Snapchat — the app that revolutionised global communication
Snapchat is weird and wonderful, consistently delivering unique, unexpected magic in a saturated communication space. Facebook views Snapchat as its biggest future threat. Teens around the world consistently rate it their favourite app, it's growing at unprecedented speeds with explosive engagement rates, and yet most marketers are at least a little unsure about what drives Snapchat’s appeal.
Fascinated by the vastly underestimated platform, we decided to deepen our understanding by embarking on a global investigation, where we collaborated with the entire Flamingo Group, debating and discussing Snapchat’s role in São Paulo, Jakarta, London, Mumbai, Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo and New York. More importantly, we interviewed teens in each market and immersed ourselves in their sharing, stories and behaviour. What we found was eye opening.
Snapchat is a real game changer; there is simply no other social media app like it. The content’s ephemeral nature enables users to share their real, unedited selves without worrying that their snaps will be linked to them forever, unlike the legacy of posts on Facebook or Instagram. Snapchat gives users a raw experience, enabling them to live in each other’s everyday journeys. And with only 12 percent of snaps ever shared with more than one person, this journey is an extremely personal and intimate one – part of the reason why our understanding has heretofore been so limited.
Importantly, Snapchat enables users to transform the mundane into visually creative artworks. The app offers a level of agency, play and creation that is unparalleled across other social media platforms. No Snap is ever the same, and each one is personalised with doodles, stickers, and filters. This level uniqueness allows space for more accentuated and nuanced emotional depictions – something other social media platforms are beginning to catch on to (see our post on Facebook Reactions).
The content is all completely user generated – it gives a consumer perspective of live events. The app places its users at the centre of exciting, momentous occasions such as sporting championships and elections, as well as smaller personal moments such as waking up or the first bite of a burger.
Snapchat’s record-breaking, history-making growth and popularity with teens is profound. Across seven markets, five universal themes emerged, with the biggest discrepancies to the global story coming from China and Japan.
1. Snapchat is unedited satirical you
Snapchat brings a level of realness to communication that pushes back against the curated, manicured and filtered worlds of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Content is honest, raw and always in the moment. If Facebook and Instagram give the staged version of events, then Snapchat gives the live backstage drama – the sweat and tears behind those perfectly toned abs.
“When I’m on holiday, I will post the perfect hilltop view on Instagram, but the video of me panting on the arduous trail I had to climb – that goes on Snapchat”
Student, 16, New York
“Snapchat brought the non-edit Internet to life. It’s totally different than Instagram and Facebook where you are not the real you. Snapchat is real”
College Student and Lifestyle Blogger, 17, Sao Paulo
2. Snapchat is the deepest form of intimacy, through control
Best of all, you can ensure that this real, unedited you travels only as far as you wish it to. Users securely share intimate moments of their day with those they choose and because the content disappears within 24 hours, it’s a worry-free platform.
“I share daily on Snapchat because I don’t have to worry about how far the content will travel, so I know that what I share won’t be seen by my parents or my colleagues”
Student, 24, Mumbai
“The more ridiculous the Snap, the better friends we are. If it’s a girl I like I might hold back, but if it’s my closest friend then I go full kray”
Student, 19, UK
3. Snapchat is accentuated, subtle emotion
Snapchat’s portfolio of filters, accessible face morphs, artistic tools, and text inspires creativity. Emotional reactions are accentuated and enhanced in a more nuanced and complex way than a single emoticon could ever portray. This brings colour, vibrancy, personalisation and dimension to the flat conversation of text; it animates, entertains, amuses, surprises and delights.
The app enables a more nuanced depiction of emotions, but the emotional meaning behind a snap can also sometimes be ambiguous. For teens, the app’s informality means that a snap is not an outright declaration that you like someone, and unlike a text, it’s gone before it can be overanalysed. Another reason why Gen Zs use Snapchat is to flirt and divert.
“My friends and I use Snapchat for flirting with girls. If I send a girl a text on a normal messenger, its pretty clear I like her, but if I send a snap the message is much more ambiguous”
Student, 14, New York
4. Snapchat Stories, Live and Discover transport you to other worlds
Still largely felt to be in its infancy, the app provides it’s users with a way of staying connected with the world in an easy, quick and accessible manner through it’s ‘Discover’ and ‘Live’ feeds. News channels such as Buzzfeed and Vice are particularly popular in Indonesia, India and the UK, while Cosmopolitan has gained popularity in the US.
The presence of celebrities’ ‘Stories’ on the platform means that users also get a sneak peak into their everyday lives. At it’s best, Snapchat gives users behind-closed-doors access into the private, intimate worlds of the rich and famous, which fit with the broader, instantly accessible, intimate world that make the app so authentic.
“My most favorite thing that I like on Snapchat is that I get to see what’s going on in the world. I check the live feed from different countries and different occasions and also the news from various websites like Buzzfeed, Daily Mail, Vice, etc.”
Student, 19, Jakarta
“I usually just look at what my friends post… but sometimes it can be quite interesting to see what people around the world are doing too, like during Chinese New Year and Christmas”
Student, 21, Singapore
5. Snapchat is a parent-free zone
With their parents and extended family now on Facebook and even Instagram, Snapchat is a rare separate space that Gen Zs can claim as their own, something only understood and used by them. It gives privacy and distance from their parents, which all teens crave; it’s their personal hide out.
‘My parents don’t get Snapchat, they don’t even get Whatsapp’
Student, 12, London
“My parents will never come on Snapchat. It’s too boliao (Hokkien for something pointless you do when you're bored). So they just go on Facebook”
Student, 16, Singapore
And finally… In Japan and China it doesn't meet cultural expectations
Even among younger Japanese, Snapchat use is limited and content creation is largely limited to more international celebrities such as Naomi Watanabe and Jun Hasegawa, who often repost Snapchat content onto more familiar social platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.
In Japan there is a sense that Snapchat’s user interface is confusing, sparse and lacking information. In response to this, local platforms such as Winker have emerged, providing a similar service to that of Snapchat but combining it with features, functions and a user interface that are reminiscent of other platforms used locally.
In China, group chatting and building on ideas together is more resonant, which is why WeChat groups are so popular. Chinese celebrities and influencers use live chatrooms to connect with their audience and fans are welcome to join in. While Snapchat and its copycats are great for one-on-one conversations, they fail to provide a platform that suits the collective mindset of young Chinese users. Snapchat is also blocked in China.While many Chinese internet users have VPNs that help them access blocked content, blocked sites are slower, load less reliably, and tend to lack the critical mass of users crucial to social media in a given market.
By revolutionising the format of communication, Snapchat challenges the use and status of other familiar tools like Facebook and Instagram, which now feel like more mature, polished spaces.
Snapchat’s agility is what keeps it relevant with its audience – the app is constantly innovating and listening to its users’ needs and desires to create new filters such as the face morph, or new stickers branded with colloquial words like BAE, which speak directly to Gen Z.
The transient nature of Snapchat means that any moment, whether embarrassing or silly, can be revised. Snaps disappear, giving you the ability to start all over again. Marketers need to come to Snapchat with the fresh creativity and innovation of the platform and its users. They should be partnering with Snapchat to make interesting face morphs, satirical stickers, and geo-located tagging. Brands need to shift their tonality and visual aesthetic in this space to be more playful and rough around the edges — offering behind the scenes access, just as macccosmetics, asosfashion, birchbox, dominoes_UK and lushcosmetics have done.
Thanks to our Flamingo Group Contributors:
Veronica Marquez, Nina Montgomery, Marguerite Vernes, Lee Fordham, Holly Dellamura, Yuka Uchijima, Caroline Triesia, Heng Lu, Yunjing Koh, Elly Chiu, Naina Kurien, Ankit Kalkar, Douglas Renosto and Fiona Pay
- Article by Veronica Marquez, Lee Fordham, Holly Dellamura and Marguerite Vernes