Who needs user growth? According to Snap Inc.’s keynote at its first Partner Summit in Los Angeles, its grand plan to expand lies in new tactics to grab eyeballs.
While gaming features and new augmented reality lenses aim to delight users, the primary theme appears to be Snap’s effort to push past the walls of its own platform.
The simple example is Bitmojis. The cartoonish custom emoji avatars have broader use cases, now that they can land in other places. The company cited Venmo and Fitbit, for instance. People can add a Bitmoji to offer additional context for transactions or inject some fun to help keep them motivated. The subtext: They might even tempt nonusers to sign up and get their own Bitmojis.
The company is also letting its Stories feature stretch its wings and head to other apps. People will be able to use the Snapchat camera to record and share Stories content in other apps. Think a Snapified dating video for use in Tinder.
“We believe that by opening into the camera, we can create a computing experience that combines the superpowers of technology with the best of humanity,” chief executive officer Evan Spiegel said onstage.
If the appeal of these updates seems targeted to younger users, that’s likely by design. Spiegel added, “We reach 90 percent of 13- to 24-year-olds. In fact, we reach more 13- to 24-year-olds than Facebook or Instagram in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Australia.”
It all seems pretty straightforward…that is, until the subject of ads comes up. Then things get a little more complex.
Fundamentally, the new ad network stockpiles vertically shot advertisements — like those that appear in Snapchat — and makes them available to external partners for use in other apps. At face value, the move seems creative, but ultimately looks like a workaround for the size limitations of Snapchat’s own platform.
Despite strong performance in sales and revenue, the company’s user base actually dropped at the close of last year to 186 million daily users, down a million users compared to a year earlier. Now it’s come up with another way to tell a growth story.
For developers, there’s even more context there. Snap took nearly eight years to finally hold a developer or partner event, which is striking. It’s as if the company, which has a reputation for not really embracing the developer community, finally realized that it can’t go it alone.
The standoffishness allowed the company to differentiate itself amid hot-button privacy concerns.
While other tech giants sweat their lax approaches to data sharing or disclosures in the face of security breaches, Snap could comfortably fall back on its go-to narrative: It doesn’t have the same open-door policy for data-sharing with partners and advertisers, it often says. Its core premise of ephemerality, in which messages and images vanish, doesn’t lend itself to deep user tracking and audience targeting.
Snap claims that it doesn’t hand over personal data from its users, just usernames when people connect their Snapchat accounts to other apps. So partners don’t receive phone numbers, emails or other info.
Naturally, Snap wants to frame the Audience Network as a more privacy-minded system than other ad networks. The problem is that this is the stuff brands rely on, so they know they’re reaching the right people.
Also, back in 2017, the company did employ a Snapchat Pixel, which amounts to a bit of code on web sites that lets partners track ad viewership across the web — just like Google, Facebook and Twitter use. It’s a main reason why that same advertisement pushing miracle cream for puffy eyes seems to follow people all over the Internet.
Snap’s Audience Network could change matters, though exactly how is not clear. The company hasn’t disclosed how it will prove to advertisers that the ads going to outside apps are hitting the right targets.
The answers may not take long to arrive. The company is taking applications right away for the upcoming launch, planned for later this year.