If you want to know why Snapchat remains such a thorn in Facebook's side, just take a look at current mobile messaging trends in the US - a market where Evan Spiegel's app is now ahead of WhatsApp and Messenger among the all-important teen audience. It's also close behind or at parity in places like Canada, Australia and in much of Western Europe, where according to our data as many as 50% of this much-coveted demographic are Snapchatting.
As social behaviors continue to evolve, there's little doubt that Snapchat has been one of the main beneficiaries among younger groups and that it's capturing a lot of the conversations and activities that used to take place on "traditional" social networks. Snapchat can also lay claim to being the fastest-growing social app over the last year, having almost doubled its user base.
Like so many other names in this space, though, the key challenge in recent months has been for Snapchat to convert potential into real revenue. After all, there's only so long that headline writers and investors can be kept happy by buoyant levels of growth alone; if 2014 was the year that messaging apps rushed to grab as many users as possible, 2015 is most definitely the one where they are all under pressure to monetize their audiences as quickly and effectively as possible. Hence the arrival of money transfers, games and still more besides on a service like Facebook Messenger.
But it's Snapchat which is in a fairly unique - and enviable - position here. Compared to any other social or messaging app, it has by far the youngest audience. Over half of its users are under 25, and a staggering 80% are under 35. Compare that to Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, where just 30% of users are under 25, and the difference is plain to see. Sure, Facebook's messaging apps might have much larger audiences overall, but what Snapchat lacks in size it makes up for in consistency; Facebook needs to be everything to everyone, whereas Snapchat can concentrate on appealing to its predominantly young, Western audience.
To date, Snapchat has a pretty good record of introducing new features which are closely aligned to the behaviors of its users. But while Snapcash might have been a fairly obvious route to follow - and something which just under 50% of Snapchatters told GlobalWebIndex they were interested in using - it didn't feel especially unique to Snapchat. After all, apps like WeChat and LINE have long since offered similar features, and that Messenger users can now do the same too means it's hardly a differentiator.
Snapchat is on much stronger ground when it comes to content-related features. Stories and Discover have both been so successful because teens are a content-hungry demographic who want to be entertained in bite-sized ways. Once upon a time, Snapchat's privacy credentials might have been the app's major selling point, but the fickle demographic at the core of its user base has long since moved on. Now, Snapchat's most attractive quality is that it's fun to use (69%), whereas privacy has become the least important motivator (with just 30% of the app's users selecting it). Compared to audiences on other apps, Snapchatters in fact are far further above average than any other group when it comes to wanting brands to entertain them - they are some 60% more likely than average to say that brands should focus on this as their main priority. Still more good news for brands is that Snapchatters are willing for this to be a two-way street: ask users about the factors that would convince them to promote or advocate a brand and they are hugely above average in terms of asking for exclusive content.
It's against this background that Snapchat's recent announcements surrounding 3V and Truffle Pig are so interesting. Vertical Video Views (3V) are very much in line with the behaviors of its users: not only do three quarters of Snapchatters say that they regularly watch video clips on their mobile, but a third of them say they have recently watched a branded video specifically (making them 70% more likely than the average internet user to be doing this). Crucially, though, this is a very Snapchat-specific trend; when we look at all internet users aged 16-34, there's no over-index at all for watching branded videos. Not only has Snapchat managed to capture a young audience, then, it's also recruited users who are more likely than their peers to engage with branded video content. That makes the prospects for '3V' pretty damn strong.
Truffle Pig is also a logical step. Back in 2014 when rumors surfaced about Snapchat taking investment from Yahoo, the common view was that Snapchat would be gaining vital access to content at the same time as expanding its digital presence across Yahoo properties like Tumblr and Summly. In essence, it would have been a move that helped it to grow and monetize users while leaving Snapchat's original reason-for-being, its messaging function, as a largely ad-free space. Fast-forward to 2015 and it might be WPP and the Daily Mail which have been named as the partners for Truffle Pig, but the same principles are very much at work here: Snapchat gains a way to enhance its content offering, to distribute material more widely and to use the 3V format which it knows resonates with its users.
All that considered, Snapchat's most recent valuation at around $16 billion suddenly doesn't seem quite so lofty. The app that so famously turned down Facebook has the audience, the content and the momentum it needs to establish one of the most successful routes to monetizaton of any social app out there.Suggest a correction