A teenager’s billion-dollar insight on Snapchat and Facebook
If you want to understand “mobile” and “social,” those all-important and pervasive topics in business today, I have a tip: talk to a high school student. After all, any new trend is best understood by observing, and talking directly to, the customers involved.
In this case, I was visiting a friend recently when “mobile and social” came up in conversation. My friend’s daughter, a teenaged high school student, was in the room. She would occasionally pull out her smartphone to check something. When we asked, she explained that she was connecting with friends over Snapchat. (If you haven’t heard, Snapchat is a popular app that sends photos between users but promises to delete the photos a few seconds after they’re viewed.)
I asked my friend’s daughter why she wasn’t using Facebook. She wrinkled her brow and chose her words carefully. “I think Facebook is a little bit… old?”
Here I need to stop to clarify that this was a couple of months ago, well before Snapchat’s CEO apparently turned down a three-billion-dollar acquisition offer from Facebook, according to the WSJ. My conversation with this high school student revealed a strategic insight well in advance of that.
Like any good listening lab moderator, I asked the obvious followup question. “Why do you say Facebook is old”?
“Well,” she replied, “our parents are all on it. And Facebook keeps all the photos around forever. Sometimes my friends send ridiculous photos that they don’t necessarily want their parents to see. Snapchat deletes photos after your friends view them.”
Ahh, youth and their ridiculous photos. It might be tempting to write this off as just another teen fad. (And ahh, today’s Internet, when a teen fad can give a company a billion-dollar valuation.) But there’s something more going on.
Good research, as described in Customers Included, will reveal customers’ unmet needs. And this conversation pointed to a big one: many young users want to share, but not store, their photos. Instead of the default setting of most Internet services – save everything, never delete – these users want the opposite. Delete everything.
This is not good news for companies like Facebook, Google, and others that base their business model on collecting, storing, and never deleting users’ information. (Dave Eggers, in his recent novel The Circle, hammers this point home as a character at a Google-like company states emphatically: “We don’t delete here.”) Yet some users very much want to delete, and they’re happy to abandon Facebook for a service that meets their needs.
From its acquisition offer, assuming it’s true, Facebook clearly understands it has a problem (read analyses by Albert Wenger and Jenna Wortham). It remains to be seen whether it’s willing to create a better experience for its users – though given its track record on privacy, I’m doubtful. And for its part, Snapchat may or may not have the maturity of leadership it will need to grow into a true billion-dollar company.
But one thing’s clear: the most important knowledge resides with the users. If you want to understand “mobile and social,” spend time with users. Observe them having an authentic, real-world experience. And ask them the key question: Why.
Including customers, as it turns out, can reveal insights that are worth billions of dollars.
(This applies to your company, too. Contact us if Creative Good can help.)