Bitmoji: A Digital Expression of Yourself

If there’s one thing I love more than emojis, it’s Bitmojis. Scroll through any of my recent text messages and you’ll find that I use them excessively frequently in conversations with friends and family. Fortunately, though, it doesn’t seem like I’m the only one. Even my Facebook-less dad has gotten on the Bitmoji train.

For this week’s post, I decided to look into Bitmoji to try to understand the reason for its recent success. Here is what I found:

In 2008, a web and mobile application called Bitstrips was founded, allowing users to create comic strips featuring personalized avatars. However, in 2014 Bitstrips decided to shift its focus from comic strips to digital stickers, which they called Bitmoji. Marketed as “your own personal emoji” and “a digital expression of yourself”, the Bitmoji app lets users create customized cartoon avatars, which then appear in a variety of sketches with messages like “good morning” and “happy birthday”. The app (available for free download on iTunes and Google Play) appears as a separate keyboard when you open your messages.

The popularity of Bitmojis and emojis more generally marks a trend toward more visual communication. Some may say that this change is not one for the better, arguing, for example, that the use of emojis leads to more ambiguous messages. Others, however, believe that it fills a gap by adding feeling to our online conversations.

Regardless of your opinion on emoji-use, it’s hard to ignore the growth that Bitmoji has seen in the last 4 years. In fact, in a period between early 2015 and late 2016, the app’s popularity among unique visitors over the age of 18 grew by a reported 5,210%. This meant that by the end of 2016, Bitmoji was getting more than 10 million unique visitors per month.

While certainly not the biggest number when compared to other apps, Bitmoji’s growth attracted the attention of Snap Inc. In March of 2016, Snap acquired Bitstrips for more than $100 million in cash and stock. Now you may be wondering, what does Snap see in Bitmoji to warrant such a high purchase price? Well, the answer lies in the fact that Snapchat and Bitmoji actually have quite a bit in common. Bitmoji’s business model works by essentially making users a part of an ad, a technique that Snapchat is familiar with. Snapchat features like lenses and filters already let users animate photos of themselves to include things like company, product and T.V. show placements. According to Paresh Dave of the LA Times, “the Snapchat ecosystem puts the emphasis on creation of content,” and the addition of Bitmoji is “another great piece in that creation toolkit for users.”

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Snapchat with a product filter

Since the acquisition, Snap has been encouraging users to link their Bitmoji and Snapchat accounts so that their avatars can appear in the Snapchat app. The social media app has also added features like Friendmoji (which creates stickers of you and the person you are snapchatting), 3D Bitmoji world lenses, and Bitmoji filters to their arsenal. In keeping Bitmoji as a separate business unit while also integrating its capabilities into the Snapchat app, Snap has helped Bitmoji continue to grow. In a 2017 study, Bitmoji was recognized as the number 1 most downloaded app in five markets, including the U.S., U.K., France, Canada, and Australia. Bitmoji’s swift ascension was a marked difference to its 2016 (pre-acquisition) standing where it wasn’t even among the top 10.

In the spirit of growth, Snapchat announced last week that it was making a major update to Bitmoji. Currently, the app’s users can choose between two “styles” of avatars: Bitmoji “Classic” and Bitstrips. The update will add a third option, which they’re calling Bitmoji Deluxe and will additional skin tones, hairstyles, hair colors and facial features, among others. On top of adding hundreds of more ways to customize your avatar, Bitmoji Deluxe will allow users to take a selfie which they can then use as a reference when creating their avatars. Snapchats goal in releasing this update is to let users build more ‘inclusive’ and ‘accurate’ representations of themselves.

 

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Bitmoji Deluxe’s new selfie feature

 

Last week’s announcement has renewed discussions on Bitmoji’s growing popularity and the sustainability of its business model. Bitmoji’s acquisition by Snapchat, one of the biggest social media apps is enough to convince most people of its viability. Some, however, still question the app’s long-term viability. Either way, it’s clear Bitmoji is contributing to the growth on nontraditional ads; the digital sticker market is still in its infancy and it will take more time to tell whether it will be embraced by marketers.

In the meantime, though, I’ll continue to insert my bitmoji whenever possible.

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Other Sources:

https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/298539/snapchat-leverages-bitmojis-rocketing-growth.html?edition=101979

https://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/20/yes-really-stickers-are-business-why-these-100m-emojis-matter-for-snapchat.html

https://www.fastcompany.com/40437794/meet-snaps-secret-weapon-digital-avatar-maker-bitmoji

11 comments

  1. Interesting post. I actually had no idea that Bitmoji started at Bitstrips — I’m curious, do you know if these features are still available to some degree? Also regarding Bitmoji’s soon to be “third option”, I feel as though the appeal of the bitmoji is the simplicity of it all. Do you think by making avatars too detailed they could go from cool and trendy to almost sort of creepy?
    Loved your integration of snapchat and strategic outlook on why they paid such a premium for this acquisition!

    1. I don’t think that the Bitsrips app is available anymore, however, users can choose to create a bitstrips-style avatar in the Bitmoji app. And I’d definitely agree that part of the appeal of Bitmoji is that it resembles you instead of looking just like you. While this update adds several new detailed options, the majority just focus on basics like face shape and skin tone.

  2. As we saw with Facebook, acquisitions are important to a company’s success. Snap has done an excellent job of integrating Bitmoji into their Snapchat platform. I am interested to see how well they can monetize Bitmoji. For example, they can make Bitmoji shirts with a brand name on them, or they can have a Bitmoji holding a sign to vote for a local government official. It will also be interesting to see if Facebook comes up with some sort of competitor. They have already created Facebook and Instagram stories to compete, and I wonder if a Bitmoji competitor is next. Great post, and the pictures do a nice job depicting what you are talking about.

  3. Nice post. I confess that I have been a bit perplexed about bitmojis (and snapchat’s purchase). While I do find them clever and interesting, they are so easily copyable that I don’t see how anyone could possibly make any money off of them.

  4. I’m curious. With this new update, can the app analyze your face and create the best representative Bitmoji? Or is it just acting as a mirror? I feel like the next step to their business model may be to include face recognition software in order to have the ability to make them as accurate as possible with the (I think) almost 2 septillion options.

    1. From what I understand, right now the selfie is just acting as a mirror to “inspire your Bitmoji creation”. However, I agree that some form of automation would be a good next step for them.

  5. Do I love Bitmojis? Yes. And am I pumped for the update? Absolutely!

    Bitmojis took my family Snapchat group by storm recently (uh, yes, we have a family group Snapchat…). My brother and his girlfriend made fun of mine because it was “too white” but I am the used-a-bottle-of-sunscreen-in-a-week girl, so to me, that was just an accurate representation.

    One thing I was curious about is the idea of your “internet” self. I know that the avatar concept can allow people who maybe don’t love or identify with their own physical representation emote how they see themselves. I’m curious if Bitmoji’s ability to allow for a very customized and easy way to send representation of a person, is contributing to the growth?

  6. My mind was most blown by the huge growth in users over the age of 18. Most people consider the idea of digital stickers to be a bit juvenile and only lend itself to gimmicks for children, but 5,210% growth in users over 18 proves that social media engagement (especially in Snap’s instant message arena) is reaching beyond traditionally boxed in age demographics. And this could very well be a result of almost all people’s desire to represent themselves more accurately online rather than being pigeonholed to a static and generic avatar.

  7. Interesting post, Snapchat’s acquisition helped the growth of Bitmoji, and I understand why there are some concerns regarding Bitmoji’s sustainability because of the social media changes so rapidly and there might be some new technology and ideas of how people communicating. As Bitmoji launches its new features and updates, it will be interesting to see what is their next move. I personally think in the future they will take the face recognition to next level and include the user’s voice into the Bitmoji, which may attract more users.

  8. Nice post here! It’s interesting to know Bitmoji. I actually have never heard about it before since I was not a snapchat user. Very intrigued to know the process of developing such a successful product and how the team works that out. One thing I find it interesting is that since the iPhone X just released its Animoji. Is that going to be a big potential competitor? I am looking forward to finding that out!

  9. I wonder if Snapchat’s acquisition of Bitstrips has anything to do with it’s usage in things like SnapMaps. Snapchat may want to be able to represent its users in digital form for one reason or another. Associating a cartoon version of yourself with an application may actually relate to users creating avatars for video games. No other form of social media is quite as advanced using avatars and its acquisition of Bitmoji could encourage Snapchat to be associated with this “virtual self” that people really enjoy when they play video games.

    I wonder if Snapchat doing this also has to do with the push that will happen in the VR space with virtual avatars. If we are thrust into more virtual environments, we will have to choose which spaces we like the best because constantly changing one’s avatars for 6 types of social media will be difficult to manage and we will be forced to choose.

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