With over 210 million active users in 2019, Snapchat is continuing to increase its userbase, even with the additional 7 million daily active users it added in Q3 of 2019. Yet, despite the app’s popularity, I still am not convinced that Snapchat will survive its rivals, particularly Instagram’s continued evolution and advancements to its Stories/Live features. Rather than growing in maturity, it seems to be reversing in age, like the “Benjamin Button” of social media.
Since its inception, I’ve had a hard time grasping the purpose of what the social media app was designed to do, as it has consistently been overrun by the updates and redesign of its competitors. In simpler words—companies are easily able to copy most of the featured Snapchat, rendering it essentially useless.
But the biggest issue for me that I still struggle with is when to use Snapchat instead of my phone’s native camera or rather, Instagram’s Story and Live features? Especially at large events and concerts for clients.
Snap has continued to struggle in its exercise of identifying what works without wasting too much time, money, or effort. And forgive me, but to this day, I still think the troubles Snap has faced is directly attributable to arguably the two biggest (and dumbest) mistakes Spiegel has ever made in the history of the company–turning down Mark Zuckerberg’s $3 billion offer to purchase Snapchat back in 2013 and declining Google’s (alleged) $30 billion offer to purchase Snapchat in 2016.
Rather than evolving, the platform itself seems to be digressing whereby it seems extremely difficult to really pinpoint what its sole purpose is, let alone targeted user-base.
However, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel thinks the opposite—believing Snap’s reversal and redesign to be a huge advantage.
But hey, don’t take my word for it, let’s look at Snap’s evolution over the years:
How Disappearing Photos Changed the Social Media Game
Now don’t get me wrong, Snap certainly changed the boundaries and limits by which social media was currently restricted to. Remember, it was all relatively new in terms of how users, businesses, and lawmakers viewed it and even attempted to integrate it into their own everyday functions.
Created by Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown, Snapchat was born in a product design class at Stanford University in April 2011, but didn’t release to the general public until September 2011, available to iPhone users only via the App Store. It didn’t hit the Android PlayStore until October 2012.
Originally named “Picaboo,” the app changed names due to a cease-and-desist from another company who had already trademarked the “Picaboo” name.
Understanding the lingo was the first hurdle for many users:
What Is a ‘Snap?’
Serving as the main functionality for the app, a ‘Snap’ was the means by which a user would send a photos and/or videos to other users and/or friends, which would last anywhere from one to 10 seconds after being opened, before “self-destructing.”
Over the years, issues have arisen which have called into question whether the content actually does “self-destruct,” or remains within the servers of Snap.
Eventually, Snapchat now allows the user to choose to allow the photo and/or video to last for an “infinite” period, allowing the recipients to replay the Snap.
The Launch of ‘Stories’ (October 2013)
Unlike a “Snap,” a “Story,” on the other hand, is a collection of Snaps that when put together, create…. a Story! However, the difference between the two is that while a Snap can only be viewed by those you either directly send the material to, a Story at the time, could be viewed by anyone who follows you. Of course, with the addition of privacy settings, users can now choose who can view their Stories.
But Snapchat soon became an outlet for millennials and teens to send explicit photos and/or videos to one another, deeming the platform extremely popular for “sexting” and quick satisfaction. Why? It “disappeared” shortly after, and if you attempted to screenshot, it would let the other person know.
The issue of mobile app security came to light in 2016 when billionaire entrepreneur and ABC’s Shark Tank investor, Mark Cuban, explained why apps like Snapchat weren’t secure and the message(s) you send will certainly come back to haunt you.
While Snapchat responded to Cuban’s statement expressing its confusion surrounding his statement, adding that “when we say it’s ‘deletion by default’ it is because it’s closer to regular conversations. You can always record a conversation, but ordinarily you wouldn’t. Snapchat is more about the social norms and expectation than secrecy.”
Huh?? So, Snapchat literally undermined itself, leaving the context of “secrecy” extremely subjective, assuming most people wouldn’t record a conversation. Wrong. In today’s digital age, this is extremely wrong.
This is what led Cuban to creating “Cyber Dust,” now known as “Dust,” a private messaging app that literally addresses Snapchat’s drawbacks.
Four years ago, Gary Vaynerchuk dismissed Snap’s ‘Stories’ addition at Le Web 2013, claiming the new update to be a huge mistake. He later corrected his statement on his website, admitting that he was “wrong.”
“I’m going to be very clear here,” he began to explain on his blog, “I went on the record saying I thought the update was a bad idea. I thought it was abused to imagine that users would actually go out of their way to watch something on a platform where things were historically delivered to them (Stories live on their own page and you have to click into a Story to watch it).
But boy was I wrong. This update marked Snapchat’s first big move into becoming a major platform by creating its own social language and context. It already had functionality very different from any other social network at the time; you could draw on top of the photos, content disappeared, and the gestures of swiping up, down, and to the side were relatively new.”
But I have to say, I’m not so sure I completely agree with Gary Vee’s later assessment—I’m still operating under Vee’s initial belief of the Stories addition to be a huge drawback.
Yes, Snap made a huge move by allowing for users to draw on top of photos, allowing content to disappear, and of course swiping up, down, left, and right on photos—all with different effects. However, beyond that, I didn’t see how this could be and would be a viable advantage that would allow Snap to dominate the millennial market of social media content curation. Because it was only a matter of time before its competitors added those same updates to its existing platforms, essentially rendering Snap useless in that context.
And I believe I was right—thanks to the release of Instagram Stories.
Mistake #1—Turning Down Zuck’s $3B Offer (2013)
But things were just starting to get exciting, especially because Snapchat caught the attention of Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Just one year after Snapchat’s launch, Zuckerberg began to see the immense value the platform could offer to consumers, just as Spiegel did—the ability to fill in gaps left behind by other social media platforms. Recognizing the potential for Snapchat to capture the millennial generation, as Facebook previously did with Instagram, Zuckerberg reportedly made an offer to purchase the app for $3 billion.
But Spiegel turned the app down.
In 2016, Snap introduced a new feature to the community called “Geofilters,” allowing users to superimpose location-based graphics and art onto their Snaps. The first two cities to receive their own Geofilter were Los Angeles and New York.
Over time, the filters became available depending upon the neighborhood or area the user was in. With the on-going demand and increasing usage of geo-filters, Snap allowed users to create their own on-demand geo-filters for an initial $5 starting price, allowing any user to create and distribute their own custom geo-filters in a specific area for an allotted time—heavily used at large events, including weddings, bachelor/bachelorette parties, graduations, etc.
This seemed to bring about some excitement with its users interacting with people they knew…and often strangers. But for businesses, this was a huge incentive to capitalize on marketing.
McDonald’s was one of the first brands to use sponsored geo-filters, allowing the company to upload its own graphic designs for a period, hoping to captivate customers to come to its branches.
Content Creators Can Now ‘Discover’ Other User Content
When Snapchat Discover first launched in January 2015, it faced a sluggish start. But, recently, the company has seen some upward mobility and growth, as content creators and publishers are finding the Discover feature to be a gold mine for their content.
Last year, Snap took an even harder fall, but exceeded expectations this quarter, after posting third-quarter results that exceeded estimates for revenue and new subscribers. The report reflected revenue of $446 million for the quarter, an increase of 50% year over year—with Snap’s $98 million net loss demonstrating a significant improvement from last year. But what attributed to Snap’s recently successful period?
The Discover feature not only allows users to follow their friends’ Stories, but also features the content from a variety of other publishers, including public figures, celebrities, and other media organizations. Most importantly, it allows for Snapchat to provide and distribute its own native content to Snapchat users, which it has recently dubbed as a “vertical video platform.”
For content creators on Discover, ad revenue sharing drives the majority of their profits, and it’s usually a 50-50 split—differing from other platforms like Facebook, which are now paying content creators directly.
But, while Discover is to thank for the company’s recent maturity, it still faces some serious competition with Instagram’s equivalent, paving way for other competitors including Facebook and Quibi to once again, knock Snap out of the ring, leaving the company and investors fiddling their thumbs.
An Emoji That Reminds You How Much Time You Waste—‘Snapstreaks’
Don’t even get me started on “Snapstreaks,” which came out in March 2016 with Snapchat’s ‘Chat 2.0’ update.
Honestly, who cares how often you’re sending back-and-forth messages to someone? And you get fake awards and metrics that do nothing for your engagement or online footprint. It’s a false sense of appreciation from an app that really doesn’t care.
Think Netflix’s Black Mirror episode, “Nosedive,” where an insecure office worker lives in a “smiley, status-obsessed, nightmare” where you are judged by your peers solely off your social media rating. Seriously, what the fuck.
Mistake #2—Turning Down Google’s $30B Offer to Acquire Snapchat (May 2016)
And to the second biggest mistake I believe Snap ever made was Spiegel turning down Google’s reported $30 billion offer to acquire the company back in May 2016.
While props to Spiegel for standing his ground and wanting to take control of his company and bring it to the next level, I think a company like Google or Facebook saw the value in such a platform. With news of Google’s interest in Snap at the time, Snap’s price share climbed around 2.3% when initially reported by Tech Crunch.
While Google initially declined to comment on that news to Business Insider, Snap told Tech Crunch rumors of Google’s interest were false—but it was “possible that Google’s interest was very preliminary, and likely never rose to Snap’s higher ranks.”
Or, with the recent news of leaked documents going back to 2012, implicating Facebook with respect to its 2014 purchase of WhatsApp, it could be attempts by two tech giants to want to purchase these social media start-ups that could pose a threat to its existing platforms, lending way to potential anti-trust questions.
Instagram’s Launch of ‘Stories’ (August 2016)
In August 2016, Instagram launched ‘Stories,’ essentially rendering Snapchat’s platform useless. Why? Instagram (along with Facebook) could now do the same thing as Snapchat’s platform…and more.
It forced Snap to re-think its next move, lending way for a re-branding period the following month.
Snapchat Rebrands to ‘Snap Inc.’ (September 2016)
A month after Instagram’s ‘Stories’ launch, Snapchat rebranded itself to ‘Snap Inc.’, the parent company to Snapchat and Spectacles—its failed augmented reality ‘wearable’ glasses that were just as big as your head.
Snap Inc. Goes Public (March 2017)
In March 2017, Snap Inc. went public, trading initially at $24 per share on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: SNAP), rising more than 40 percent from its pricing at the open. As this article is being written, Snap is currently trading at an average of $14.36 per share.
An initial public offering, or IPO, takes three to four months to play out—ensuring that the company and investment bank agree to an underwriting deal, which leads to a registration statement being filed with the SEC.
It’s hard to say what direction the company will be going in next, but one thing is for certain, Snap continues to face an up-hill battle, fighting alongside Facebook and others that seem to offer exactly what Snap offers to its users.
This is not intended to be a slam-piece, but a very strong opinion on the reality of how Snapchat resonates with millennials, and how much longer its popularity will last.