Snapchat’s been in the news for the last year or two for a number of reasons. Whether it’s been to discuss the popularity of DJ Khaled, their incredibly publicised and talked about IPO, their advertising platform that hasn’t quite made the cut for most marketers, Facebook copying their key features and surpassing Snapchat’s numbers, or just because their CEO Evan Spiegel is engaged to Miranda Kerr and that gets clicks.
In the last few months however, there’s been heated debate about where the future of the company lies. There have been bigger conversations around whether marketers should even bother with the platform. In Q1 2017, Snapchat reported revenues of a little under $150 million, missing their target for the quarter by about $8 million. The market’s reaction to this news was reflected in the stock plummeting by 23% – which might have also had something to do with Snapchat losing $2.2 billion in the same quarter.
Snapchat did come out to justify that $2 billion of that was because Snap recognised a payout of the same amount in stock to their employees on their books. Without that, their losses were a far more “modest” $188 million. That of course, was followed by someone pointing out that Facebook claimed stock-based compensation in their first post-IPO quarter in the region of $1.3 billion, in spite of having a far larger IPO, and Twitter paid out closer to half a billion. As you can imagine, this back and forth continued for a while, to the point where everyone decided to just wait on Snap’s Q2 report that’s due to come out on August 10.
You have to wonder though, where did Snapchat go wrong? Why haven’t they seen the explosive user growth and positive financial results like other social networks? What could they have done better?
They have an incredibly interesting platform with solid engagement and usage, and yet – they’re struggling to make money. What are their main problems?
1. The Snapchat Experience is Limited, and One-Dimensional
When you go into your Snapchat feed and you’re about to view a few stories from friends or celebrities, you know exactly what they’re going to be about. Meals, friends catching up over coffee, parties from friends in other cities, your cousin showing that he’s relaxing by the pool, a friend from school is playing some tunes while he crams for a math exam, another classmate is flaunting a weekend family vacation. With celebrities, throw in some product endorsements and events, and you’ve covered what you’re likely to see on the platform.
Due to the nature of content you can share on Snapchat, it’s not a platform that drives anything greater than flaky engagement, or short conversations that eventually port over to another messaging app where you don’t lose track of what was said half an hour ago. Recent reports have shown that less than a quarter of people that use Snapchat actually bother with the Discover feature, a slightly different content format available on the platform. Why then, should it come as any surprise to anyone when a study by Delmondo, a social video analytics platform, has revealed that Snapchat has seen a 40% dip in the average number of viewers per snap?
Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter – pretty much every other social network out there, provide users with a variety of ways to communicate and share different types of information with each other. With Twitter and Facebook, you can share news articles with your views and have a group conversation with your friends. Showcase albums of trips. Keep a repository of memories available to all your friends. With Instagram, the platform that is perhaps closest to Snapchat – you have the ability to share content far more organically with friends, tag each other in content and have short bursts of conversations with one or more people. It’s just far more social.
2. Creating Good Snapchat Content is Expensive
Whenever a marketer wants to go from using one platform to the other, they always think about the cost of doing so. If you’re running a Facebook page and you want to start a Twitter account, how expensive is that going to be for you? Can you simply re-use your Facebook content on Twitter? Or on LinkedIn? If you can’t, is it easy enough to find content to post on the platform? With the big social platforms – the answer is mostly yes. You can re-use, crop or tweak your content from one platform and use it on the other. It’s not the best practice, but when you’re looking at getting a reaction from consumers and are in an initial test phase, you can do it.
With Snapchat, the answer is a resounding no. The content layout and dimensions are one thing, but creating content as a brand that’s looking to be relevant on Snapchat and “fit into the feed” is entirely another. To their credit, Snapchat has introduced the “Snap Publisher”, a self-serve tool that makes it incredibly easy for you to put together videos and photos for your brand’s Snapchat account, but take a look at the content most brands (not the Fortune 1000) put out on Facebook and Twitter, and think – will any of this really work on Snapchat?
If you’re going to take Snapchat seriously as a brand, then you’re going to have to create unique content for it. The cost of doing so, is high. And before you take that plunge, you want to ask – have other brands similar to yours that have tried out Snapchat seen solid business results? That leads us to our next point.
3. Snapchat Lacks the Right Metrics for Advertisers
If you Google “Snapchat metrics to track” – you’ll come across articles from reputable sources talking about very basic metrics. They’re metrics that don’t exactly instil a business result focused marketer with much hope, for all you’re led to believe you can track is total views, story completion rates and screenshots.
And it’s true.
Snapchat recently launched their self-serve ad tool to much fanfare. After having an incredibly closed advertising community coupled with exorbitant advertising costs, this was a welcome sign for marketers around the world. It’s still not straightforward to get a Snapchat ad account, but hey – at least the self-serve tool is publicly available. Everyone expected to finally get access to far deeper metrics and justify using Snapchat.
It didn’t happen. Even with Snapchat advertising – you can’t track much beyond impressions, reach, eCPM and swipes. Click-through rates, website traffic, conversions – none of the juicy stuff is available. As a defence, you might say that Snapchat has only just entered the advertising fold.
But to that, you also have to consider – no one was holding them back except themselves – they should have rolled this out far quicker. And knowing that they were late to the market with this, they should have ensured that the right trackable metrics were in place. They should have prioritised this, and since they’ve added in support for driving website clicks and the ability to add links to snaps – why didn’t they also put in CTRs, CPCs and other metrics that make an investment in Snapchat advertising justifiable? The product needing a tweak isn’t reason enough.
4. The Clones Are Doing it Better
Instagram Stories made a massive dent in Snapchat’s plans. By how much, you ask? After Instagram launched its “Stories” feature, which is essentially a Snapchat clone, to its then 300 million strong community in early August 2016, Snapchat’s growth slowed by a massive 82%. Today, as Instagram has grown to more than 700 million users, 250 million of which use Instagram Stories, almost 100 million more than Snapchat’s 166 million.
WhatsApp Status, another Snapchat clone feature on a platform that has over a billion users also has 250 million users. And if you’re a WhatsApp user wondering why you’re not seeing anyone using Status on your list, remember that Malaysia, Brazil, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Mexico are some of WhatsApp’s biggest markets. So if you’re outside of those countries, you know why you’re not seeing a high uptake on WhatsApp Status.
And the fact is this – a lot more brands are already on Instagram than they are on Snapchat. Using another “feature” of a network that they’re already part of is far simpler and an easier obstacle to scale. Couple that with the fact that you can buy ad-space on Instagram Stories using Facebook’s already incredibly powerful Ads Manager or Power Editor, with all the right metrics available to you, and it becomes a no-brainer.
With a greater audience size and returning visitors on Instagram as well, purely in terms of a reach and impact point of view – it makes far more sense for brands to go with Instagram rather than Snapchat, if they’re making the decision now.
5. Snapchat Didn’t Play the Influencer Game Well
Remember Vine? Remember all the influencers flocking away from the platform over a fairly public dispute with the platform? Shades of the same are surfacing around Snapchat. First, came the news that Snapchat stars are seeing their daily viewer rates dropping by 20-25%. Then came the Michael Platco saga, where the Snapchat influencer was warned to “follow the rules” and had his account briefly deactivated.
On the other hand, there’s YouTube and Instagram – that go above and beyond to cultivate their relationships with influencers and on-board them with new features and tools that they’d like influencers to try and introduce to their audience – and at the same time, utilise as a case study for other brands. But the argument goes beyond that.
Marketers often see influencers as a way into a platform. They often follow influencers’ advice on which platforms they should be using as well. So while almost 50% of the marketing community is looking to increase their influencer budget, they’re primarily looking to spend that on Facebook and Instagram. If they’ve got budget left over -they’ll focus on blogs, Twitter and Pinterest. And then, tier three – comes Snapchat’s turn.
You have to wonder, if Snapchat had supported influencers better, if they’d made them their partners and got them to pitch to larger brands and clients with them, how much of a difference would it have made?
6. The Signals from Snapchat Don’t Inspire Much Trust
Since the IPO, Snapchat hasn’t come out with any numbers to inspire much confidence amongst the business folk, or the marketing community. If you ask anyone, marketer or not, how Snapchat’s doing – you’re going to get a lot of shrugs and something along the lines of, “They’re just another start-up losing a bunch of money with no direction.”
There’s also the whole conversation about Snap actually being a camera company, which raised a lot of eyebrows. To the layman, the company seems without direction. They’re clearly a messaging company that should yearn to be a social network of sorts, but they’re talking about pivoting to being a product company.
In addition to that, the numbers that Snap has been putting out have not given a lot of comfort to investors, users or marketers.
Their growth in North America and Europe has been modest, and in the rest of the world, after seeing zero growth in the last quarter of 2016, they’ve only picked up a million users to bring the figure to a very low 40 million at the end of Q1 2017.
And then we look at the ARPU (Average Revenue Per User). It’s natural for the number to dip in the first quarter of the year after the Christmas and holiday period sees a spike – but Snap’s ARPU at less than a dollar globally is abysmal. Since it would be unfair to compare Snapchat to Facebook in terms of ARPU, consider this: Pinterest’s ARPU stands at $1.44 and Twitter’s stands at $2.
Snap has pushed the argument that their “engagement” on the platform is unparalleled, which is why they’re shouting about the “3 billion snaps a day” figure at the end of the first quarter of this year to prove how engaged their audience is. The same argument is easy enough to make for WhatsApp. In fact, their figures blow Snapchat out of the water. WhatsApp users send 55 billion messages a day. If you think it’s unfair to compare text message volume to Snaps (which by the way, Snapchat never clarified if that’s 3 billion photo and video snaps, or if it includes text messages on the platform too) – WhatsApp is a platform that traffics 4.5 billion photo messages a day as well.
Below is an interesting chart about Facebook that completely sums this up. In addition to continuing to grow their active user base, Facebook also hasn’t compromised on its ARPU growth. Both figures have been growing at an incredibly healthy rate for the platform. Until Snapchat gets to a point where they can showcase figures like this, they’re always going to end up being called the “dying platform”.
August 10 could bring with it fresh information, fresh user data and financials – which could completely flip the Snapchat equation on its head. But as things stand, the company isn’t in a very good place. They’re finding it difficult to pivot into a space where they’re going to find financial fortune, their user figures aren’t picking up, the metrics that they’re trying to push to marketers are vanity metrics at best, the engagement levels on the platform are dipping, and users and brands alike are switching over to Snapchat clones on an almost daily basis.
Could this be the last year Snapchat is at the centre of so much discussion? Will they be a precautionary and a “what could have been” tale come 2018? What are your thoughts?