After their most recent earnings results, Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel announced that they were making changes, that they were looking to revamp the app to boost usage and re-ignite growth. Now, Snap Inc. has revealed details of their redesign, which puts more emphasis on personal connections, and separates your friend-to-friend conversations from everything else.
Spiegel’s explanation in the video is fairly high level, but in more practical terms, Snapchat will now divide all content from friends into a new feed to the left of the main camera screen. Swipe right, and you’ll be taken to Discover, which has also been revamped to put more emphasis on the content each individual user is likely to be interested in.
There’s a heap of functional changes in this, with a range of relevant considerations. Here’s how each element has been changed.
First off, on the Friends tab – the new, left of home screen, ‘Friends’ listing includes all the content from the people you interact with regularly, sorted, importantly, by who you talk to the most.
As you can see in the above example, Stories, group chats and personal messages are all combined into one listing (group chats will also get their own Stories each member can contribute to). The listing, as noted, will be displayed in the order of people you most frequently engage with, encouraging more personal interaction.
For a profile to be eligible for the new Friends list, you have to follow each other. If you follow a user but they don’t follow you back, their content will now appear in the Discover tab, but if you follow each other, they’ll be listed in Friends. This is an important distinction for brands to be aware of, as it will significantly impact their platform approach.
Snapchat’s also bringing back auto-advance, which they killed off late last year because it made it difficult to lean back and watch the Stories from the friends you wanted to, as you ended up having to sit through all the different kinds of Stories from users, brands and influencers you follow as well.
At the time, Snap explained the removal of auto-advance saying:
“Sometimes we just want to see what our close friends or family are up to - not all of our friends - and Auto Advance prevented that."
With the new system sorting your Stories based on your level of personal interaction with each user, Snap’s hoping to alleviate this problem – though there will still be a panel shown in between each Story which will give you the opportunity to either skip that particular users’ update, or exit out before watching.
The re-introduction of auto-advance could help Snapchat boost their ad exposure, as more ads can be shown in between - but at the same time, from a marketing perspective, the redesign itself may make it harder for brands to get the same reach they’ve had on the platform, because:
a) They won’t show up in the Friends tab at all unless they and the user follow each other, and…
b) Because the content is sorted in order of engagement. As with other algorithm-driven platforms, if users aren’t responding to your Snaps, you won’t show up high on the list.
These are key considerations for those looking to use Snapchat for marketing – the app redesign is not focused on this type of usage, it’s intended to better facilitate more personal relationships. That will change the approach that many brands have thus far taken.
And then you have Discovery, to the right of the main screen, which will now incorporate all the content from users who don’t follow you back (non-friends), along with content from Snap’s publishing partners and aggregated stories from search (by topic) and Snap Map (by location).
The new Discover will also be sorted by algorithms – though Spiegel’s keen to point out that their approach is more akin to how Netflix unearths the most relevant content for users, as opposed to how other social platforms do the same.
“Netflix uses machine-learning algorithms to recommend content to subscribers based on what they watched in the past. Research shows that your own past behavior is a far better predictor of what you're interested in than anything your friends are doing. This form of machine learning personalization gives you a set of choices that does not rely on free media or friend's recommendations and is less susceptible to outside manipulation.”
That ‘outside manipulation’ part is also a key element – amidst ongoing concerns about fake news infiltrating feeds, and dividing communities, Spiegel says their focus remains on human-curation to help weed out junk from their publisher content:
“It's vitally important that future content feeds are built on top of a human-curated supply of content – rather than just anything that surfaces on the Internet. Curating content in this way will change the social media model and also give us both reliable content and the content we want.”
That’s an interesting angle for Snapchat to take, separating their platform as a more reliable source of information, while also being more attuned to your personal interests, as opposed to funneling the wider web flood.
In fact, the whole approach to the redesign is very interesting when you also consider Facebook’s latest, controversial News Feed experiment, in which they’re trialing a separation of Page content on one feed, and updates from friends and family in another.
That’s almost exactly the same focus Snapchat’s looking to provide, though without the overly complex web of content and users of Facebook’s network. In this sense, Snapchat may actually be in a better position to provide on this – and both platforms are looking to better highlight content from personal connections for a reason, driven by user data.
As Spiegel notes:
“We’re separating the ‘social’ from the ‘media’ re-organizing Snapchat around your relationships to make it more personal”
Given the rise in messaging app use, there’s very clearly a level of user demand for more private sharing – and with Facebook looking to boost engagement on their platform by putting more focus on updates from personal connections, that demand is obviously rising. Snapchat has always been about friends, and this new update helps enhance that focus – which, given these shifts, could be a very beneficial move.
Is it a risk? Sure, as with any platform, users become attuned to how it works, and some will be resistant to any type of change. But Snapchat needs to do something – as noted, their first three reports as a listed entity haven’t gone well, and Spectacles don’t appear to have caught on enough to make that a viable alternative angle (at least, not at this stage). Utilizing algorithms to sort more relevant content is a logical path for the app to take, and the increasing focus on personal updates could help provide an improved user experience.
It’ll take a moment to be embraced by the community, but it seems like a positive step – though one that does come with a range of additional considerations for brands looking to utilize the app.
The new Snapchat is being rolled out to some users this week, and coming to all within the coming weeks.