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How Snapchat can win back the influencers it has lost to Instagram
Snapchat doesn’t need to pay influencers so much as pay attention to them and push people’s attention toward their Stories, according to influencers.
Snapchat’s years of neglecting influencers have caught up to the company. At one time, those influencers offered an opportunity for Snapchat to grow its audience and even steal some attention from other platforms like Instagram. But Snapchat failed to capitalize on the opportunity and has seen Instagram seize it. Now, Snapchat has decided to try to win back the influencers it has lost to Instagram over the past year. Neither its success or its failure is certain.
“What Snapchat needs to do is show influencers it can build a meaningful audience and give them the means to monetize that audience. Influencers are driven by social currency,” said Eric Dahan, CEO of influencer network Open Influence.
Snapchat at least recognizes that much is true. In recent months, the mobile app has made moves to raise influencers’ profiles on Snapchat and their potential to profit from the heightened presence.
In late summer, the mobile app extended its verification program, “Official Stories,” beyond traditional celebrities to influencers, a key benefit being that verified accounts appear more prominently in the app’s search results. Then, in November, Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat’s parent company Snap, acknowledged that his company had “neglected” influencers and said that in 2018, Snapchat would “build more distribution and monetization opportunities” for influencers. Most recently, Snapchat debuted a redesigned app earlier this month that would showcase influencers’ Stories in a new section alongside other professionally produced or curated content.
Snapchat has also been building out its creator relations team and holding more meetings with influencers and influencer networks to learn how it can help influencers build their audiences and businesses on its app. “Pretty much right after they announced their intent to build relationships, they started to build relationships,” said Scott Fisher, CEO of Select Management Group, a talent management firm that specializes in working with digital celebrities.
However, these moves won’t amount to much if Snapchat isn’t able to address the primary reason it has fallen out of favor with influencers. That reason is not that Snapchat employees didn’t pay enough attention to influencers; the reason is that its audience didn’t.
“There’s interest when there’s audience. So obviously right now Instagram isn’t sharing revenue with creators, and if Snapchat did, that would be one point in Snapchat’s bucket. But it’s tough to monetize an audience when there isn’t as much of one,” said Fisher.
How Snapchat fell out of favor
Once upon a time, Snapchat was many influencers’ preferred platform. Sure, Instagram was where they made money through branded posts, but they were able to do the same on Snapchat. More importantly, Snapchat was primed to usurp Instagram’s position, thanks to its popularity among teens and twenty-somethings — the demographic that had given rise to YouTube stars — and its unique, ephemeral Stories format.
“Back in 2015-2016, all creators were on both Instagram and Snapchat, and Snapchat was really taking off. If you went through [creators’] Instagram feeds, they were all constantly promoting their Snapchat handles,” said Dahan.
Then, in August 2016, Instagram copied Stories from Snapchat and undercut its popularity among influencers. “Once Instagram flipped that switch, we saw half of the audience move to Instagram,” said Fisher. “From day one talent was less incentivized to continue posting [to Snapchat] if the audience wasn’t there. Then things like not getting close attention [from Snapchat] and not having a relationship with Snapchat led to [creators having] more faith in Instagram. Now we have clients that don’t even post to Snapchat.”
Among the influencers that have stepped back from Snapchat and gravitated toward Instagram are Karamjit Singh Maniani (@themodernshikh) and Donna Kim (@donnadaily), both members of Obvious.ly’s influencer network.
“I used to use Snapchat a lot,” said Maniani. But he had always found it hard to build an active audience on Snapchat. He had tried to get his Instagram fans to follow him on Snapchat, but “many wouldn’t do it,” he said. Once Instagram brought Snapchat’s flagship feature to its app, he no longer felt a need to try to migrate his audience. “Why go to another app if you can get everything on one app at the same time,” Maniani said.
Kim shifted to favoring Instagram over Snapchat “purely because of the convenience. If I’m already on Instagram, I might as well upload a story,” she said.
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How Snapchat can rise by raising up influencers
As far out of favor with influencers as Snapchat has fallen, no one interviewed for this article was willing to write off its potential to resurrect its standing.
“We all want Snapchat to succeed and everyone to make money. But it’s definitely an uphill battle,” said Fisher.
Fortunately for Snapchat, it isn’t starting from the bottom. “Even though influencers are less active [on Snapchat], they are still on the platform. That’s a big positive,” said Dahan.
However, influencers are on a lot of platforms besides Snapchat, from Instagram to Facebook to Twitter to YouTube to wherever else they may find an audience. For Snapchat to not only stay in the mix but to increase its importance to influencers, it needs to increase influencers’ importance on its platform. And through the expansion of “Official Stories” and redesign of its Discover tab, Snapchat is beginning to do so.
“There are many platforms, and sometimes you have to pick and choose where you spend more time. We’re always looking at what is the value proposition. Now with Snapchat starting to create more discoverability opportunities, that’s increasing the value proposition,” said Jennifer Perri, VP of Univision’s influencer arm, Univision Creator Network.
Snapchat’s redesigned Discover tab and underlying algorithm could be particularly potent in boosting influencers’ standing on Snapchat and Snapchat’s standing among influencers.
Typically social networks’ algorithms rank content in feeds based on what a person would be interested in as well as what their friends are interested in. But Snapchat’s algorithm aims to orient itself around what content appeals to a specific individual, not their friends. As a result, just because Jane Doe’s friends are all checking out Kylie Jenner’s latest Story doesn’t mean the reality star’s Story would appear above a less popular influencer’s Story that Jane tunes into many times a day. That could make Snapchat more attractive to smaller influencers, like Maniani, who have seen Instagram’s algorithm cause their posts’ popularity to fluctuate month to month. Instagram’s algorithm “is putting a lot of people at a disadvantage,” said Maniani.
Of course, there are concerns that Snapchat’s algorithm could also disadvantage influencers. If other content on Discover, such as Jenner’s Story or Snapchat’s own Shows, generate more revenue for the company than an influencer’s Story, Snapchat may decide to tweak its algorithm to prioritize that more profitable content, as Facebook is doing with episodic series on its social network. That looming possibility has influencers like Maniani as interested in reinvesting in Snapchat as they are wary of doing so.
“I would be up for doing whatever Snapchat is doing [with influencers], getting a verified profile and all that, but I would give it at least a solid six months to see what’s the benefit,” said Maniani.
Influencers want more than attention
The primary benefit that influencers want to see from Snapchat is an increase in views of their Stories. But it’s not the only one. They also want to see an increase in revenue.
When Snapchat announced that it would open up monetization opportunities for influencers, thoughts immediately turned to the most basic opportunity: a YouTube-style revenue-share program in which Snapchat runs ads alongside influencers’ Stories and splits the resulting revenue.
To be sure, such a program would move the needle for influencers. “Let’s say that Snapchat was monetized, it would change the game a little bit because I would be trying to make more Snaps. Not that I would [post] whatever, but I would be more conscious of the content I’m putting up,” said Rosy McMichael (@rosymcmichael), an influencer within Univision Creator Network.
However, revenue-sharing programs aren’t without their problems. For example, the ad prices “on emerging platforms are typically lower,” said Fisher, who said that creators in Twitter’s and Facebook’s revenue-sharing programs “haven’t seen super-high CPMs to start.” Then there’s the issue of advertisers being uneasy about not knowing what content their ads will appear next to. That has led to major brands pulling back budgets from YouTube and YouTube creators losing revenue. And that helps to explain why influencers appear to be less interested in how Snapchat can directly monetize their content and more interested in how Snapchat could enable influencers to monetize their content themselves.
“I would really like to see more analytics from Snapchat. I would like to see how many people actually follow me and what percentage of my followers are watching my Snapchat Story,” McMichael said. She would also like to see more detailed audience breakdowns — like the type Instagram offers through its business profiles’ insights tab — because that information would help her to sell brands on sponsoring her Stories, both in terms of helping brands to identify how McMichael’s audience overlaps with their target audiences and measuring how McMichael’s content benefitted their businesses.
If Snapchat were to offer influencers better tools “to help influencers sell their own sponsorships, that would go a really long way toward incentivizing influencers to be more active on the platform,” said Dahan. It could also lead to more advertisers becoming active on Snapchat.
“The reason I don’t see brands spending or building on Snapchat is because they don’t know how to do it. What if they hired great creators to develop content for them?” said Justin Rezvani, CEO of TheAmplify, an influencer marketing firm that pairs brands with creators and would benefit from Snapchat facilitating more influencer marketing deals.
Dahan’s company would similarly stand to benefit, and he laid out how Snapchat would benefit as well. “If Snapchat helps to give influencers and creators the tools to build a case for why [a brand should include Snapchat in an influencer marketing campaign], the influencer becomes a salesperson for Snapchat,” said Dahan.
But for that to happen, Snapchat first needs to sell influencers on itself.