Snapchat’s Adoption: Who, How, & Why?

In my last post I discussed how Snapchat works at a user level, its various features and how they can be utilized, but now the question is who is using Snapchat? How are they doing it and why? Basically, how has Snapchat been diffused and adopted since its creation? The first step to answer all of these questions is to look at how Snapchat has grown over the years.

Snapchat is such a household name these days it seems almost unreal that it was only launched 5 years ago in September of 2011 (source). Snapchat is undeniably successful these days with a reported value of $16 billion as of 2016 (source); which is a bit more than the $3 billion Facebook reportedly tried to buy it for in 2013 (source). In fact, Snapchat’s reported revenue in 2014 was $3 million, and it only continued to grow from there (source). The following years provided Snapchat with an estimated revenue of $50 million in 2015, a projected $366.96 million of ad revenue in 2016, and a projected 2017 ad revenue of $935.46 million (source). With an estimated growth of 57% in 2014 (source) and a user growth of 67% between December of 2013 and May of 2014 (source), I think it’s fair to say that Snapchat is capable of sustaining itself these days. In fact, a study on how users use Snapchat, “What do they snapchat about?” Patterns of use in time-limited instant messaging service, described Snapchat’s growth as, “one of the most rapid and unprecedented in the history of instant messaging services and social networking sites” (source). If critical mass is the tipping point when a company can be deemed successful then Snapchat reached it long ago.

Snapchat may be an incredibly fast growing and popular company, but it would be nowhere without the users who allowed it to become so successful. So who exactly is using Snapchat? Well, as of 2016 Snapchat is 150 million daily active users strong and is expected to expand to 217 million users by the end of 2017 (source). These users aren’t just right here in the U.S. either, people all over the world use Snapchat. For example, 60 million of those daily users are from the US and Canada, but another 50 million of those daily users are from Europe (source). Furthermore, Ireland is surprisingly the country that uses the app the most (source). In fact, 63% of Snapchat users in Ireland use the app daily (source). UK statistics show that 25% of UK smartphone users use Snapchat and 46% of teens in the UK, between 11 and 16 years old, use Snapchat weekly (source). Right here in the U.S., Snapchat reaches 11% of the digital population and 28% of teens say that, in their opinion, Snapchat is the most important social media platform (source). Statistics show Snapchat reaches 41% of people aged 18 to 34 in the US, and 32.9% of the same age group actually own a Snapchat account (source). One key point to grab from that particular statistic is that Snapchat’s reach is so broad that it even reaches people who don’t own the app or have an account. Moreover, 4% of internet users around the world use Snapchat monthly (source). If your head is spinning from all of the statistics I don’t blame you, but all you really need to focus on is that Snapchat reaches a lot of people all over the world.

We’ve established that Snapchat has spread and been adopted all over the world, but how has it been adopted among groups of people? I’m sure you’d guess that Snapchat is the most popular with younger people, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Both college students and millennials are big users of Snapchat; 77% of college students use Snapchat daily and 73% of Snapchat users are millennials (source). Furthermore, 71% of Snapchat users are under 34 years old with 45% between the ages of 18 and 24 (source). That being said, older generations do use the app. In fact, statistics show users between 45 and 60 years old spend an average of 13.6 minutes per day in the app which is only slightly less than the 20 minutes that users between ages 18 and 29 spend in app (source). Users 60+ are reported to spend an average of 6 minutes per day in the app (source). In terms of other demographics, 70% of Snapchat users are women (source) and according to a survey by the Pew Research Center teen girls were the most likely of all teen groups to use Snapchat (source). Furthermore, the same survey showed that teens from households earning $30,000 per year or less were least likely to use Snapchat (source). Another Pew Research Center report had similar findings; that teens from middle to upper income houses used sites like Instagram and Snapchat more, whereas teens from lower income houses tended to use Facebook the most (source). The report found that 14% of teens from households earning more than $75,000 a year said that Snapchat was their preferred site compared to 7% of teens from households earning less than $30,000 (source). The fact that Snapchat is so new really puts this statistic into perspective. I think its likely that Snapchat appeals to those from higher income houses because it is most likely in the early adopter or early majority stage of adoption. To summarize, Snapchat has spread all over the world to a diverse group of users, but statistically Snapchat has been more predominantly adopted by younger people (around ages 18-34), women, and people from higher income households.

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We know that Snapchat is used by a lot of different people all over the world, but what drew these users in? In other words how and why are people using Snapchat? Reports show that overall, 60% percent of daily Snapchat users contribute content to the app and 400 million snaps are shared per day (source). On average a whopping 9,000 photos are shared per second and daily there are 10 billion video views (source). Furthermore, a Pew Research Center study reported that 41% of teens use Snapchat to share images and video (source). These facts are all just the general traffic that Snapchat gets daily, what about the individual parts of Snapchat like Stories and Discover? Well, as of 2014 Stories was, and is most likely still, Snapchat’s most popular feature (source). In fact, 1 billion Stories are viewed per day (source). Live Stories also draw a crowd of around 20 million users a day (source). One of Snapchat’s newer features, Discover, draws 60 million users monthly and, on average, 110 Discover Stories are posted per day (source). In order for users to be able view all this content some users must also be posting it. Statistics show, 45% of users post Snapchat Stories at least once a week and 54% of users use Snapchat daily (source). Furthermore, on average, users are spending 30 minutes in app daily (source). Basically, users use Snapchat as you may expect: by sharing and viewing photo and video content.

I could leave it there and just give you the the general statistics of how users tend to use Snapchat, but in order to get a full view of what users do on Snapchat we need to get more specific. In the early days of Snapchat, you may remember, it was branded as an app used to share sensitive or sexual content, or “sexts”(probably because of Snapchat’s temporary nature), but certain studies defy that claim. One such report shows that, as of 2014, only 2% of college students use Snapchat to send “sexts” (source). Furthermore, researches Roesner, Gill, & Kohno did a study, Sex, Lies, or Kittens? Investigating the Use of Snapchat’s Self-Destructing Messages, that investigated Snapchat’s part in sending sensitive and even sexual content. This study surveyed 127 adult (18 years and older) Snapchat users and analyzed how they used the app (source). The study found that most users don’t actually use Snapchat to send sensitive, sexual material (source). In fact, only 1.6% of survey participants used Snapchat mostly to send sexts, while 14.1% admitted to having sent something sexual at some point but not regularly (source). The majority (74.8%) of participants actually indicated that they would not be willing to send any type of “sext” over Snapchat (source). The main finding of the study was that most participants used Snapchat for fun or to send “funny content.” Specifically, 59.8% of participants used Snapchat to send fun or funny content (source).

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(source: http://homes.cs.washington.edu/~yoshi/papers/snapchat-FC2014.pdf)

Another study that looks into the “how” and “why” users use Snapchat is “What do they snapchat about?” Patterns of use in time-limited instant messaging service by Piwek & Joinson. Similar to the study by Roesner, Gill, & Kohno, this study surveyed 209 Snapchat users on their use of the app (source). The study found that 47% of survey participants used Snapchat because their friends did, 17% used Snapchat because it’s fun, 8% because it’s free, 6% started using it just out of curiosity, 5% for communication purposes, and 2% used it for its privacy (source). When the study investigated what the last snap that participants sent was, they found that 48% of participants sent a snap for purely communication purposes and another 5% sent a snap just out of boredom (source). Furthermore, 40% of participants stated they shared something funny or personal (source), which is not too far off from the 59.8% who reported Snapchatting similar “funny or fun” content in the previous study (source). However, unlike the last study, the main finding of this study was that most participants used Snapchat to send selfies (source). In fact, half of participants reported that the last Snap they sent was a selfie and 63% of participants said a selfie was the last snap they received (source). Furthermore, statistics seem to support these findings. In 2014 it was reported that 50% of male college students, and 77% of female college students shared selfies on Snapchat (source). The same year, statistics show that 5% of selfies shared on social media overall, were shared on Snapchat (source). Aside from its findings on selfies, this particular study also looked at who participants sent Snaps to. They found that 73% of participants sent their last snap to one person; 55% reported that person was a close friend, 18% said it was a partner, and even fewer participants said it was a family member, coworker, etc. (source). Only 27% of participants said they sent their last Snap to a group of people, and 62% said that group consisted of close friends (source). Overall, users seem to have various ways they use Snapchat and for various reasons, but most predominantly Snapchat seems to be used to send selfies and fun, funny content.

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These studies are all very informative about how and why people use Snapchat, but they don’t necessarily give all the reasons why users have adopted and use Snapchat. Some statistics show that 35% of Snapchat users use the app because their content disappears, whereas 30% use it because their parents do not (source). Another motivation for some users could be that supposedly popular Snapchatters can earn up to $100,000 for posting content (source).  In the same vein, advertisers are starting to utilize Snapchat more. This decision makes sense when you consider that 58% of college students reported that they would purchase from a brand that sent them a coupon over Snapchat (source).

So what do all of these facts mean? Well, for a fairly new company, Snapchat has been adopted by many different people for numerous reasons and has been diffused all around the world. According to statistics, young people in their late teens to mid thirties, especially women, seem to flock to Snapchat as a place to share predominantly fun, funny content and selfies. In my opinion these facts really fit in with Snapchat’s image as a space where users can share random snapshots of their lives. While a few people seem to prefer Snapchat for the privacy that temporary media can provide, even more flock to Snapchat as a carefree space to share their lives with friends, partners, and family alike. While the company seems to be more in the early adoption or early majority stage, due to the income of those who use it the most, Snapchat doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. I think Snapchat’s wide success shows that this is only really the beginning of its adoption and diffusion.

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