Originally written for Hacker Noon on Medium.
Snap. Crackle. Pop?
I tried to like Snapchat.
A few close friends used the app religiously to document their shenanigans, and as any good pal would, I participated — from a distance.
I never enjoyed it.
The Snapchat interface was confusing. A dog’s breakfast of content and a mess of unmarked swipe controls made it intentionally difficult for the non-millennial.
A network was impossible to build, discovery non-existent.
Snapchat just wasn’t for me.
From the look of things, I’m not alone.
User growth has slowed.
Brand usage is falling through the floor.
While its most direct competitor, Instagram, is exploding.
Instagram ( Facebook ) has ripped off many of Snap’s features, but they are also doing a better job implementing and promoting those borrowed ideas.
Even before Instagram Stories came along, Snap was hemorrhaging money and losing $514 million in 2016 and $3.4 Billion in 2017 ( though that includes a 2 billion dollar charge during the process of going public, but lost money is lost money ). Their most recent earnings call showed a bright spot revenue-wise, but the company still managed to lose $350 million in the first three months of 2018.
Burning money, slow growth, an unclear future.
Snap Inc. is fucked, right?
They are if they keep calling themselves a camera company.
Sorry Snap, you’re not a camera company. Instagram has won the war, and quite frankly, it was a stupid idea in the first place.
So What Now Then?
Like Instagram, the Snapchat app takes photos and videos, but that is where the similarity needs to end.
What Snap introduced, first with the ephemeral nature of disappearing photos and later with Stories, was more experiential, more personal, less about garnering likes and entirely about bringing friends who couldn’t be there into the moment with you.
Losing this is where Snap went wrong.
Snap should be the platform for personal messaging, sharing and giving access to the thoughts and experiences that go along with the day-to-day life of the exploding under 30 demographic.
The world’s population is getting younger, fast. Two billion people are between the ages of 10 and 24, it is the fastest growing demographic on the planet, and it’s the demo that makes up 85% of Snapchat’s current audience.
Instagram is the one-way broadcast medium for photos ( and increasingly videos ). Ignore that space.
Snapchat could be so much more as a messaging and community platform, built around creating rich media content and sharing.
Here’s how you make that happen.
Satisfy Our Need For Discovery and Being a Part Of a Tribe
Growing your network of people and places in Snapchat is a disaster. A direct connection to your closest friends is a start, but to keep driving engagement and demonstrating value, your network needs to expand.
Snap should be doing everything it can to highlight people, places, and things near you and make it easy to add these discoveries to your network. Satisfy users' curiosity by showcasing everything that is happening around them, build a community of like minds, create tribes as we do so naturally offline.
Allow for robust discussion around these discoveries, using the power of your extended network to validate and vet, making recommendations that much more powerful.
Yes, I am aware of Snap Maps, but this is too poorly implemented ( and semi-hidden ) to make a difference in the user experience.
Limit, Yes Limit Brand Activity, Give Users Access on Their Terms
It sounds counter-intuitive to limit the behaviour of brands when you’re trying to build a business, but if you alienate users, there will be no one left to advertise to.
The first rule for brands on new Snapchat, anything intrusive to the experience should be limited to a single interaction, per brand, per day. Anything that forces users to interrupt what they’re doing to engage with a brand should be reconsidered and, if unavoidable, limited. Full stop.
Next, any brand advertising on the platform ( food, fast fashion, events, etc. ( this should be a small, hand-picked group ) shouldn’t advertise on Snapchat without giving users the ability to purchase inside the Snapchat app whatever is being discussed or displayed.
Additionally, Snap should expand the ability to communicate to and interact with brands at the user's sole discretion, offering a genuine attempt at authenticity in helping users when they have needs, questions, or comments.
Surprise and Delight
Celebrity ( or Influencer ) interactions are a great way to generate interest in the platform if you do them right. So stop treating this content as unique and separate and put it right into the conversational experience, have celebrity content look and feel like personal messaging, not mini-commercials.
Snap spectacles were a debacle ( produced way too many, took an enormous write-down ), but were precisely the type of experiment Snap should keep doing. Spectacles, if nothing else, showed that hardware could be inclusive to an experience and help capture new and exciting moments without being ridiculous. Do more of these.
Make users the star. We live in an era of customer review. The internet created a maelstrom of activity around customer feedback. Everyone from Airbnb to Amazon is made significantly better by this user-generated content.
What’s missing from this is the trust we have with our immediate friend circle, the word of the people we value most. Highlight these people, showcase their choices, have brands treat them to goods and services and provide benefit for contributing to the community.
Facebook ( via Instagram ) has you in their sights; you will not win by playing their game, so don’t.
Go in a different direction, start iterating rapidly, try out some crazy shit and see what sticks, but do it all for your users, not your advertisers. If you put them first in every decision, they’ll stick around and bring their friends along for the ride.
Start running an experiment a quarter, testing new ideas, and bring a bunch of your users onboard as “partners” to help determine whether they and, by extension, the rest of the community need whatever you come up with.
Simplify The App, More Features but Less Complexity
There is a new version of the Snapchat app floating around. It’s not great (also not horrible ), but the user base is revolting against it.
It’s time to give the people what they need, simplify the app, stick with what works and slowly add in features without adding endless complexity to the interface. But, of course, the answer is never “just add more tabs,” so take your time, figure out how to introduce new features gradually and mature the overall experience.
Go spend a bunch of time looking at conversational interfaces like the Quartz News App or 3rd parties using bots inside Facebook Messenger ( steal from them for once, they deserve it ). While you’re at it, get on Siri and the Google Assistant and allow users to create content with voice commands, anything to speed up sharing.
Find a Better Way to Make Money
Your job, Snap Inc., is not to iterate with new ad models. Instead, it’s to provide a meaningful experience to your users and gently extract money from them to pay for it.
Monetize gently by;
- Taking a small piece of every transaction on the platform, do not pass this cost on to the users.
- Charging a premium to brands you choose to have on the platform, they’ll pay to reach such a prime demographic and cut out the competition.
- Start allowing users ( and some brands ) to create content ( stickers, gifs, lenses, etc. ) to be sold on the platform. These add-ons cost a minimum of $1 but let users “pay” as much as they want. It’s a revenue stream that drives engagement and has users playing a role in building the platform ( and earning revenue ).
- Build an internal data business, a la Foursquare’s Pinpoint and start telling the world where and what people under 30 ( valuable demo ) are up to. Do this with total transparency in how you are protecting and anonymizing that data.
Stop Doing All of the Following
- Producing your content, you’re not in the content business. You are not Netflix, nor are you CNN.
- Calling yourself a camera company and competing with other photo platforms
- Dreaming of being more significant than Instagram or worth as much as Facebook. There is nothing wrong with a company that takes twenty or thirty points on a few billion in revenue.
The ball is in your court Snap Inc. you want to be an also-ran as a photo platform or the go-to spot for everyone under 30 to share their lives on?