For the past couple of years, Facebook has done nothing significant about its Snapchat problem.
Sure, Mark Zuckerberg and co. have tried to clone parts of Snapchat with failed apps like Slingshot. But Facebook has never really thrown its full weight behind taking Snapchat head on.
During Facebook’s quarterly earnings call this past week, Zuckerberg explained that Facebook now sees the camera as the future of how people share and communicate.
“In most social apps today, a text box is still the default way we share,” he said. “Soon, we believe a camera will be the main way that we share.”
While he didn’t name Snapchat specifically on the call, make no mistake: Facebook’s full attack on Snapchat has begun.
The camera company
As my colleague Biz Carson has explained, Snapchat (or Snap Inc.) recently simplified its company mission statement to be “a camera company.”
Snapchat started as an app for sending disappearing messages. Over the years it’s managed to shake its sexting label and evolve into a rapidly growing social network with more than 150 million daily active users.
150 million daily users pales in comparison to Facebook’s 1.18 billion. But Snapchat represents an existential threat to Facebook because it has managed to redefine how people share through photos and videos. While Facebook has become an essential utility for connecting people, Snapchat has popularised a new way of communicating that’s highly visual, ephemeral, and fun.
Goofy selfies and puking rainbows aside, Snapchat is a threat to Facebook on multiple levels. It’s increasingly competing for finite advertising budgets that could otherwise be spent on Facebook. It’s beloved by teens and millennials, which is a demographic Facebook is deeply worried about losing and has a team devoted to reaching.
If Zuckerberg had his way, Snapchat would be part of Facebook’s family of apps, like Instagram and WhatsApp. He tried to buy Snapchat in 2013 for around $3 billion, but now the company is planning an IPO that could value it as high as $40 billion.
If it’s too late for Facebook to own Snapchat, then it’s going to do the next best thing: copy it.
The new Facebook camera
Facebook is currently testing a redesign of its main app in Ireland that puts a Snapchat-like camera interface front and center alongside the News Feed. You’re encouraged to use the camera to send goofy selfies to friends that disappear after 24 hours.
During Facebook’s most recent earnings call, Zuckerberg said that the redesign will become available globally “hopefully sooner rather than later.” He also said that Instagram Stories (a direct ripoff of Snapchat’s Story functionality), is already used by 100 million people every day.
That’s nearly 70% of Snapchat’s entire user base.
While Facebook probably won’t be able to convince the majority of Snapchat users to quit the app, it could seriously slow Snapchat’s growth by replicating key features for billions of people to use. That’s the advantage Facebook has over every incumbent: unrivalled scale.
Now it’s a matter of whether that scale will be enough to win.
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