One thing we have discussed at length on the channels is the changing nature of social media. As the behemoth of Facebook becomes too populated by parents and employers for many of the younger generations, and Twitter’s growth has all but stagnated, its the messaging apps that have risen to the forefront. Whatsapp, Snapchat, and Messenger are dominating the download and usage charts as social media becomes less about sharing your whole life and more about smaller, more direct interactions. At the forefront of this new form of social media is Snapchat.
Snapchat’s IPO has the company looking at a valuation of $30 billion, such is the enthusiasm of the tech-savvy venture capitalists looking for the next giant. The ephemeral messaging service is just the latest in a long line of messaging apps to reach incredible valuations after a relatively short life span; WhatsApp had only 55 employees when Facebook parted with $19 billion for it, and last year’s biggest tech IPO was Line despite the app being currently unprofitable.
Snapchat lost $514 million in 2016, yet the IPO saw its stock rise more than 50%. These numbers might seem counterintuitive, but investors work on potential rather than current financial performance, and Snap has that in bucketloads. The app’s brilliance is in its emphasis on creativity. Since it launched in 2011, Snapchat has allowed its users to comprehensively edit its photos in a sandbox style, with tools akin to Microsoft Paint and later clever masks that overlay users’ selfies. Its unique proposition of ephemerality resonated with a generation all too aware that sharing your life on social media can lead to problems, and brands have been rushing on board since.
Snap’s valuation might be bloated, though, given that the company is not without some glaring flaws that it is vital to address. Snapchat is experiencing a similar problem to that of Vine - some key figures are leaving the platform for other, more accommodating apps. There are numerous examples of frustration among the influencer community with both Snapchat’s communication with its users and with its technical reliability. It seems there is currently very little in place to make it easy for brands, content creators, and Snapchat to work together to build followings, bring new users to the app, and ultimately benefit all parties. Long-term (and well followed) user MPlatco recently attempted a visit to the Snapchat headquarters, for example, only to be turned away at the door despite having messaged some employees in advance. As one of the apps key influencers, the lack of literal accommodation is reflective of the company’s wider apparent disregard for its content creators.
‘That was the very first in a long history of instances where Snapchat really solidified its position as giver of zero f**ks,’ Platco told BuzzFeed News. ‘Every single bad thing I could possibly say about Snapchat, I could say the opposite of how my relationship is going with Instagram.’ Essentially Snapchat is failing to see where its true value lies, and that’s in these key figures. Unlike some social media, Snapchat is not an app for simply following those you know. It’s an open forum for anyone to follow anyone else, meaning the more creative users can amass significant followings whilst celebrities like Kylie Jenner or DJ Khaled regularly boast Story views in the millions.
Another figure that has grown frustrated with Snapchat’s policy towards its ‘creators’ is Sallia Goldstein. Similarly to Platco, Goldstein’s artistic updates on Snapchat have earned her a significant following on the app, but issues with performance have led her to direct her followers to her Instagram account instead. ‘It’s not because I want to move everything over to Instagram,’ Goldstein told Buzzfeed. ‘It’s because I have to.’ Dissatisfaction with support systems is a relatively needless cause for a loss of users, and Snapchat will do well to improve its current system to retain those that make it such a vibrant platform.
Scalability is another issue for Snapchat to address. Currently there are very few tools available for content creators on Snapchat to grow their following. Without a discover feature that caters for users rather than big brands, or the ability to share content with other users, users are finding it difficult to grow. It’s also incredibly difficult to get verified on Snapchat, something that frustrates users that have been there since the beginning and have amassed a significant following.
Crucially, Instagram has a well fleshed out Discover feature. Users can browse through posts by users that are either similar to those they already follow, or are suggested connections based on other social media accounts. Both its permanent and ephemeral content is discoverable and it has all the weight of Facebook’s complex algorithmic genius behind it. Instagram’s introduction of this now scalable stories feature saw Snapchat’s Story views plummet 40% from July 2016 to November 2016, according to Delmondo.
Snapchat’s distance from influencers and content creators may well be a tactical move to distance it from the likes of Youtube and Instagram, but it’s a dangerous game. Yes, not opening the door to and promoting professional content creators will potentially give the app a more ‘family and friends’ feel, but it also risks the app both going stale and missing out on monetization opportunities. Content creators fill mediums with quality content, they push the boundaries of how users can use the app itself, and they bring new users to apps simply by virtue of sharing their usernames on other platforms. Couple this apparent disregard with the fact that brands have largely had a difficult time on Snapchat, and its difficult to see why the app is trading so well.