The “Snapchatification” of just about every social media network has reached almost comical levels. Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp have all implemented a version of “stories”, leaving many to wonder how Snapchat will fare now that its unique selling point is not so unique.
While everyone else is busy copying Snapchat, the original ephemeral social network has innovated by adding a search function to its stories. The function applies to any story that’s set as “public”, and in effect it functions as a real-time YouTube, where you can see what anyone is doing around a given hashtag or topic like sports or entertainment at any time. In other words, it’s a way to plunge more deeply into Snap’s 158-million-strong userbase for a more granular-level view of what the network’s users are doing, in real time.
As TechCrunch put it, the move “aligns exactly with Snap IPO strategy following the slow-down of user growth after the removal of auto-advance and the launch of Instagram Stories and Facebook’s other competing clones: Snapchat wants to be where some people spend tons of engagement time, rather than where everyone spends a little time.”
It might sound dubious that a publicly listed company could find life and thrive amidst declining usership, but with this move Snapchat has clearly gone down a different route. It is not seeking mass usership so much as deep usership. This kind of highly engaged usership is hugely attractive to advertisers as it provides the kind of granular data that provides deep insights into consumer behaviour, rather than the more entry-level data gleaned from a huge audience like Facebook’s, where young people are spending less time.
In addition, though they haven’t done it yet, inserting ads into the search function means that advertisers will be able to serve users with hyper-relevant ads that they arguably want to see. For example, if you search “iced latte” or “Starbucks”, you may be interested in seeing Stories posted by users who love the beverage, but you probably wouldn’t be surprised to see posts from a relevant advertiser to that search term too.
You may wonder just how Snapchat is categorizing these stories posted by their users. After all, hashtags aren’t as commonly used on Snap as they are, say, on Twitter. To do this, the company is using machine learning, which analyzes the text in the post, the time it’s posted, and other visual cues. In addition, Snap is making one major change to its format that may surprise long-time users: some of the Stories that are publicly listed will last for a longer time interval that the customary 24 hours. As TechCrunch explained: “If content around a theme is being submitted more rapidly, what’s seen in Search results will turn over more quickly, while themes that only get submissions every few days may see Snaps stay visible for longer to make sure there’s something to watch for the theme.”
Analysts agree that Snap’s move will do well to make the platform more competitive amongst the likes of Twitter and YouTube, but declining usership is still an issue.
As The Drum reported, “Earlier this week a report from Ampere Analysis claimed the platform’s hold on the market means it’s poised to become more popular among advertisers by 2020 than AOL or Yahoo, however the study implied Facebook and Google will still pull in the lion’s share of investment.”
It’s clear that Snap is doing all it can to stay competitive in a social media market that looks increasingly similar to its original format. However, it’s long term health is still uncertain and continuing to innovate will remain highly necessary.
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