Snapchat Could Be Better at News and Ads Than Facebook

Snapchat wants to reinvent Facebook’s method of telling users what news to read. Its latest feature brings news into the ephemeral chat app that’s popularly used by teens and young adults in the U.S. Unlike the stories that turn up in your Facebook News Feed, the editorial content in Snapchat is chosen by an editor, not an algorithm.

In a recent post to its blog, Snapchat announced a new feature, called Discover, that will distribute original media content, termed “Stories,” created by editorial teams at CNN, Comedy Central, Cosmopolitanthe Daily Mail, ESPN, Food Network, National Geographic, People, VICE, Yahoo! News, and Warner Music Group. Once users open the Discover tab — which is in the top right corner of the Stories page — users can choose a channel to browse. From there, they can swipe left to see a series of about five headlines. When they find one that interests them, they can swipe up to see the full story. Each channel will be updated every 24 hours, “because what’s news today is history tomorrow,” according to Snapchat. True to Snapchat style, once the 24 hours are up, the old content will be removed.

The New York Times reports that Discover will feature only original articles, videos, and photos, which publishers will produce specifically for the app. According to several partners with whom Mashable spoke, Snapchat is not requiring companies to pay to feature content in the app. Instead, Snapchat has courted big consumer brands to advertise on the Discover program. Brands will pay for ads to be inserted between the original content produced by the media outlets, and Snapchat will split the revenue with the publishers.

As GigaOm notes, Snapchat seems to be taking a page out Facebook’s book. The social networking giant discovered that when it added media to its News Feed, users stuck around longer, spending more time on the network than they would if they’d just had their friends’ posts to look at. Their increased engagement with the platform made advertisers willing to pay more to reach them. Snapchat is likely hoping that the inclusion of news on its platform will have largely the same effect, but it’s taking a very different approach to actually distributing the content.

“This is not social media”

Discover is about Snapchat expanding beyond its original core product in the same way that Facebook branched out from its original iteration as a private, college-only social network. Interestingly enough, Snapchat’s blog post on the feature includes the line, “This is not social media.” The post goes on to explain, “Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.”

Snapchat sees Discover as less of a feature on a social media platform, and more of a media platform in itself. Snapchat says that editors and artists won’t need to force their content into less-than-optimum formats to distribute it through the app. “Discover is different because it has been built for creatives. All too often, artists are forced to accommodate new technologies in order to distribute their work. This time we built the technology to serve the art: each edition includes full screen photos and videos, awesome long form layouts, and gorgeous advertising.”

Snapchat’s founder, Evan Spiegel, is known to be fascinated by the media, and Snapchat is in the early stages of exploring the possibility of creating its own content. The Discover feature represents a new direction for the startup, which rose to popularity as an ephemeral messaging app that enabled users to send photos and text messages that disappear after they’re viewed. While Snapchat doesn’t disclose how many people use its service, it’s said in the past that its users send more than 700 million messages daily. A Wall Street Journal report last summer noted that Snapchat is thought to have more than 100 million users.

Snapchat’s user base may be particularly attractive to publishers and brands given that more than half of the people who regularly use the app are under the age of 25.  The New York Times notes that while Snapchat unveiled its first paid advertisement in October, the new deal with brands and publishers is Snapchat’s first step toward generating “meaningful” revenue. Snapchat’s strategy of going after high-profile publishers and big consumer brands for the Discover feature will also likely pay off. As VentureBeat notes, leaked emails show Snapchat’s Spiegel scoffing at Facebook’s ad businesses, positing that its failure to anchor ad dollars from big brands will hurt it in the long run.

How Discover could engage — and inform — Snapchat’s users

As more Internet users consume news online and on mobile, platforms like Snapchat’s Discover may play an increasingly important part in the news diet of those looking to read a few stories on their way to work or while standing in line at the coffee shop. Messaging and chat apps represent an area with significant potential for growth — especially when it comes to mobile news publishers and their efforts to reach younger readers. As Joshua Benton reports for Harvard’s Nieman Lab, putting news just a couple of taps away from users’ social lives — especially if they’re the kind of users who don’t actively seek out news but instead encounter it ” through a mix of adjacencies, social vectors, habits, and accidents” — holds enormous potential.

Snapchat’s Discover appeals to the same logic employed by publishers and news organizations using Twitter or Facebook: it helps them go where the audience is. But instead of reaching readers only through the haphazard filtering of what their friends post and what the News Feed algorithm turns up, participating publishers can curate their own channels. Editors can show users the news that matters. All of this adds up to a content experience that feels less like a social network and more like an app specifically designed to deliver news, features, and other content curated specifically for a given audience.

A particular weakness of Facebook’s News Feed when it comes to editorial content is that it depends upon an algorithm’s estimation of likes and shares to determine the news that users see. If Snapchat’s focus on channels catches on, publishers could cater less to the social media machine that seems to have an endless appetite for clickbait headlines and viral videos.

One of Discover’s biggest advantages is that the “Snap” formatting is completely native to mobile. The format of updating every 24 hours makes the news manageable and contained for users, and the flexibility of the platform enables content to be short or long, take the form of text or a video. The content all lives within Snapchat; users don’t have to click on a link or a preview, as they would on Twitter or Facebook, and go to the content on the publisher’s website. Snapchat’s Discover and platforms like it could be what the next generation of news looks like for “low-effort” news consumers: those who don’t seek out news and therefore rely on Facebook’s algorithms and other accidental exposure to keep them informed.

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