When 17-year-old Emma Logan wants to make plans with her friends, she turns to Snapchat. “At this point it’s just the easiest way to contact everyone,” she wrote via text. “I use it if I’m trying to get them to respond.” All her friends have Snapchat, and they all check it more frequently than they do their text messages “(no matter how much I hate that lol).” Logan, who lives in Denver, says Snapchat conversations feel more intimate: “It is also just nice to see the faces of people.” Sometimes, she and her friends will just send pictures of their faces to each other. “It’s good to see them and adds a little more connection than a normal chat or DM,” she says.
Snapchat isn’t Logan’s favorite platform; she prefers Instagram because “it basically has all my passions.” But what’s a girl to do? If everyone is on Snapchat, then she has to be too. In one week, she’ll get close to 500 notifications from Snapchat, more than twice what she gets from iMessage and Instagram combined.
Written off by many after a disappointing stock-market debut and Facebook mimicry of its popular features, Snapchat remains a mainstay among youth. “You don’t have to speak words to talk to someone you want to stay connected with, as weird as that sounds,” Lily Klima, a 17-year-old from New York City, explains over text. A Pew Research poll from 2018 found that 69 percent of American teens aged 13 to 17 reported using the platform, trailing only YouTube and Instagram, and ahead of Facebook. More than one-third of respondents—35 percent—said they use Snapchat most often, more than any other social media platform. DaJauna Burnett-Hollins, 19, of St. Paul, says she spends up to two hours a day on Snapchat, and prefers it in part because she can “see [a friend’s] face and not just a screen.”
Thanks to those young, devoted users and investments in its Android app and better ad technologies, parent company Snap is riding a rare wave of investor optimism as it prepares to release its latest financial results Tuesday. Snap shares have more than doubled this year, though they remain below the $17 price of the company’s 2017 IPO. Analysts from Goldman Sachs, BTIG, and Bank of America all recently increased their price targets for Snap’s stock.
Snap beefed up its management team by adding Jeremi Gorman, the former head of sales for Amazon Advertising, and Kenny Mitchell, previously vice president of marketing at McDonald’s. The platform added Snap Kit, which makes it easier for other apps to embed Snap’s features like filters or messaging into their platforms. Snap has also created a premium ad service called Snap Select, through which advertisers can buy ads in bulk for a fixed rate. Those ads will play during Snap’s most popular content, on shows it produces with partners like NBC Universal, Tastemade, and Condé Nast Entertainment. (Condé Nast publishes WIRED.) “Advertisers are starting to find a lot more value and utility from advertising on Snap,” Goldman analyst Heath Terry said on CNBC. Goldman Sachs also upgraded its rating of Snap stock from neutral to buy. Snap declined to comment ahead of the financial results.
Over the past two years—as Wall Street watched the stock plunge and some investors left the platform for dead—teenagers weren’t paying attention to the numbers. They were busy making the app a necessity. Johnny Dallas and Sydney Gevertz, who are 17 and 18 years old respectively and from San Francisco, say the app is useful. Dallas downloaded Snapchat when he was in middle school after hearing about it from a friend on his bus route. Over time, he says he’s used it more often: to schedule times to hang out or to keep in touch with friends over summer vacation. He likes that he doesn’t have to post publicly, as on some other apps. “It feels more like communication than like exhibition,” he says. “More like I’m talking to somebody.”
“It feels more like communication than like exhibition.”
Johnny Dallas, 17
Gevertz, who has been using the app for more than five years, says it makes it easier to talk to casual acquaintances. If she meets someone at an event or through another friend, she doesn’t have to share her phone number. “In my experience as I get closer with someone, we transition from using Snap to just traditional texting,” she says via text. “But in the beginning stages of friendships, Snap is definitely a main form of communication.”
Still, analysts worry about Snap’s long-term outlook. Research firm eMarketer predicts that Snapchat will lose nearly 3 percent of its US monthly users this year, as Instagram surpasses it in time spent among US users. Principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson says via email that Snapchat has nearly saturated the US, but notes that “there are many markets around the world where that isn’t the case, so there’s some room to grow.”
Williamson says other services—particularly Instagram—may copy new Snapchat features, just as it did Snapchat’s disappearing message format. “Instagram has proven to be a formidable foe for Snapchat, and we attribute a lot of that to the fact that Instagram not only copied the stories format, but arguably does it better than Snapchat does,” she says. “We certainly expect Instagram to keep a close eye on Snapchat and copy other features where it makes sense,” she adds, citing augmented reality as a likely area of competition.
The WIRED Guide to Emoji
Snapchat’s latest investments center on multiplayer gaming and AR features like gender face swap and baby face filters. New games include Zombie Rescue Squad, which allows you and your friends to rescue the survivors of a zombie apocalypse, and others like Bitmoji Party. Williamson says young users are spending more time on gaming as well as digital video. But some teens are lukewarm on such features. “It’s kind of a fun novelty but I don’t use it every day,” says Dallas of the games and filters. “I don’t think I ever open the app to play a game or check an influencer’s story the same way I do with other apps,” reports Logan, the 17-year-old in Denver.
Teens who use Snapchat also tend to use other platforms. While they see Snapchat as a tool for communication, they use others services like Instagram for entertainment. “Snapchat is definitely more about talking to people, while other social media apps are more about exploring content from creators you don’t know personally,” says Logan. Gevertz agrees: “I definitely use Insta[gram] every day but I don’t post on my account that often.”
Despite Snap’s big investments, the biggest draw for new users isn’t necessarily that new technology. Sierra Stern, who is 17 and lives in Los Angeles, just started using Snapchat a few months ago. Until then, she says, her parents worried about what she’d see on the platform. Stern isn’t racing to follow influencers or to post photos of herself altered a filter that makes sparkling rainbow vomit appear to cascade from her mouth. She just wants to know what’s going on. “I can’t count how many times Snapchat groups have been made for classes at school, and I’ve been kept out of the loop because I didn’t have the app,” she writes over email. “The concept itself of temporary content and disappearing messages didn’t draw me in, so much as the desire to not be left out and to be in contact with my Snapchat-using friends.”