Snapchat’s parent company certainly is feeling the pressure to emerge from Facebook’s shadow — everything that it does, Facebook will follow soon after and while executives from the social networking company have given credit to Snap, it’s a difficult situation. After all, as Snapchat gets new features designed to improve the user experience, a common refrain is that it’s something that Facebook will implement soon after. Just look at the track record:
First it started with bringing Snapchat Stories into Instagram, then Messenger, WhatsApp, and finally Facebook, before adding geofilters, masks, and others. Basically the world’s largest social network is showing no mercy. And to make things worse, Facebook said that Instagram Stories is used by 250 million people every day, a higher number than Snap’s 166 million.
So should Snap just pack it up and go home? Not according to Connor Blakley and Max Baron, two teenage businessmen specializing in youth marketing (yes that’s a thing). They’re bullish in the prospects of Snapchat and believe brands shouldn’t abandon Snapchat because of Facebook’s perceived advantage — the ephemeral messaging app is still ripe for marketing opportunities, especially for brands interested in reaching the Generation Z demographic.
“We live in a world with a new kind of social currency, experiences,” Blakley said in an interview. As the 17 year-old founder of Youthlogic, he regularly consults with brands to help them reconnect with the young, an important demographic that brands can no longer reach solely using Facebook. The popular social network has seen a decrease in young teens, starting in 2013, and there are often utterances from those that say they don’t communicate with their friends using the social network anymore, just Instagram and Snapchat. In 2015, the Washington Post described one teen’s reaction to Facebook as being “meaningless.”
“It is almost instinctual whenever you want to share something with your friends, you open Snapchat. It is instantaneous and the [user interface] is nearly seamless,” Blakley remarked.
Another way to look at it are the numbers: “The average Snapchat user is opening the app 18 times per day, and each day, the platform reaches 77 percent of college students in America,” said Barron, who at 18 is the founder of marketing firm PrepReps which develops geo-filter campaigns for brands targeting Generation Y and Z. “Where Instagram is a ‘museum’ that gets our very best content, Snapchat is for everything ephemeral — and our lives are naturally ephemeral. For so many of those moments we want to share, Snapchat is the most natural and intuitive way to do so.”
Facebook’s seemingly impressive run copying Snapchat tit for tat may be influencing advertisers too. After all, if you take away the ephemeral messaging, will brands want to spend ad dollars on Snapchat when Facebook has the same technology, likely a larger inventory, and better targeting?
“Snapchat offers a very unique value proposition as an advertising platform. [It’s] well-thought out, unique, edgy, and highly relevant creative gets talked about,” Blakley claimed. “When you see a geo-filter get shared by an enormous number of people in a very small geographic space, it can become a topic of conversation outside of the digital realm, and that is exactly what the brand should look for. It is those secondary points of contact between customers that actually pull people down the sales funnel. Facebook’s ad offering is very robust, and very digital — but it isn’t all that unique, new, or edgy. In that sense, Facebook is getting beat.”
He conceded that Snap does need to work on helping marketers better monitor their Return on Investment (ROI): “The technology they are offering to small and mid-size advertisers is second-tier, and they are behind the eight ball. When Snapchat is able to offer similar analytics to Facebook on their geo-filter platform, I anticipate they will see a significant uptick in their adoption rates among those types of businesses.”
Last month Snap purchased Placed in a bid to measure the impact of its ad performance in real life, providing an interesting chance for brands to track foot traffic to their brick-and-mortar stores from Snapchat ads.
“Regardless of what people might think, it is high school and college students in America that have been responsible for the explosion of so many of the pre-eminent social media and tech businesses,” Baron stated. “Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat all first gain ubiquity among the college audience, and for good reason. College students are a truly unique market. Not only are they in extremely close physical proximity on campuses, but their youth and digital intuition make them extremely active on social networks. It is this profound interconnectivity that has positioned young people (of roughly college age) to be first-movers on almost every major platform.”
The secret behind Snapchat’s potential rests in it being what Baron described as being “more realistic and natural communication”, namely its ephemerality. This is likely the difference teens see between it and Facebook. With the latter, it’s not thought of as stories, but rather as messenger, profile, and/or photos.
“No knock-off would have a legitimate chance of duplicating the experience Snapchat has created, because they have already far exceeded the critical mass necessary to preserve their user base,” Baron remarked. “Snapchat needs to focus on the elements of its platform that are most valued by its users. People don’t think about sharing things with people, and Snapchat has capitalized on the intersection between the nature of real-life communication and the benefits of digital communication. That is where [it] needs to continue to focus.”
But these two youth marketers don’t see an either/or situation — they believe that there’s enough room for both Facebook and Snap to operate in. “Users today have a need for both platforms, and the user cost of removing one would be very significant. I don’t see either platform losing steam in the near future,” Blakley said.
Businesses like the ones Blakley and Barron run to help brands target the Gen Z audience are popping up more frequently, especially when it comes to Snapchat. Ad firm Fanbytes cofounder Timothy Armoo has described the ephemeral app as being the “new TV” for the demographic. In an era where people are cutting the cord, spending more time on mobile devices, and having shortened attention spans, Snapchat provides some worthwhile marketing opportunities.
“72 percent of Gen Z watch more than 30 minutes of mobile video a day, and about 20 percent watch over two hours of mobile video a day,” Baron claimed. “Snapchat is the preferred network, followed by Instagram, Facebook, and then Twitter. Overall, they are online a shocking amount, enjoy experiential content over written posts, and authenticity is key. It is their interest and engagement with experiential content that has resulted in the absolute explosion of high-quality, immersive video on Facebook, the development of galleries on Instagram, and other trends we continue to see in the landscape today…the reality is that people want to engage with ads that are exciting and innovative.”
Blakley and Baron may be bullish about Snapchat, but recent studies suggest that advertisers aren’t buying it. In March, research from RBC Capital Markets, in partnership with Ad Age, indicated that advertisers and marketers are putting their dollars into Instagram and Facebook. And although Snap is providing more and more features, such as those around mapping and incorporating links, brands are probably shying away due to Facebook’s dominance, Snap’s sluggish user growth, and the multi-channel advertising opportunities that exist on Facebook.
To say that Snap faces an uphill battle in showing it’s worth investing in is an understatement, but one thing that might be its saving grace is the use by Gen Z and if it has that, maybe that’ll be enough for brands to eventually come around.
“People to need to think about what impression their actions and words leave with the youth. Saying you are a good person is not the same as being a genuinely good person and Gen Z can spot the difference with this authenticity question. Facebook does not understand how its user experience is less advantageous than Snapchats,” Blakley said.