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The Evolution of Snapchat

Posted: February 13, 2015, 5:38 p.m.
by Sarah Parker.

Thanks to Snapchat, we can take awkward and embarrassing selfies and send them to our friends, knowing they will only exist for 10 seconds or less—unless our friends break the honor code and take a screenshot. That’s the beauty (and terror) of Snapchat.

In recent years, however, Snapchat has become a lot more than goofy photo sharing. With updates that let users draw on their pictures, take videos and post their own individual stories, Snapchat is rewriting how its users communicate. The latest update? Discover, which signals Snapchat’s transition from purely social media to mainstream media.

15621030930_34d3df2ccb_oLet’s take a look at how Snapchat has evolved over the years, from its conception in 2011 to the release of the Discover update in January 2015.

The big idea

In 2009, two undergraduates at Stanford University met for the first time. Their first project was a website called Future Freshman, which was supposed to “forever improve the way high school students applied to college.” It never caught on, but luckily for us, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy kept working together. If they hadn’t, Snapchat wouldn’t exist.

Spiegel and Murphy moved to Los Angeles in 2011 and started exploring the world of mobile photo sharing. The photo sharing business wasn’t as booming as it is now, “with most photo apps on the market advertising ways to make photos prettier or more stylized,” according to the Snapchat blog. The guys decided they wanted a way to send “awkward selfies and funny photos with [their] friends,” without worrying about it coming back to haunt them later. They quickly got to work and the rest is history.


It gets better

In 2013, Snapchat unveiled Stories, its version of a timeline. Users could post Snapchat pictures or videos to their My Story feed, and their friends could see it for 24 hours.

This was unlike any social media feature to date, and an article by called Snapchat Stories a game-changer for brands.

“Rather than sending snaps to just a few followers, you could share snaps with a mass audience. Big names like Red Bull, the New Orleans Saints and NPR added Snapchat to their roster of social media accounts,” Dasha Battelle said in the Mashable article.

This update provided access to an incredible number of users and allowed brands to interact with their users in a highly personal, entertaining way. It established Snapchat as a major player in the world of social media and its utility has only expanded over time.

A new story

The next big release was Our Story, an expansion of the original Stories update.

“We wanted to build something that offered a community perspective, lots of different points of view,” Snapchat said. “After all, our friends often see the same things in totally different ways.”

Our Story was the same as My Story, but instead of it being a thread of one person’s post, anyone at the same event location could contribute. Additionally, even if users weren’t at the specific event, they could still watch the snaps and stay connected. It first debuted at the Electric Daisy Carnival, and was followed by featured Stories at Lollapalooza, Rio and Outside Lands, all prominent music festivals.

Our Story embodied the storytelling nature of Snapchat. Event attendees could take ownership of the event and document just about anything that happened, barring content deemed inappropriate by the people managing the story. Furthermore, users around the world could live vicariously through the snap videos they were watching.

‘AD’venture time

Fast-forward to October 2014, and users saw the first ad on Snapchat. It was a video promo for the movie Ouija, and it was as unobtrusive as ads get. The ad was a 20-second video trailer shown in users’ Recent Updates section. It was clearly marked sponsored, and users only had to watch it if they clicked on it.

According to the Snapchat blog post announcing the ad, there was one simple reason they took the plunge into paid content.

“We need to make money,” Snapchat said.

The company promised that Snapchat would never put paid content in users’ personal communication, because, “That would be totally rude.” This was a refreshing detour from the interruption-based advertising we are used to.

“Snapchat could have made us watch advertisements before being able to view snaps from friends or before we send our own,” a Washington Post article said. “We’re so accustomed to advertising being part of everything we do on the Internet, it’s doubtful that there would be a mass exodus from an app the Wall Street Journal reported to have 100 million monthly users.”

The article went on to say that while this is great news for users, it’s kind of a gamble for Snapchat, because the success of the advertisement comes from how many users choose to view the ad. Tracy Frazier, associate catalyst at Golin Dallas, highlighted the positive side of user-choice in viewing the ads.

“There are two key aspects to Snapchat that set it apart from other platforms: the disappearing nature of snaps and the opt-in aspect for Snapchat users,” Frazier said. “Because users are only watching Snapchat stories or advertisements if they choose to tap on it, it is nearly guaranteed that those views are from highly engaged, interested consumers.”

This is great news for brands, because the goal of advertising is to spark action. The majority of users that click these ads will be highly engaged, and this will increase the likelihood of consumer action. McDonald’s, Samsung, Macy’s and Electronic Arts are among those who have taken advantage of Snapchat ads.

Quite a discovery

The tech world was still buzzing with conversation about Snapchat’s in-app advertising, but that didn’t stop the platform from turning things upside down with the release of Discover on Jan. 27, 2015.

“Snapchat Discover is a new way to explore Stories from different editorial teams,” the platform said. “It’s the result of collaboration with world-class leaders in media to build a storytelling format that puts the narrative first. This is not social media.”

16294396940_56defd02cd_oDiscover launched Snapchat into the world of mainstream media. With brands like People, CNN and Food Network signed on and producing content, the app is yet again rewriting how users interact with brands and get information.

Snapchat emphasized that this technology was built to best showcase the content it provides.

“This time we built the technology to serve the art: each edition includes full screen photos and videos, awesome long form layouts, and gorgeous advertising,” Snapchat said.

Frazier described the update further, and how it is a change from the typical news articles shown on social media newsfeeds.

“With Discover, best-in-class channels for various segments of news are producing digestible content pieces that the publication editors actually want you to read, not an algorithm,” Frazier said. “It definitely has the potential to launch Snapchat as more of a mainstream news provider.”

This update provides brands an excellent opportunity to reach millennials. But will all Snapchat users, the majority of whom are under 24, be interested in the content brands are providing?

“That’s my biggest question: whether Snapchat’s user base . . . will be interested in using Snapchat to watch, say, clips from Yahoo News,” Alex Dalenberg, a writer at Upstart Business Journal, said. “For one thing, the content on Snapchat Discover isn’t that much different than what you’d find anywhere else. To me, the most interesting content on Snapchat is being generated by its own users on Snapchat Stories.”

And what about the ads featured in this content? Should users expect to see more targeted advertisements?

“As for personalization, when it comes to advertising, Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel has actually said he doesn’t want to be ‘creepy’ with targeted ads (like Facebook and Google),” Dalenberg said. “The strategy with Discover, as I see it, would be to sell premium advertising to big brands hoping to reach as many people as possible.”

The thought behind this could align with what Frazier’s point that while not everyone is going to click on a Snapchat ad, the ones who do view them will be more likely to engage. That being said, Frazier acknowledges it could be important for Snapchat to expand the metrics and analytics they provide brands.

“I think now that Snapchat has made itself an appealing platform for brands to start utilizing as a marketing tool, they will almost have to start thinking about a better way to track analytics and metrics for these brands,” Frazier said. “ROI is everything, and being able to link Snapchat sponsorships with increased Web traffic, higher measure of intent to purchase, increased brand awareness, etc., will be crucial in helping the platform establish its true worth to brands.”

So now what?

It isn’t really clear where Snapchat will go from here. The platform has already radically changed social media, and is currently rewriting how users can access news and ads. Going forward, Snapchat will need to continue to expand, and it will be interesting to see what area the platform pursues next.

“One rumor we’ve seen (thanks to the leaked Sony emails) is that the company would like to launch its own music service,” Dalenberg said. “Another big possibility is producing original content like Netflix. The company just launched its own ‘disappearing series’ called ‘Literally Can’t Even’.”

An article by discussed how Snapchat is looking to social media companies like China’s WeChat, Japan’s Line and Korea’s KakaoTalk for money-making inspiration.

“It wants to become a platform for other services, like gaming or e-commerce companies, and is supposedly in talks with Stripe to integrate mobile payments,” Carmel DeAmicis said in the Gigaom article.

No matter where Snapchat goes from here, it seems the social media giant is here to stay.

“A lot of people thought Facebook would be a flash in the pan. Obviously it wasn’t,” Dalenberg said. “Snapchat has raised a lot of venture capital from investors, so they’ve got some wiggle room to try new things and keep experimenting.”


  1. Blog Post-Snapchat | Christian Cruz
  2. Post comment

    I thought that this post was very informative. I am not personally a snapchat user, but it has definitely permeated our culture. I also believe that this isn’t a trend like many thought it might be. I think that it may obviously take on many different forms and maybe evolve into something other than snapchat. However, I think this form of social media will always exist in some capacity. It has become too big a part of our culture not to be.


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