The 3-year old mobile communication startup Snapchat has been valued at an unbelievable $15 billion in its recent financing round. But despite several attempts, I have been failing to get hooked to the service. In my daily mobile life, Snapchat does not play any role. That makes it somewhat mysterious to me. How is it possible that the L.A.-based company is in the top 5 of the most valuable pre-exit technology companies, yet I do not see its fascination?! And it’s not only me. I have sufficient indications to safely assume that a major part of my network of friends, acquaintances and online contacts are not active Snapchat users.
Here is the explanation: Snapchat started as a phenomenon among teenagers. 3 years later, it is still mostly embraced by young user groups, lets say estimated 25 years and younger (college students and younger). My friends and contacts are mostly older.
Among U.S. teens, Snapchat is almost as popular as Instagram. A recent report by GlobalWebIndex confirms an equally high popularity among teens in Canada, the UK, Australia and some other countries. I am not aware of any survey that suggests a significant usage of Snapchat among people in the age group 30+. But what I am aware of are dozens of articles with headlines like “16 Things Old People Don’t Understand About Snapchat” or “Is Snapchat Really Confusing, or Am I just Old?” that you can find when performing a web search for “Snapchat + old”.
It gets apparent that even in 2015, Snapchat – unlike Facebook-owned rival Instagram – has not had its breakthrough into other demographics. It remains arguably the youngest among the billion dollar social apps.
I suspect that one of the problems that contributes to the absence of mature user groups’ is that initially, when the service was all about ephemeral photos and videos, it earned a not so favorable reputation as “sexting app”. That would hardly be a fair description today. However, today Snapchat offers a couple of very different services in one app. It has become impossible to describe in a few words what it does.
- First you still can send and receive photos and videos that disappear instantly.
- Second, Snapchat includes a text-based chat feature which works pretty much like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
- Third, Snapchat Stories allow users to post (event- and location-based) photos/videos to specific streams that can be made visible for certain groups or all Snapchat users. In addition, brands and partners of Snapchat can publish their own stories. This feature is said to generate “tens of millions of views”.
- Fourth, Snapchat Discover offers small chunks of multimedia content by selected publishing and media companies. It feels like a new version of TV for the mobile age (and is apparently great to generate advertising revenue)
- Fifth, Snapchat Cash can be used to send money between users (U.S. only).
Try to package that feature set into a nice, short explanation after which listeners really would understand the product. Good luck. Maybe teens and students are an exception, but usually people respond positively to focus and a clear product promise. Snapchat fails to deliver that, which I see as a potential obstacle to reach new user groups.
For myself Snapchat remains unattractive because most of the use cases are already covered. There is only one feature that really excites me: If you use the chat and if both you and the conversation partner are inside the app, you can broadcast your live video to him or her right from the chat window. By default this is a one-way broadcast, although the other person might launch a broadcast as well. I find this to be a smart advancement from the “traditional” videochat which is based on the assumption that both people are fine with seeing each other.
For the time being it is unlikely that this will turn me into a regular Snapchat user. To be honest, I have no idea if I even am welcome. Maybe the company is actively trying to limit the app to the teen and twentysomething crowd (which I left behind 2 years ago), which could go well with certain advertisers. But considering the competitive market environment I think this is unlikely. Young users are also known to be the least loyal user group in the long run. In my eyes Snapchat only has one option: It needs to break out of its core user group and increase diversity of its user’s demographics.
This however will not be a cakewalk.