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The Decline of Snapchat: How one bad redesign killed a whole business
19/07/2018

Snapchat took over social media for over 5 years, it captured a young audience through its ‘safety’ features, its use of VR, and its private and fast paced nature. Before long, celebrities and influencers jumped on the platform, later followed by brands and publishers. Snapchat was in its height of success only a matter of months ago - and yet if I open my Snapchat app right this minute there is little to no content on there whatsoever.

So what drove people to drop the app almost faster than they picked it up in the first place? One bad redesign.

When Snapchat first began, it created a real buzz because it had one thing that other social media sites didn’t have… the photos you sent on the app disappeared. In the height of lectures and warnings from teachers/parents/the media about social media platforms, Snapchat hit the sweet spot by creating an app that made the ‘social media posts are permanent’ argument totally void, so adults no longer had a leg to stand on and kids could use it as a big FU - with the added bonus that actually, the app was pretty good (and safe). 

Snapchat’s users grew at pace, but luckily the app was able keep up with its success. Whilst people were still enjoying the novelty of disappearing pictures, Snapchat introduce the OG ‘story’ - something that seems so regular now you forget how groundbreaking it was. Yep, the story was created using the same idea of disappearing images, only these would stay up for 24 hours, and could be seen by all of your Snapchat friends within that time frame. This feature then became Snapchat’s staple feature that was widely used by all users on a regular basis.

Alas, this idea of a ‘private’ platform soon faded as it grew to be as popular as the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Not only did the mass of users brought in to the app make content posted more widely accessible - there were also archive features added for images and text, meaning things no longer disappeared. However, whilst the initial appeal of Snapchat was its privacy, this soon changed due to their innovation from the creation of the story, to everyone’s favourite cat/dog/flower crown filters making the app a strong competitor against other social media sites (many of which were already flooded with images of people taken on snapchat using said filters!)

A large factor in Snapchats growth was the transition from it being an app used within friendship groups to send funny pictures to being another source to follow your favourite celebrity or influencer. As the app grew more and more celebrities adopted the app as a way to share another (more personal) segment of their life with their fans/viewers/followers. Everyone from the Kardashian sisters to our beloved Phillip Schofield took to Snapchat to share what they were having for tea, when their dog pees on the carpet, their favourite midnight snack… or in Phillip Schofield’s case his favourite G&T. Naturally, this did wonders for Snapchat as fans continued to flock to the app to get this exclusive and fascinating content, which also worked in favour of these celebrity users. Kylie Jenner, who has definitely earned her place in the Snapchat hall of fame, is a prime example of why this app became so successful. As well as being an influencer and reality TV star, the half-Kardashian has her own incredibly successful global beauty brand. The star used Snapchat as a tool to launch her new products. Before any official release, the first place you could catch a glimpse of the latest Kylie Cosmetics products was on Snapchat as Kylie would reveal the packaging, swatch the products, and film herself wearing the products. Kylie took the platform from being a light-hearted bit of fun to being a very effective marketing and promotion tool… massively benefitting her own company as much as it did Snapchat. Just to emphasise Kylie’s influence on the app - after the unsuccessful redesign she published a tweet bashing the app, which caused snapchat a loss of $1.3 billion. BILLION. 

The natural progression from influencer use, as you can imagine, was the introduction of brands and publishers using the platform. Before long, there was a whole new section within the app that allowed people to view stories and updates of all the latest news and gossip from publishers like The Sun, MTV, Daily Mail and Cosmopolitan. The introduction of brands saw the first stage of the Snapchat suicide redesign - the new feature was placed as a ‘discover’ section in the app, which would later become intertwined with the stories section causing an abundance of confusion and annoyance. One key brand that used Snapchat to their advantage last year was ITV’s Love Island. The TV show used the platform to share exclusive content with fans, as Snapchat hosted the largest population of their fanbase. The reason this is relevant is not just as an excuse to talk about the show (however I would happily do regular blogs on the topic…) but that the show has returned this summer after last years huge success - but they are no longer using Snapchat. In the space of the year, they saw the platform act as their biggest social media audience to their worst. That really does go to show just how dramatic the drop of Snapchat users has been… ‘but where have they all gone?’ I here you ask.

Instagram. The Facebook owned app was successful in it’s own right - but rather cheekily (yet incredibly beneficial) they began to copy Snapchat’s exclusive features, such as introducing the Story concept. The problem that Snapchat faced with this was that whilst there was a level of loyalty to the Snapchat story for a while after Instagrams introduction, people slowly began to shift as the ease of combining their two favourite platforms into one space began to overtake the brand loyalty they had. Instagram also introduced filters on the story camera, as well as new features like boomerang, rewind, and focus. Suddenly, Instagram could do everything Snapchat could do and more. Combine this with the mentioned redesign fiasco, and just like that Snapchat became history.

Snapchat were struggling to keep up with their competitors and needed to regain their status as an influencer amongst social media sites. Cue big redesign… now it’s true, Snapchat needed something big to keep their users engaged, but as is the risk with any drastic change, it has the potential to go terribly wrong. And boy did it. 

There were multiple complaints about the Snapchat redesign, in that it was nigh on impossible to actually use! Changes included condensing Stories and incoming private snaps to one layout, meaning when Stories have been viewed you have to specifically search a username to rewatch the story again - instead of it staying on the dedicated stories page for 24 hours like before. Likewise, trying to send a snapchat became more complicated. The busy layout made it hard to find a specific friend in comparison to the previous simple list view. The previous ‘discover’ page that originally hosted friends Stories with a separate top section for the previously mentioned publications became an entire page of sponsored content and ‘featured’ stories from popular celebrities. The new discover page has become totally impersonal, it was Snapchat’s way of becoming more appealing to advertisers and bring in more revenue - at the expense of its users preferences.

It’s worth noting that Snapchat is not dead, it does still have loyal users - but as I said at the start, if I open my Snapchat right this second there are currently only 7 friends Stories live. Only a matter of months ago that number would have been over 40 easily, so there is no denying the drop in users following the redesign. As for celebrities and influencers, many of them do still use the app but it is very rare to find exclusive content on Snapchat that isn’t also published on Instagram. Is it possible for Snapchat to regain their users? I don’t know - but I do know it would take something dramatic to pull it back. Snapchat was a huge force in the world of social media, and is single handedly responsible for many of the features we know and love that have spread across different platforms. I genuinely hope they can resurrect the innovation they once had that made it what it was… and maybe second time round they’ll learn from their mistakes. 

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