@GaryVee: How the disappearing photos app Snapchat changed the game

Authored By Adam Green

@GaryVee is a new biweekly column featuring entrepreneur and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk, where he will share advice on business and leadership with the Chattanooga community.

Snapchatting has been making a lot of news lately, which has left many adults wondering how it got to this point. How did Snapchat, an app that first made headlines as the”sexting app,” get to the point of receiving over 100 million active users and 7 billion daily video views today?

To be honest, I was surprised early on that people didn’t realize that the way Snapchat works is much closer to how we communicate face to face than any other social network. What I mean by this: when we talk to each other, passing in the halls or just living out our lives, those moments disappear. Snapchat emulates that behavior and psychology.

Snapchat was started at a time when everybody and their mom thought they were an entrepreneur who could launch a successful social app. Facebook was where you went for updates on family and friends, Instagram was beautiful photo content and Twitter was the conversation at a cocktail party. These three social giants dominated most of the conversation, but they all played off of each other in terms of functionality and, most importantly, audience. However, Snapchat was able to counterbalance the strengths of all three players and create a new social pipeline.  

The norm of the internet age is to create platforms in which everything is saved-everything is stored and documented digitally. Snapchat went the opposite direction and is predicated on our reality: moments are temporary and that’s exactly the feeling and behavior that Snapchat mapped to. Snaps could even be compared to television the first 50 years it was introduced: the broadcast aired, and that was it. Snapchat managed to tap into a lot of historical truths instead of creating something entirely new.

Facebook offers to buy Snapchat
One year after launch, Mark Zuckerberg reportedly tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion.

And let me just say this, Zuckerberg is the greatest trader in consumer attention of all time.

He understands the value of attention. He recognized that Snapchat was well on its way to winning the attention of a generation, much like he did with Instagram (which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion). He saw it as a vulnerability and saw that a Snapchat generation could emerge, much like there was a Facebook generation before it.

But Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel turned the offer down. He saw what Zuckerberg saw: the potential to fill in the social pipelines that other platforms had ignored.

The maturation of Snapchat’s attention
There are a couple things true of teens. One, it’s not cool to hang out at the same club as your mom. And two, you want to lock your room.

Snapchat solved both those things. Parents were starting to join Facebook in droves, so teens were looking to leave and looking for somewhere to go. And, the disappearing photos function was essentially the same thing as a “do not disturb” sign on your door, except much more effective. Both these things led to Snapchat’s extreme and sudden user growth. Just a year after launching, Snapchat hit 10 million active users.

It was in October 2013 Snapchat made a significant update to the platform: Stories. Users could now also add Snaps to a feature called their “Story”, which acted like a longer narrative of snaps strung together. The stories last 24 hours after being posted and are public to all their followers.

I’m going to be very clear here: I went on the record saying I thought the update was a bad idea. I thought it was absurd to imagine that users would actually go out of their way to watch something on a platform where things were historically delivered to them (Stories live on their own page and you have to click into a Story to watch it).

But boy was I wrong. This update marked Snapchat’s first big move into becoming a major platform by creating its own social language and context. It already had functionality very different from any other social network at the time; you could draw on top of photos, content disappeared and the gestures of swiping up, down and to the side were relatively new. But after Stories, the platform began to take off and mature as a content destination. By August 2014, 40 percent of 18-year-olds in the U.S. were using Snapchat on a daily basis.

The biggest update in recent Snapchat history, and the one that really changed the game for me to push it towards the mainstream, has to be Discover.

Snapchat becomes a media destination
In early 2015, Snapchat launched Discover, a feature that allows users to receive content provided by top media companies. Launch participants included National Geographic, Vice, ESPN and more. It continues to be a very serious play to be part of Snapchat Discover because it puts a company in a very aggressive place within the overall user interface of the app and delivers an unmatched form of attention from their youthful user base in a world moving towards being mobile first.

Using Discover as their platform, Snapchat went out and made deals that allowed them to curate some of the top content providers in the world in this one spot.

The brands that launched as partners, and the 18 brands now currently in the space, have an enormous relationship with Snapchat, and they are getting great equity for it. Why? Forty-five percent of Snapchat’s users are under 25. There are over 100 million users, nearing 200 million. Snapchat is basically handing these brands the 25-and-under demo. So it’s no surprise that these media companies have hired entire teams around the initiative. Their only job is to make content for Snapchat.

Now, Snapchat is partnering with the NFL, the White House has recently joined, and it’s safe to assume they’ll continue to broker relationships with more content creators as they’re proving that they are a real media property to be reckoned with.

If you are a brand, business, or anyone who values attention, you should be investing your time in learning and using Snapchat as a content marketing platform. Period.

Note: You can find a longer version of this Snapchat guide on Garyvaynerchuk.com.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a serial entrepreneur, CEO, investor, keynote speaker and social media expert. He was named to both Fortune and Crain’s 40 under 40 lists in consecutive years and has been profiled in the New York TimesFortune and Inc. You can connect with him through FacebookTwitter and his YouTube show called The #AskGaryVee ShowThe opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

Updated @ 4:28 p.m. on 2/8/16.