What You Can Learn From Snapchat’s Mistakes

3 min read
Oct 24, 2018

Snapchat, when it was first launched, was a novel concept that caught on like wildfire. Ephemeral messaging, Stories and fun face-filters made it an engaging app, especially for the younger audience. Despite its UI redefining almost all recommended design principles for other apps, Snapchat managed to gather a respectful user base of around 180 million or so. However, things haven’t necessarily gone well for the company over the last year or so, and hopefully, by reading these highlighted points, you will be more prepared and aware of for your own business.

User growth has slowed down considerably, and the company has been grappling with horrendous online PR, one after the other. What was once considered a promising social network is now facing stiff competition from the likes of Instagram, and even Musical.ly. Snapchat can be a good case study on things not to do as an app that’s gunning for growth. Here are some of the biggest mistakes that Snapchat has made and what you can learn from them.

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The Redesign Debacle

Earlier this year, Snapchat made sweeping and eyebrow-raising changes to its user interface. The redesign sparked severe criticism from users online, with 1.2 million signing a petition on Change.org to rollback the new design update and instead have the previous UI. With the company already facing stiff competition from Facebook-owned Instagram and even Musical.ly (the new kid on the block), the (disastrous) redesign didn’t help with its fortunes. The stock prices plummeted by 15% in the first quarter, and average revenue per user also saw a sharp decline.

The company was eventually forced to roll out a redesign of its redesign in May to try and correct its wrongs, but was it already too late?

What app developers can learn: Making drastic changes to the user interface can put people off your app, no matter how good it once was. Introducing changes gradually, similar to how Facebook does it, is a much better strategy.

The Celebrity Debacle

Snapchat’s redesign didn’t go down well with influencers either. Kylie Jenner (probably one of the most famous women around the social/digital age) tweeted her dislike, questioning the app’s relevancy. Following the (damning) tweet, Snapchat’s stock prices plummeted  immediately, costing the company at least $1 billion in market valuation.

This horrible PR was quickly followed by a scandalous animated ad on the platform, featuring Rihanna and Chris Brown. The ad allowed people to lightheartedly choose whether they wanted to slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown, making light of the extremely sensitive issues around domestic violence. Expectedly, the ad didn’t go down well with people, or Rihanna, who took to her Instagram Story to show her displeasure. Following the post, the company’s share price fell 5% as people continued to boycott the app on other social platforms. According to experts, Snapchat lost around $800 million in brand value, following the incident.

What app developers can learn: Influencer marketing can be a powerful tool to generate awareness about your app. However, it can backfire, as seen in the case of Kylie Jenner. It is important that you engage your most important influencers continually. In the case of Snapchat, they could have reached out to Jenner (and other influential celebrities on its platform), and asked their opinion on the upcoming changes in the new user interface.

Second, if you are planning to run third-party ads on your app, make sure you have stringent and basic checks in place. Anything politically incorrect can severely dent the image of your brand. 

Despite its UI redefining almost all recommended design principles for other apps, Snapchat managed to gather a respectful user base of around 180 million or so.Click To Tweet

Other Mistakes in the Past

The redesign fiasco and the Rihanna incident are very recent examples of Snapchat getting it completely wrong. However, the company has made some serious mistakes even further in the past, too.

For instance, after launching the (hugely popular) Stories back in 2013 – which feels like forever ago, the company failed to give content creators legitimate ways to monetise their content. This allowed Instagram to get a strong foothold in the market. In its 2017 Q3 address to investors, Snapchat’s co-founder Evan Spiegel admitted to the blunder and promised better monetisation and distribution opportunities to content creators who operate on the platform.

The 2017 address also mentioned targeting users above the age of 34 to accelerate user adoption of Snapchat. Historically, Snapchat has always marketed itself as a platform for teens and millennials. However, with Snapchat’s user growth slowing down drastically in view of stiff competition from Instagram, the company is waking up to the potential of following in the footsteps of Facebook’s primary demographic: older internet users.

What app developers can learn: It is important to keep the most important influencers of your company engaged. And while having a target audience in mind is important, the usability of a product should be as universal as possible. Your app’s UX/UI should be intuitive enough to be understood by a 15-year old as well as a 40-year old.

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