As Snapchat goes mainstream, we simultaneously enter a new era in the smartphone revolution
That sound you've been hearing in the background but couldn't quite place it? It's the sound of Snapchat crossing the chasm. It's the siren song of the next big thing in media, entertainment, and communications. The early majority is showing up. Snapchat is going mainstream. Here's what you need to know if you're a brand, entrepreneur, or just over the age of 30.
What is Snapchat? Many know it as "that sexting app." This is how the mainstream media has portrayed it (scaring parents in the process) because Snapchat offers ephemeral messaging i.e. messages, photos, and videos that disappear. It's true this is how Snapchat started. It struck a chord at the right time with the right audience, enabling the app to quickly establish critical mass among innovators and early adopters. Disappearing messages was the killer feature. But Snapchat has evolved past this and now finds itself in a position to disrupt the entire media world.
Looking back, I see similarities with the "social-local-mobile" revolution of the past six or seven years, which was inconveniently labeled SoLoMo for short. Indeed, the mainstreaming of Snapchat really marks an end to this era and the start of a new one.
In 2011, just after closing the seed round for MomentFeed, I wrote The SoLoMo Manifesto, a tongue-in-cheek eBook about the unification of these trends and technologies. At the time, few agreed about how profound the change would be...that smartphones would go from the third to the first screen, that we'd rely on these devices for so much of our daily lives, that mobile was not a channel but a lifestyle, that consumer "moments" would be at the core of the smartphone experience, and that brands needed to take a holistic approach to mobile or risk irrelevance. By and large, this has all happened.
Facebook successfully pivoted to become a mobile company. Google's transition to mobile was cemented by Android, the Maps and YouTube apps, and its dominance of local search. And Instagram became the most important media brand to emerge from this era. Today, these are the only companies that really matter on mobile. They account for eight out of 10 of the top mobile apps in the world. But Snapchat is on the rise.
A year before I wrote the manifesto, I penned a blog post about what it will mean to be "smartphone native." In 2010, modern smartphones had only been around for a few years. We were all immigrants to this technology. We used familiar frames like "social, local, and mobile" to understand and adapt to it. We learned to swipe. We marveled at location awareness, checking-in to places, and sharing contextual moments with friends. It was so new, and we were so young. But what about people who were born into the smartphone revolution, who didn't know a world without them? How would taking this for granted change the experience? Snapchat is a platform -- perhaps the first -- built for smartphone natives. Just as smartphones ushered in the post-PC era, Snapchat could be the start of a post-SoLoMo era.
In the SoLoMo era (2007 - 2016), we needed the technical designations. We needed to categorize what was social, local, and/or mobile. In the Snapchat era, though, it's all implied. It just is.
This is a Snapcode. Take a picture and use it to add someone. Give it a try!
Snapchat can only be accessed on mobile. It's a social app on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis. You can add Geo Filters to photos and videos based on your location and consume media from your local area in real time. And yet it's so much more. The whole is truly greater than the sum its parts, and it's most obvious in the user interface (UI).
If you want a beginner's guide to Snapchat, venture capitalist and prolific blogger Mark Suster wrote an excellent post for old folks (like me and probably you). He speculates about why the UI is the way it is: "The starting screen every time is the camera. This is the dog whistle. It's the frequency designed to keep old people out and keep the product cool and hip for young people." This is an old folks excuse. Snapchat's UI was not deliberately designed to keep old people out. It's a progression in mobile UI that non-smartphone natives just don't get. The best way to illustrate this is through the evolution of music.
Rock 'n' roll, punk rock, rap, new wave, EDM. These were not created to keep old people out. These ground-breaking musical genres represented artistic progress. Each drew inspiration from what came before, but they were entirely new and fresh, often fueled by new technology. Naturally, they appealed to people with open minds, who were predisposed to new things (what it means to be young). The oldies, naturally, have an allergic reaction to anything that alters or breaks their frame (what it means to be old). And this is what's happened with Snapchat. The oldies don't get it, but that's because they're too attached to the SoLoMo era of UI design.
The Snapchat UI is designed for smartphone natives. It opens to the camera. The navigation is entirely swipe based...swipe up, swipe down, swipe left or right. And there is a complete absence of menus and explanation. Smartphones are nothing if not intuitive, thanks to Steve Jobs, and Snapchat takes this to the extreme. Use it enough and you'll figure it out. In fact, the UI is having such an impact that it's being replicated in other apps.
TasteMade is one of the media companies with a channel in Snapchat's Discover area. It's a daily dose of snap-sized content for foodies, entirely programmed by TasteMade as if it was programming a TV network. So the company is uniquely familiar with the UI and how people use Snapchat. When TasteMade expanded into the travel vertical with an app called Facet, it validated how mainstream vertical video and the Snapchat UI is becoming.
If you're a brand, you should establish your Snapchat presence ASAP. The username land grab is already happening, so you may have to be flexible. Consider the medium and the audience, and start posting relevant Stories. If you're an entrepreneur, start thinking about the forthcoming Snapchat ecosystem. Many believe it's the next Facebook, so use that for historical reference.
And be sure to add me on Snapchat: https://www.snapchat.com/add/maxgladwell