Snapchat Discover: first communication, now content

Snapchat has announced the launch of a new service, Snapchat Discover, which will provide its users with content from CNN, Comedy Central, ESPN, Spotify, Cosmo, Vevo, BuzzFeed, Vice, National Geographic, and other media interested in reaching a younger demographic.

It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. There are two aspects to the social networks: communication and content. The social networks, sites such as Friendster, MySpace, or Facebook were set up to allow people to keep in touch, to belong to a group.

But increasingly, we also use the social networks to access content that our friends may want to share with us. This can be anything from comments about a news event, or something funny, which may or may not go viral. Facebook and Twitter are now one of the most popular ways of circulating information: content that is widely seen on these networks ends up making the leap to the traditional media, to be seen by that section of society that still doesn’t use the social networks, prompting those that do to say, “oh, that’s sooo last week”.

Until now, Snapchat has scored full marks in the communication department: young people love it; there are no consequences, older people haven’t caught on yet, and there is a level of freedom and privacy absent from many other networks.

Snapchat has already flirted with advertising, in a post on its corporate blog that should be studied in all business schools, the company defined its advertising as: voluntary (if you don’t want to see it, no problem, all you have to do is not click) and based on the same principle of now you see it now you don’t that defines the service; it’s also cool (specially selected content that you’re going to like, and non-segmented): as the company puts it: “the way ads used to be, before they got creepy and targeted.”

This is advertising that has to be approved before being shown to Snapchat’s users, and that the company charges scandalously high rates for. If you really want to reach young people, it’s going to cost you.

Now the company is going a stage further: its offering content for its young audience that it will share with other networks, accompanied by advertising, and will share the profits with the providers of content that will be specially selected for its demographics, sponsored by brands, and that will try to compete with a Facebook focused for some time on developing video as its main attraction. The brands can see that Facebook is rapidly declining in popularity among young people, making Snapchat an opportunity to offer their content to the difficult youth segment and to rejuvenate their brands, associating them with a network that young people like and that is outside the main demographic segments.

For a company like Spotify, the opportunity to distribute music that could go viral thanks to Snapchat, is the modern-day equivalent of accessing the top radio stations. For National Geographic, it’s the hope of attracting a difficult-to-reach public that might end up watching its content on its other channels. In general, accessing a younger demographic through Snapchat could be the way for these companies to avoid obsolescence and the idea that they only appeal to older people: every media’s nightmare.

Outside the United States, it’s hard to make any meaningful assessment of Snapchat, which over here is relatively restricted and lacks any associated advertising. The company’s international expansion has come about spontaneously, without creating subsidiaries in other markets and without any kind of prioritization. Time will tell what young people think of this transition to content provider, but experience would suggest it’s going to work.

In the final analysis, content allows for the creation of bases that will strengthen Snapchat as a communication tool: by consuming content I can share it with my friends. If this works for Snapchat, Facebook should be very worried, because it can only mean that it will lose even more young people more quickly. But beyond that, it would prove that Evan Spiegel was not mad to reject Facebook’s three-billion-dollar offer: he knew what he was doing, what he wanted to be, and perhaps most importantly, what he didn’t want to be…

(En español, aquí)