How did Snapchat boast a solid user base within a short period of time, compared to Facebook and Twitter?

Is this due to a matter of constant paid advertisements online, or is it just due to a viral word of mouth?


I've been in the picture messaging space for a while now with my apps Lutebox (voted one of London's top ten most loved apps) and now Click Messenger. I've written a few articles about the space including a recent post about the Future of Mobile Messaging.

Snapchat started out as an app called Picaboo, which pretty much did what it does now (prior to the latest update with chat and video calling). They quickly rebranded but saw a little uptake in user numbers and had quite low downloads for several months. Then around Christmas 2011 one of the founders' mom had told her friend about the app, who told her kid and her kid basically then spread the word throughout their high school in L.A. That was what really blew up their download numbers as it spread across teenagers at local high schools.

As far as I know they didn't advertise in the early days, relied solely on word of mouth. Also it is assumed that they have a solid user base. Comparatively speaking, their user base may be in the low tens of millions, which may a great base of users, but nowhere even close to being as big as Facebook or Twitter.

I'd be happy to speak about this in more detail or about the picture messaging landscape and what I believe to be the future of mobile messaging.

Answered 10 years ago

Apps like Flappy Bird & Snapchat are the darling indie stories that makes everyone think all you have to do is be different, be simple, and you will succeed.

It's true, snapchat was one of the first sexting application for tweens and teens, so it spread virally ... it was popular becuase it wasn't Facebook or Twitter and didn't integrate with them. There were a few other applications out that had the same feature set as SnapChat, even before snapchat, and they went nowhere.

If you cover your bases (simplicity, good user interface, unique features) and get presented with a bit of luck, you might get that viral boost.

However it's EXTREMELY challenging to duplicate the success of something where being in the right place at the right time with the right product was a large factor.

Answered 10 years ago

I have more than 7 years of experience in digital marketing, managed over $50,000 in ad spend on various social media networks and currently managing over 30 Social media assets for various clients. I keep myself abreast of newer and newer social media platforms and tools by reading prominent blogs in my area of expertise.

According to Snapchat in May 2014, the app's users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day, while Snapchat Stories content was being viewed 500 million times per day. Since SnapChat does not reveal its official user count it is based on surveys and reverse engineering. A Pew Study Suggests That Snapchat Has 26 Million U.S. Users while a Study by Sumpto Finds 77% of College Students Use Snapchat Daily.

With such mind boggling numbers one is bound to think How SnapChat could have cut itself with such a large piece of the pie with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram already in the picture?

1. SnapChat offered to solve a different pain point than the existing social media platforms. Its unique in its offering of self destructing messages where users can indulge in far risque behavior without being judged as in the case of Facebook which takes us to the next point.

2. SnapChat capitalized on the need for privacy felt by users on Facebook, specially when everything you post on Facebook is Public by default unless you change it through the inline Privacy Selector on Facebook. With everybody's friends and family already on Facebook, users specially teens and those in early twenties, preferred to move to a newer network where they could be themselves without anybody watching, which takes us to the third point.

3. The Novelty factor of being an early user of the "cool new app that everybody is using" translated into word of mouth and more and more users started using the app to conform with peer pressure.

4. Ease of use of using a app made exclusively for Mobile platform as opposed to a Desktop platform as mobile is far more accessible and convenient which is the reason for Twitter's growth despite Facebook in its earlier days, Facebook;s ongoing acquisition of anything and everything mobile and massive valuations of startups like Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp.

In my opinion, these 4 factors combined together are the cause of a massive user base within a short period of time some of which are applicable to the rise of Vine and messengers like WeChat and WhatsApp as well. Notice that I call SnapChat's userbase "massive" as opposed to "solid" as you have as I think point 3 is far more potent and a majority of SnapChat's users will migrate to a newer app once it catches their fancy.

If you have any further questions, I'd be happy to answer them for you here:

Answered 10 years ago

I agree with most of the answers already posted, but the one thing I will add is: Perseverance.

When you go into a situation hoping for a user engagement rate of 80%, but only get 20%, do not give up. If you have any power users at all, this is a great sign. That means there is something of value there. Find what works for those 20% and pivot as needed. See my Core77 article about Moneythink's misunderstood stats and the power of their power users.

I also wrote an article for NTEN Change called the 1% difference. It was related to crowdsourcing, but the principles and growth strategies can be applied to any sector or app type. Your 1% difference should help you decide if an app or feature is worthwhile.

Answered 8 years ago

I agree with Brad! Like Snapchat, Myspace (music community and teens word-of-mouth), Facebook (college campus word-of-mouth), Twitter (bloggers, mainstream media, celebs and high school students), Instagram and What’s App (celebrities, high school and college students) are "darling indie stories," which make startups think that being different and simple is all you need to succeed.

Another solid point Brad made: It IS "EXTREMELY challenging to duplicate the success of something where being in the right place at the right time with the right product was a large factor." It's also extremely difficult to ensure that an app will go viral among teens and college-age adults even if you introduce it to them directly/first. In fact, when it comes to apps, functionality, usefulness and purpose are key factors to success as is creating an app that parents won't understand or use. The latter feature doubles as a secret weapon for teens and young adults.

For the record, I learned about Snapchat two years ago from my college intern who described Snapchat as a simple, even "stupid" way to have frivolous fun with her peers and her boyfriend. The collective was usually insanely bored, but apart from each other. Snapchat was a way to kill time, entertain and communicate and privately so. Keep in mind that Snapchat is the app that made headline news in October 2015 for being the tool used to expose Malia Obama's beer pong game experience at Brown University, and you'll understand why Los Angeles high school students "snapped" it up in 2011! Unfortunately for Miss Malia, the privacy factor failed when the chat made its way to Twitter and mainstream media picked up the posts AND the pics!

Remember when the Superdome power outage delayed Super Bowl XLVII? The power going out during the most watched sporting event in America was unintentional, but right place, right time and right message enabled Oreo Cookie to capitalize and win! This article explains how and why simple, clever, memorable things go viral and compares results with paid advertising:


Answered 8 years ago

Let us begin with definition of social media so that we can understand the journey of snapchat. The term Social Media needs no explanation, as we are quite sure that by now everyone, young and old alike, has heard of it, knows of it and is utilising it in some form or another. But for those who don’t, “social media is any media or platform that allows one to be social, or get social online by creating/sharing content, news, photos, videos etc. with other people.” Social Media has become an inevitable part of our daily life, and like it or not, it’s here to stay. In fact, the number of mentions in social media is quoted nowadays to highlight the importance of the issues and the public support or otherwise to the issue. All organisations/institutions of all types now have a social media presence since they have become aware of the enormous power, reach and potential of this medium.
If we separate the two terms: the term “social” refers to interacting with other people and sharing or receiving information, while the term “media” refers to the main means of mass communication, which in the traditional sense includes TV, Radio and Newspapers collectively. But, in the term “social media” the media refers to “web-based” communication tools that are used to enable people to share content or converse with each other.
Thus, “All web-based applications which allow for creation / exchange of user- generated content and enable interaction between the users can be classified as “Social Media”. These could be in the form of Social Networking Sites (Facebook, Twitter, Google+), Blogs, Internet forums, Bookmarking sites, Online community sites, Q & A sites and Mobile messaging, Chat apps etc.”
let us look at some of its common features of social media:
1. These are web-based applications
2. Users can create their own profiles and exist as independent entities on such platforms.
3. It facilitates the individual users to connect with other users independently or in groups/communities based on common interests, activities, beliefs etc by providing an highly interactive platform
4. The platform is driven mainly by the user generated content like text, photos or videos and sharing of the same for information, co-creation, discussions, or collaboration
Social Networking Sites (1997–2016): By and by it became quite clear from the way the Internet was being used by the people that they loved to network, share content, upload or download files and share them online with friends and also liked to keep in touch with the updated news and whereabouts of their contacts. Thus, the concept of social networking took shape in the form of several websites that offered such networking features. Initially, social networking sites tried to connect people who were connected to each other from their early school days with sites like, which proved to be a really good way for people to have a virtual reunion and therefore became quite popular in the US. However, the early users could not create profiles, but were successful in locating long-lost buddies and the site has managed to register more than 40 million accounts today. Another site that sprung up in 1997 called did not share a similar kind of success, but was one of the very first sites to allow users to create profiles, invite friends, organise groups and also be able to surf other user profiles. The site was based on the theory that no person is separated from another by more than six degrees. It was in 2002 that the social networking scene really hit the Internet with the launch of a site called Friendster. This site also used the similar concept of degree of separation like the now defunct and refined it to a Circle of Friends (that displayed the pathways connecting two people). The concept promoted the idea of a rich online community that could exist only if there were common bonds between people and the site went on to ensure that there were plenty of ways to discover those bonds. The site became hugely popular and an instant hit boasting of more than 115 million registered users and still remains a force in Asia and a near-necessity in the Philippines. Today, has been re-invented to become an online fun virtual gaming community and forums site intended for teenagers and adults. A year later, in 2003, other social networking sites like LinkedIn, Myspace and Facebook were introduced.
Emergence of Social Messaging (2014):
Modern instant messaging and SMS gained prominence in early and mid-1990s. While SMS (Short Messaging Service) allowed users to send text messages over the telephony network without internet connection, the instant messaging enabled similar functionality via the web. The history of instant messaging dates back to the ICQ era.
Till the year 2009, despite the instant messengers being available on various mail clients and social networking sites, SMS was still the king of messaging and mobile texting was the key mode of personal communications globally. It did not have any competition and was cheaper than talking on phone. However, in mid-2000 the smartphones began to take over the mobile sphere and offered higher speed internet and Wi-Fi connectivity. This led to a replication of instant messenger on to the mobile devices. The SMS retained its monopoly over messaging till 2012, but in 2013 the social messaging overtook the SMS usage.
The social messaging or the chat applications run on the smartphones and use internet for connectivity. The social messaging apps like Whatsapp, Kik, WeChat, SnapChat etc are free to download and use (besides the charges for internet usage) and hence become the preferred form of communication over the alternatives available on phone i.e. SMS and call, both of which are paid services. The non-intrusive nature of social messaging coupled with feasibility of group chats, and file sharing took it to the dominant position. Chat apps have now become multimedia hubs where users can easily share videos, photos, stickers, games, articles, live streams, and more.
The messaging apps have the inherent advantage over the social networking platforms in the way one connects to others. While most SNSs have a ‘many-to-many’ connections and activity feed is generally very cluttered and visible to all, the messaging apps offer more privacy and ease of jumping from one group to another or maybe jump off the grid completely without having to leave the app. It is no wonder that sometime in 2015, the number of monthly users on top 4 messaging apps exceeded the number of monthly users on the top 4 social networking sites.
I believe that as the expansion was initially word of mouth, because as you can see in the social messaging era in 2014, were free to download and use (besides the charges for internet usage) and hence become the preferred form of communication over the alternatives available on phone i.e. SMS and call, both of which are paid services. The non-intrusive nature of social messaging coupled with feasibility of group chats, and file sharing took it to the dominant position. Once they gained momentum businesses leaped in and invested heavily. Snapchat provided the following benefits to the individuals:
1. Personal Use: Individuals can use the social media for personal reasons, which may be for keeping in touch with the latest technology, news, gossip, and happenings around the world or in their own locality. Social media is also fast replacing the traditional means of communications. Currently, it would be hard to find a person who does not use the e-mail facility to send messages to friends/colleagues and/or for official purposes or use the social media for collaboration. Similarly, people also use the chat or instant message feature that’s in-built in most email clients to talk to people in real-time. One can also make phone calls directly using Skype or other e-mail clients like Gmail, video call on WhatsApp (latest feature) and also have conference calls. Individuals can use the social media to keep in touch with their various hobbies, like music, movies, sports, gaming etc. Social media not only allows one to find other people with similar interests but also allows for easy upload and download of media files with the help of media sites like BitTorrent. Social media users can also indulge in social gaming i.e. online gaming activities, in real-time with friends or strangers and challenge them.
2. Explore Your Creativity: The social media is available in many forms, as explained in the previous chapter. People can use this media to explore their own creativity, for example, a person who loves to write can create their own blogs and explore their writing talents. Blogs are the best way for individuals to express themselves, their views, and opinions on all subjects. In this manner, a person can establish their expertise in their particular niche subject by using the blog effectively. There are several other writing platforms that allow people to submit content on their site and reward them in different ways. Due to the very nature of social media it is easy to reach a large audience and find an interested readership. Similarly, one can use photo-sharing sites to upload and store their personal photos with all their privacy intact or selectively share it with others. Most photo sharing websites incorporate photo editing tools which can be used to edit/enhance the photos for personal use. There are also video sites that allow you to upload your videos and edit them to create new videos or films and earn revenue too. As you can see, the Internet is a rich medium today, and so one can easily find something to suit his/her interests or hobbies that would help you to be more creative and in the process learn more about it.
3. Social Interaction: Human beings love to socialise and interact with each other. The social media enables people to interact with each other using the universally accessible and scalable communication techniques that are available today, in the form of websites and the mobile phones. People use these networking sites along with popular social messaging apps, like Whatsapp, these days for their daily conversations today. Thus it has become very easy for people to get feedback, information or advice regarding products/services or companies from their friends in their network. Therefore, any individual has the power to influence others in his/her network, which has been termed as “Social Influence”.
4. Get Empowered: The social media has succeeded in putting the power back into the consumer’s hands. As mentioned in the paragraph above, any individual can have a “social influence” by virtue of his/her social interactions on the web or via mobile technologies. Most people share the experiences that they had with any product/service/holidays etc with their friends or families. And since most conversations, these days, take place on the social networking sites, many more people within the network get to hear of it as well. If the experiences were bad, the whole network is made aware of it. Thus, it is very easy for a single person to impact the reputation of a company or brand online. The social networking sites also allow “tagging” and “sharing” of content among groups or within your own network of friends or lists, which may cause it to become viral in a matter of minutes. It is the fastest way to spread any content on the social media. Thus, photos that are tagged, or links/videos that are shared on networking sites can become viral on the Internet.
People run businesses, thus once snapchat became popular with people it turned to businesses. Snapchat gave the businesses what they have always wanted:
1. Accessibility: The social media is easily accessible and takes minimal or no costs to use. Social media is easy to use and does not require any special skills, knowledge to use. It is absolutely simple to connect with others and be a part of communities. Therefore, anyone with online access can use the Social Media to initiate or participate in the conversations. In a sense, everyone is now empowered to speak up.
2. Speed: The content that you create on the social media is available to everyone in your network/forum/community as soon as you publish it. You can communicate with your audience without any external factor affecting the delivery of your message. The responses are also near instantaneous and thus you can have a dialogue, which is almost in real-time.
3. Interactivity: Social media affords a two way or multiple communication channels. Users can interact with each other; ask questions, discuss products/services, share opinions and anything else they might be interested in doing.
4. Longevity/volatility: Social media content remains accessible for a long time, maybe forever, because of the nature of the medium. In addition to this the content can be edited/updated anytime. So, if a user likes a particular product and says so in the social media, it is not a permanent positive vote for the product; the user can always go back and change his opinion anytime.
5. Reach: The Internet offers an unlimited reach to all content available. Anyone can access it from anywhere and anyone can reach, potentially, everyone. Social media offers the same facility to all the users who can share anything with anyone they like.
6. Online Branding: Every business wants to be known as a brand, which is, in effect, its “identity” that may be represented by a name, logo, colour schemes or the tag line. But, the term “branding” goes much beyond just these and is in fact a culmination of the individual “identity” of the business, how it differs from its competitors and why a buyer should come to it.

Thus, during it’s nascent stages it was viral word of mouth, but as it grew up and major businesses got involved it was matter of constant paid advertisements online. Besides if you do have any questions give me a call:

Answered 4 years ago

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