While a eulogy might be premature, it’s safe to say 2018 has been a whirlwind for the popular social channel Snapchat. In February, the app rolled out a controversial update to a majority of its users. An update that, to say the least, was very unpopular among the vast global userbase the app had built in the 5 years it has been live.
Boasting 187 million daily active users worldwide at the end of 2017, Snapchat was touted as one of the most important social networks among its younger audience. It is a platform for individuals to both connect directly with their friends and consume media via the app’s branded “Discover” stories. Users share short (up to 10 second) photos and videos – or “snaps” —with their friends, either directly or through the ‘stories’ feature. Living for either the duration of the snap, or 24 hours, respectively, snaps provided an authentic way to both share and view authentic views into friend’s daily lives.
In the prime of its life, Snapchat made changes in the hopes to capitalize on the popularity of its platform. And that’s when it all went horribly wrong.
Fundamental changes to how the app works, such as the displacement of where and how users see images and videos their friends send them, a new “discover” page showcasing brand content, global stories and influencers’ posts, and difficulty finding and viewing their friends’ stories were among the many complaints. Updated features, such as the introduction of Explore on the app’s “new and improved” snapmap, which uses GPS tracking to show users a live view of where their friends are in the world, were also ill-received. Individuals overwhelmingly saw the feature as more of an invasion of privacy than a way to better connect, and opted to switch to “ghost-mode” – making themselves invisible on the map. The intense and widespread anger felt by Snapchat’s audience fueled thousands of 1-star reviews in the app-store and even led to an official petition on change.org for the company to reverse its update. To date, over 1.2 million individuals have signed the petition, demanding that the app revert “back to the basics, before the 2018 update”. Positive changes, such as improved text features and the introduction of Bitmoji Deluxe, were noted, but vastly overshadowed by the negative sentiment.
As if the reaction among its users wasn’t detrimental enough, Snapchat also received a number of celebrity backlash that further tarnished its name and credibility.
On February 23rd, reality TV star, makeup industry mogul, and avid snapchat user, Kylie Jenner tweeted “sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad” to her 21+ million Twitter followers. What would have seemed a relatively benign tweet from anyone else, prompted her large following to voice their frustrations and intents to leave the app as well. Snapchat Inc. stock reportedly closed down 6% on that day, immediately plunging an estimated $1.3 billion off the company’s market value. While many factors could have impacted these numbers, the correlation to Jenner’s statement is interesting to note.
Only a few weeks later, Snapchat was part of its next celebrity scandal. Iconic, global celebrity artist, Rihanna criticized the app for approving and hosting an advertisement making light of domestic violence. An ad for a mobile game called “Would You Rather” featured photos of Rihanna and Chris Brown and asked whether players would rather slap her or punch him. The thinly veiled reference seemingly mocked the infamous incident in 2009 when her then-boyfriend, Brown, physically assaulted her. Even following a formal public apology from Snap, Inc, claiming the advertisement was wrongly approved, Rihanna turned to her social audience to denounce the app. Among other statements, she turned to Instagram saying “Shame on you…throw the whole app-ology away” and “I’d love to call it ignorance, but I know you ain’t that dumb.” The artist encouraged her “Rihanna Navy” to delete the app, and her following dutifully obliged. Snapchat, Inc. shares continued to plummet following the outcry, dropping by 5% and decreasing by an estimated $807K.
To add injury to injury, celebrity personality Chrissy Teigen shared her own disapproval of Snapchat, tweeting “I stopped using snap. The update, the constant complaints of people not being able to find me, plus the Rihanna poll…no bueno,” to her 10 million Twitter followers.
Further among the backlash from big names in the entertainment industry, the decreased usability and popularity of the app is leading top content creators on the platform to leave and turn to other ways to share their message, such as Snapchat’s main competitor – Instagram stories.
Though it is still too early to claim what the platform’s fate holds, it is clear that unless Snapchat combats the negative publicity it has been receiving and responds to users’ complaints, it could quickly join platforms like Friendster, Myspace and Vine in the social media graveyard.