Can Snapchat become more user-centric and provide more opportunities for marketers in its flagship product at the same time?

That is certainly the ambition with the photo sharing app’s new product changes.

Users that have updated the app recently will find that: 

  • The Discover channels have been demoted to the bottom of the feed.
  • Snaps no longer auto advance when watched in the feed (i.e. after watching one person’s Story you are now directed back to the feed, rather than automatically being shown Snaps from the next user in your feed).
  • But users can now make story playlists which will auto advance.

What does all of this mean and what are the implications for publishers, marketers, users and Snapchat itself?

1. Prepare for a decline in Discover impressions

Not many publishers have the privilege of being a part of Snapchat’s Discover library; a privilege they have to pay for, but a privilege nonetheless.

However, being present in Discover doesn’t guarantee premium placement within the app. 

While the publishers’ dedicated Snapchat content still has its own page, the Discover channels are now also situated at the bottom of the feed, underneath the stories produced by the people that users follow, despite being previously placed at the top of the Stories page.

There is sure to be outrage from publishers who have invested significant resources (many of these publishers have dedicated Snapchat teams consisting of eight to ten staff) into the product, only to see it become less of a priority in the eyes of Snapchat.

A drop in Snapchat traffic should be expected, while publishers will also be concerned that Snapchat is following Facebook’s lead in making alterations to the UX at their expense.

However, when it comes to reaching teenagers and young audiences in Western markets, there is little alternative, so publishers will have to make do with the change.

To counter this, Discover publishers will likely increase CTAs for Snapchat users to subscribe to their channel for updates and attempt to make content stickier and headlines more catchy.

In short – expect more Kardashians in the Discover channels.

2. User Stories are front and centre

Snapchat is sending a clear message to its users: There is nothing more important than the Snaps and Stories they actually want to see.

This is the reason why the Discover channels were demoted and likely the rationale for scrapping the auto-advancing of Stories.

Auto-advancing was seen as a pivotal move when it was first introduced, as it prepared the app’s mechanics for more advertising.

Instead the app saw an increase in Story skipping, as users swiped away the stories they didn’t want to see, which means less time viewing content.

So in order to create the lean back experience Snapchat (and supposedly users) are looking for, the self-christened camera company has created Story playlists – a feature that allows users to select all the snaps they want to watch, so they can be preloaded and watched, while making it easier to ignore the snaps that are deemed not interesting.

In theory, this should increase time spent consuming video in-app and a decrease in abandoned Story viewings.

Snapchat will certainly be hoping this is the case, as this type of lean back viewing experience is critical for the next phase of its business.

3. Marketers should get ready to play in Snapchat’s world

The news of this product update should be viewed through the lens of Snapchat recently opening the door to its ads API.

Before limited to just a handful of advertisers, now Snapchat will gradually become open to all marketers that wish to get in front of its highly engaged audience.

While these ads will initially be carefully reviewed, adopting the approach Instagram took when it made its platform open for ads, once the editorial and creative standards have been set, marketers can expect the freedom and flexibility that they get when using Facebook’s advertising tools.

Screenshot taken from AdAge

Although Snapchat doesn’t offer the extensive demographic details that Facebook and its social graph present, it will provide some degree of interest-based targeting, custom and lookalike audiences, along with A/B testing capabilities.

The fast growing startup is sure to add increased sophistication to its targeting as time goes on, but it can be argued that the relative bluntness of its targeting makes it even more appealing to businesses like P&G, who famously reallocated part of its Facebook budget upon realising that its targeting capabilities were too intricate for its business.

Depending on Snapchat’s ability to decrease the skipping of Stories, which should increase ad viewability, the next few months will prove crucial in living up to its promise as a sustainable social platform.

4. Snapchat is finally ready to be a business

An underrated part of Facebook’s rapid growth has been its ability to increase monthly average users, user engagement, ad load and price per ad quarter after quarter.

While this is evidence of a remarkably unsaturated advertising market, it is also a testament of its incredible product market fit.

This product update, alongside the public API, is Snapchat’s first attempt at pulling off the same trick, as it introduces itself as an advertising tool worth using. 

Advertising on the web has had more than its fair share of problems.

But the introduction of the native ad units that Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have created have bucked that trend and in some ways even improved the product (like Snapchat’s sponsored lens/filters).

While the reorganisation of the Stories page is clearly in the user’s interest, the addition of more advertising benefits the company.

Seeing how well the two will align will be very telling in assessing its future viability as an advertising platform.

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