Snap Inc (NYSE:SNAP) seems determined to alienate its user base. After disastrously revamping its Snapchat app last year to change how users view their feeds, a move that led to a mass exodus of users that it has yet to recover from -- even after largely undoing most of the changes -- the vanishing message app now wants to make user posts permanent.
While there is some sense behind Snap tinkering with its app, both the last overhaul and the one being contemplated seem to have the same fatal flaw in common: They don't take into consideration what the users want.
Changing Snapchat into something unrecognizable
The allure of the Snapchat app has been that posts disappeared after 24 hours. Their ephemeral nature made Snapchat unique as a private place to share and watch videos and images.
Snap changed that last year when it extended to 30 days the length of time a public post would live, and eventually stretched it out to 90 days, although users can still delete public posts themselves.
By doing so, Snap turned itself into just another web publishing platform for the public sharing of content, no different than Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Instagram, or Twitter, as the public posts inside the Our Story section can be seen by any user on the platform. They can also be embedded on the web.
In changing the nature of the app, Snap altered what made it special, and that partly explains why fewer people are using the app today than they were before the changes. And now the company wants to double down and make the posts permanent.
Advertisers are charting the course
The problem Snap is facing is it's difficult for it to make money with disappearing messages. Reuters, which first reported the latest development, said Snap's partners are finding them difficult to work with and news organizations won't embed the stories in articles because the content eventually disappears.
All of the changes Snap has made to its app, and those it is considering now, aren't for the benefit of users, but for its advertisers, as it is desperately trying to become profitable. The company is working feverishly to attract advertisers but so far its efforts have come up short.
In December, an eMarketer survey found just 28% of marketers used Snapchat, compared to 86% that used Facebook and 69% that used Instagram. While Snap saw an increase in advertising revenue in the third quarter as a result of redesigning its app, user engagement is declining. The number of users fell 1% last quarter and the number of Snaps created were down to 3 billion from 3.5 billion in the prior year's third quarter.
Doomed to repeating history?
Making user posts permanent isn't likely to increase user engagement, but more concerning is the other big change Snap is considering: making user identities on public posts public rather than simply a screen name.
Reuters says these changes are only in the study phase and nothing is being implemented at the moment as executives investigate what the benefits are, as well as the potential fallout that would follow from making the change.
If history is any guide for Snap, its users won't be fond of the app evolving again. While making public posts permanent may help it stop losing ground to Instagram, which itself has a mix of permanent and disappearing posts, it also diminishes any difference between the two apps.
Users have overwhelmingly showed a preference for using the 'gram over Snap -- Instagram -- which is owned by Facebook -- has 1 billion monthly users and 500 million daily active users compared to 300 million and 188 million, respectively, for Snapchat. Further erasing what makes Snapchat special will only hasten the disappearing message app's decline.