Snap suddenly has a leg up on Facebook and Google -- but it still needs to do 2 things to steal their advertisers

Evan Spiegel SnapchatFlickr/TechCrunchEvan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO and cofounder.

Snapchat has always been less open to publishers than Google and Facebook.

It has also been less focused on its users sharing content, building followings, and running up social-engagement numbers.

While the latter has arguably left Snapchat worse off with advertisers who are drawn to the potential for virality or connections with big influencers, Snapchat’s closed-off platform is suddenly working in its favour.

Why? Fake news.

Facebook is getting hammered for displaying Russia-driven ads aimed at stirring up trouble and swaying the presidential election, Google is being dinged for surfacing bogus Las Vegas stories and conspiracy-theory videos, and Russian bots are running wild on Twitter.

Snapchat, meanwhile, with what the advertising world calls a “walled garden,” has managed to stay above the fray. For advertisers, the worry is that their ad will run alongside a dubious or downright racist story or video or posting.

At Snapchat, the vast majority of ads are reviewed by a person before they go live (some large, vetted advertisers’ ads are screened by machines so that they don’t slow campaign execution). It makes it harder for outsiders to post phony content on Snap’s platform.Additionally, unlike Twitter or Facebook, Snap doesn’t give its users many sharing tools. That means it’s harder for them to spread fake ads or content to hundreds of others in their social networks.

Does it mean that Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, is suddenly a massive threat to Facebook and Google? Not by a long shot. The human-checker model is going to be difficult to maintain as Snap’s ad platform grows, and some advertisers say there are two things the company has to do: prove people will actually take an action, like visit a store or buy something after seeing a Snapchat ad, and get more advertisers on board with taking the time needed to making custom Snap ads.

Harder to go rogue

Rob Norman, chief digital officer at the ad-buying giant GroupM, said Snap also benefits from being a platform that encourages tighter friend networks. Instead of racking up tons of loosely associated acquaintances or followers, Snap has deliberately made its product for small, close-knit circles.

That doesn’t mean Snap completely avoids bad behaviour. People can take compromising screenshots with brand images, for instance.

“They are not totally inoculated, but I think they can feel good about stopping rogue actors more easily,” he said.

Speaking of rogue actors, the fact that Snap’s Discover platform is invite-only helps keep fake-news organisations from cranking out lots of snaps about Hillary’s failing health or the Pope’s take on President Trump. That approach certainly helps with an event like the Vegas shooting.

Snapchat’s internal team reviews all Snaps posted from a breaking-news event like that, not unlike a producer team for a TV news show would. Snap also benefits by gathering location data when people share snaps from live events. Location data makes it harder for a user to fake a video from a scene, as in Vegas.

The result is a compilation of footage filmed by people on the ground at the concert when gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire. Norman said Snap’s user-generated story was among the most powerful content he’d seen from the massacre.

SnapchatSnapchat featured videos recorded during the Las Vegas shooting.

Abbey Klaassen, chief marketing officer at the ad agency 360i, said Snapchat has pitched its platform to advertisers as being similar in nature to big TV networks, many of which have talked up brand safety in light of Facebook’s and YouTube’s struggles.

“If they are trying to be like a broadcast network, it makes sense why Snap would be a safer choice right now,” she said.

Klaassen’s colleague Phillip Huynh, 360i’s director of paid social, said that platforms like Facebook and Twitter “lean really hard on their algorithms to serve up what they think people like,” while Snap’s content has been primarily a human-programmed experience.

Huynh said that most big platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, are all trying to build out cordoned-off, brand-safe venues, like Facebook Watch, a section of Facebook geared for professionally produced original video series.

Less Russian-bot-worthy

To be sure, at this stage, Snap is still primarily a communication vehicle for the majority of its users; it’s not even close to the influential global source of news that Facebook, Google, and Twitter have become.

So there’s an argument to be made that for Russian operative’s looking to swing an election, Snap’s not quite yet viable. It’s a good bet that a large portion of Snap’s young audience isn’t even old enough to vote.

And among some ad buyers Business Insider spoke with, several said that Snap’s curated approach didn’t suddenly cast the platform in a much different light for them.

There’s also the thinking that Snap’s exclusivity on Discover has alienated noninvited media partners and limited Snap’s growth. For every publisher that goes all in producing content for Facebook or Instagram, that’s an audience Snap isn’t getting.

A new pitch to fight the duopoly?

Norman said he’s been impressed with Snapchat’s focus and openness to new ideas. But there’s no doubt that the company faces some ad challenges. Though its ad revenue is still expected to surge, eMarketer just lowered its growth estimate for Snap in the coming year.

“From a strategy standpoint, there are reasons why you use all these social networks, and I don’t think this is going to suddenly shift that equation,” Klaassen said. “But it’s interesting. [This issue] gives them something new to talk about that others necessarily can’t. It’s something they can hang their hat on for now.”

Norman concurred that clients are not about to pull huge chunks of ad budgets from Facebook and Google to flee exposure to fake news and redistribute them on Snapchat.

For that to happen, Snapchat needs two crucial things to occur, he said. The company needs to demonstrate that its ads drive people to buy things online or head to stores as effectively as Facebook and Google — an effort that Snap has invested a lot in but remains a work in progress.

And Snapchat needs advertisers to get more acclimated to doing the extra work required to make custom Snap ads.

“They need to develop muscle memory,” Norman said. “It’s like a hotel door that has two locks. They need to open both at once.”

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