Most social networks are plagued by (at least) some fear mongering about the loss of their tween-endorsed ‘cool factor’ and consequent imminent demise. But Snapchat has suffered more than most, of late.
Following the company’s rocky IPO in 2017 - which saw the brand finish the year with a lower valuation than its public offering - the blatant theft of Snapchat's ‘stories’ feature by Instagram, and the misjudged redesigns that left users voicing their discontent via other social platforms like Twitter, the past year has undoubtedly been a tough one for Snap Inc.
The doomsaying could be considered a little hyperbolic given the app is still reporting increasing global user numbers in 2018. But it's true that growth has slowed to its most sluggish, and that this can be directly linked to the launch of Instagram stories. From being heralded as social media’s golden child, and praised for managing to court younger users even as they fled from ageing sites like Facebook, Snapchat’s fortunes now seem to be in reverse. It’s no longer the younger, edgier kid on the block and it’s visibly struggling.
This is the setting in which Snapchat has decided to release, for the first time, developer APIs bundled up into a ‘Snapkit’. These APIs cover four areas: a login API, meaning that other apps can integrate a Snapchat login to let users access their sites (in the same way Facebook has successfully done so); a camera API, meaning users can integrate their own stickers and filters into the camera; Bitmoji integration, meaning your personalised avatar can be implanted on a range of other apps; and finally, an API making ‘themed stories’ possible - where third parties can lift content from public stories to create videos on their sites.
This is a move that other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter made a while ago to great effect - explaining why many an online article today is peppered with embedded Tweets and logging in with Facebook has become de rigueur for many.
“The biggest opportunity for Snapchat is being able to authenticate for other apps," says Patric Palm, co-founder of project management tools Favro and Hansoft, and an active member of developer communities.
"It’s timely because Facebook used to be one of the only login options but apps are starting to give you more options because users are now wary of Facebook. It was a huge win for Facebook, but is now being challenged because of the backlash.”
Another promising area is the implanting of Bitmojis on third party apps. In fact, one of the partnerships already announced by the app is with Tinder, meaning bitmojis will soon start populating flirty chats.
Snapchat acquired the company, Bitstrips, in 2016 but since then it has remained a permanent feature of the top downloaded apps, often appearing higher than Snapchat itself. Currently, the app doens't face much competition in this regard given that Facebook has only recently begun work on creating eerily similar ‘Facebook Avatars’.
Snapchat has also learned from Facebook’s mistakes in that it won’t be sharing the volume of user data with developers either. For example, for apps integrating a Snapchat login, only usernames will be shared with the third party company, rather than age or other demographic information.
The company will also review any third party companies that want to work with the app before granting approval.
But for many, the question will remain why not until now? “I’m surprised they waited so long,” says Palm, whose best guess as to why is that the company has possibly suffered from overconfidence, as well as senior management preoccupation with the recent IPO.
But given the dimming visibility of Snapchat and the unappetising story relayed by user metrics, waiting was no longer a choice.
“Growth is one of our three goals for 2018, so we absolutely hope it can contribute to that, and continue to strengthen engagement, which has always been a key metric for us,” said Snap’s VP of product Jacob Andreou of the release of the APIs.
Aiming to increase the visibility of Snapchat and to embed the app more firmly in users’ lives through features such as logins will surely prove a smart move. But will it be enough to ensure the app stays relevant in the long-run? Only time will tell.