Internet Cultured: The unprecedented rise and fall of Snapchat’s empire

Shutianyi Li/Daily Trojan

I remember downloading Snapchat for the first time my sophomore year of high school when the platform was all the rage. I was riding the bus home and sitting next to my friend who was using the app, so I downloaded it too (because most of my decisions were that simple in high school). From there, I added Snapchat to my daily routine — sending snaps, watching stories and perusing the Discover page. I definitely had an unhealthy obsession back then.

Now, a few years down the road, I check the app at most once every other day while I increasingly turn to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Even when my professors at the Annenberg routinely survey the class about which social media platforms students frequently use, the number of hands raised for Snapchat dwindles with each passing semester.

So, from beloved to tossed aside, what happened to Snapchat? Well, it’s a bit of a turbulent path.

CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel first launched the app from the living room of his father’s home in July 2011. Two years later, around the same time “stories” were added to the platform, Facebook attempted to buy out Snapchat for $3 billion, an offer Spiegel declined. Come August 2014, 40 percent of adults in the United States were using the app on a daily basis.

But Snapchat’s growth didn’t end there. In following years, Snapchat rolled out “Discover,” “Lenses” (filters), “Snapstreaks,” “Memories” and integrated Bitmojis, all of which have remained integral to the app. The company received a significantly larger buyout offer — this time valued at $30 billion from Google —which Spiegel declined again. Snapchat was the “it” platform at the moment, and nothing could seem to knock it down.

In the same year, it turned over its best quarter yet, however, Instagram rolled out its own version of user stories in August 2016. This was the turning point that ultimately led to Snapchat’s eventual downfall.

Users of both platforms were originally repulsed by Instagram stories, which were merely used as an outlet for users to post Snapchat handles and dismiss the new tool altogether. Over time, though, users became accustomed to seeing stories appear at the top of their feed and slowly began experimenting with the feature.

At first, many users would post the exact same content to both Snapchat and Instagram without a second thought. Now, Instagram Stories have evolved into a beast of their own, amplified by doodles, GIFs and location tags  — all elements that Snapchat has, sure, but Instagram just does it better. Namely, Instagram Stories has become an important element for brand pages and audience engagement that goes beyond a simple post.

To make matters worse, Kylie Jenner — who previously used Snapchat to engage with her fans, generate hype surrounding her company Kylie Cosmetics and bring millions of users to the platform in the process tweeted in February: “Sooo does anyone else use Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me … ugh this is so sad.”

Her audience primarily comprises teens and young adults — Snapchat’s primary demographic — and her tweet received over 365,000 likes in agreement.

The result of her statements? Snapchat’s market value was sliced off overnight by more than $1.5 billion. Kylie now keeps to Instagram to engage her audience and post daily content about her lifestyle, which has only continued to increase her following.

“Still love you tho snap,” Jenner tweeted as a follow-up. “My first love.”

Though the declining numbers don’t paint a pretty economic picture for the company, Snapchat may not be as dead as many people perceive it to be. Before Instagram Stories became more prominent, The New York Times called Snapchat “the place where you go to be yourself,” a sentiment that I believe still stands.

Whereas Instagram, Facebook and Twitter present a curated feed filled with friends, brands, news, professional connections and memes alike, Snapchat remains full of altogether less-filtered, organic moments. (Translation: the low-quality content I make on Snapchat will never go on my Instagram, for sure). Plus, Snapchat is significantly easier to make private and keep to a close circle of friends than other platforms, a big plus for Gen-Z individuals concerned about being too accessible online.

Still, Snapchat’s rapid rise to popularity and even faster plummet to insignificance cannot be ignored when thinking of the institution of social media at large. As various media platforms have come and gone (Vine, anyone?), what’s here to stay and on the way out in the age of rapid-fire social media will be a defining cultural component for current generations and for ones to come.

Rowan Born is a sophomore majoring in journalism and law, history and culture. She is also the social media director of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Internet Cultured,” runs every other Tuesday.