Snapchat

Snapchat’s youthful users are starting to get worried that “their” app, seemingly designed to bamboozle anybody above the age of 25, is going mainstream.

The figures from the United States seem to support this: the idea of the app as something exclusive begins to decline as the 67.5% of users aged under 24 see that people aged between 25 and 34 (37.8%), as well as those aged over 35 (14%) are using it. Three years ago, only 5% of Snapchat users were aged 25 to 34, and just 2% were aged over 35.

These “older” users are social media professionals, parents trying to work out what their kids are up to, as well as people trying to be cool or afraid of missing out on something. But the long and the short of it is that young people who thought they had found something special are now annoyed that the oldsters are moving in.

That said, it seems older people haven’t much idea about how to use Snapchat. As CEO Evan Spiegel explains, Snapchat is the shift from using photographs as memory repositories to photographs as an instant expression, not meant to be kept. This reflects a change in ideas about identity, which is no longer created by accumulating what we have done, but instead about “what I am now”, which while it can be an accumulation of what we’ve done, isn’t represented as such (which is why the kids don’t like Facebook’s timeline concept).

Snapchat’s three screens (Snap, Chat, Watch) as a representation of the chronological flow of activity, rather than featuring the most recent first, as is the case with other social networks, shows what somebody has done during the day, in the same way as that person might tell you. When I see people of my generation use Snapchat, they tend to be playing with the filters, but they tend not to take the step of converting this product into a social object to be talked over, or to look at somebody’s timeline.

For many older Snapchat users, the app is still about sending photos that self destruct and that is inevitably linked to sexting. But Snapchat has evolved into a social network with its own codes and protocols, with its own identity, a business model based on non-intrusive advertising that appeals to brands and content providers looking to reach the adolescent and post-adolescent collective, and that in the United States has even introduced a payment option.

From the app that prompted Facebook to put $3 million on the table, a “privacy phenomenon” that nobody quite understood, we now have a company that is valued at $16 billion, with some 150 million active users, a turnover of $300 million, up from $60 million last year, and that now offers a full range of options including audio, video and voicemail.

The company believes that use by older people shows that it is easy and fun to use, but it is still too early to know what the impact could be on its traditional customer base. Many analysts say that young people stopped using Facebook when they discovered that their parents were using it. But rather than a mass exodus from Facebook, what seems to have happened is simply that they no longer identified with it. They seem happier with the ephemeral nature of Snapchat, but will they feel the same when their parents start using it?

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