The Features That Make Snapchat So Popular
June 21, 2017

snapchatHave you ever transformed your face into an adorable deer? Do you know the satisfaction of swiping over a photo and discovering the perfect geofilter to match your weekend mood? Ever troll your close friends with a series of silly faces? Welcome to Snapchat.

Snapchat has become a cornerstone in the social media application world since it was first released in 2011. The app soon amplified its primary function (sending real-time snapshots to friends) by introducing new features, and quickly gained momentum amongst high school students.

Snapchat now has 166 million daily active users (for comparison, Facebook has 1.28 billion) who send an average of at least 3 billion snaps in 24 hours. While Facebook’s users are distributed across all demographics, Snapchat’s audience is the highly coveted high school and university student market: Generation Z and millennials. A recent study showed that 88% of students use the application.

Despite Instagram and Snapchat being in a tight race for the top spot, an Adweek survey found that 67% of respondents thought Snapchat’s features were better — something that could continue to boost Snapchat’s popularity and market dominance in the future.

If you’re developing an app and you haven’t yet studied Snapchat (especially if your target market is Gen Z), you’re missing a prime opportunity to learn from one of the masters.

Snapchat introduces a lot of new and seemingly silly features — and not all of them knock our digital socks off — but what makes it one of the most successful social media apps is that it continues to innovate with its users in mind. If you want to tap into Generation Z with your own app, start by looking at what Snapchat does right. Here are the features that have propelled Snapchat to success with its users.

Easy Photo Chatting

Don’t overlook the first aspect that made Snapchat popular: the ability to send disappearing photo chats. Users were encouraged to share genuine snapshots of their daily activities. This was a refreshing step away from the posed, curated, and edited images often shared on Facebook and Instagram. It met a key consumer need for Generation Z at a time when students were growing discontent with the nature of existing social media, and were looking for a new outlet.

The disappearing act is key. Snapchat’s designers anticipated a potential consumer pain point with their product, and solved it in advance. What was the one downside to taking “real” photos of yourself (particularly in the eyes of a teenager)? They show the real, imperfect you. While sharing “real life” photos may feel embarrassing or compromising, users could rest easy knowing their pics would disappear in less than 10 seconds. Potential problem, solved.

Snapchat Stories

Aside from one-to-one photo sharing, users can also create Snapchat stories to share with the world (or at least, their own circle of friends). Stories are series of individual photos or videos which followers can choose to view any number of times with a 24 hour period. This innovation took something users were already doing — sharing Snapchat photos with all of their friends — and made it much easier. Instead of scrolling through to select each of your contacts, it just takes one click, and your photo is posted for all of your friends to view. Today, Snapchat stories are also shared in the “Discover” section by brands and celebrities, a feature that introduced monetization to the app.

With the Stories feature, Snapchat became a true trailblazer. The release of Instagram stories in August 2016 was regarded by most as a near-identical incarnation of Snapchat stories. Facebook, which now owns Snapchat, incorporated a similar stories feature at the top of its News Feed just a few months later, further proving how successful this feature was.

Lenses Galore

One of Snapchat’s most well-known features is its diverse offering of lenses — digital masks that can turn your face into an animated animal, add fake cosmetics effects, and distort your voice. These lenses (also referred to as filters) are purely meant for entertainment, and are hugely popular amongst Generation Z users. The lenses are regularly refreshed, offering fun new masks for users who want to become someone new.

And, guess who followed its cousin by quickly adopting a version of lenses? You got it — Instagram.

Geofilters and Stickers

Geofilters allow users to easily add stickers to their photos that share their location with followers. By swiping on a photo or video, illustrated filters pop up based on your location — from a glammed out New York skyline, to a custom geofilter a company has created for an event.

FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing for Generation Z. Geofilters offer a clever and colorful way for users to do something they already do frequently; give their friends more information about where they are and what they’re doing. Businesses quickly recognized this as an opportunity to create branded filters, embracing Generation Z’s love of sharing to spread and strengthen brand recognition.

Learning From Snapchat

The development of Snapchat is an interesting case study — for reasons beyond the founders’ refusal of an initial $3 billion takeover deal from Facebook.

Build for Success, and Let the Money Follow

Unlike many apps, Snapchat didn’t begin by focusing on monetizing its features or finding investors. In fact, for the first several years, the application didn’t have an obvious monetization pathway at all. Its founders have said time and time again that they aren’t in this for the short-term gain, and for the most part they’ve done their own thing. That includes starting with a small team and being agile enough to introduce features they thought users would like, without much thought to the immediate profitability. The lesson to those trying to build a new app? Think more about what your users want and need than what will make the most money. If you can deliver a great product to users, monetization will come later.

Be Open-Minded and Adaptable

Another lesson to learn from Snapchat to have a willingness to adapt to new forms of technology. Snap Inc. (Snapchat’s parent company) recently launched Spectacles, a set of glasses that allow wearers to record 10 second videos. The world will see exactly what you’re seeing. Spectacles sync wirelessly to a user’s Snapchat account and recharge when they’re put back in the case. The technology is still in its initial stages, but at $129.99 a pair, this could be an effective way for Snapchat to rake in more cash.

Innovate with Users In Mind

Finally, Snapchat isn’t scared to shake up and innovate an established market — for the right reasons. Innovations for your users are much different than innovations for your investors, which may benefit your users. Snapchat’s next feature will likely be the introduction of short video shows, and the company is in talks with Saturday Night Live and comedian James Corden to find a way to revolutionize television offerings for a Generation Z audience.

The agility and creativity Snapchat brings to the table is enough to keep app developers on their toes. These traits have made the app both an inspiration and a leader in the social media market, particularly for younger audiences. Above its agility and creativity, though, sits a genuine desire to please, delight, and support users. If app developers take anything away from this Snapchat case study, it’s that building a successful app comes from putting users at the core of what you do. When you cater to your consumers’ interests, ease pains and inconveniences, and make their lives more enjoyable, they will want to use your app. The business success follows naturally.

With new features incorporated all the time, we can anticipate Snapchat’s success sticking around much longer than its photos do.

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