Snapchat’s New Test: Grow Like Facebook, Without the Baggage

Snapchat’s New Test: Grow Like Facebook, Without the Baggage

In today’s social media industry, you essentially have two options: Die young, or live long enough to turn into Facebook.

Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, appears to be headed down the latter path. After a disappointing earnings report last week, which sent the company’s stock tumbling by nearly 20 percent, Snap announced a sweeping strategy shift that contained more than a few hints of Facebook envy.

In an attempt to spur user growth, Snap’s chief executive, Evan Spiegel, announced that Snapchat would be redesigned to make it easier to use. The app, which featured a minimalist design that appealed to teenagers while often perplexing their parents, will soon have a personalized feed that uses algorithms to show relevant stories to users, rather than making them sift through a reverse-chronological feed. Twitter made a similar change last year, also under pressure from Facebook.

Snap has also revamped its ad-buying process to be more like Facebook’s, with ads that can be purchased through an automated system. And it signaled last week that it wanted to expand its presence in the developing world, where Facebook is dominant. Only about 25 percent of Snapchat’s daily active users live outside North America and Europe, compared with more than 65 percent of Facebook’s users.

It’s hard to blame Snap, which declined to comment for this column, for going the Facebook route. Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, have been trying to copy Snapchat out of existence for years, and they might be succeeding.

Instagram Stories, a near-clone of Snapchat’s most distinctive feature, has reached 300 million daily active users, nearly twice as many as Snapchat. Facebook’s enormous profits have given lofty expectations to investors in other social media companies, and its more than two billion users have made everything else seem small by comparison.

But Snap’s pivot is more than a necessary business move. It’s an indictment of our current tech landscape, and a warning sign for other start-ups hoping to take on the largest internet companies on their own terms. If a wildly creative company with an app used by 178 million people every day can still be crushed by Facebook, how is anyone supposed to succeed?[…]
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