How Snapchat completely dominated 2016

Snapchat’s wrapping up its biggest year ever, and the app—along with the entire social media space—will never be the same again.

From major changes to the app itself, to a new advertising platform, to Spectacles, to a company rebrand (hello, Snap!), and an IPO on the horizon, looking back at 2016, it’s clear that Evan Spiegel showed the world a company that’s a force to be reckoned with—along with some hints as to what to expect from Snap in the year ahead.

Snapchat Grows Up
Snapchat did some serious growing up as a platform in 2016, well beyond their roots as an addictive selfie-sharing app favored by teens and millennials. And that was the first change: Snap’s audience began to mature—literally—with more 35 and older users than ever before in the app’s five-year history. Obama’s White House launched an official Snapchat account at the top of the year. Then, The Wall Street Journal became the first American newspaper to join Snapchat Discover—proving that yes, Snapchat’s for parents, now, too.

The app’s major features went through a growth spurt, too. The company introduced Memories, its biggest rollback ever away from ephemerality, bringing users the ability to import and share photos taken outside of the app. One-to-one messages got overhauled. Group messaging finally became a reality.

In aggregate and at face-value, it all looks like typical product iteration from an enormously popular social app looking to to grow. But the pattern reveals substantial behind-the-scenes shifts in what Snap wants to mean to the world.

Snapchat’s signaling, loudly, that it’s ready to embrace a broader audience.
Not quite a social network and not quite a messaging app, Snapchat’s traditionally occupied a unique space in the world of social media. While other companies emphasize status updates (Facebook) or real-time sharing (Twitter), Snap encourages authenticity above all else.

While new features like Memories and group messaging are hardly a step back from that, by embracing more traditional features it once deliberately shirked—adding better saving and sharing features, for example—the company is signaling it’s ready to embrace a much, much broader audience.

Advertising gets real
It’s no coincidence, then, that as the user-facing side of Snapchat matured, its advertising efforts also reached new heights.

The company debuted its long-awaited advertising API (application programming interface), making it easier for brands to buy ads and deploy them using interest-oriented user targeting. And the company may be working on other ways to serve users with targeted ads, too.

“Snapchat has done the best job out of any one of these types of platforms, like a Facebook or like a Twitter, to ramp up and monetize themselves extremely quickly,” says Nick Cicero, CEO of Delmondo, an analytics platform for social video.

Needless to say, it’s all been a serious boon for Snap. The app’s set to generate $366.69 million in ad revenue in 2016 and stands to rake in nearly a billion dollars in 2017, according to estimates by eMarkerter.

Not bad considering it introduced its first ads ever in October 2014—just fifteen months ago.

The spectacle of Spectacles
With numbers like that, you’d be forgiven for wondering why the Snap would even remotely consider going into the hardware business. But you’d be underestimating Evan Spiegel’s marketing savvy, too.
IMAGE: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE
Though it’d long been rumored the company was working on a set of camera-enabled glasses, Snap caught the world by surprise announcing the arrival of Spectacles earlier this year. The news, which accompanied the company’s new corporate moniker “Snap Inc.,” also came with the somewhat puzzling assessment from Spiegel that the newly-rebranded Snap is now a “camera company.”

As if that wasn’t odd enough, there’s the way Snap decided to sell the new glasses, too: Via small, anthropomorphized vending machines (Snapbots!) temporarily appearing in cities with limited supplies—guaranteeing a near-instant sellout of the glasses (and some tech writers driven insane by the strategy).

And rumors persist that Snap’s got its eyes on other types of hardware, Spectacles are really meant to do one thing: keep eyeballs in and minds on Snapchat.

“Spectacles are just a mechanism in which to get more content onto the platform. It’s no different than Facebook and Twitter offering live streaming via Periscope and Facebook Live,” says Jessica Liu, a senior analyst with Forrester.

Looking Ahead
Snapchat will need all the eyeballs it can get in 2017.

So what can we expect in 2017? A publicly traded Snap, for one. The company’s reportedly eyeing an initial public offering for the first quarter of 2017—in what could be the biggest tech IPO in years.

With that comes more pressure for Snap than ever before—in the spotlight, the tech world will watch and wait to see if the company’s multibillion dollar valuation can put it in on the same level as Facebook.

More interesting, though, are the steps Snap will have to take to get there. If 2016 saw them more aggressively pursue advertising and features it once never would’ve considered, then 2017’s likely going to see them doubling down on that strategy.

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