UPDATE: Many features of Snapchat have changed over the last five years but this article remains relevant. The way teens and college students communicate is through Snapchat with disappearing chats, face filters and short stories that last less than 10 seconds.
Snapchat is an application that took off immediately, and has soared to greater heights than most people originally expected. Regardless, many still wonder what is so attractive about a seemingly juvenile program. Just what is Snapchat’s allure and why has it become such a popular form of communication?
Imagine this: You’re young. You’ve grown up in a world that has taught you that quicker is better. Attention spans don’t have to be long when the newest technology can give you what you want in a matter of seconds. Your life is always full steam ahead and you rarely have time to stop and think. Pen and paper dialogue is nearly extinct. Picking up the phone to – gasp! – make an actual call is what society deems to be one of the highest quality forms of social interaction. You’ve spent your life hearing that everything you say or do on the Internet (which is now an irreplaceable entity sewn into the fabric of everyday life) will forever exist, though you probably don’t heed that advice all the time. Again, you’re young. You’re going to be irresponsible. You’re going to make mistakes.
You’re young, but you’re not entirely dense. You know that efficiency is key and that if you’re going to say or do imprudent things, it’s best not to get caught. So when you’re presented with a program that promises the best of what our technology-dependent, fast-paced society has to offer, you’re sold. A way to communicate with your peers quickly and efficiently. One line of text, one push of a button, and your (likely trivial) message to your friends is sent. It takes less than five seconds. And here’s the best part: whatever you say, regardless of the content, disappears like magic. Poof. Gone. No need to worry about the consequences.
But you don’t have to imagine this scenario, because you’re living it. You may not be young, but you know what today’s youth has grown up around. The fast-moving and tech-savvy environment is real. And so is the supposedly miraculous phone application that contains the qualities listed above, known as Snapchat.
And oh, is it popular. Over 400 million photos and videos are sent per day via Snapchat, and it’s estimated that over 20 percent of all iPhones have downloaded the program. (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/70-percent-snapchat-users-women-ceo/story?id=20964409)
No surprise here – the main age demographic of Snapchat users is ages 12-23 years old, partly due to features like multicolored drawing abilities and recently added photo filters (http://petapixel.com/2013/12/24/snapchat-update-includes-ability-replay-snaps-add-filters/). And while I am aware that there is a large amount of older Snapchat users who may use it in a more mature fashion, it is an application that is truly tailored to the younger generation.
But the question remains: Why is Snapchat so popular? And how has its popularity changed the way that we communicate?
Snapchat is Short and Sweet
This is definitely an era where conciseness is golden and long-windedness is a burden (much to my writing ability’s chagrin). Long gone are the days where information required some time and effort to acquire; now, like a fast food drive-thru, we have the ability to order and receive the content we desire at any given time. There’s no need for the gorgeous presentation on a silver platter; as long as the content is easily accessible, the grease-stained paper bag will be just fine.
Snapchat is a method of sharing pictures and videos with friends easily. Snap a picture with your cell phone, add a line of text (and no more, as there is a text limit), draw on it if desired, and send away to as many users as you would like. It sends quicker than a standard SMS text, especially to multiple people. And if Snapchat is anything, it’s humble: it certainly doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. The interface of the program is exceedingly simple, with the main camera screen containing only four buttons: one to switch between front and back-facing cameras, one to view your list of received snaps, one to view your list of friends, and of course, the button to take the picture. There is no learning curve involved to start sharing your pictures.
However, that only covers the methods of curating your “content” (if a ridiculous selfie can be considered as such). Ingesting the material is even simpler. When sending a picture, the user is required to set a time limit, anywhere from 1 to 10 seconds. When the picture is opened on the receiving end, it is only viewable for that amount of time. Yes, that’s right. Even if you have snapped or drawn a miniature Picasso, it’s only available to human eyes for a maximum of ten seconds (assuming that the picture isn’t screenshotted, a possibility which, for the sake of simplicity, will not be mentioned in this article).
The takeaway is that we not only want our content to be easily creatable, but also to be speedily devoured. In the broader scope of social media, this isn’t surprising. After all, one needs to look no further than Twitter to see the truth in this. Twitter has enjoyed a wild amount of success for a number of reasons, but the primary cause is its brevity. This makes it a prime location to talk about live TV shows, current events, and more. Twitter requires its users to portray their thoughts in 140 characters or less. And while at first this appears to be stifling and restricting, it has aided in revolutionizing the ways in which news is shared socially. Instead of suppressing communication efforts, they have flourished as a result of rapid sharing. Snapchat utilizes this same ideology through its time limit and text restrictions. Though possibly symbolic of the ever-dwindling attention spans of today’s younger generation, it is undoubtedly one the larger aspects of Snapchat’s allure.
Pictures are the Spice of Social Media
When discussing Snapchat, its main feature is often overlooked: the ability to share pictures at the drop of a hat. After all, the developers could have chosen anything to adapt to the same concept – imagine self-destructing text messages or voice-bytes. However, this isn’t the case. They chose the ability to share time-sensitive pictures – and for good reason. But why?
If I have seen any trend continuously manifest itself in an array of environments, it is that of the popularity of pictures in social media. It has been proven time and time again that pictures attract attention. When an image is included in a piece of content, it immediately makes it more readable and easily comprehendible. When marketing something, it is most definitely in your best interest to invest in quality photographs of your product. Pictures lure people in, and social networks have taken notice. Google+ revamped its home stream to include full-stream photos, Twitter has recently included photos that appear within the timeline (without the need to click the link), and Craigslist has began putting an emphasis on pictures in their ads as well. And that’s not even to mention the success of Instagram!
As you can see, it was a wise decision for Snapchat to focus on the snapshot as the center of their platform. It’s been proven time and time again that pictures are incredibly effective to communicate and get a point across.
But we aren’t discussing Snapchat in terms of marketing (again, for the purpose of this article). Regardless, it still undoubtedly holds value for the purpose of everyday conversation. Snapchat enables its users to freeze a moment in time, send it on, and receive one right back.
Why not preserve the moment? This points right back to how Snapchat is changing the way its users communicate. Conversation is steadily shifting towards a stream-of-consciousness flow when using the Internet and the cell phone, and Snapchat demonstrates this. When the situation warrants it or when the desire strikes, a photo is snapped and immediately shared, and a response is speedily zapped right back. Many people argue that a picture is worth a thousand words, that an image is the most adequate way to view one’s soul; if that is the case, then this form of communication could be viewed as a more intimate way of knowing someone than anything else. Snapchat could merely be the tool used to capture your friend’s innermost thoughts.
This is when we refocus and come back to reality. Snapchat isn’t focusing on the quick transmission of pictures because they can wholly encapsulate a person’s emotions and thoughts; they are doing so because humans have shown an affinity to them. Snapchat is just the next volume in the series of social media outlets that are increasingly simple and efficient. And no matter how many filters are overlaid or how unique the effects are offered, it’s impossible to deny what is at the heart of Snapchat’s business model and its appeal to its users.
Snapchat Promotes Non-Permanence
Unquestionably, the most unique attribute that Snapchat has to offer is the self-destructing aspect of the pictures and videos. As mentioned above, once it is sent, it is only available to the recipient for up to ten seconds. While I won’t make the stretch that everyone who uses Snapchat is doing so to send inappropriate messages or pictures, it is certainly true that it is a large part of its magnetism for younger users. No matter what is sent, there is no way to retrieve the messages. In fact, Snapchat only maintains 200 pictures at a time on its servers. In a world that threatens the ruination of futures from a slip-up online, Snapchat offers a sort of escape – a no-holds-barred environment that has no consequences.
Though still innovative, it is my belief that this is a genius adaptation of one of Twitter’s most inviting characteristics for the younger crowd. This is what I call the appeal of “non-permanence”. I discussed this somewhat in another article. (http://www.wojdylofinance.com/three-reasons-why-twitter-will-be-crowned-social-media-king/) On Twitter, because the timeline moves so fast as tweets come in, your own tweets have a good chance of passing by and getting lost in the vast ocean of thoughts without attracting too much attention. As a result, it’s awfully appealing to use Twitter as an outlet for rants and other immature motives.
However, there is always the possibility that someone will take the time to scroll through your personal Twitter timeline and read all of your tweets. Enter Snapchat, with the ability to communicate in any way you like and the assurance that regardless of the message, it will fall into the dark abyss, never to be seen again.
Snapchat fosters an environment where communication is virtually lawless, with (theoretically) no penalties. And while this may appear to be a good thing – after all, it prevents youngsters from getting in trouble from their irresponsible mistakes – it can promote unrealistic expectations as to how communication works in the real world.
As you can see, Snapchat has taken what social media has found to be successful thus far and has adapted them in a way that is intriguing to the younger crowd. Via its quick delivery and simple usage, the utilization and enhancement of pictures, and its guarantee of annihilation of evidence, it has become an incredibly popular application and therefore an increasingly prevalent way for today’s youth to communicate. Inevitably, it has altered the types of conversations that Snapchat users have, and possibly their definition of the word “conversation” itself. And I have no doubt that it won’t be long until some other program comes out that puts Snapchat to shame, something else that is even quicker and more effortless than ever before.
Additions by Jesse Wojdylo
How Snapchat Will Make Money
Over the course of the last three months I have had to defend the Snapchat business model time and again. Many “social media experts” on Google+, Twitter and Facebook have made it abundantly clear that Snapchat has no value…to them. “What a waste of time!” “No one uses that silly picture sharing app.” “Why would anyone think Snapchat is valuable?” Well, someone does. That someone is Facebook and Google. A few weeks ago Facebook offered Snapchat $3 billion. With a B! They turned it down. Just a few days later Google reportedly offered $4 billion. With a B! Snapchat turned it down.
If both Facebook and Google feel as if Snapchat is worth billions there must be something there, right? For the longest time I could not figure out how Snapchat was going to monetize a photo sharing application. Heck, Instagram has the backing of Facebook (over 1 billion users) and they are still struggling to turn a profit. Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion a few years ago so what makes Snapchat worth three times as much? It is all about eyeballs locked into smartphones.
As Lauren described, when receiving a Snapchat photo users must hold their finger on their smartphone for the allotted amount of time (1 to 10 seconds) to view the photo. Users are sucked in because they know they have a very limited amount of time to view the photo. Unlike TV or the Internet, where users can turn their head and still get the jist of the show, users must focus on the “snap”. This is an opportunity for direct advertising.
Businesses will pay $3 to $5 million dollars for a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl. They are willing to pay this because they know eyeballs are focused on the TV during Super Bowl commercials. Think of the value of an advertisement that businesses know, without a shadow of a doubt, is going to be consumed by the users. This is where Snapchat is going to be a money printing machine.
This is my theory. Snapchat will slowly start to roll out short ads before a user can see a snap. It may be a two second photo of a Michael Kors watch or a three second short video for the latest TV show on NBC. Either way, Snapchat users will have no choice but to consume the ad if they want to see the snap. I know what you are thinking, this will make users run away because they don’t want to see ads. False! The ads will be so short it will be more of a subliminal message. Also, unlike TV, YouTube or other visual consumption, users are entrenched in Snapchat for that 10 seconds of glory.
Think of it this way. When Usain Bolt lines up to run the 100 meter dash at the Olympics you have 10 seconds to see him run. You will not leave the living room or you could miss it. Compare that with the USA Basketball team. As soon as the game tips off you have the opportunity to come and go for up to two hours and still know the outcome of the event. Usain has your attention for 10 seconds. The USA Basketball team has your attention on and off for up to two hours. What are you more willing to make the time for? This is Snapchat versus every other social network.
It is now the case that business professionals are using Snapchat. A well known Los Angeles car accident lawyer and a Miami plastic surgeon have all jumped on the bandwagon. This tells you how many eyeballs are on Snapchat. Next thing you know, there will be entire TV shows on Snapchat.
When you want to see a photo on Instagram or Facebook you can look at it at any time. Heck, there are photos from 2006 that are available for viewing. On Snapchat, you cannot view a photo from 15 seconds ago. This makes the user want to consume the content now. As Lauren points out multiple times, we live in a “now” society that does not want to wait. This is the reason Snapchat grew in popularity so quickly. A two to three second advertisement in front of each snap is going to make this company billions.
A few months ago I predicted Snapchat was a $10 billion dollar idea. It might be even bigger than that. In the next six to nine months Snapchat will continue to grow its user base and eventually there will be a monetization model. With over three quarters of the users being young females I think it is safe to say that eyeballs will be focused on this application for quite some time; or 10 seconds!