I Saw the Future and Then It Was Gone

Snapchat is the future.

Good, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s explore why I believe this to be true.

The evidence continues to mount that the next generation will be very different than the current, and those previous. So while people wonder about the next Facebook product purported to kill any number of categories (that will not), or if Twitter will finally grow monthly active users (MAUs) at a consistent rate (it will not), there seems to be a missing dialogue about the next generation and the pecking order being set right before their eyes.

The power of people shown in Facebook, and to a lesser degree, Twitter, has been about the herd. The village works because it connects all aspects of our lives. Facebook works at a greater level of scale because it connects all aspects – from school to work to personal – while LinkedIn and Twitter connect segments, specifically business and personal passions. But once that is complete, and the data suggests the work is close to being done, with incremental growth coming from the younger audiences more so than holdouts, where does the next wave of connection come into play?

The power of ephemeral communication has been clearly quantified in the acquisition price for WhatsApp (and also Skype before it), the scale of usage for Line and Kik among competitors, and the valuations of Snapchat and Cyber Dust. The pendulum is swinging away from mass and open to select and closed. While the notion of disappearing communication is more hype than reality, it’s too easy to dismiss the move as simply a market overcorrection whereby people think there’s a foolproof way to stop sharing. There’s more going on than that.

Audience

If you are over the age of 30 and using Snapchat, you are the rarest of social animals. Virtually all data (Snapchat is a private company and has not released numbers) suggests the single largest group of users is under the age of 18. In one study by NuVoodoo, Snapchat rates higher than Twitter and Vine, trailing only Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for usage in the 14- to 17-year-old crowd. This is a challenge Snapchat readily acknowledges, but there is a seemingly sound content strategy developing which is the real attention grabber at the moment.

Content

Thinking of Snapchat as a private texting or, as some call it, sexting, service requires one to ignore the last six to nine months of development. First came Snapchat Stories, an effort to allow users to share both pictures and videos in extended snaps. Quickly followed by Sponsored Stories and Our Stories. The former was the first attempt at allowing brands to tell stories inside the platform. Not surprisingly, entertainment and youth-focused brands such as Taco Bell jumped in right away and reported enthusiastic results. The latter was the first foray into curating stories from users around a given location and event (awards show, sporting event, etc.). But the latest move from Snapchat – Discover – deserves the most attention. At GroupM’s What’s Next event in the fall, Snapchat chief operating officer (COO) Emily White hinted at the future when she said, “Our long-term strategy is not to have a blended approach that you see in a lot of other places.”

Discover is a new form of content creation – highly visual, brand-developed content in consumable bites that are relevant to the platform and its audience. It looks great and fits what Snapchat is to its users. Now the question is will it attract the audience that has no idea what Snapchat is or has no idea why they’d ever join? A massive question to be sure, but with brands such as Vice, ESPN, and NatGeo in place along with more traditional outlets such as CNN and the Daily Mail, it’s not entirely outside of the realm of possibility.

One of the biggest questions of the past year in the context of ephemeral content has been monetization. Now we are starting to see the answers emerge, and doing so in ways suggesting that while the communications may be more personal, private, and disappearing, the opportunities are just starting to appear.

Image via Shutterstock.

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