Hey Millennials, Your Mom Is About to Follow You on Snapchat
Gary Vaynerchuk only recently got serious about using Snapchat. He started posting daily stories—strings of images and videos—in which he alternates between shouting business advice (Get up earlier!) and being a cool 40-year-old dude who works out (a lot) and goes to basketball games. Though Snapchat has mostly been known as a disappearing message app teens love, the show isn’t for them. Vaynerchuk, an early investor in the service, has been watching it for a while, and his bet is that Snapchat is finally aging up.
It’s part of a mounting body of evidence suggesting Snapchat is on the verge of its “mom moment,” the point at which a social media platform tips from niche network to mainstream sensation and becomes the type of thing your mother will start using. Maybe not tomorrow, but sooner than you think. Just before any service goes mainstream, there’s a spark that lights the fire—a set of conditions that suggest it will be a hit.
By the second half of 2015, Snapchat reached 15 percent of US Internet users older than 18, according to ComScore. Several years ago, Andrew Lipsman, vice president of marketing and insights at ComScore, analyzed traffic to Facebook and MySpace in an attempt to discern when each saw the network effect kick in. Facebook started taking off in 2007, once it reached 15 percent of the adult Internet users in the United States. Its predecessor, MySpace, began hitting the mainstream in 2006 upon reaching just over 20 percent. “This spot between 15 and 20 percent penetration seems to be where these social services just take off,” he says.
ComScore’s data supports Vaynerchuk’s hunch that older people are embracing Snapchat. While the service has grown 59 percent in the last year to 40.3 million US adult users (as of November), it has grown 69 percent among people age 25 to 34, according to ComScore. Nearly 27 percent of US adult web surfers this age are on it. Look a bit more deeply and things get more interesting: nearly 13 percent of people between 35 and 44—the mainstream adults who were never teens who simply grew up using it—are on it. At this rate, Snapchat will reach 15 percent in September.
Figuring Out Facebook
Many people think Snapchat won’t catch on among the olds because of its confusing UI. It’s easy to forget that Facebook confused many adults coming to social networking for the first time. In February 2009, I wrote a cover story about the rise of Facebook for Fortune. That was the winter that everyone joined. To illustrate the story, the magazine published my Facebook profile with call-out boxes explaining how to use each section. One onerous result: readers called me directly through Fortune with questions about using Facebook, and several complained that Facebook didn’t offer a “1-800” number.
Those users figured it out, obviously, and Facebook set the course for social design. I suspect my peers will figure out Snapchat, too. The service’s Discover platform, which has now been live for a year, will help. “Snapchat used to have a much higher barrier to entry. If you didn’t have any or only a few friends on the platform, there was literally nothing for you to do,” says Kyle Wong, cofounder and CEO of the visual marketing company Pixlee. However, with the success of Snapchat’s Story product, people can now be much more passive on the platform and just consume.”
The Discover platform now hosts 19 channels, from Vice to The Wall Street Journal, and some of the programming on them is quite good. On January 12, the Fusion channel aired an interview with President Obama (“You probably know him as Malia and Sasha’s dad…”) as part of a program about global warming. Like the TV I grew up watching in the ’80s, the programs are gone if you don’t catch them during their timeslot. It’s addictive—Snapchat users now watch 7 billion video clips each day, according to Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, a host of personalities like Vaynerchuk are making their lives into appointment viewing via daily disappearing stories. “Youtube, Twitter, email, I was always on those platforms a year before they really exploded and I landgrabbed,” Vaynerchuk shouted into the camera during a Snapchat rant that aired January 9. “So why Snapchat? Because my intuition hasn’t failed me that often before.”