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7 Predictions of Snapchat's Future Plans. Upcoming Updates?

James Rehwald
, Marketing Director

Predictions of Snapchat's Future, VR Ghost on Google Maps

Snapchat has evolved a ton since its inception, hasn't it?

I’ve been a Snapchat user, marketer, and enthusiast since 2012 and can recall the days that Snapchat, Inc. (now Snap, Inc.) was a zero-profit company in its infantile stage.

An Android smartphone user at the time, I had been impatiently awaiting for the glorious Android release of what was exclusively an iOS app.

The week the app was released onto the Google Play store in October 2012, I was ecstatic.  I downloaded the app and have been using it every day since.  That being said, I have been a part of the crowd that has witnessed Snapchat’s journey of explosive growth and evolution first-hand.

Snapchat meme, Bane, You merely adopted Snapchat

Thanks to its innovative approach to redefining photo + video sharing in the mobile social media realm, multiple app updates to include new pioneering features, along with its native 3V Advertising model, the company now stands at a whopping $20 billion valuation.  The daily active users has surpassed other big players and even has a big user base growth forecast for years to come.

It has me thinking…what’s next for Snapchat?

By looking at Snapchat's changes over the years and the growing social trends and relevant markets, we can make a few educated guesses.

I have a lot of predications and theories but here are seven plans I think might actualize into something real.

(More from our blog: 9 Creative Snapchat Ideas for Brand Marketing)

 

 

7) More Localized Live Stories and Discover Channels

Local Live Stories

Live Story (previously called “Our Story”) is a pinnacle cornerstone of Snapchat’s unique ability and geographic-focused value to both users and brands.

To catch you up to speed, a Live Story is a collection of crowdsourced photos and videos from users at a particular location for a specified amount of time.  Snapchat employees aptly curate submitted content to produce the most holistic, organic, first-person representation of the Live Story’s event/occasion.  A handful of different Live Stories are accessible every day from the app’s “Stories” dashboard where each content piece is online for 24 hours before poof, it’s gone.

While there are some not-for-profit thematic lifestyle-focused Live Stories for the masses to enjoy, most are paid for.  Buying a full-fledged Live Story is a huge media purchase (reportedly ~$500-750,000) which is why you’ve got big-name corporations buying them out for the whole world to see with the quick touch of a thumb—A Live Story can reach 10 to 40 million unique views.

Snapchat Live Story Example with Dashboards, National Dance Day
 

Live Story, Let's Dance, Krumping and Salsa

Snapchat also has up to four 5-to-10 second Snap Ads inter-spliced between Live Story content pieces, to which some ads now offer a "swipe up" CTA to read or watch more.  While these ad spots (reportedly ~$400,000) can be targeted with geographic and demographic segmentation criteria, the Live Story itself gets global viewership—hence why I just watched a Live Story event showcasing the highly-anticipated release of Pokémon Go in Japan the other week.

Or at least, that’s how it usually has been.

Snapchat has experimented with geographically-targeted viewership for Live Stories, back to when it was still called “Our Story” as well as trying it out on college campuses.

So what is my prediction here?

As Snapchatters populate more areas, we might see more localized Live Stories become feasible.

More specically, I envision two possibilities:

Local Event Stories—paid for by brands/event advertisers—that follow specific events.

Imagine seeing “Local Live Stories” for big events, concerts, elections, or holiday celebrations in YOUR city/town/region.

Local City Stories—for non-profit—that follow the geography of populated metropolitan areas or other municipalities.

Snapchat has already been putting out several Live Stories for lifestyle-focused enjoyment across various countries, cities, and cultures for the world to see.

Perhaps they will provide local-only Live Stories for city dwellers, suburbanites, and out-of-town visitors to contribute to or enjoy on a much more frequent basis.

Both seem doable, right?

If Snapchat can accomplish "Local Live Stories" without compromising the global viewership of other Live Stories, it may become a possibility.

- UPDATE (9/7/16):  Snapchat appears to have discontinued the big-city Local Stories but is still continuing Campus Stories and may be making further changes to fend off against "Instagram Stories."

 

Local Discover Channels

Discover has been another major source of revenue for both Snapchat and its 24 publishing partners.

Snapchat Discover channels and partners, new dashboard UI

Unlike the crowdsourced footage content of a Live Story, a Discover channel has a collection of different content pieces that include pre-produced images, videos, scrollable text, and interactive articles which can be shared with friends.  These Discover channel partners usually update their content pieces every 24 hours and also contain 5-to-10 second Snaps Ads in between.

Some non-partner companies even occasionally buy out their own temporary Discover channel for the world to see—that’s right, Discover channels are a source of global viewership as well.

So, as you can probably already imagine, what if Snapchat extends its reach beyond the 24 media publishing giants it has partnered with?

Could Snapchat start partnering with smaller publishers for more locally-targeted content and improved user experience?

Or will it pander to the money-making media giants it’s found global success with so far?  After all, Snapchat Inc. has already made interface redesigns to ensure its publishing partners and advertisers are more than happy.

Perhaps in the future, city residents will see a Discover channel for their local publishing newspaper or news station—and with that, more localized ads too—only time can tell.

 

6) “Local Stories” or “GeoStories”

Think Yik Yak for a second.

It allows you to “drop” a message onto a geographic destination that can be viewed within a 5-mile radius.  Despite what you may think of that app and its credible criticisms, the idea of geographic-focused experiences goes beyond Yik Yak.  It’s obviously something already integral to the Snapchat brand and is something that apps like Tinder, Periscope, and even Facebook have been making heavy use of.

So what if you take the Yik Yak value point and, rather than “drop” a message somewhere, you instead can “drop” an image or video for 24 hours.

Imagine seeing the screen when you’re sending a Snap where “My Story” and “My Memories” now have another option just below: “Local Story” …or “GeoStory.”

Snapchat Snap Recipients Screen, Send to...

Pretty simple concept.

You could travel anywhere on this planet and see what other users have done in the area from the past 24 hours of available “Local Story” footage by clicking an icon from the Snapchat “Stories” dashboard.

Seems like a workable idea that an upcoming update could make happen, but there’s a problem:

Will the incentive to submit Snaps to a Live Story you’re attending be lost when you are given the option already, literally everywhere?  I mean after all, getting your Snap featured on a Live Story is a pretty rare, brag-worthy occasion.

To work around this, Snapchat could “rent out” an area for the Live Story so that users are only given the option to submit to the Live Story, but not the Local Story for that specific location and duration.  Although this could create opportunity for Live Story buyers to promote the area's event via Snapchat as the Live Story date approaches, a “Local Story” feature could still diminish the value of the almighty Live Story and its $750K price tag.

Still…I think Snapchatters would enjoy being given the option to both see what locals have been up to, and to showcase what they themselves have embarked on.

Of course then again, there is also the issue of anonymity—users may not want their names or location immediately revealed to strangers (an anonymity “toggle switch” could be a workaround) and similarly, Snapchat, Inc. might see this type of feature as deviating from what the app is all about.
 

 

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5) 360 Videos, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality

Communicating raw, organic, first-person experiences is the essence of Snapchat.

That being said, the ideas of 360° videos, augmented reality, and virtual reality could be right up Snapchat’s alley, if it can resonate with users without feeling disruptive.

What advantages could this technology bring to the Snapchat brand experience and what obstacles does it face?

 

360-degree Videos

We’ve seen Facebook and YouTube roll out 360 videos (and images) the past couple of years, even going as far as bringing 360-degree LIVE videos to viewers.

YouTube 360 Degree Live Video, Musicians Performing

Facebook 360 Degree Photo, Airbnb Ad

Snapchat easing its way into the 360-degree video market is a sound prediction.

A 360-degree video for an EDC Live Story sounds like something users would respond well to.

Having said that, I can only reasonably see 360° videos being something that big brands/companies produce and publish.  Even with cool VR/360-video camera technology available out there (hello GoPro OMNI and Samsung Gear 360), the average consumer won’t be lugging around those type of devices in the same way we do with our iPhones and Androids anytime soon.

Publishing an appropriate amount of 360-degree video content as part of Live Story and Discover content could be something we see sooner than later.

- UPDATE (8/15/16):  Sony works with agency AvatarLabs to unveil 360-video via Discover for movie thriller "Can't Breath," making it the first 360-video viewable in Snapchat. 

 

Augmented Reality (AR)

For a quick review, augmented reality broadly involves overlaid, motion-tracked images onto a live video’s environment to create a modified vision of reality.

Augmented reality has been developed inside and outside of smartphones for entertainment, education, and other purposes.

Although AR had remained mostly in the shadows, Pokémon Go has seriously broken the ground for how well an AR app can become popular among the masses, helping spur larger investments in AR companies and technology.

With Snapchat’s 2015 acquisition of the company Looksery to create the loveable Lenses and Snapchat’s more recent acquisition of 3D-image capturing company Seene, there’s some obvious potential for AR in Snapchat beyond Lenses.

Snapchat's Seene Technology, 3D Image Capturing for Augmented Reality

Seene, 3D Image Capturing and Display, Domo
Credit: Seene Full 3D Capture preview

Will it be possible to overlay 3D objects onto videos, similar to the 3D stickers and pinned text captions we see now?

Partly thanks to Snapchat’s recently filed patent, this could become a possibility.

I see two big possibilities for augmented reality in Snapchat:

Sponsored 3D objects—made/paid for by brands and advertisers—that can be attached to the environment in Snapchat footage.

Custom 3D objects—captured by users’ choice via Snapchat’s seemingly unused Seene technology—that can be attached to the environment in Snapchat footage.

While Pokémon Go’s AR technology is merely mapping moving images of Pokémon and Poké Balls onto our environment, perhaps Snapchat can takes things a step further.

 

Virtual Reality (VR) ...Maybe?

Greenlight VR conducted a study that told us about consumer adoption with virtual reality.

“Travel & Adventure,” “Movies & Recorded Videos,” and “Live Events (non-sports)” were the top 3 categories of VR uses that interest consumers.

Sounds a lot like Snapchat.

In recent news, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel was spotted wearing camera-enabled “smart glasses” by paparazzi, suggesting even further that a bigger AR hardware project may be in the works.

Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO, Wearing AR/VR Glasses in Public
Credit: AKM-GSI/Business Insider

If augmented reality image overlay technology is built into these glasses’ lenses and are made to be affordable to the average consumer, less stigmatized for casual social wear, and better launched then the disreputably failed Google Glass, we could be looking at a whole new level of Snapchat AR (and perhaps VR down the road) and a completely different Snapchat interface beyond our phone screen.

With Snapchat’s 2014 acquisition of Google Glass-like startup Vergence Labs along with this newly surfaced image of what looks to be two attached cameras for stereoscopic image capturing, we can expect augmented and/or virtual reality capture + viewing experience to come to Snapchatters who would willingly carry around a pair of “Snapchat Shades.”

Virtual reality, though, is contested in its use through glasses as opposed to goggles/headset (like that of Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, or Google Cardboard) making this another obstacle to consider when making the jump from AR to VR.

Carrying around VR headsets in public isn’t exactly practical either…so creating an on-the-go VR headset might stay limited to glasses.

Now, let’s just hypothetically say Snapchat, Inc. and industry leaders somehow broke the mold with making VR a basic consumer commodity...

Given that, in addition to experiencing VR in users’ My Stories, Live Stories, and Discover channels/ads, we can take my “Local Stories/GeoStories” idea from earlier to see a whole brand-new, immersive way to experience Stories.  Users could then experience VR anywhere that consumers or Snapchat brands have captured and published Snapchat VR content.

It’s a total long shot but if not possible in Snapchat, perhaps VR capturing and viewership will be manifested in smartphone-eyewear companionship some other way.

Baby steps, though.

360-degree video is the gateway drug into AR, and likewise, AR is to VR.

UPDATE (9/5/16): Snapchat, Inc. joins the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), further indicating that a hardware device with wireless functionality, such as AR shades, is in the works.

UPDATE (9/23/16): Alas, Snapchat, Inc. (now rebranded as Snap, Inc.) makes its big reveal for its first hardware/eyewear project: Spectacles.

 

4) Sponsored Stickers

Sponsored Sticker Packs

This prediction is pretty straight forward.

Snapchat allows you to put emojis/stickers onto Snaps and with its somewhat recent update, you can also “stamp” emojis to objects in Snap footage using motion-tracking technology.

When clicking the emoji/sticker icon at the top-right of a Snap after capture, Snapchat takes you by default to the “recently used emojis/stickers” selection where you can then scroll or browse other categories.

Snapchat Sponsored Sticker Packs, Recent Stickers

My prediction is that in addition to the Geofilters, Lenses and other components of the Snapchat 3V Advertising model, we’ll start seeing “Sponsored Sticker packs” that brands will purchase.

Presumably, users would be taken to the Sponsored Sticker Pack by default instead, upon clicking the emjoi/sticker icon.

This would help Snapchat, brands, and advertisers by diversifying its ad types further.

For consumers, this would introduce fun “limited edition” sticker packs to stamp onto videos and overlay across images.

Imagine Snapchatters having fun inserting movie-themed emojis, beauty-product stickers, or automobile-related images onto their Snaps.  Seems possible.

150 Pokémon stickers, anyone?

 

On-demand Stickers

We’ve seen Snapchat streamline the application process for custom Geofilters: they call it On-demand Geofilters.

After the update to the Snapchat website, people could submit their own Geofilter designs, set duration, and choose location using a dandy drag-and-drop “geo-fencing” interface.  Price was determined by duration length and location size.

It was the first move, as part of Snapchat 3V Advertising, to create a much more affordable form of advertising (as cheap as $5) for ordinary users, small businesses, event planners, party hosts, or whomever would want to have a Geofilter.  Snapchat’s website even lets you monitor your Geofilter’s performance by “Views” and “Uses” metrics.

In contrast, Snapchat Lenses require heavy 3D image development, while the 5-to-10 second Snap Ads, Live Stories, and Discover “take-overs” require much, much bigger budgets.

Same idea with stickers: Offer on-demand!

Users/brands/businesses would be able to submit their sticker designs online to which the number of stickers in a sticker pack, on top of the duration and location variables, determine the overall price.

UPDATE (8/2/16): Snapchat announced "Geostickers" with its most recent update, further insinuating that sponsored and/or custom location-based stickers may come to fruition.

 

3) Snapchat Analytics for Tracking Engagement

Among the popular social media platforms’ native analytics tools, you’ve got Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, LinkedIn Analytics, Google Insights, YouTube Analytics, and others.

Snapchat doesn’t currently have any native analytics tools for brands to measure their content performance.

Brands, businesses, and non-profit Snapchat accounts must rely on limited metrics to measure engagement: followers added, personal Snap opens, Snaps/replies received, My Story views, screenshots, and replays.

But most importantly...

Snapchat doesn’t tell you how short or long followers view image/video Snaps!

For all you know, a user could have easily skipped through it, thus registering a “view” for the Snap although it didn’t actually receive the desired attention and engagement.

Facebook Insights received an upgrade earlier this year to include this type of info specifically, therein breaking down Facebook Pages’ average video viewership “fall-off” point down to the hundredth of a second.

Facebook Insights, Video Viewership Data for Facebook Page Post

A recent Facebook update added even more video metrics on top of that.

Will Snapchat update their website, release a desktop software, or perhaps even include a native tool to the Snapchat app for brands who want more precise, and better data?

Or will it keep viewership data hidden, making 3rd party Snapchat analytics software providers (like Snaplytics, Delmondo, Mish Guru) the go-to for brands that can pay for their services?

 

2) Snapchat Friend Groups

Been hearing this prediction from friends since the dawn of Snapchat: the ability to collapse & sort your friend list into groups!

Since the early instant messaging days of AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, and others, being able to sort friends into groups was made easy and encouraged.  People organized their friends’ usernames into groups like “Co-workers,” “Family,” “Classmates,” and whatever suited them best.

AIM and Yahoo Messenger, Buddy List and Friend List, Future Snapchat Groups
Credit: Flickr and Gurl

On the current “Stories” dashboard layout when scrolling downward, you see Discover channels/Live Stories at the top, followed by friends’ “Recent Updates” Snaps in chronological order, Discover channels subscriptions, Live Stories, and then friends’ Snaps in alphabetical order by name.

If Snapchat were to update to include some form of friend grouping, it would probably make sense to have it either right before or after the alphabetical list.

The only problem here is that, well, it could complicate the already-jam-packed list of stories on the dashboard.  The “Send to…” screen after taking a Snap faces a similar issue.  The “jump to the next story” auto-play feature would also need to be accounted for.

From a user experience perspective, I think most would find this favorable.

Sending a Snap to a large group of people without checking each one individually sounds nice, honestly.  It might seem to stray away from the current Snapchat model, though—allowing "Snapchat Friend Groups" might incentivize neglectfulness/laziness towards certain groups/users.

BUT WAIT…knowing Snapchat’s hunger for ad dollars, allowing Snapchat groups might benefit Snapchat, Inc. and brands + advertisers.

How?

Well, by allowing Snapchatters to group their friends under their own custom-designed names, they are also inadvertently assigning information to these users that can be oh-so-very valuable to advertisers.

Seemingly mundane group names like “Co-workers,” “Musicians,” “University of Arizona,” “NYC Networking,” “High school,” and the more spectacular vernacular such as “Baes,” “College Homies Hands in Air emoji, iOS emoticon,” “Brunch Budiesss,” and “Heart Eyes emoji, iOS emoticonHeart Eyes emoji, iOS emoticonHeart Eyes emoji, iOS emoticon,” all contain varying levels of demographic, psychographic, and behavior graphic information.

Snapchat already frugally displays 5-to-10 second Snap Ads in between your friends’ Stories (yes, the same ad types seen in Discover and Live Story) plus with its recent Ads API upgrade, it’s suspected that ads can be targeted more precisely by accounting for the Lenses/Geofilters that you had just watched your friends use on their Snaps…

A bit creepy, I know.

Bottom line: if “Snapchat Friend Groups” really takes off, users will benefit from a better UX/UI, advertisers benefit from better ad placement ROI, and Snapchat, Inc. benefits from both these points.
 

1) Image Recognition + E-commerce

Snapchat has already shown us object recognition capability (sunsets, food, selfies, sports, & hundreds of other categories), through My Memories' less-than-perfect photo searching tool.

Thanks to that same patent I mentioned earlier when talking about augmented reality, the Snapchat app may soon implement image recognition on a much larger scale.

Over the years, image recognition has become better available through various mobile apps, online image searching, and product searching.

Again, knowing Snapchat’s way of finding new native advertising opportunities, we can think right-off-that-bat:

Logos!

With logo recognition, Snapchat can prompt users with coupons, deals, events, and whatever may be of interest to a Snapchatter.  The patent itself even uses a coffee logo as an example (Hello, Starbucks?).

There is also the thought that the Snapchat app may be able to recognize objects in images/videos and associate them with products.  Social media site/app Pinterest has already dipped its toes into visual search for shopping, like that of Amazon.

Pinterest Image Recognition, e-commerce, Similar to Snapchat Patent

On top of that, Snapchat has already rolled out, via Snap Ads, some external links to bigger-name e-commerce shopping sites as well as showing off app-install ads.  With Snapchat's recent acquisition of Vurb, there may even be "event planning" functionality integrated, where online transactions could be tied in.  Still, there is research indicating that “buy buttons” within social media networks aren’t the most effective nor user-friendly thing around.

Could Snapchat find a way to use image recognition to wow users while simultaneously incorporating object recognition-based ad targeting?  Will e-commerce really ever become a big focus for Snapchat and with that, social media platforms in general?  Or will the other digital channels stay dominant when it comes to online shopping and conversion optimization?

What will Snapchat's future plans and upcoming updates entail for consumers, brands, and advertisers?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

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(More from our blog: Will Snapchat Live Video Streaming Happen?)

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