Things are not good in Snapchat land. On Thursday, Snap announced that it had gained a mere 7M daily active users in the past 3 months- up from 166M in May. “So?”, you might say, “that’s still growth- at least they aren’t loosing users”. Well…. The problem is that during the previous 3 month period, they had gained 8M daily active users. Healthy social networks mean exponential user growth and that’s what investors expect to see.
But that’s really been the problem all along for Snapchat- it never invested in the user experience to become a social network. For me, that’s really the unforgivable part of this whole saga. It could have been great. But they decided not to listen to the voices along the way who have been clamoring for features such as robust native analytics (still MIA), links (added July 2017), group chat (added December 2016) long before Facebook ever got into their turf. The lack of those key features kept many individuals and, importantly, brand strategists from adopting Snapchap as a core network. Instead we used it for the tech, not for the relationship outcomes. That’s why Facebook was able to swoop in and undermine it so quickly with Instagram.
Successful social networks have technology and community. That’s why Facebook was able to survive Google+ but Snapchat is becoming entirely undermined by Facebook.
Google+ went after Facebook HARD. People, including myself, loved the Google+ interface. Recall that this was around the time that Facebook was facing uproar from their original users about privacy, the algorithm and ad-creep. We were looking for an alternative to the social network whose founder said that privacy was no longer a social norm. The hope was that Google, with their motto at the time of “Don’t be evil” could provide that. Moreover, Google+ had better tech as well- from higher resolution photos to native video integration with YouTube and Hangouts (light years before Facebook would introduce video)- they outpaced them. And yet they could not, for the life of them, build a user base.
Fast forward to the present where Snapchat is in the battle of its life because, wait for it, Facebook is copying features. Yes it’s true that Snapchat can still hold onto the “cool” factor amount teens. But that same 2016 report spelled doom for monetization-showing that teens hate ads or, even worse, simply ignore them. Also let’s be honest once those teens mature out of their anti-establishment phase, there is a very strong chance that they will migrate over to the platforms that their sorority sisters, frat brothers, universities, and yes (gasp) even parents are on (college kids get homesick).
In his article “Why I’m leaving Snapchat and so are all of your friends” Owen Williams summed it up well:
I think, after years of being an active Snapchat user and fan, I’ve decided to move on. The service was fun, but I’ve realized recently that it doesn’t offer anything unique, and even if Facebook was copying the company in the first place, it’s done a better job than Snapchat ever could.
The majority of my friends have moved across, and those who initially relented seem to have started getting their feet wet with Instagram too. Facebook, be it accidentally or on purpose, has created an Instagram renaissance that has us more addicted than ever before because we get to see beautiful photos in the feed, then the raw, real life stuff in stories.
Google+ was pretty much doomed from the start but Snapchat didn’t have to be. They had several years of unsullied market share that Facebook tried and failed to land grab. But instead of thinking through ways to strategically strengthen their signal, build out platform stickiness and monetization opportunities, their boy kings decided that they were too good for such things. They were Snapchat.
Well. Good luck with that is all I can say.