January 9, 2017    4 minute read

Why Snapchat Is Losing In Emerging Markets

Developing Pictures    January 9, 2017    4 minute read

Why Snapchat Is Losing In Emerging Markets

Every day there are hundreds of articles about how Snapchat will take over the social media world, or how Snapchat has revolutionised social media. When Snapchat launched their Spectacles – glasses that record Snapchat videos and stream them to a smartphone – stories of the colourful new glasses flooded the internet, from tech-savvy couples using them in the bedroom to a surgeon performing a live surgery with them.

A World In Pictures

It seems that everyone is using Snapchat – Millennials, in particular. But this depends on what part of the world one looks at. If it is somewhere where large numbers of people own a top-of-the-range handset, where broadband Wi-Fi is widely available, internet data plans are cheap and fast (3G or 4G), and signals are reliable, then yes. That is the world that Snapchat is taking over.

Snapchat has been growing in absolute numbers of users, especially in North America. Meanwhile, it has announced plans to relocate its headquarters to the UK. The rest of the world has seen almost no change. In fact, it represents only around 20–30% of the total number of users.

The downside for Snapchat in the rest of the world – and especially in emerging markets – is that the majority of people do not own top-of-the-range handsets and live in places where mobile signals are unreliable and mobile data is expensive. For instance, Snapchat’s Android app is 72MB in size – pretty massive if one does not have a smartphone with large memory storage. In addition to that, Snapchat takes a lot of data by sending videos and photos, which can become expensive if one has a prepaid plan, as most do in emerging markets.

Perhaps the solution for Snapchat would be to release a ‘lite’ version of its app, as many other popular apps have done.

Why Emerging Markets Go Lite

Lite apps are a stripped-down version of a normal app. They have almost the same functionality, usually use less than a megabyte of memory, and are designed to function on 2G networks. They started to appear in app stores back in 2010 and would function as feature-restricted versions, offered to entice users into buying the full version of the app. What is new is how lite apps have been flooding emerging markets, where 2G network connections are the norm and users do not own top-range phones. This seems to fit very well with emerging markets’ needs.

The ‘rest of the world’ category has some pretty big markets take cannot be taken for granted: India, China, Indonesia, Brazil and other developing nations. In September 2016, LinkedIn Lite was launched in India, its second-largest market. With over 37 million users already in the country, LinkedIn Lite was aimed to grow LinkedIn’s user base as well as user engagement.

In Ethiopia, ZayRide launched its Uber-style app. It is specially designed to be used on 2G connections, a great advantage as Uber requires 3G, LTE or fast internet speeds. Music app Shazam, meanwhile, chose six developing countries to launch its lite version (India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines and Nigeria).

Facebook Leading The Way

Facebook seems to be the one giant eyeing emerging markets the most. In 2015, it launched the lite version of its Facebook app. Earlier this year, Messenger lite has also been rolled out in many African countries and in South East Asia. Facebook is also famous for trying to go head-to-head with Snapchat, sometimes allegedly copying the same features of Snapchat.

However, Facebook has introduced its own Snapchat-like app aimed at emerging markets, named Flash. Dubbed a ‘Snapchat clone’, Flash is less than 25MB in size – roughly one-third that of Snapchat’s Android app. If teenagers in Brazil, for example, can get a lightweight version of an app that does exactly the same thing that Snapchat does then perhaps they will not need Snapchat at all. It could turn out to be a very clever strategy.

In light of this, Snapchat should re-think its strategy for the rest of the world in order to remain relevant in the years to come.

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