Seven Reasons Why Snapchat Is So Hot Right Now

First published on TheMediaBriefing last month.

Snapchat has had a monumental year.

As the FT reported over the weekend, the popular messaging app now enjoys 6 billion video views a day, up from 2 billion in May 2015.

To put that number in perspective, Facebook – the world’s largest social network – has 8 billion views a day; although that content is available across apps, the mobile web and desktop, whereas Snapchat content, in contrast, can only be viewed through its app.

Although measurement metrics vary, that Snapchat video views have tripled in six months is clearly significant. Launched in September 2011, the service has expanded rapidly in the past 12 months, overcoming earlier concerns about sexting and privacy to pioneer a raft of new features and experiment with opportunities for monetisation.

As a result of this growth and expansion, many media companies are increasingly recognising the importance of the service in their social portfolio.

Here are seven reasons why Snapchat is too big for media companies to ignore.

1: It has the fastest growing user base

Snapchat is still a private company, so exact user numbers are hard to pin down. Business Insider suggested in January that “it could be nearing 200 million [monthly] active users” while CEO Evan Spiegel disclosed at a conference in May that the service has close to 100 million active daily users.

These audiences may not be huge compared to rival networks such as WeChat (600 million monthly active users as of Q2 2015) or Twitter (320 million MAUs, September 2015), but it’s Snapchat’s star that is most in the ascendancy.

In 2014, it was Snapchat that GlobalWebIndex identified as the world’s fastest growing social app. Their research, which covers more than 30 major media markets, revealed that the number of Snapchat users grew by 57% between Q1 and Q4 2014; some way ahead of Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook Messenger.

2: “Engagement to die for”

That’s how VentureBeat’s Dylan Tweney described the revelation that 65 percent of Snapchat’s daily users contribute content – in the form of snaps or stories – to the network.

In contrast to this level of hyperactivity, it was reported last year that only 126 million of Twitter’s 947 million accounts – akin to 13.3% – had sent a tweet in the past month. No wonder there are those who claim the old bird is dying.

Meanwhile, as we noted on TheMediaBriefing in the summer, most usage of major social networks is remarkably passive with sites converting visitors into active users.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem that Snapchat has. With 6 billion Snapchat video views a day, that translates to 60 video views per user, per day, based on an assumption of 100 million daily users. That’s a heck of a lot of video; and just one reason why 75 percent of Vodafone’s social messaging data in the UK is to Snapchat.

3: Millennials love it

Snapchat’s website claims it “is the best way to reach 13 to 34 year-olds” with their own data highlighting just how young the network skews.

In the US, 60% of the network’s users are aged 13-24, with a further 26% aged 25-34. This means that just 14% of Snapchat’s American users are aged over 35.

Separately, they also stress that “more than 60% of [all] US 13 to 34 year-old smartphone users are Snapchatters.”

Snapchat’s overwhelming popularity with millennials compares favourably with other social networks – including those such as Vine and Tumblr – who have historically been associated with these younger demographics.

Snapchat demographics

4: The caché of exclusivity

No doubt one of the reasons for Snapchat’s popularity is the time-restricted nature of the content that permeates it. With material – from both users and brands – disappearing after 24 hours, this promotes a sense of urgency and taps into the FOMO (fear of missing out) zeitgeist which is such an intrinsic part of many millennials’ media experience.

One clear way in which the network may look to monetise this trait could be seen last month  with the creation of the first ever Snapchat Discover channel dedicated to a movie; the new James Bond film Spectre.

Snapchat offered special behind-the-scenes content, cast messages and photos for a limited 24-hour period, with Deadline Hollywood also relaying how this would be accompanied on the day of release by “Spectre geofilters, [and] artistic overlays allowing users to incorporate Spectre art into phone and video snaps.”

These add-ons reinforce the sense of time-sensitive exclusivity also manifest in Snapchat’s Live Stories(a curated look into life a given city or major) and original content like Comedy Central’s “Swag-A-Saurus” and their own series “Literally Can’t Even.”

Spectre.png

5: It taps into the trend for vertical viewing

As outlined in Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends report, vertical viewing has increased dramatically in the past five years, driven by usage of mobile as a mainstream media device.

That Snapchat has been vertical-first from the outset demonstrates their understanding of this consumer reality, and that for some users, viewing non-vertically designed content on a phone can look as bad as watching old 4×3 material on a widescreen TV.

Vertical viewing now accounts for 29% of screen time in the US, up from 5% in 2010, and this shift in consumption – referred to by some, including Snapchat, as 3V (vertical video views) – is already beginning to have a knock-on effect for content creation.

“The whole notion of turning your phone on its side to watch a video is awkward and a bit of a hassle,” noted Jon Steinberg, CEO at Daily Mail, North America, in a Medium post earlier this year.

“Despite 8 years of vertical mobile viewing, creators have been slow to create video specifically for phones,” he observed, before adding a potentially killer stat: “Snapchat has told us that vertical video ads have up to 9x more completed views than horizontal video ads,” he writes.

It’s an eye-catching statistic Snapchat repeats on their website, highlighting the potential for advertisers afforded by this mobile native user experience.

6. Dovetailing into our Second Screen realities

MTV’s annual Video Music Awards (VMAs) reached 9.8 million people on TV this year, with 12 million people engaging with the show via Snapchat. Although the TV audience is likely to have watched for longer, “the average Live Story viewer watched for about three minutes,” Digiday wrote.

This finding – when combined with the level of activity during the awards on Twitter and other social networks – demonstrates how much the traditional TV experience has evolved.

In the US alone, Nielsen recorded that 21.4 million tweets were sent during the show garnering 676 million impressions. The number of tweets was up 64% from last year, suggesting that Snapchat’s growth isn’t necessarily detrimental to second screen behaviours on Twitter and other social networks.

With TV now the second screen for some demographics, Snapchat’s ephemeral short-form content can sit comfortably alongside more established second screen habits.

7. “Snapchat makes you happier than Facebook and not because of sexting”

This memorable headline from last month was inspired by the publication of a new academic study which explored “ephemeral social interaction on Snapchat.”

Produced by researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M), the report drew on the experience of 154 college students and found “that Snapchat interactions were perceived as more enjoyable – and associated with more positive mood – than other communication technologies.”

However, they also note, that respondents felt this wasn’t a platform for major discussion, but rather a channel for “sharing mundane experiences with close ties” and ”a lightweight channel for sharing spontaneous experiences.”

It’s not clear what this means for news or brand content (the full report is behind a paywall) but it does offer some insight into some of the ways in which the platform is used – why its growing – and perhaps the preferred tone of publisher interactions on the network.

“Since Facebook has become a space for sharing crafted big moments such as babies, graduations and birthdays, Snapchat seems to provide users with a distinct space for sharing the small moments,” said U-M researcher Joseph Bayer, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication.

What this might mean for you

Many of the reasons why consumers are currently drawn to Snapchat can be equally attractive to advertisers and publishers.

Teens are a key demographic in most markets and Snapchat is used by more than a quarter of online teens  in countries as diverse as Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Belgium. Intriguingly, it’s also the second most popular social network in Norway, used by 44% of internet users and 86% of online Norwegians aged 18-29.

And just as user generated content on the network can be playful and irreverent, so Snapchat offers brands a chance to position themselves in different ways – and perhaps less formally – than on some other social networks.

Alongside this, the exclusivity of content – including the limited real estate available for adverts, discover videos and live stories – can help to create a premium feel for material; whilst the 24-hour refresh cycle provides an impetus for audiences to keep coming back to day after day.

Allied to this, the short-form nature of Snapchat’s video offering provides a potential route to long-form content, without audiences necessarily realising it.

As a channel, of course, it is not for everyone. There’s been criticism that Snapchat’s costs are very  high, that it doesn’t capture – or share – enough essential user data and that, for some advertisers, the audience may be toofemale.

But clearly, for some publishers – such as Cosmopolitan, who claim to be reaching 3 millions viewers a day on Snapchat Discover – it is a platform which can add real value.

The experimentation of the past year – including the launch of Snapchat Discover, plans for the creation (with Daily Mail and WPP) of a native advertising agency, as well as efforts to charge users if they want to replay old content – all serve to remind us that this is still very much a start-up; and one which is still developing – and refining – its revenue model.

The frustrations felt by some advertisers and publishers in this space are clearly very real, but for audiences the Snapchat juggernaut looks set to keep gathering speed. The consumer drivers for this growth are grounded in an innate understanding of the preferences of the mobile millennial media consumer; if this is an audience that you want to capture, then you may need Snapchat more than you realise.


Damian Radcliffe (@damianradcliffe) is the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon and a former guest editor of TheMediaBriefing

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