“Brevity is the soul of wit,” the loquacious Polonius famously spouted in Hamlet. This statement, originally fraught with irony, has been increasingly embraced by social media. Blog-like post length wasn’t uncommon on MySpace, Facebook favors shorter statuses but didn’t limit users, Twitter cut people off at 140 characters, and now pictures and videos often speak for themselves. Image dominance is evident not only in post engagement but also in the current race to win users’ smartphone cameras.
At Facebook’s most recent developer’s conference, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, presented his vision for the future — and it hinges on the camera on your phone. The social media giant appears to be squaring off head-to-head with Snap, the parent company of Snapchat. Snap is the significantly smaller of the two companies, but it caused major waves in social media when the self-proclaimed “camera platform” came on the market and quickly gained popularity among younger audiences.
The distinct ways Snapchat set itself apart from the crowd
Snapchat was designed to be private. You can connect with friends on the platform, but every image is purposefully sent to them, making it more like a photo-dependent chatting app. The younger generations have grown up in a world of cyberbullying and helicopter parents. The privacy to say and do what they want with seemingly little consequences gives Snapchat an appeal that Facebook doesn’t have.
When Snapchat started, they were the only platform which offered fun photo filters that changed a boring picture into something worth sharing. Whether it was adding bunny ears, distorting your face or adding a beard, it was something different for a selfie-obsessed generation. Snapchat Stories gave a way for users to craft a glimpse into their lives through a serious of photos and videos that were only available to watch for 24 hours. Again, audiences embraced the idea, knowing tomorrow they could do it again.
Good ideas breed good competition
Facebook is designed to be public; that isn’t changing. The company wants you to find people and connect with one another. The more people you know and connect with the more you will want to be on their platform. It is after all social media. While many students might have a Facebook profile, chances are they don’t update or visit the site regularly. When their parents, grandparents and the world is on Facebook, every action they make is up for scrutiny. Recently, ten students had their acceptance to Harvard withdrawn due to unacceptable Facebook activity. However, Zuckerberg is working on a way to bring younger generations back to Facebook and keep them on Instagram.
Facebook isn’t going to fade away as MySpace did because they are constantly changing and redefining what they offer. Recognizing that Snapchat Stories are a good idea, they developed their own version on Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook. They have also made the addition of fun photo filters in the Facebook and Instagram app. While imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, when a powerhouse like Facebook (and Instagram) start offering the services that made your company unique, it can be more than a little troubling. On Instagram, 200 million daily users have embraced the stories feature, WhatsApp has 175 million daily users on their feature, whereas Snapchat has 166 million daily users and their growth has slowed.
Mark Zuckerberg’s most recent announcement was that Facebook would be adding 3D camera features — just hours after Snapchat made a similar announcement. However, Facebook went further. They are also looking to build their augmented reality platform, giving people a way to digitally manipulate the world through the lens of their smartphone camera. This isn’t the first time Zuckerberg has invested in virtual reality. While the other times didn’t prove successful, this time the investment could pay off.
If it does and Facebook can offer the better more innovative product, what will that mean for Snapchat’s future? Another challenge Snapchat faces: will their demographic outgrow them as they become adults? Facebook and Instagram have proven their appeal to adult demographics. Snapchat hasn’t been able to catch that market.