Snapchat, the five-year-old social media platform that allows users to send brief photos of themselves to their friends, released an update in early June that broadened its Discover section and advanced the app as a publishing platform. But how can Snapchat possibly become a publishing platform? Good question.
I had been avoiding the update before hearing about this, mostly because it came with a new, not-so-great-looking design. But when I read about the ambitions to boost traffic to publishers’ content, I got curious. According to an article on Quartz, Snapchat users have the ability to subscribe to different publishers through its Discover section and, with the update, the content you subscribe to will be more heavily featured in other parts of the app.
Now, I didn’t want to go overboard with this and subscribe to a bunch of things in case it went south. So I started with National Geographic. Once subscribed, their feed showed up in my “stories section.” Unlike the typical Snapchat story, National Geographic’s gave me the option to not only scroll through images/videos, but also to swipe up to read an article or watch a clip. And because it’s directly in my feed, I don’t have to go hunting through the Discover section to find the content.
The popular clickbait site BuzzFeed has been taking advantage of the Discover feature since it was first launched in 2015. It’s helped bring in a lot of ad revenue for Snapchat and, with this new feature, the site itself could generate more of a following. Users will be able to subscribe to Buzzfeed’s articles and quizzes, see them in their storie, and get caught up reading about how the new Kylie Jenner swimsuit line looks on average people.
But all this begs the question: will a feature like this really boost traffic to a publisher’s content? If you’re anything like me, you’d rather not have a lot of stuff cluttering up your stories—especially when you can use the internet (or other apps) to read it. You can have the same content in the palm of your hand on so many different platforms. Why would Snapchat even attempt to grow something like this? Because the Discover feature reportedly generated $300 million in revenue in 2015. The next logical step was to expand it into other areas.
And isn’t it wild how a social media platform is slowly expanding and weaseling its way into the publishing industry? On the one hand, it helps magazines like National Geographic get more readers and broadens the horizons of the long-time publication. But what’s going to happen if/when this new feature takes off? Will Snapchat branch even further into the publishing world? And what could this mean for the future of other apps and the future of the industry?
It’s likely that the industry is going to see an even larger shift to digital forms of publication. Some of those shifts, like Snapchat’s transition, could be as simple as fads and fall off the face of the industry as quickly as they started. Once everyone follows in their footsteps, they’ll move on to the next big thing. Whether or not that “thing” will involve the publishing industry remains to be seen. There’s only so much a social media platform can do to be a “publisher” before it turns into something entirely different than it was at the beginning.