Throughout its six-year history, Snapchat has been defined by its boldness. Introducing ephemeral picture messaging was its first innovation, and since it has kept social media’s biggest players at arm’s reach as it builds game-changing products for its notably young user base. Changes to the fundamental working of Snap Inc.’s core app have been minor, though, and its most recent update has vastly overstepped the mark for its users.
The update – which came into effect separates content produced by (and conversations with) friends from content produced by influencers or publishers. The two are now in completely separate panels, with ‘Discover’ taking a far more prominent position in Snapchat’s UX. The ostensible idea behind the change is that social media is all too often a jumble of updates from those that matter to you, and content from brands that you find interesting – the two don’t necessarily need to mesh, and Snapchat is separating them in an attempt to make the app cleaner.
Unfortunately, the change has not gone down well with users. A tweet begging Snapchat to revert the design has picked up 1.5 million retweets, taking it into the top five most shared things on Twitter. On top of this, some 1,217,000 (and counting) people have signed a petition on Change.org demanding the company remove the controversial update. Users are complaining that, rather than streamlining the app’s UX, the update has made it unnecessarily cluttered and confusing, and many have threatened to boycott the app until the changes are reconsidered.
It’s difficult to remember a redesign of any social media that’s had quite as impassioned a backlash as this. Tweets and news stories claiming that Snapchat is reversing the decision have all been fake up until this point, but the social media giant will be seriously considering a drastic backward step given the unanimity of the negative responses.
(Image courtesy of TechCrunch)
One look at Snapchat’s user acquisition figures and it’s easy to see where the need for change comes from. The company, which has famously defied advances from larger competition (notably Facebook) for years, is on a losing streak, with share prices dipping thanks to poor earnings. Daily user growth has performed more poorly than analysts expected and huge losses in the latter half of 2017 seem to be a product of this.
Snapchat’s stock has even been downgraded by analysts at Citi bank as a direct result of the redesign, and outside of confidence in the long-term benefits, it’s difficult to see why Snap hasn’t reversed the decision. Ultimately, it seems Snapchat is concerned with making itself a more valuable proposition to sponsors, even if it comes at the expense of user push-back. Social media companies do this all the time – Facebook’s changes to its timeline can almost always be traced back to what they offer advertisers and brands on the platform.
Giving a whole third of Snapchat’s UX over to brands and influencers will go one of two ways – either it will increase their prominence as a key feature of the app, or it’ll encourage users to ignore the tab altogether. If it can reform its core app so that it’s suitable for brands, it can work on appeasing its users afterwards. It is difficult to imagine that Snapchat will not respond with some changes to the most hated parts of the redesign, but the creation of a space within the app solely for discovery seems too deliberate and calculated a choice to simply be reversed.
Snapchat will be hoping that, just as Facebook has received pockets of negative feedback about almost every major update it has rolled out, users will simply become accustomed to the change. This is a crucial time for Generation Z’s favorite social media, though, and Snapchat will need to navigate the balance between keeping users happy and appealing to investors as it looks to keep pace with the likes of Instagram. How many users Snapchat has lost over the fiasco will take some time to calculate, but here’s hoping that it positions itself a more viable opportunity for advertisers going forward.
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