Remember Myspace? (I have to say that now when I intro myself to new people — my years working there are still a key part of my career history).
More importantly, can you remember the countless millions of teenagers who learnt HTML so they could ‘pimp’ their pages?
Kids Were Coding on Myspace!
That is unbelievable in retrospect. We got kids learning to handle (if not completely write) code just so they could make glitter fall down their page and have sexier buttons in their ‘contact box’. They knew how to open style tags, albeit simple ones like <b>, and then close them</b>.
Parents of course thought they had finally lost their young. They were witnessing their kids type and paste pure gobbledegook into boxes in some very confusing admin panel. Kids made their Myspace profiles resemble a sort of digital bedroom wall, plastered with a mess of everything they were into, and everyone they were associated with.
Confusing to ‘Olds’
The more I work with Snapchat (in my capacity running London creative digital agency Harkable), the more I’m struck with how this is the first platform since Myspace to appeal to kids largely because it bewilders and even scares their parents.
Even at my tender age I can still remember the sheer confusion the first time I used Snapchat. This of course was closely followed by a more composed, professional criticism of the UX (user experience).
The Thrill of the Dangerous
Just knowing you could send absolutely any kind of photo or video to anyone on Snapchat is in itself exciting.
Everything there is out of the gaze of authority. Seeing their parents’ horror just makes it all the more fun. And so it was on Myspace, you could be anyone and do anything. There were serial killers and sex offenders but we all accepted that the entire human spectrum was represented there, before everyone left for Facebook that is.
Is Snapchat Destined for Decline?
So the big question looms. Can Snapchat avoid the fatal death spiral that Myspace disappeared into so rapidly? Ultimately the odds aren’t in their favour.
The only reason Facebook and Twitter have stuck around is because:
- their general utility — messaging, groups, events, photos, news
- their unprecedentedly high levels of adoption across all demographics — i.e. your grandparents use it, people in places with less access to technology use it
- integration across the web and the wider media landscape — Facebook ‘like’ buttons on websites, hashtags in TV shows etc
Will my Mum really get on Snapchat before the youth leave for something new? Will it replace current forms of private messaging like email and WhatsApp? Can it really become woven into our other media experiences such as surfing the web and watching TV?
Seems unlikely but then the entire premise of the app would have sounded bonkers five years ago, so don’t write them off completely.
So Many Users, So Little Money
The big challenge for them will be monetisation. They are the classic example of the social media startup having boomed in user numbers, only to be faced with the task of turning that into a profitable business.
They currently sell vertical video ads (portrait video as opposed to the traditional landscape) which are inserted in between Stories and Discover, kind of like TV ads. They trialled sponsored lenses — augmented reality animated overlays for selfie photos and videos — but have discontinued that for now. There’s no self-serve ad buying platform, and agencies are struggling to justify significant media spend because of the lack of any robust analytics, other than reports on views and reach.
Snapchat’s Future Is Not In Mass Market
They’ll need to bring a much more rounded advertising offering with the ability to target ads and report on exactly what the money achieved.
But like Myspace failed to do, they’ll need to keep its core users interested. And rather than trying to attract that wider demographic, it might mean keeping mum and dad a little bit scared of it.