As Facebook continues to ramp up the pressure on Snapchat, the app has once again proven that it leads the way in terms of understanding its core user base, and innovating in line with their behaviors.
Snap Inc. has announced the launch of a new feature in Snapchat called Snap Map, which, as it sounds, will highlight what your Snapchat contacts are up to, and where, on a world map. But that's just the start of what the new option is capable of.
As shown in the video, if you pinch on the main screen, you'll now be taken to the Snap Map (once you update to the latest version of Snapchat). There, you'll be shown Bitmoji versions of your friends on the map screen (called 'ActionMoji in this context), which you can click on to see what's happening, and what they're posting from that location. You can also start a conversation with them right there - so if they're at a concert and you want to know what it's like, you can ask them.
Users will have the option to either show their content to all their friends, selected friends or no one in what Snap's calling 'Ghost Mode'.
Unlike Instagram's recently added Stories search functionality - through which stories which include a location marker or hashtag are made publicly searchable by default - Snap is making Ghost Mode the fallback setting: You'll need to switch on location sharing to show up on the map. Your location will also only show up on the app when you open Snapchat - once you're on the map, your location will stay active, even if you close it, but if you don't open the app again for a few hours your avatar will disappear.
The main impetus of the map feature, according to Snap, is to help further enhance engagement between friends.
As Jack Brody, a product designer at Snap, told Refinery 29:
"One of the habits we've seen with our users is that they'll take a Snap where they are, put on the Geofilter, and post it to their story with a caption like 'hit me up. They're basically saying come hang out with me here. Then, when they leave there they'll delete that from their story."
Definitely, you can see the value in this regard - the ability to actually see what friends are up to, both on a map and via their Snaps, will make it an appealing option, and will likely make the app even more sticky with those who may have been drifting across to Instagram Stories. But there's actually a lot more opportunity to Snap Map than this basic functionality, which could give Snapchat an extra boost.
As you can see in the above examples, aside from your friends, there are also markers of major events, and heat maps showing where a lot of Snapchat activity is happening at any given time. This builds upon Snapchat's recently released search functionality - while Snapchat's more focused on connecting friends, the search bar, launched in April, gives users a way to discover more content through Snaps, and for users to gain more exposure through the app, with publicly posted Snaps being grouped by keyword, location, and various other searchable categories.
Snap Maps ramps up this capacity significantly - now, rather than having to actually search for an event you might be interested in seeing Snaps from it, you can actually see popular gatherings on a map.
This could lead to a range of new opportunities for Snaps - right now, if there's a breaking news event, you might go to Periscope, or the Facebook Live map, and check out what's happening. Now you can also do the same with Snapchat, giving users more reason to stay within the app, as opposed to switching to another tool.
Another application, as noted by Refinery 29, could be the use of Snaps for travel discovery:
"Since you can look at Stories happening in any location around the world, you can use it to explore a potential vacation spot, do some travel planning, or just to satisfy your wanderlust from the office."
And worth noting here, Facebook recently released data which showed that 67% of 'travel enthusiasts' (identified by the hashtags they use and accounts they follow) use Instagram to find inspiration for new journeys, while 61% of travel enthusiasts find things to do on Instagram while they're traveling. Snap Map could tap into those same behaviors.
In terms of marketing opportunities, there's a heap of ways the Map could be used to advantage to reach a wider audience.
A simple example - the Map will highlight relevant events happening in any given area, and through the new Collaborative Stories option, you could set up a Story for your event, and allow all attendees within the vicinity to add Snaps to it. This could help generate wider awareness for your event, while also allowing non-attendees to see it through the eyes of those on the ground.
At this stage, Snap says they won't be running ads in Stories accessed thru Snap Map, and won't be selling promoted Stories to appear on maps, though that, of course, could change in future - and will if the option proves popular.
The use of maps for such functionality isn't revolutionary, of course. Facebook announced their own 'Live Location' tools for Messenger back in March to facilitate similar purpose - i.e. enhancing connection through the app. But as noted, Snap's application of such tools tends to be more in line with their audience behavior. Snapchat has always had a knack for understanding their audience better than Facebook - which you could argue is because they simply have a smaller audience focus - but regardless, their tools and additions tend to carry a 'cool' factor which Facebook's similar options lack.
Will that be enough to get more people using Snapchat, and stop users migrating across to Instagram Stories? It's impossible to say at this stage, but the addition once again reiterates that you shouldn't be counting out Snap Inc. just yet. The app has huge value, and they clearly still have some tricks up their sleeve to stay a step ahead of the competition.