It seems like every other day that someone announces another Snapchat clone. Facebook had Poke, then Slingshot. Both failed. Path redesigned their chat app to be more ephemeral in nature. Instagram launched Instagram Direct for private sharing and is even testing a new private photo sharing app called Bolt.
Why is everyone trying to be Snapchat and why is Snapchat still ahead of the game. I’d like to argue that Snapchat has a secret sauce. Here’s why:
1. Snaps are Super Expressive
You can share photos and videos with lots of apps, so what makes Snapchat so special? The answer is that a snap is not just a photo. By allowing users to add text, apply filters and draw on their photos and videos, Snapchat offers their users a way to be both highly creative and super expressive. Now when you combine this with the ephemeral nature of Snapchat, you create a way for users to share moments, big or small, in a way that is more natural than most other social networks.
Now if you compare Snapchat to some of it’s “competitors”, you’ll see that they haven’t perfected this perfect balance of expressiveness and ephemerality. Poke was just a pure clone of Snapchat with none of the coolness factor. Slingshot arguably comes close but requires an awkward sling to unlock mechanic. Bolt emphasises speed over creativity. Most other ephemeral apps are using the feature as a gimmick. And Instagram Direct just doesn’t allow users to be expressive enough. You can only do so much with Instagram’s selection of filters which is why people have started editing their photos in 3rd party apps like VSCO CAM.
Also, Instagram is just not a private social network. Like Twitter, you want as many people to see, like and comment on your photos while getting as many followers as possible. Instagram is one of the fasted growing and most exciting social networks at the moment. Why they want to be Snapchat instead of Instagram is something I just don’t get.
2. Snapchat has made smarter product decisions
You don’t often hear Snapchat announce new features but when they do, they are often well thought out, make the product better and receive overwhelmingly positive feedback. Some examples of such features include Snapchat Stories, Our Stories and Snapchat Chat. Snapchat Chat is particularly great and does an excellent job at keeping users in the app for longer.
If we look at (or pick on) Instagram, they’ve made a number of product announcements this year. Adding advanced photo editing features and redesigning the app to be more usable in emerging markets were great moves. Launching Instagram Direct, using Facebook Places instead of Foursquare for location data and even launching Bolt seem more misguided.
3. Snapchat is finding cool ways to monetise
Every social network faces the challenge of increasing the number of its users while making as much money as possible. This often involves making the service attractive to brands and by selling users to advertisers. Services have to get this just right because users don’t want to be spammed.
Snapchat is reportedly looking at alternative ways to monetise so that they don’t alienate their audience of “cool kids who use Snapchat”. Snapchat is doing their best to make the service more brand friendly while avoiding monetising through ads (because ads are lame). Some of their ideas include sponsored events (like EDC), sponsored geofilters and even a mobile payments service. If they can get this right, then Snapchat has an even brighter future than initially anticipated.
The world of social media and tech is constantly changing and evolving. There always seems to be a brand new trend that could potentially disrupt everything. But there is also a lot of bullshit and buzzwords out there and not every trend will be the “next big thing” that takes off the way an industry of social media experts predicted. So how can you get better at predicting which trends will catch on and which trends will fail?
To answer this question, it’s worth looking back at the check-in; the once “next big trend” in social media and tech. Cast your mind back a few years back when “location” first became a buzzword. Google was dominating local search and trying to make Google Maps more social with products like Latitude. Foursquare was battling Gowalla to become the number 1 check-in app…and then there was a little app called Burbn.
Like Gowalla and Foursquare, Burbn was just another check-in app. All of these apps were all built on the assumption that people care about where their friends are at a given moment in time. But as time would go onto show, most people don’t care about where their friends are. Unless it’s somewhere cool but we’ll get to that…
With so much competition in the check-in space, Burbn would famously pivot into a little photo sharing app called Instagram, amass over 200 million users, popularise the selfie and get acquired by Facebook for $1billion.
Gowalla would also get acquired by Facebook but that was more an aqui-hire for Facebook to get more engineers. And Foursquare would become the best local search company in the world, but would never become a viable, mainstream social network. And the check-in? The check-in would ultimately become a feature that the majority of social media users seldom use.
Foursquare, Gowalla and Instagram – all three companies started at the same point but only one achieved massive success. Why?
My theory is that all three companies got the initial insight right but only one got the “expression” of that insight right. People do want to tell their friends that they are somewhere awesome. But instead of being a pin on a map, people want to show themselves being awesome, at awesome places, doing awesome things.
The mobile photo was the next big trend, not the check-in. For users, “location” wasn’t about metadata, it was part of the experience that they wanted to share, visually.
While this may seem like just another bit of “ancient” social media history, I believe it gives us everything we need to build a framework to predict whether something will be the next big trend in social media or tech.
It doesn’t matter if it is wearable tech or ephemeral messaging, whether a trend will succeed or not will depend on how it answers the following questions:
- Will this thing catch on with normal people? Will it catch on with enough people? Or will it catch on within a specific niche of people? A yes to anything at this stage is a minimum requirement.
- Is this thing worth worth the effort? Does it create enough value or sufficiently improve an experience? The bigger the yes at this stage, the more potential there is for the idea to succeed.
- Is this trend based on a compelling-enough insight about human behaviour? Is the execution or expression of that insight right or is there a better way to do the same thing? If there is a better way, try find it…
Just because something is technically feasible, doesn’t mean it is a good idea or will catch on with the masses. Today, ideas can come from anywhere, not just programmers or tech people. A few weeks ago at the SnapScan launch, Standard Bank spoke about a new trend where companies are breaking down the silos between R+D and the rest of the business, working with behavioural psychologists and crowdsouricng ideas to get fresh perspectives. But if you are looking for the next big thing, I think the above questions are a good place to start.