Snap Inc. announced a dramatic redesign of its popular video messaging service Snapchat earlier this afternoon that splits the social and media aspects of the app into two separate feeds, The New York Times reported.
The left side of the Snapchat app will now display posts like photos and videos that have been shared by the user's friends, according to the Times, constituting the 'social' component. The right side will be occupied by content from publishers, influencers and celebrities, as well as user-generated Stories that are curated by the Snapchat team.
Snap's approach here breaks with the algorithm-driven methods of other tech companies like Google and Facebook, per the Times, in that the company will vet all material produced for its right 'media' side to ensure it agrees with content and community standards. The Times said Snapchat will work to present diverse perspectives and opinions to avoid creating an echo chamber. Snapchat will still use machine learning technology to offer relevant content in a style similar to how the streaming service Netflix recommends movies and TV shows. The change was also detailed in a Snap company blog post and a short video with co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel:
Snapchat's redesign draws a clear line in the sand, posing a direct challenge to its competitors like Twitter, Facebook and Facebook's image-sharing app Instagram and breaking from the way most social media — and many digital platforms, broadly — are structured. For Snap, which has been battered by three consecutive quarters of disappointing revenue figures and user growth since going public in March, the move could revitalize a business some have previously positioned as having the potential to challenge the digital advertising duopoly of Facebook and Google.
Snapchat's prior interface was splashy and distinctive for its blend of short video and image messages that would disappear after 24 hours along with augmented reality camera effects and filters. That UX, frequently cited as confusing to newcomers, has also won the favor of young consumers like Gen Z and millennials, meaning that changing it comes with heavy risks. Change might be necessary, however, as Snapchat's interface has been repeatedly copied by Facebook of late, including through Instagram Stories, which is now Snap's main competitor and a frequent pain point for the company.
"This isn't a 'too little, too late' scenario, but Snap knows that there's growing pressure to perform in the market," Marci Dobrow, SVP of Advertising at Hyfn, said in an emailed statement to Marketing Dive. "Snap continues moving in the right direction by leaning in on advertising products that give brands a clear picture of ad performance and will ultimately unlock more marketing budgets as performance continues to improve."
The change-up in strategy is reflected top-down at Snap, including through Spiegel's explainer video. To date, the 27-year-old has been notoriously out of the public eye, but him personally detailing the redesign suggests he might be assuming a more open role as a spokesperson, as is the case with fellow tech executives like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Spiegel also penned a rare opinion piece for the website Axios published earlier today that outlined how Snapchat is trying to push away from the label of "social media" and also aggressively criticized its competitors in the space for helping fuel the rise of fake news.
As the Times noted, Facebook and Twitter, along with Google, last month testified before Congress in regards to the roles their platforms played in influencing the last U.S. presidential election and how Russian operatives manipulated their services to spread misinformation. Facebook and Twitter have introduced transparency initiatives since then, and Facebook hired more human review staff earlier this year to monitor its content.
Snap is attempting to make the latter aspect a core piece of its value proposition as opposed to a band-aid fix by vetting all professionally-produced content on its platform in-house. This could come as a balm to some of the marketers that have slashed their digital budgets this year amid concerns around the channel's opaqueness and lack of brand safety.
While marketers might welcome these developments and a fresh look for Snapchat, the app's users, which number at around 178 million, could find the switch jarring, as is frequently the case with redesigns.
"The advancements made are certainly favorable to brands and should lead to more adoption and increased advertising revenue," Jason Beckerman, CEO and co-founder of Unified, said of the Snap news in a statement. "The question will be if they help spark more user growth as well. With this increase in advertising investments, the need for marketers to manage and measure the vast data exhaust from their campaigns is more critical than ever."
Snap can't afford to start losing users this early in its career as a publicly-traded company, nor can it afford to turn off the media outlets that produce the bulk of its premium content. Facebook recently tested splitting its Newsfeed into two separate streams in a manner similar to what Snapchat is doing now — one for user posts, one for media entities, with the former prioritized — which hampered publisher traffic and raised a considerable alarm.