Last Wednesday, Snap announced details about the upcoming design overhaul of its flagship app, Snapchat. Snap has claimed that users are at the heart of this redesign, but it also represents an effort to exert greater control over advertising on the platform. As the changes are rolled out, some groups are likely to benefit more than others.
The most significant change is that content which Snap deems ‘media’ will now be separated from content deemed ‘social’. This division already existed for Snapchat’s professional media partners, whose content was listed on the currently less popular Discover page, but now it will encompass all influencers, publishers and celebrities, who till now had were listed among a user’s friends.
As a Snapchat marketing company, we decided to speak to the people who this change really impacted - users, influencers, publishers and brands to get their thoughts on the update and how it’d impact them going forward.
Below we outline the different parties and what each of them stand to gain or lose.
To some users who have the update, things don’t seem too different. For certain content, users will now need to swipe right instead of left which isn’t a big leap in user experience. Even so, on Twitter, reactions to the update have so far been predominantly negative, with comments suggesting it looks bad, and is cluttered and confusing. Many are dismayed that they are not able to see the stories of people they follow - who might not follow them back, unless they go into the Discover and scroll further down.
Another part of the changes that seems to be well received by users: Snapchat will join Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in an algorithmically-managed, infinitely-scrollable feed which some users have looked favourably to as it helps find more relevant content making snap a more engaging experience.
While many of the best-performing technology stocks saw significant declines on Wednesday – including a significant 4% drop for Facebook and 4.76% drop for Twitter – Snap saw a tentative rise of 0.66%. This may reflect confidence in the new update, and hopes for an expanded user base who will spend more time on the app.
The update represents a tacit effort to direct more traffic through SnapAds. The changed status of influencers, publishers and celebrities should bring much more traffic to the Discover page, where adverts are more regular and predominantly controlled by SnapAds.
However, if the changes don’t find widespread appeal among users and – perhaps more importantly – influencers, then this could signal bad news for Snap. Though there are many differences between Snapchat and Vine, the latter’s decline in 2016 may be attributed partly to its poor treatment of content creators. So too, Snapchat’s fate depends on keeping its influencers on the platform.
Since influencers no longer have the same identity as friends, influencers are now concerned that their advantage as providers of an intimate, engaging platform for advertising may not be as strong as it was before the update.
The worry about the change however seems to be for much smaller influencers (people with less than 15k views) more than larger ones. This is because smaller influencers are unlikely to appear high up on the Discover page, on which promotion depends on a mixture of algorithmic and human vetting. Whereas influencer viewing rates remained consistent before the update, most influencers now expect a considerable amount of variance in viewing figures, depending on how their content fares on the Discover page.
By contrast, for mid to top tier influencers, the changes may bring additional exposure beyond their personal following, because the algorithm is likely to place their content far higher up on Discover.
Snap’s Media Partners
Until now, Snapchat’s professional media partners enjoyed a monopoly over the Discover page. With the changes, they will now have to compete for views with a much larger amount of content. Of course, if that means more users and more traffic to the Discover page, then Snap’s media partners could well benefit from increased impressions. But it’s possible that professional content will lose out to celebrities and influencers, who dominate the attention of the mostly Generation Z user base.
Finally, the effect these changes have on advertising companies will depend on how well they react. Many of the advertisers we spoke to were pleased to see that theoretically more attention will be moved to Discover providing more opportunities for their ads to be seen. There was however some concern from brands on what this meant for their own channels which will now seem to be buried with all other content on discover - this brought into question the importance of having your own Snapchat channel if views are going to be variable without a common baseline.
Although Snap is trying to draw more agencies in to using its own advertising platform, SnapAds, there are several possible ways to retain independence. These will depend on what content does best on the updated Discover page, and on how easy it is to dissect the algorithm and use it to advertisers’ own benefit.
Snapchat is at an interesting time in its development. This redesign represents a pivotal time in whether they are going to create a better experience for brands and users thus reviving user growth and ad dollars. If users don’t bite, influencers leave and Discover partners start to see dwindling viewership then this could spell the end for the once social media darling.
Bret Cameron is Campaign Manager at Fanbytes