Snapchat has always been the enigma in the social media gamut, but it serves a niche desired and demanded. Unlike the viral-fueled mediums of Instagram and Facebook, Snapchat ate market share for its ability to connect your nuclear interpersonal relationships, rather than exposing you to the great beyond. Add to that the promise of secrecy in an otherwise forward-facing world, and you’re left with a mobile app that bucks the norm, yet still performs. But last week, the front office committed what could be Snap Incs. hari kari, as the unannounced redesign left their core users livid over the assumed greed that dictated the overhaul. Could this be the beginning of the end for Snapchat?
Consider the obvious. Digital marketing on social media platforms has become a $35B disruptor that’s annihilating traditional forms of print and subscriber based advertising. The simple science here is that eyeballs prelude spending (universal marketing truth), where the online reformation has propagated clickbait conversions more so than a billboard or 2 page magazine spreads ever could. Under this logic, the rabbit hole of a Monday-morning feed scroll has been repositioned as a potential retail splurge, where medias strategically place ads amidst your subscribed-to social content. Instagram and Facebook have a vice grip on the consumerism that a trending hashtag or viral video can spur, while Snapchat conceptually can’t squeeze that fruit to the fullest, because of the lack of exploration the app allows for. Since inception, Snap has battled through months of tumult and inconsistency in user acquisition and the almighty stock ticker – alas, it came time for them to reach their hands into the ad-based cookie jar, but in doing so they not only compromised their key users, but sacrificed that main selling point.
Understand that before the self-inflicted PR disaster of the redesign, Snapchat rested its laurels on a tabooed ideology within their shareable sphere of social media – exclusivity. Their dogma emblazoned the interconnectedness Snap can enable within ones pre-established social network and built an iron curtain to keep outsiders at bay. This comfort paved the way for loyalty – opting for the private rather than the public, Snap never parlayed one’s feed into the ether like Insta, which is what cemented its place within the sandbox it plays within. In laymen’s, Snap cornered the consumer-to-consumer interaction, rather than the business-to-consumer engine that keeps Instagram, Facebook, and Spotify at home in the black. The redesign was implemented to expose the app users to businesses and ads via a “discovery” page, which subjects a viewer to the bombardment that plagues the other apps. While this was the right decision for a publicly traded company, for the users, it was no bueono. The bait-and-switch the upgrade deployed tried to distract its fan base with a new aesthetic to get in on the ad rev action, but their thirst for digital dollars was too blatant to go unnoticed.
For brevities sake, take a look at the upgrade (and pitfalls) here:
The intent here was benign from a design standpoint and astute from a business standpoint in all honesty, but considering the bulk of Snapchatters are below 25, they should have understood the angst it would trigger. Converting voyeurism to consumerism is the name of the game, but reconfiguring the general apps flow is likely the cause of all the commotion. Again, it wasn’t the intent (accelerating eComm) that was the failure, but the execution. It was the right idea to change the macro money makers, but change the entire ergonomics of the interface has disaster written all over it.
Snapchat is officially the struggling artist in a family flush with bankers and attorneys. They found a market and commanded it exceedingly well, but like oil painting, the money isn’t glaringly available. Without the ad rev, Snapchat made its own death bed but refused to lay in it. Unfortunately, the means to their ends was to adopt the tried and true methods of other applications, but pivoted too far out of their bread-and-butter, and interfered with the day-to-day usage. The personal feel associated with Snap has adopted the catalogue vibe of the others, tarnishing the very sentiment that created their massive audience. As petitions are passed around to redeploy the old interface, many users who were already on their way out for the lack of utility Snap presented cut their losses and left the app. The importance of the coming weeks for Snap Inc. cannot be understated, as they have already lost the good favor they once showered in. Do they go back to the old interface? Do the myopic feelings subside for users and everything goes back to normal? Does the discover page make enough money to shoulder the burden of the loss of users? They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too, and most are wagering that Snap won’t be contrarian.