Being Part of a Social Revolution
Living through the evolution of Snapchat.
Facebook really took off and became the thread of the world’s social fabric around 2008–2009. I was in high school back then and while I was active on Facebook, I did not comprehend what this website’s development all really meant because I was too young and didn’t have the same perspective I have today to appreciate it. Facebook was just a way for me to chat with friends, kill down time, and fulfill the human curiosity we all have with other people’s lives.
The whole social media phenomenon really began to intrigue me during college. It’s what drove social interaction and attention. Parties and events were organized on Facebook. Pictures from those parties and events were shared on Instagram. You would go out on Friday night, wake up the next morning, and the first thing you would do is scroll through your Instagram feed to see what you might’ve missed out on.
And then, in 2013, my Junior year, there was this new obsession with Snapchat. I didn’t really understand the value early on. So you can send a picture to your friends and then it disappears forever after a few seconds? I guess that’s beneficial if you have some kind of sexting relationship going on. And there was definitely a lot of that going on college campuses…
But the app turned out to be way more than that. After a couple of months of an on-and-off relationship with the app, I realized what was drawing the crowd. Snapchat was flawlessly satisfying both the short attention span and the social curiosity of today’s young generations. It is incredibly more interesting to send a message to your friend in the form of a picture or video they can view with ease than a boring and bland text message. Our brains prefer visuals. And in a world where privacy is nearly non-existent and personal photos can turn viral for the worse, the fact that what you send disappears after a single impression was a comforting one.
Snapchat began to really disrupt our social media routines in late 2013, with the introduction of Stories. Stories gave users a place to share their 1 to 10 second photos or videos with all of their contacts for 24 hours. People used it to post everything from the food they were eating in the cafeteria to their friend napping in the middle of an Intro to Psych lecture. Snapchat’s Stories became its news feed, a feature that backbones just about every social media platform. Snapchat was now part of the morning feed-check. And the feed started taking precedence over Facebook and Instagram, as it was simply more interesting; everything was in your friends’ point of view.
To keep users coming, Snapchat continues to innovate faster than any of its competitors, introducing new features just about every month. The introduction of geofilters, which are unique overlays you can add on top of a picture or video that show where your snap was captured, was brilliant. Insta, Facebook, and Twitter let you add location to your posts as a side note, but Snapchat’s geofilters become a central part of your post. They add a setting to the story you are telling via snap in a way that is colorful, creative, and most importantly, cannot be ignored. The other features like free-form drawing and placing emoji stickers on your snaps also open up space for much more creativity. All of these things are highly engaging in a world where just about anyone with a phone is an artist.
With Snapchat having established itself as the hottest destination for social entertainment and storytelling, it began to make serious moves towards becoming the hottest communication tool. Facebook has its messenger app, and Twitter and Instagram have their DMs, but there is nothing too innovative about them and they are not peoples’ go-to destinations for messaging today (0ther than standard SMS or iMessage, Whatsapp to me is the only dominant players in this field, although not so much in the U.S. market). With people now spending more time on Snapchat than other media, the company pushed more innovation into its direct messaging capability to keep people coming for more. First, they added a simple text messaging feature just like all other social apps, except the messages disappeared after a single engagement the same way the pictures or videos did. This was a step forward, but nothing ground-breaking. Frankly, I found it annoying sometimes because I’d forget what some of my conversations were about. But because I was already so active on the app, it was an easy place for me to go and send a quick message or reaction to my friends by means other than picture or video. More recently, Snapchat rolled out free video and voice chat, directly competing with WhatsApp, Skype, and Apple’s FaceTime. It’s a little early to tell whether or not these additions will drive as high an ROI as Snapchat’s core features, but it is nonetheless intriguing to see such constant innovation coming from one place.
For someone who’s intrigued by the latest trends in social and tech, it’s been a ride to live through the early years of such a fast growing sensation. Nothing has revolutionized social interaction as much as Snapchat since Facebook. With such strong and growing engagement worldwide, it will also be interesting to see the way Snapchat continues to affect not only the way we communicate, but also the way we consume. Businesses big and small have already started using Snapchat as a major marketing channel, but there are so many more potential markets to be tapped via the app. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and others offer pay-per-click ad space with efficient targeting algorithms, making it easy to reach consumers. But as more people, especially young ones, flock to Snapchat and spend less time elsewhere, businesses need to invest more resources in branding themselves there. To advertise on Snapchat requires greater originality and creativity because the nature of the content is much more raw and the distribution more organic. Some brands like Coca-Cola, the NBA, and Sour Patch have already executed very successful campaigns (mainly through influencer marketing), and it will be very interesting to see where everyone else takes it from here.
I would love to hear your takes on Snapchat and it’s evolution. Comment below to spark!