Snapchat launched a redesign of the app on Tuesday, making publisher-created content more enticing. CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Vox, and about 20 other publishers create custom content daily for the app which, up until now, has most commonly been used to send friends photos that disappear in 10 seconds or less.
Now these publishers display eye-catching headlines and photos at the top of Snapchat’s Discover page, rather than just a small logo, as they did previously. It’s also now possible for users to subscribe to publisher content so that it is automatically added to their Recent Updates.
Bloomberg reported on June 2 that Snapchat surpassed Twitter in number of daily users, with 150 million people using the app each day. But while Twitter is the place to go for breaking news, Snapchat is still overwhelming used for conversations between friends. Before the redesign, publisher-created content attracted fewer than 5 million viewers on good days, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Does Snapchat’s new look have the potential to draw users into the news?
“The redesign is brilliant,” says Samantha Barry, CNN’s head of social media. She told The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview Wednesday that she hoped Snapchat users would return to the CNN channel repeatedly throughout the day for news updates now that headlines would display on the top of their page.
Snapchat also has a news team of its own, led by former CNN political reporter Peter Hamby, whose show Good Luck America covers the 2016 presidential election. On Wednesday, Mr. Hamby's channel displayed clips from a Bernie Sanders rally, alongside gifs and short interviews with activists.
“There’s this huge audience – we’re building an editorial structure on top of them and alerting them to things happening in the world,” Hamby said at an event at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy in September.
Hamby contrasted the way that news is shared on Snapchat to the way that it’s shared on Facebook, where content tends to bounce back and forth between like-minded friends. News on Twitter leans towards the things that bring people together: “big moment events – award ceremonies like the Emmys, big football games, groundbreaking world elections, the Pope is visiting somewhere, etc. – you kind of have to be there. And the stories are only there for 24 hours and then they go away.”
“I think Snapchat leads to more emotionally-based news, which is a trend that goes back to television,” says Lynn Schofield Clark, director of the Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media at the University of Denver. "Whether that will result in substantive conversations about these issues, I’m still pretty skeptical about that."
Professor Clark told the Monitor in a phone conversation Wednesday that Snapchat could inspire in younger people an interest in current events. (Snapchat is most popular among 18-24 year olds.) "The emotion really draws people in. Even younger people, 12- and 13-year olds get news because they tap into the emotions. It can help people have a first step into politics."
Before Snapchat’s redesign, only 2 percent of US adults got news on Snapchat, according to a Pew Research Center study published in May. Yet the study also found that 62 percent of American adults got news on social media, indicating an openness to go to a single site for both policy debates and selfies.