Confessions of a Middle-aged Snapchat User

The other name of this article might as well be called “The Day Snapchat as We Know It, Was Destroyed” as now that I’ve both figured out the platform and genuinely like it, it will now cease to be as cool. Snapchat’s street cred will begin to erode at an exponential rate with each new friend I acquire. I’m OK with that and you should be, too.

Let’s face it, we weren’t 14 forever, and nothing interesting can stay underground for long.

Snapchat has fought like hell to be as unknown to olds as it is omnipresent to the millennial set and younger. All you have to do is check out the inside game they’re running with billboards…

The theme? If you know, you know. If you don’t, you’re forced to ask. And it looks like plenty have given in to curiosity…

According to ComScore, Snapchat added 25-34 users (103%) and 35+ users (84%) faster than 18-24 users (56%). Snapchat's own data now identifies 12% of its almost 50 million daily users in the U.S. as squarely in the 35-54 demo. That’s me.

And apparently there are a lot of me’s, who despite Snapchat’s best efforts to stay off the radar, are birthing new accounts in droves. (Probably thanks to their nieces or students or cousins at Thanksgiving.) And even though I knew the system was stacked against my quick adoption and I might feel a little weird, I decided to see if Snapchat would just refuse me entry. (Because I remember when MTV played videos and Seattle was known for music before software.)

I have to admit, adapting to and using the app is a little daunting. The user interface is intentionally unfriendly to anyone used to more traditional platforms like Facebook or Twitter. With both a vertical and horizontal orientation, you have to really “know” the app to get around. (But eventually you just feel it.)

It’s difficult to find people without knowing their screen name, and according to cofounder Evan Spiegel, “[Snapchat]’s much more for sharing personal moments than it is about this public display.” This ethos automatically creates networks within networks – a kind of closed system that makes the usual cross-pollination found on other social sites, missing on Snapchat. And while that may seem like a drawback, it becomes a strategic advantage as the app makes a play to be more inclusive. Fact is, if my friends and I are on Snapchat, there’s less of a chance my 13-year-old cousin will know about it than on Facebook. Groups simply aren’t propagated that way.

The above point works the another way, too. Snapchat’s label as a millennial playground was the reason why I avoided it in the first place. But thanks to the way it’s structured, my starting network is made up of my existing friends. (OK, the few friends who, like me, have also crossed the generational picket line to brave the yellow fog.)

And besides lenses and filters, Snapchat has a crucial quality that, surprisingly, should appeal to gen-x and older. For those of us who still haven’t warmed to the idea of putting all of our personal moments out into the world, there’s a comfort in the temporary nature of snaps that disappear in a day’s time. So what if the lighting is bad? Or if you said something dumb? In 24 hours, it’s gone forever. Perfection gets a pass.

Snapchat represents a way to connect on both a personal and communal/semi-public level, without the commitment of a digital paper trail and without the implied “look at my awesome life” bonafides you’d find elsewhere. It’s pretty liberating, especially when you realize that the prevailing vibe is to just be yourself, enjoy the hang, and play…

And while Snapchat still has the same built-in FOMO (see: Fear of Missing Out) features present in anything wildly popular, it’s light among the world’s buffet of diversions - as long as your basis for comparison is crack. It’s addicting as hell and I see no way out, unless you decide you’re too mature for ice cream cones as devil horns or putting emoji fingers up noses. Which I am not.

However, I’m not a power user. And I can’t imagine anyone with kids and bills using Snapchat as the ultimate escapist retreat. I think I use it too much, but the typical tween would find my score pretty pathetic. But the more I use the app, the more natural its use becomes in my normal span of attention – and it definitely has my engagement right now.

Here’s why my point of view becomes pretty important over the next 18 months…

1.      If I figured it out, so will 30 million more in my peer group, even if they’re not able to articulate why.

2.      Snapchat is valued at over $16 billion. That’s a ton of financial leverage to make bold moves. You can catalyze a ton of cultural shift with a few billion. There will be much more to come; better to be in early.

3.      It’s embryonic as an ad platform. Once it matures, brands will start exploding on the channel.

4.      The more demographics are represented with strength on the platform, the more Snapchat will cater that group’s needs. Hence, a good user experience that keeps getting better and more accommodating.

5.      Throwback lenses? (Thundercats, please!)

There’s a huge nexus of new and old media powerhouses that are beating each other silly to get on Snapchat via Discover and Live Stories. Big brands aren’t exactly agile, and if they’re there, it's money and it isn’t going anywhere.

More and more, the pressure will mount for Snapchat to show ROI, become trackable and accountable, and expand its platform to accommodate a robust ad platform. The app will most certainly expand to suit, including millions of consumers of all ages looking for a change from Facebook and Instagram, and numbers are starting to prove this out already. But above all else, it’s about engagement…

·       The average open rate of email newsletters is 25%. But if you have 1,000 Snapchat followers, it’s likely 900 of them will watch your story.

·       Taco Bell says 80% of their over 200,000 Snapchat friends open their snaps.

·       According to VentureBeat, of Snapchat’s 100 million daily active users in 2015, 65% of them contributed snaps and stories of their own. This is incredibly high engagement for a social network.

Snapchat is truly the reigning king of attention-grabbing, which is infinitely important whether you’re trying to get the eyeballs and earholes of your followers or you’re a brand seeking lift in your market. This is when the “next big thing” isn’t a punchline – it’s a movement. We can definitely start to imagine the app sitting on a hill with Facebook where it’s no longer evaluated on its cache value, but rather its necessity in our lives, like an appliance.

And whether it finds a home with one generation or all of them, Snapchat has clearly started to round a corner in its growth where just about anything is possible – including a near-endless source of capital, and an existence where ubiquity trumps coolness all day long.

For more writing from Aaron go to his Website, Facebook or Twitter