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Snapchat Needs to Evolve or Die Out

A few weeks ago, Snapchat published a report on Generation Z habits, which was heralded by social media news sites as essential reading for brands who want to connect with younger audiences. So what’s the problem? Well, for one thing, it completely misses the mark on who actually uses Snapchat. As a social media professional who has worked in the industry for several years, and as a millennial, I know bad marketing when I see it — and unfortunately it seems, to me, that Snapchat simply doesn’t know its audience.

You could argue this latest analysis from Snapchat may also be an attempt to regain some of its credibility. Following Kylie Jenner’s comments on Twitter last year about the app no longer being relevant, Snapchat’s market value dropped by over $1 billion. Her criticism came after the app implemented a redesign of its features which many argued made it less user-friendly.

Snapchat’s second quarter earnings indicated that the company had at least stopped its free fall, with both daily active users and revenue growing and its stock price rebounding, but over the long run, Snapchat is still clutching at straws. It is struggling to understand why no one uses it any more, apart from, perhaps, children between the ages of five and 12 years old, an age group brands wouldn’t want to market to anyway. What is a 5-year-old going to be able to buy? This age group sees the app as a toy, using the filters for fun rather than for anything else. Sure, TV and film studios, or even toy companies, can partner with them to create exclusive filters that may influence this age group, who in turn might ask their parents to go and see the latest Marvel or Disney film or buy some new toy, but ultimately, with this age group, it is still the parents who make the call.

Live their truth — are they serious?

The report says: “Gen Z are setting a new tone for visual culture — after an era of posed photos against millennial-pink backdrops, a new wave of content mixes selfies with spoken word, imperfect collages with augmented reality (AR) landscapes, and illustration with candid live streams. This is layered with the need to live their truth, and an acute sense of social responsibility.”

I mean, I can spout nonsense marketing speak and awful buzzwords with the best of them, but this takes it to a whole new level! What on earth are they saying here? “Live their truth” — are they serious? This is a perfect example of a brand senior exec adopting “youth speak” (and not very well) to appear relevant or knowledgeable about what the young people want. Every time I read something like this, all I can think of is…

So what’s the answer? Well, Snapchat needs to capitalize on what it does best — filters! They far supersede those of Instagram and Facebook — ask anyone and they’ll tell you the same thing: “I use the Snapchat filters and then upload the photo or video on my Instagram story.”

Snapchat has tried to reinvent itself time and time again because ultimately, it doesn’t know whether the app should be used as a marketing tool or a social media network. If you’re clever, like Instagram, you know how to be both.

While I doubt a partnership with Instagram makes much sense for Snapchat, what they could do instead is to launch stand-alone kiosks in stores, bars, and more, where users have the opportunity for their photos to be seen on a bigger platform. Times Square did something similar a few years ago, and, in fact, most hipster bars, coffee shops, and even the likes of New Look and Topshop have in-store photo booths for customers to take snapshots to commemorate their experience, and it is this experiential element that most millennials and younger generations now seek. This is what brands — including Snapchat — need to leverage, or they might not survive.

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