Earlier this year, Snapchat released an update which triggered an unusually ferocious backlash from its user base. A wave of public complaints gave rise to a petition calling on Snapchat to revert back to its original design. Currently, the petition stands at around 1.3 million signatures. It doesn’t detail the specifics regarding the changes that Snapchat users dislike. It just says the Snapchat update is “annoying,” and has made “many features more difficult.” So what’s all the fuss about?

What has changed in the Snapchat update?

These are the things in the Snapchat update that users are most upset about. First, the mixing of Stories (which are essentially broadcasts and not meant for a specific person) into a single “Friends” page where users also receive direct snaps from friends (like back and forth conversations). This supposedly makes it difficult to identify the difference between Stories and conversations since they aren’t in any particular order.

In addition to this, there have been complaints that it’s now difficult to find friends and rewatch their Stories. And finally, there has been a lot of talk about the revamped Discover section which combines content from professional creators, big news outlets, video makers, and social media stars. This is only a quick swipe from the home page making it more accessible for the user. But do they really want to watch ads? Unlikely.

Like Facebook’s different experiments in optimizing its news feed, Snapchat uses an algorithm to show you Stories from friends it thinks you are most interested in. This also gives the platform freedom to interject sponsored content where it isn’t wanted. Is this part of the Snapchat update just a move by Snap to copy Facebook’s way of presenting a newsfeed to try and replicate its success?

What we know about the Snapchat vs Facebook battle

When Facebook-owned Instagram released its Stories feature on August 2nd, 2016, Instagram usage increased by 146% while Snapchat dropped by 25% (data consumed per user between Aug 2016 and June 2017).

It’s easy to understand how this happens – people loved Snapchat’s Stories feature. So if you offer it to Instagram’s already huge and loyal user base, of course, they will start broadcasting in video format to their well-established network of followers.

It’s clear from our analysis that the turn of the new year is when Instagram really turned the tables. A rapid increase in usage saw Instagram widen its lead on Snapchat in the first half of 2017.

The average Instagram user consumed 42.9 MB per day in the second quarter of 2017. While the average over the course of the year was 25.18MB. That proves the growth in Instagram data consumption was concentrated in 2017.

Meanwhile, for Snapchat, 2017 was a flop. The average Snapchat user consumed 20.8MB per day in Q2 2017, while over the course of the year was 22.4MB. This suggests a slow and steady decline.

This means that either Snapchat’s app became more lightweight and efficient with data consumption. Or as is more likely the case, users were simply logging on and using the app less than they used to.

How has user engagement been affected by the recent Snapchat update?

Wandera’s research team looked at a sample of 100,000 corporate mobile devices in its global network of enterprise customers over the past three months to see how the Snapchat update has affected usage of the app.

Snapchat update

The data in this chart shows the number of devices using the app over a period of time before and after the Snapchat update. It’s clear from this analysis that a dip in users logging in occurred around the time that Snapchat began rolling out the update at the beginning of January. Since that point, usage has remained lower than before.

Snapchat update

This chart demonstrates the average amount of data used on Snapchat per device each day. It shows a similar decline in user engagement.

Why stick with the update then?

It’s clear the update is turning users away. Surely Snap has a reason for pursuing the update and sticking to it? The pessimist within us all could assume it’s most likely related to advertising revenue. Facebook faced a similar backlash with updates to its news feed algorithms that favor ads and sponsored content and stuck with it anyway. And Facebook is still mixing things up now. The company recently announced an algorithm tweak that will de-prioritize publisher content.

Uncanny timing! There has been speculation that this move by Facebook is the reason for Snapchat’s effort to strengthen publisher relationships and stick with the update.

Reportedly, Snap Director of Content Mike Su recently emailed its publisher partners to highlight Snapchat’s commitment to work more closely with publishers to help them improve their content quality and audience reach.

Snapchat will still show ads between Stories and Discover content like always. But because all the best content is shown in a row instead of being sorted chronologically, people will become less accustomed to skipping content, including its ads.

The Snapchat update is at least a move to shake things up and fight back against Facebook-owned Instagram’s copycat move in launching Stories and effectively stealing its user base. Snap’s willingness to launch such a bold redesign may be the courageous move it needs to stay relevant.

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