It’s been a punchy couple of weeks for Snapchat.
It announced that there are 10 million daily users in the UK.
And this was followed by the Wall Street Journal claiming: “Snapchat’s Teen Fans Wince as App Catches On With Their Folks”, with one in six American users over 35 years old.
Really? Is Snapchat really growing so fast that it’s gaining on Facebook?
And following the Facebook pattern of growing fast among the young, and then into the middle-aged mainstream, is Snapchat FINALLY a potentially major platform for advertisers?
If you’re looking at users, then, yes! Comscore finds 28 per cent of Snapchat users are over 35, even more than in the USA. Great!
Except, there’s a problem.
Firstly this ignores under 18s, who are a huge Snapchat user group. Ofcom finds that 53 per cent of 12-15 year olds have used Snapchat at least once, and 13 per cent use it as their primary social network.
Ignoring this group implies that growth is driven by the middle-aged. Instead Snapchat’s really impressive growth is with young users. Ofcom’s research shows that while penetration is lower among 12-15 year olds, they actually use it more often than Facebook, and it’s the most popular new social network for them.
Secondly ‘active users’ is a poor metric as it ignores how much time people spend using different platforms.
As a benchmark take TV – with an average of 190 minutes watched per day. Almost everyone vegs out in front of TV for a couple of hours every day.
Facebook is the closest challenge to TV – with an average of 40 minutes a day.
We constantly check Facebook, and do so almost every day.
By contrast even though 57 per cent of Snapchat users use it daily, that usage doesn’t add up to much time. On average, Snapchat amounts to around 10 minutes a day. That beats Twitter’s four minutes, but is still quite low to be calling it a serious ad platform.
The thing about Snapchat is that it is incredibly fast viewing. Meaning that, even super users would find it hard to rack up much time in-app per day.
So are these metrics impressive?
I think it depends on who you are.
If you’re an FMCG brand that just needs to get a lot of reach, quickly, then perhaps ‘active users’ is a good metric. But what if you’re doing something more targeted?
Snapchat has challenges in two areas (where Facebook excels).
The first is targeting people using good quality data.
Emphasis on good. Emphasis on quality.
This is where Facebook and Google winning the war at gathering accurate data matters most.
A good example is Google’s increasingly good location data.
Google Maps gives incredibly accurate traffic conditions, live and down to 10 metre segments, based on other users of Maps and Android users.
Equally, Facebook’s Custom Audiences and interest targeting make it easier than ever to exclude existing customers, or people who simply don’t care about your brand.
What does Snapchat have? Geofilters. Don’t get me wrong, these can be super powerful. If you’re a brand where location matters then Snapchat can accurately deliver engaging content to potential customers at just the right moment.
The problem for Snapchat is that, beyond geofilters, it doesn’t have much useful data for advertisers.
So while Snapchat has great potential for high street retailers, its targeting means that it’s much more limited for other advertisers.
The second big challenge is whether views can turn into sales.
It’s possible to sell a lot from social, as WeChat in China shows, with over 200m people using it to send money during 2015 Chinese New Year alone, as well as ordering taxis, buying phone credit and paying for cinema tickets.
It’s just hard to do this on western social platforms, which typically don’t have payment information for their users.
This means that for any conversion, a user usually needs to fill in a clunky form, with at least seven fields, to make a purchase. UK-based transactions, like ordering and paying for a cab, which in China would typically take place in-app, happen in separate apps (like Uber, for example).
Facebook has attacked this from a number of angles.
First, it has made it easy to gather leads in the form of email addresses through pre-filled forms, where the user simply needs to click a button. And second, it has got increasingly sophisticated at tracking sales that occur on multiple devices. To brands and advertisers alike, this is fantastic.
And again, this is where Snapchat is most limited – it’s got almost nothing to allow people to get more engaged. It’s TV of the 1990s, broadcasting great video, but, for advertisers, entirely one way.
So in closing, yes, Snapchat’s growth is very impressive.
And if it can improve its targeting data, get people to spend more time in the app, give brands better ways to capture interest from users, and continue to grow its user base, then perhaps it could be a serious challenger to Facebook.
But right now? It is no real or serious threat to Facebook.
Rob Blackie is director of social at OgilvyOne. He tweets @robblackie_oo