What’s the end game for Facebook’s relentless cloning of Snapchat?
With Snapchat features being adapted (read: mercilessly ripped off) and assimilated into the Facebook app, the question must be asked — what is the end goal?
‘Facebook copies Snapchat feature X, Y and Z’. Headlines like these have been rolling out with alarming regularity over the past year as the social media giant’s relentless cloning of rival Snapchat’s winning features shows no signs of slowing.
Just this week, it rolled out Camera, Direct and Stories on its core Facebook app, along with an algorithm to rank friend’s stories according to how close you are to them.
With each of these features being adapted (read: mercilessly ripped off) and assimilated into the Facebook app, the question must be asked — what is the end goal?
I wish that I could be like the cool kids
There are two high-level failures in this situation which the Silicon Valley social giant has either not recognised or chosen to ignore. The first is that most of us use different social platforms for different purposes.
This popular meme illustrates the point perfectly. For a single activity, we have many different approaches to sharing that across social platforms, depending on who our audience is.
Matt Navarra, head of content at The Next Web agrees:
“By adding Stories to its flagship app, Facebook has completed its Snapchat cloning exercise just as we all expected.
“However, I’m not convinced that in doing so, Facebook will magically gain hipster status with the millennial Snapchat crowd.
“Snapchat’s success is as much about its brand appeal and the fact that it is NOT Facebook, as much as it is about its Stories feature.
“Hanging out and sharing your quirky, cool, fun Stories in the same location as where your Mom and Pop get their social kicks will still probably be seen as so NOT-cool by the younger crowd.”
Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?
But it’s not just Snapchat who are in danger here. Facebook has made a very simple, but catastrophic mistake.
It’s overcomplicated things.
If you now go to the Messenger app and open it up to the ‘Home’ screen, it has changed from being simple chat heads recalling your last conversation to a jumble of at least five separate elements, now including a ‘Your Day’ bar at the top. There’s no clear direction as to what this is or how you post to it, but as an anecdotal example, only one of my 700+ friends have decided to post anything today.
Put simply, by adopting stories into the interface, the Messenger app has gone very much against the grain of good UX design principles.
The Facebook app is heading down the same route. The ‘Your story’ bar now appearing at the top of updated apps was rolled out to Instagram last autumn. While it might work on a youth-heavy Instagram audience used to Snapchat, what are less savvy, older Facebook users going to make of it? So far, none of my friends have dared try it, and my father’s response (a heavy Facebook user) when I asked him about it was ‘I don’t even get what it is. Can I just ignore it?’
Snapchat is simple by comparison. Not its user interface; knowing when to swipe up, down, across and tap is notorious for tripping up new users, and it is partly this which has made it so appealing to young people. But its concept is simple. You go there to take silly photos, record your day and increasingly, ‘read’ loud, graphic-heavy stories from top publishers and it’s all temporary.
Snapchat’s unique selling point has always been that no matter what you do, it’s all gone either in ten seconds or by the next day. Stealing it doesn’t make that Facebook, Instagram or Whatsapp’s USP. It just overcomplicates what the point of each platform is.
The end game
Facebook is playing a high-risk game; in trying to lure their younger audience back, they may lose more of their older stalwarts. This isn’t to say that older people are less capable of adapting to Facebook changes, but the generational differences in how and why people use social media are pronounced and well-documented.
It’s also highly unlikely that Facebook will roll these changes back. Even if just 1 percent of Facebook’s 1.15 billion daily users get the hang of ‘Your story’, it will still have 11,500,000 people using stories. This would blow all other platforms out the water.
In many ways, Facebook is too big to fail. 37.5 percent of Facebook-owned Instagram users post Instagram Stories daily — 150 million daily users — a mere 8 million away from Snapchat’s 158 million total daily active users.
Just consider for a moment what that 1 percent of people using Facebook Stories suddenly looks like to advertisers.
Robert Lang, CEO of Socialbakers points out an advantage to the cloning tactic for advertisers:
“Due to its similarities to Snapchat and Instagram, [marketers] probably have an understanding of how to produce short, snappy content — a key component for brands’ social content when reaching audiences. For maximum impact, brands should begin to adopt a more thorough approach to analytics to measure the quality of their engagement on social media, not just the quantity, as well as their overall success.”
But will it last? Navarra is not so concerned that Stories will stick around.
“A more likely outcome will be Facebook’s core user base taking it to in their millions, and flooding our news feed with stories of mixed quality until the novelty fades away, while others will be posting “Make it stop!” or “I hate change!” GIFs in response.
“I do think it will help tackle Facebook’s dwindling share metrics… but longer term, I’m not sure if this will all just ebb away over the coming year to the point we can tweet about to say “Remember that time when Facebook lost its mind over Snapchat and Stories” and a new (maybe) more annoying social format trend will be weighing heavy on our timelines.
“For now, we just have to all get use to every social app feeling boringly similar and lacking any cool USP.”
There is one final glimmer of potential for publishers if Facebook carries on brutally ripping off Snapchat features. It won’t be long before Messenger, Whatsapp, Facebook and potentially Instagram will have a ‘Discover’-style section.
Now THAT would be opening a very large can of worms…