unless one was creating a masterpiece like this, Snapchats normally took less than a minute to prepare.
Snapchat is not the first photo app to risk losing its original value proposition through its evolution. Upon its release in 2010, Instagram was intended to be instant. With a single click, users could share their experiences with their Instagram followers as well as with friends on their other social platforms (Lang, 2014). However, with a platform where creativity could reign, consumers demanded more selection in the form of more filters and editing options. Where Instagram filters did not satisfy, photo-editing apps like VSCO Cam, Snapseed, and Squaready did.
As it gained popularity, Instagram began to gain a share of Facebook’s role as the main social newsfeed for many, accelerated by its addition of friend and location tags in Instagram photos. With the birth of concepts such as ‘peak hours’ in order to maximize a post’s exposure and engagement, whatever spontaneity remained in Instagram was lost, creating the hole that would eventually be filled by Snapchat.
Sadly, Snapchat is currently facing challenges to maintain this position in its users’ hearts. Its shifting focus away from what made people love it in the first place parallels the purpose of Instagram. The addition of Discover in 2015 has provided a platform for publishers, such as Cosmopolitan and CNN, to get their content onto the mobile screens of a younger demographic who wouldn’t likely encounter it on traditional mediums like TV and magazines. In combination with Stories and verified accounts, Snapchat has fulfilled the role of a news feed, becoming a one-stop shop for updates on friends, celebrities, sports and world news, pop culture, and fun recipes.
Happy Hanukkah! Cosmopolitan averages 3 million viewers a day on Discover, and its content is shared up to 1.2 million times daily (Sloane, 2015).
The recent release of Memories in July 2016 catalyzed an identity crisis for the once uncluttered and temporary Snapchat. The ability to capture a moment instantaneously and have it disappear before your own eyes, as it does in reality, is no longer the only way to share photos on the app. Users can now choose to save snaps to their Memories, a personal collection of photos and videos they can access anytime, as well as publish any photos from the Camera Roll on their Story.
And just like that, the ephemeral essence of Snapchat was lost. Snapchat, unlike Instagram and Facebook, was about the here and now. Though instead of letting these moments vanish, it is now ensuring that they can be relived and stored. The ability to post content not created within Snapchat provides users the option to sift through their Camera Roll and share their favourite shot, the exact process that the app liberated them from in the first place.
The introduction of Memories, the latest evolution of Snapchat.
What Does This Mean For Snapchat Marketing?
It would be naive to think the introduction of Memories was made with only the average millennial consumer in mind. The lives of marketers and publishers who don’t wish to pay the hefty price tag for a position on Snapchat’s Discover have just been made much easier. Instead of generating engaging content for their viewers in real-time, they can publish content they’ve already produced for other mediums, whether it be magazines, billboards, YouTube, or TV. The amount of time and effort required to generate Snapchat-specific content is minimized. As a result, the amount of content Snapchat hosts will surge, along with its ad-targeting potential and profitability.
The monetization of apps is expected. The common (and so far successful) approach has been to build the user base and then determine how to profit, which, among other things, usually includes the sale of valuable data and ad space. However, app businesses must be conscious of losing their core offerings as they strategize and grow. As Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram all compete to be users’ preferred main social news feed, they risk losing their differentiating characteristics and loyal foundation of original users. Instagram’s instantaneity was the first casualty of this evolution, and Snapchat follows closely behind. Like its predecessor, Snapchat could potentially be usurped by the new photo app promising the simplicity and authenticity lost in its evolution. However, with millennials already committed to three or more photography platforms, an app that wishes to attract users quickly must be simple and require little to no commitment. Failing to do so threatens its longevity, and signifies what could very well be the beginning of a potentially endless cycle for photo apps. For now, all we can do is hope that its brand promise doesn’t vanish in 10 seconds or less.
Rayna Pearlson is a BComm ‘17 at the Smith School of Business, with a passion for sales, marketing, and all things digital. When not balancing Snapchat and Instagram, you can find her obsessing over a stranger’s dog or settling into a Game of Thrones marathon.