Snapchat was recently in the eye of a storm and it isn’t clear how big a beating the brand took after CEO Evan Spiegel was accused of saying that the app was “only for rich people” and that he didn’t “want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain.” Speigel later denied the charges and said the company was grateful to the Snapchat community in India.
Many users claimed to have uninstalled the app and #UninstallSnapchat and #BoycottSnapchat trended on Twitter between April 15-17. But, going beyond the rhetoric, the popular messaging and photo-sharing mobile app has changed the way we communicate. Its innovative features like self-deleting pictures and stories feature have made it hugely popular among the urban Indian youth. While the company doesn’t share figures on its user base in India, this Indian Express report estimates it at four million users as of last year. It has over 161 million daily active users worldwide.
Given Snapchat’s popularity in India — it is used for everything from social networking to brand promotions that earn users money and even social awareness programmes — did the controversy really cause a large number of Indian users to delete the app? Or did they simply ignore Spiegel’s comments and keep the app for the value it offers to them? FactorDaily spoke to a few such users and experts who have been closely following and using the app and here’s what they had to say.
Manu Prasad, a marketing consultant based in Bangalore, believes that many people probably installed and uninstalled Snapchat just to make a point and that the actual users — the younger demographic — are not too bothered by the controversy
Most of Snapchat’s users see it as a relatively private and ephemeral (because of the self-deleting messages) platform. “There is a certain young demographic that swears by Snapchat because it was the first mover in many features, which worked well for its audience and made it their comfort zone,” said Manu Prasad, a marketing consultant based in Bangalore.
Manu draws a parallel between the Snapchat furore and the recent outrage against Uber which triggered #deleteUber. “The people who uninstalled the app were a small percentage of the overall user base and there are no numbers on how many people got back to it,” he said. He believes that many people probably installed and uninstalled Snapchat just to make a point and that the actual users — the younger demographic — are not too bothered by this controversy. “How many teens have you heard talking about this issue?” he asked.
Not snapping out of it
This seemed to resonate with the Snapchat users we spoke to, with many of them acknowledging that they were hooked on to the platform and there was little reason to shift to others. All of them said that the recent controversy wouldn’t play a huge role in dwindling Snapchat’s user base; some even blamed the outrage on sensationalist reporting by the media.
Sandhya Ramesh, a freelance science writer going by the username ‘duskendale’, was named one of the must-follow Snapchat handles in India, according to Huffington Post. You might wonder what’s a science writer doing on Snapchat — perceived to have a largely teen audience who are more interested in keeping up with the Kardashians than in global warming. But Sandhya says the app offers her great engagement with people in the 14-34 age group. She once posted some images of different type of rocks and mentioned their types, asking people to send pictures of rocks they find around them and guess what type they were; she says she got a very good response.
Citing the example of NASA’s popularity on Snapchat, she adds that the notion that the app is for teenagers is primarily driven by the way it was conceived. “One of the advantages of Snapchat is that enables users to ‘view and forget’ rather than ‘view and absorb’ compared to other social media platforms,” said Sandhya.
The ‘view and forget’ phenomenon means that creators of content are having to constantly readjust themselves, and this revolves around the time taken to consume the content. Twitter started the ‘view and forget’ trend with its 140-character limit and Snapchat took it to another level by introducing disappearing messages that are displayed for only a few seconds. However, they remain on the platform for 24 hours and you can go back to them.
“One of the advantages of Snapchat is that enables users to ‘view and forget’ rather than ‘view and absorb’ compared to other social media platforms” — Sandhya Ramesh of username ‘duskendale’, one of the must-follow Snapchat handles in India
Then there’s a section of users who use Snapchat for purposes other than social networking — brand promotions, commercial activities etc that bring them good returns — and they have no plans of giving that up or joining the boycott. Take the example of Aswathi Balakrishnan, a 24-year-old fashion curator at online fashion retailer Wooplr and a fashion blogger who makes money from brand promotions on Snapchat. What Spiegel said isn’t playing too much in her head, she says.
The popular Snapchat user says she initially got onto the platform for the privacy that it offered. About seven-eight months ago, after she hit 1,000 views, she started getting requests from brands like Accessorize, Daniel Wellington, Lifestyle, and FreshMenu to showcase their products and, since the returns were decent, she accepted the offers. “A lot of people make money via Snapchat from brand promotions — all you have to do is post photos of fashion shoots, behind-the-scenes happenings, unboxing products etc,” said Aswathi. Her target audience 16-25 year olds. Many brands even mandate the use of the app when they offer deals to influencers like her, she says.
Then there’s a section of users who use Snapchat for purposes other than social networking — brand promotions, commercial activities etc that bring them good returns — and they have no plans of giving that up or joining the boycott
She feels Snapchat is primarily designed to enable users to share their day-to-day lives. “Because of the short time-frame — photographs get deleted after 24 hours — one doesn’t have to worry about drawing too much attention to one’s posts and can post anything, even if it is mundane. This results in users exploring more forms of content, more frequently,” she said.
Apart from marketing and commercial activities, Snapchat is also being used to promote social awareness. Snap Counsellors is the world’s first teen relationship abuse and dating abuse counselling line on Snapchat. Avani Parekh, a counselling partner at Snap Counsellors, says the advantage of the app is that it’s not a static content mechanism. “Snapchat offers high engagement at a personal level and its disappearing messages mean that teens can communicate without the fear of leaving a trace of their conversations. The video calling feature and the use of tools like stickers make it easier for us to reach out to teens in their language,” she said. The organisation has counselled over 2,000 teens globally and has presence in United States, Spain and South America.
However, Aswathi, who handles Wooplr’s Snapchat account, adds that Instagram is giving Snapchat tough competition and that she’s seen a large number of users shift to from the app to Instagram after Insta stories was rolled out.
A content strategist who’s worked with brands like Levi’s, Kingfisher and Premier Futsal League on Snapchat who spoke to FactorDaily on condition of anonymity also speaks about the waning popularity of Snapchat among brands. “The Levi’s Snapchat handle used to get around 3,000 views on an average for events such as NH-7, but it was difficult to track user engagement because the tools are limited. At one point, the brands stopped chasing views as they felt the app was “cool” and offered them great visibility,” the person said.
“Now brands are moving away from Snapchat, because it’s too much effort for too less returns” — a content strategist who works with brands on Snapchat
“Now brands are moving away from Snapchat, because it’s too much effort for too less returns. During our sales pitches to clients, we used to have separate presentations for snapchats, but now we don’t because clients aren’t interested,” the content strategist added.
While Spiegel’s comments are sure to have affected Snapchat’s popularity in India, it’s difficult to judge to what extent. And as they say, even bad PR is PR — many Indians who didn’t know about the app know about it now due to the furore. While many people might have uninstalled the app, the influencers and others who see great value in the app are sticking on and have no plans to uninstall it.
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