In what has to be the silliest bit of news I’ve read in a while, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel says the key to getting Snapchat to profitability by 2019 is to revamp marketing around the app to appeal more to older users.
Part of that campaign appears, based on the timing of the announcements, to embrace scripted programming on the platform. It’s signed deals with a number of media companies to produce original short-form video shows. Except those shows seem geared toward the younger crowd and are meant to reach audiences that watch video across platforms. That’s in-line with moves last year where Snapchat reached out to “influencers” to try and retain or attract them to the app and create new material for it.
The company has had a run of bad news. Its stock has been hammered lately, especially after it reported it actually lost users in the second quarter of this year.
That means gaining more users over a certain age may be the only lifeline still available to the company. Pew research from earlier this year showed only about 28 percent of those between 30 and 49 used the app, while 78 percent of 18-24 year olds did. It’s the most popular social network for teens.
This isn’t the first time Snapchat has tried to explain itself to an older demographic. This past April it launched an ad campaign positioning the app as a way for parents to share moments with their kids, missing the point that “your parents aren’t there” was a big reason teens liked the app. And a much-maligned redesign of the app in January turned off swaths of people and did nothing to bring in more older users, leading to the company undoing or fixing many of those changes quickly.
It’s entirely possible – indeed it’s likely – that the time for Snapchat to make a broader push for older users is well passed. The app has always had the reputation of being impenetrable to those over 25 since it didn’t function at all like any other social network they might be familiar with. Even looking past its initial public image as a place for teen sexting, it’s just never been able to catch on.
The fact that it even has to do so illustrates a problem with public companies like this. There’s no reason it can’t be completely happy being a niche tool used by young people to share messages and photos, often featuring stickers or doodles or filters, with friends. Investor pressure, though, means it has to keep seeking new avenues for growth so it can keep growing its advertiser base and charging a premium for those ads.
That’s the same pressure facing Facebook, Twitter and other publicly traded social networks, which have to keep meeting Wall Street’s expectations of eternal and unlimited growth. That pressure is all about short term earnings, meaning the decisions made are intended to have a positive impact in the next two quarters even if they ultimately harm long-term corporate health.
Plus, I’m not sure that expanding into older age groups is something that would actually do Snapchat any good. It might boost numbers for a quarter or two, but the shift in the user demographics would change the thinking of media buyers, who aren’t as interested in reaching a 55 year old as they are a 16 year old. The former isn’t going to have the time or inclination, in general, to use the Venom movie AR filter Sony Pictures purchased on the platform, whereas someone in the latter group is.
The idea that now is when old people will suddenly embrace Snapchat and suddenly “get it” seems unrealistic to say the least. There’s almost no reason for that demographic – my demographic – to do so. If our kids are active there they’ll find a way to keep their Snaps and Stories from us. Even if our desire to learn it is professional in nature, there are younger workers who are more familiar with it and will run rings around us.