What Snapchat’s major redesign and algorithmic feed means for marketers
In a major overhaul, Snapchat will divide the app with friends on one side and everyone else, including brands’ organic Stories, on the other.
Snapchat is putting up a wall between content from people’s friends and content from everyone else — including organic Stories from brands and other media — in a major redesign of the mobile app unveiled on Wednesday that will roll out over a number of weeks.
The redesigned Snapchat does away with the Stories tab and divvies it up between a friends-only feed of Stories and private messages and an everyone-else feed of Snapchat-curated Stories from celebrities and publishers as well as the app’s original shows and Our Stories collections.
The Friends tab replaces the Chat tab that had lived on the left side of the app, and the everyone-else Discover tab merges the previously separate Stories and Discover tabs into a single tab on the right side. Advertisers will be able to reach people through both feeds, though the ways in which brands — as well as publishers and influencers — can organically reach people on Snapchat is changing.
Snapchat’s new Friends tab closely mirrors its previous Chat tab that listed the private messages a person has received from people they mutually follow in the app. But now it also includes those people’s Stories. These Stories can be viewed by tapping the circular profile photo next to a person’s name; Snapchat will indicate if a person has posted to their Story with a blue ring around the profile photo.
Snapchat’s redesigned Discover tab looks a lot like the old one, except that it’s no longer limited to Publisher Stories and Snapchat’s Our Stories and Shows. Snapchat will now intersperse vertical tiles for Official Stories — which are published by those with verified accounts, such as celebrities — and Stories from others with public-facing accounts, including brands whose organic Stories will only appear within the Discover tab unless the brand’s account also follows the user.
Both the Friends tab and the Discover tab are governed by algorithms that will decide how to rank their respective content. These algorithms are intended to make Snapchat feel more customized to each user. If a person often sends messages to a few particular friends a lot or if they view those friends’ Stories more often than others’, they will show up higher in the Friends tab. The same will go for the Discover tab.
However, Snapchat’s Discover algorithm will also be used to surface Stories and Shows that a person may not be aware of but are likely to be interested in based on the other content they check out. That algorithm has the potential to be a good thing in the same way that Netflix’s algorithm makes it easier to find new shows to binge. If Snapchat successfully recommends Stories and Shows that a person is interested in, that person is more likely to use Snapchat and more regularly, creating more opportunities for Snapchat to show them ads. But as with any algorithm operated by an ad-supported platform like Snapchat’s, the Discover algorithm also has the power to be a bad thing.
With Snapchat’s redesign, an algorithm will now have more control over the content that people are exposed to on Snapchat than a person will. And since Snapchat controls the algorithm, it can decide how to wield it. On the one hand, the algorithm could be used to help brands, publishers and individual creators court an audience on Snapchat; on the other hand, it could be used to compel them to do business with Snapchat. Let’s take brands as an example.
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How Snapchat’s redesign may impact marketers
Snapchat’s redesign may make the app more pay-to-play for brands, if it wasn’t already.
Glass half-full: People’s Stories feeds may have previously been so full of their friends’ Stories that brands’ Stories were overshadowed. Now friends’ Stories will be separated into the Friends tab, and the Discover tab’s algorithm will take into account whether a person follows an account when ranking its content. As a result, brands stand a better chance of being discovered.
Glass half-empty: Brands don’t necessarily stand a better chance of being discovered. The new Discover tab removes a person’s friends as competition, but it features many other rivals. Just as a person may follow a brand’s account, they may also subscribe to a media company’s Publisher Story or Show or to a celebrity’s Official Story. And as Snapchat tries to woo influencers to post to its platform instead of Instagram or elsewhere, that will only bring more competition. But not only is the new Discover tab crowded, it has less room for crowds. Instead of listing Stories as horizontal entries, it presents each Story and Show as a vertical thumbnail, or “tile.” That display means that fewer Stories and Shows can appear on the screen at a time — roughly half as many based on the screen shot above. People might swipe down to see the content that gets pushed “below the fold,” but they might come across something else while swiping that steals their attention.
How Snapchat’s redesign may impact advertisers
Of course, if brands do feel squeezed out by others Stories and Shows, they can always opt to view Snapchat as strictly a paid-media platform, in the same way they might look at Facebook. In that vein, Snapchat may look more attractive post-redesign.
For starters, brands will now be able to reach people strictly when they are — or explicitly are not — viewing their friends’ Stories. Earlier this year, Snapchat rolled out placement controls for its vertical video Snap Ads so that a brand could choose to only have its ad appear between people’s Stories, but that included Stories from regular people as well as celebrities, publishers, brands and any other account. But now that Snapchat is sequestering non-friend Stories within Discover, advertisers can decide whether they do or do not want to appear alongside the Stories from a person’s friends.
Snapchat is also changing how it transitions from one Story to the next. Previously, people had to create a Story Playlist by selecting the Stories they wanted to watch, and Snapchat played them in order, inserting ads between some. Now, people will pick one Story to watch, and after they’re done, Snapchat will algorithmically queue up another.
On the Discover tab, Snapchat will automatically transition to the next Story or Show; on the Friends tab, it will pause to preview the next Story with an option for the person to skip past it.
This new version of advancing from Story to Story (or Story to Show and vice versa) mimics how Netflix automatically starts playing the next episode of a show, potentially making Snapchat more of a lean-back, TV-like experience. Advertisers love anything considered “TV-like,” especially since Snapchat’s Snap Ads are typically slotted as interstitials à la TV commercials.
Snapchat will also likely use the redesign to prop up its new Promoted Stories ad format that lets brands buy a tile on the app’s Discover tab.
At the moment, that may be a tough sell for some marketers since a Promoted Story can only be bought through Snapchat’s direct sales team and must be purchased as a countrywide, one-day takeover, which means it is expensive. Of course, that may not be the case for long. If brands feel pressed to appear on the Discover tab’s main screen and struggle to show up organically, demand for Promoted Stories may increase to the point where Snapchat opens up access so that brands can buy them on a smaller, more targeted scale like Snap Ads.
How Snapchat’s redesign may impact publishers and creators
In the same way that Snapchat’s redesign may push brands to become advertisers on Snapchat, it may press publishers and creators, or “influencers,” to get in business with Snapchat. Publisher and creator Stories will also be limited to the Discover tab unless they follow their fans’ accounts on Snapchat. They will be forced to compete for people’s attention alongside the Stories and Shows from media companies and celebrities with whom Snapchat has signed business deals.
In a purely meritocratic environment, publishers and creators should be able to compete with Snapchat-sanctioned content and, if their Stories are good enough, win people’s attention. But Snapchat’s Discover tab is not a purely meritocratic environment; it is now an algorithmic environment.
As I wrote above, an algorithm now has more control over the content people are exposed to on Snapchat than the people themselves. Ideally, that means that the algorithm will make it easier for people to experience new content they’ll be interested in. On the flip side, however, the change means Snapchat’s algorithm could be used to expose people to content it wants them to view. It depends on how the incentives align.
For example, Snapchat pays media companies to produce original shows for its app and sells advertising against them. Snapchat may stand to make more money from people watching Shows than Stories. As a result, Snapchat could start ranking ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Show higher in the feeds of people who follow ESPN’s account than that of Stories from other sports-related publishers such as Sports Illustrated or Bleacher Report. That could boost viewership for the “SportsCenter” Show while hurting views of Stories from other publishers because attention spans, like time, are finite. Additionally, it could signal to Snapchat’s algorithm that these people are interested in Shows in general, spurring it to display other Shows higher in Discover and push down others Stories.
Consider another — purely speculative — scenario. An influencer who posts daily Stories about health and fitness and generates income from branded Snaps sees great traffic from Snapchat’s redesigned Discover tab. Snapchat may approach that creator to join its upcoming creator monetization program in which Snapchat might sell ads around creators’ stories. As part of the program, Snapchat might tell the creator to stop posting branded Snaps (again purely speculative). If the creator balks and doesn’t join the program, she may wind up- seeing dwindling viewership for their Stories as Snapchat ranks Stories from other health- and fitness-related creators in the program higher in the Discover feeds of the initial creator’s fans. Loss of viewers leads to the loss of deals with brands looking for more viewers. The creator goes back to Snapchat to join the monetization program.