Last week, The New York Times ran a profile of YesJulz, the latest of a new kind of celebrity who became famous because of Snapchat.
In the story, YesJulz, whose real name is Julieanna Goddard, describes what she believes to be a key feature of Snapchat’s success: “On Instagram, you can be fake. You take a picture, filter it, Photoshop it, put it up, and let people think that’s your life. Snapchat is the complete opposite.”
Starting this month, that’s beginning to change. Snapchat announced plans to roll out Memories, a new feature that lets users save photos and videos taken on Snapchat directly to the app. Users will also be able to upload photos and videos taken outside the app directly into Snapchat. It’s basically a photo roll, but within Snapchat’s walls.
Before, if users wanted to upload a photo as part of their Story, a 24-hour slideshow visible to all your followers, it had to be taken within the app. Now, a user can upload any photo or video they want.
It’s easy to write off the change as no big whoop, but it’s one of the biggest shifts in the app’s short history. Here are four big implications to pay attention to.
1. Snapchat is evolving, but you’ll still recognize it
With Memories, Snapchat has suddenly become less transient and spontaneous, two key differentiators in a market dominated by social networks that trade more in permanence and production (see: Facebook).
As Alex Kantrowitz, senior tech reporter at BuzzFeed News, tweeted, it’s a big bet, and plenty of hot takers have declared apocalyptic consequences. Gizmodo, for example, ran a story with the headline “Snapchat Is Ruined.”
Even Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s CEO, has railed against the very features Memories is adding. At Cannes in 2015, he reportedly said, “I’m not the first person to hate looking at myself seven years ago. A lot of [social networks] create your profile and at some point, as you are accumulating all this stuff, it’s not really you any more.”
But Snapchat must expect that Memories will not undermine the app’s core appeal—and that the real differentiator of Snapchat is its one-to-one, judgement-free functionality.
A recent Wall Street Journal story on older folks joining the app broke down the difference between Facebook and Snapchat:
On Facebook, people mostly post photos and video to their broader group of friends, and they must manually delete the posts. Snapchat is centered around a camera, encouraging users to send disappearing photos and videos to one recipient at a time.
Users can choose to share with a wider group through Snapchat Stories, a visual diary of their day that expires after 24 hours. And, because the app has no “likes” or “comments,” there’s less outright judgment on Snapchat.
For the most part, that won’t change. Stories and snaps will still disappear, communication will still consists of one-to-one exchanges, and users still won’t be able to quickly, easily, or publicly pass judgement on a snap. Plus, Memories’ “My Eyes Only” feature, which lets you put sensitive snaps (i.e., nudes) behind a password, is an obvious sign that Snapchat still respects privacy.
Memories is a significant change—but it shouldn’t fundamentally alter the appeal of the app.
2. Memories is a play for influencers
Snapchat’s decision to announce the new feature using a video (see above) with social influencers Alexis Ren and Jay Alvarrez— alexisreneg and jayalvarrez on Snapchat, respectively—is important.
Including the two influencers is a nod that shows Memories is meant to attract and make social influencers happy. Both Ren and Alvarrez have massive followings on Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, but so far, Snapchat has mainly been an area for influencers and celebrities to give a behind-the-scenes look at their lives.
Before Memories, Snapchat required a lot out of influencers and celebrities: They needed to understand the intricacies of the app and use it—and only it—to create posts that had no way to stand up to the professional and advertiser-friendly production of Instagram or YouTube.
Ren and Alvarrez, for example, have made a career out of being the hot couple of everyone’s fantasies. That’s pretty much it. Previously, it wasn’t easy to look super hot all the time on Snapchat, but as the introductory video to the product demonstrates, influencers can now edit photos and create custom feeds much like they would on Instagram.
3. Memories allows for a more ad-friendly environment
Snapchat Stories with a more polished look also means a sleeker, cleaner environment. Brands like that.
Advertising tends to be sleek and overproduced, particularly when compared to the purposefully DIY, spontaneous aesthetic of Snapchat. But platforms with content that matches the aesthetic tend to have an easier time attracting ad money. Memories is a way for Snapchat’s “feel” to move more into the mainstream of other ad-friendly environs like Facebook and Instagram.
As Taylor Lorenz, director of emerging platforms at The Hill, told Nieman Lab:
I imagine other organizations will be using resources like designers too, and content on news channels, including our own, will begin to look more branded and produced (like Snapchat Discover). I’m not sure this is what users want however, and I think the challenge will be to make content that’s still engaging and feels native to the feed as the aesthetic of the feed shifts.
Facebook faced a similar tension back in 2013, when the platform began a purposeful effort to attract more brands and a more diverse user base. According to The Wall Street Journal, Mark Zuckerberg conceded then that “coolness is done for us.” Since then Facebook’s revenue has grown massively. Undoubtedly, Snapchat is hoping for a similar result.
4. Snapchat just got a lot easier for brands
Besides fostering a more ad-friendly environment, Memories also makes life a lot easier for brands creating content on Snapchat.
Once upon a time, brands’ social teams previously had to do everything within the Snapchat app. That isn’t easy, particularly for social teams strapped for time and resources, struggling to produce a constant churn of content on multiple platforms.
Now, these teams can create and edit Stories on their own time, instead of having to be “on” 24/7. Most importantly, that means they can re-use many of the assets they’re already producing for Instagram and Facebook.
In the end, Memories may create more of a sameness between the platforms. But it also makes Snapchat easier, safer, and more efficient for the brands and influencers that help drive the company’s revenue.