It’s time for us social media fanatics to come to terms with the fact that we just don’t consume news the way we used to. In light of new, more interactive, entertaining social media apps, older platforms (even Twitter) are becoming outdated as contemporary new sources. A 2015 Boston Globe article blames a decline in Twitter’s user growth on the confusing nature of both its interface and value proposition. In trying to explain why the platform’s stock was down more than 27 percent (only slightly above the $26 price of its November 2013 initial public stock offering), cofounder and interim CEO at the time, Jack Dorsey, explained:
“[We] have unbelievably high brand awareness globally. People all over the world know of the power of Twitter, but it’s not clear why they should harness it themselves.’’
To make matters worse for Twitter, its dramatic decline in user growth has been accompanied by the decisive rise of Snapchat’s popularity. In June 2016, Bloomberg reported that Snapchat Inc., with 150 million daily active users (DAUs), surpassed Twitter, which retains less than 140 million users, in overall popularity.
What is Twitter missing? It seems strange that worldwide recognition plus more than 300 million total users simply isn’t cutting it in the digital world anymore.
Evan Spiegel, CEO of recently renamed Snap Inc., explains the popularity of Snapchat over other platforms, hinting that Twitter is missing a key social ingredient: fun.
“Somewhere along the way, when we were building social media products, we forgot that the reason we like to communicate with our friends is because it’s fun.”
“Fun” is Snapchat’s middle name. The platform was originally introduced as a forum for sharing annotated selfies and short videos with the guarantee that curated posts will instantaneously self-destruct—uniquely protecting users from notarizing themselves on social media’s permanent record. As Snapchat began to include the ability to superimpose filters and locations over users’ faces, record live “Stories” and “Snapstreaks,” as well as instant messaging, it became clear that this platform had an advantage over its competitors: its silly, game-like nature.
Enter Snapchat’s “Discover”
At first glance, Snapchat does not seem like one of Twitter’s direct competitors. Originally, Snapchat established itself as a messaging platform, most commonly used among friends. What Twitter seemed to maintain over Snapchat was its widespread, global use as a reliable, quick news source. In fact, according to a survey done by The Pew Research Center in 2015, nearly two-thirds of adult Twitter users in the U.S. use the platform to receive and/or disseminate news via retweeting, etc.
However, in 2015 Snapchat introduced its “Discover” feature, which the company described as a way of virtually exploring “Stories” through different editorial teams, “a result of the collaboration with world-class leaders in media to build a storytelling format that puts the narrative first.”
Recently, Snapchat “uncovered” “Discover.” The feature was previously hidden within the platform’s interface; many Snapchat users had no idea the news source even existed. The current update “combines the best of social networks, magazines, and television in a redesign of its omni-entertainment app.
Now, when users open their Snapchat application, image and headline previews of “Discover’s” content are featured on top of their “Stories” news feeds. If users click on the globe image on the top right-hand corner of their Snapchat feed a Pinterest-style, tiled grid reveals attractive advertising for each publication. Each “tile” represents a different publication, and once clicked on, auto-plays the channel’s curated Live Story (a collection of videos, text articles, images, and ads). Users also have the option to customize their own media consumption—tapping-and-holding to subscribe to certain channels so they will automatically appear at the beginning of their “Stories” list, above their friends’ posts.
Result: The Rise of the “Snapchat Task Force”
Adjusting content to fit “Discover’s” short-form, vertical video format is now part of publishing companies’ digital business equation. Attracting mobile audiences via “Discover” has become an extremely lucrative revenue source. Cosmopolitan’s Discover channel generates on average, 19 millions views per month, and 21 percent of BuzzFeed’s total digital traffic comes from Snapchat.
Therefore, strategizing and creating Snapchat content has created a new sector within the media industry with some publications like Refinery29, The Wall Street Journal and Fusion creating “Snapchat Staffs” to tailor content to this specific medium.
The key to the site’s success?
“The goal here is to make professionally-made and community-curated content just as attractive as what friends share on the app. Previously, Discover channels felt bolted on to the experience, and can seem overly polished compared to Stories from friends that are fascinating despite flaws.” –TechCrunch
Snapchat took its popular interface and offered it up to publishers as a unique way to advertise their content. This allows publishers to enter a mutually beneficial relationship with Snapchat, driving increased viewership (Snapchat splits the ad revenue from Discover channels with their publishers). “Discover” is altering the way we view news altogether, fulfilling millennials’ desire for bite-size, digestible information and multimedia options that promote tangible brand interactivity.
Discover > Twitter
Ultimately, Snapchat’s “Discover” feature is gaining greater popularity. Currently, roughly 44% of the 1,117 U.S.-based Snapchat users between the ages of 13-24 surveyed in February 2016 said they had used Live Stories and/or Discover on at least a daily basis. The following reasons explain why it stands a chance at beating out Twitter as a news source in the future:
- Engagement: Users are already on Snapchat instead of Twitter. Snapchat’s original appeal as a messaging app is currently attracting a greater amount of daily users; therefore, by placing “Discover” on the top of its “Stories” page, which is arguably the app’s most popular feature, traffic can naturally shift toward various publications’ content.
- Sharing Format: Snapchat quite literally built “Discover” off of the popularity of its “Stories” value proposition. Data shows that users clearly enjoy viewing their friends content in the “Story” format more so than Twitter’s format; therefore, news publications adopted this format, distinguished itself as non-friend content within the app, and is currently garnering the same level of popularity.
- Aesthetic: As I have mentioned previously, a pretty picture holds incredible clout within our visually obsessed culture. With VR and AR on the rise, trends point to the idea that users want an entertaining, vibrant, easily curated interface to connect with friends. Providing news through this exact kind of medium is bound to attract our interests.
Who knew the future generation’s news consumption methods lie within an application that also allows you to switch faces with your best friend and barf rainbows?