ANGELES — Self-described Snapchat power user Michael
Platco received a neon sign bearing his name from social
media rival Instagram. And a different video app emails
him every week, hoping he tries their services and
brings along his 500,000 Snapchat contacts.
he’d expect Snapchat maker Snap Inc. to call — or
even just respond to his emails — to ensure it doesn’t
lose his videos, sponsors and fans to a competing
service. Instead, the world’s fifth most popular
mobile app has warned him to follow its rules and
briefly deactivated his account.
couldn’t find a bigger advocate for Snapchat than
me," said Platco, who supports his wife and infant
son with a six-figure income from companies that pay him
for promotion in Snapchat posts. "I made that jump
thinking Snapchat would continue to let me keep doing
what I’m doing at least … but they are making it so
strained relations are typical for Snap, whose aloof
behavior projects an elite image but can also come off
as arrogant to users, employees and business partners.
and several dozen other well-known users are frustrated
because Snapchat refuses to collaborate on fostering
their stardom and moneymaking opportunities. Another big
user, Shaun McBride, detailed the concerns in a
10-minute YouTube video last month that included written
support of 10 others.
stopped short of ditching Snapchat, but say they aren’t
afraid to do so. It’s tough to estimate the dent their
defection would leave because the 5-year-old Los Angeles
startup publishes limited statistics.
who engage with the $16 billion, ad-driven company are
accustomed to attitudes that range from self-confidence
to pretension. There’s agreement on the likely source:
Co-founder and Chief Executive Evan Spiegel, the
26-year-old Stanford University engineering dropout
whose wealth could skyrocket if Snap goes public next
year as expected.
the billionaire’s vision is a difficult exercise. Snap
has redefined itself over six years from a sexting app
that was the butt of jokes to a video-sharing powerhouse
adored by media giants to a camera company eliciting
chills across Silicon Valley. It hasn’t significantly
botched any feature launches. And its first device,
sunglasses with a video camera built into a hinge, are
an early hit. Despite their business grievances, top
users rave about Snapchat’s core features.
investors, including Benchmark’s Mitch Lasky, say
Spiegel doesn’t get enough credit for creating
contrast with Twitter, where we were also an early
investor, getting product releases there was
difficult," Lasky recently said. Spiegel, "on
the other hand, is an inventor."
Snap’s reliance on his creative genius has coincided
with shutting out others. A culture of secrecy befuddles
employees, who have been surprised by media reports
about feature updates and the IPO filing. Business
partners, including major media companies like Viacom
and Walt Disney, find themselves accepting stiffer terms
than with Facebook or Twitter. Spiegel forges ahead,
including by acquiring smaller tech companies, with
limited counsel of major investors.
have been annoyed as they bear long lines to buy
Spectacles, the new sunglasses exclusively available
through roving vending machines open for limited hours.
Snap neighbors in LA’s Venice neighborhood grouse over
what they describe as an unapologetic real estate
expansion driving up rents and suppressing the enclave’s
has, at times, budged. Needing to increase revenue in
the last year, it added measurement tools and more
options to appease advertisers. But some strict ad
tensions aren’t likely to fade as Spiegel and Chief
Technology Officer Bobby Murphy are poised to maintain
voting control after an IPO. That leaves influential
users wondering if they’ll ever fit into Snap’s
long-term strategy. The company declined to comment, but
influencers remain a subject of internal discussion.
intends for users to share seconds-long bursts from
their lives with friends. Even celebrities, whose
followers test the limits of "friends,"
largely stick to showing personal behind-the-scenes
views in Snap’s eyes.
in promoting companies and creating widely watched
stories that go beyond their personal experiences,
Snapchat’s influencers are developing increasingly
professional content. This work, they say, has shaped
Snapchat into the entertainment hub it is today.
the boundary-pushers whose hit videos guide advertisers
and people on how to use Snapchat. By devoting entire
days to the app, influencers realized that they could
use its painting tools to craft intricate doodles,
spawning a new art form across social media. In thinking
of themselves as entertainers, they’ve defined new
genres on Snapchat, like recurring skits that capture
strangers’ reactions to comedic stunts.
many of the top influencers were to stop on Snapchat,
the innovation and subcultures could go away," said
Nick Cicero, chief executive of social media marketing
firm Delmondo. "They are creating amazing, rich,
Spencer, who draws 90,000 viewers a day on Snapchat,
gets half from industrial design jobs and half her
income from sponsors — a violation of Snapchat rules.
She rejects the notion she’s not using Snapchat as
intended, given the bonds formed with viewers who adore
her cat drawings.
seek out stuff I want to share with my audience,"
she said. "It’s not a half-hearted sales
her business could be clashing with Snap’s own.
Advertisers including Coca-Cola, Pandora and Target pay
influencers to promote their products in Snapchat
videos. They find that viewers perceive items better if
someone they know pitches it, and influencers have
large, young followings.
deals do an end run around Snap’s own ad system and
violate a ban sharpened over the last year on
non-permitted commercial use of Snapchat.
company declined to comment on enforcement. But it
stands apart from Facebook and YouTube, which facilitate
paid product placement, and Instagram, which is
exploring ways to do so and tolerates it for now.
influencers say advertisers should have choices. And
encouraging sponsored content can pay off, they say. The
company could take a cut of deals. Or it could continue
to place ads alongside their videos, which could draw
increased viewership and higher fees if Snap prominently
displayed their content.
increase users’ fame, some suggest a new section on
the app to display popular posts the same way as
Instagram has done. They say it could help them add new
fans and improve relationships with sponsors. They
wouldn’t mind Snapchat financing recurring shows
starring them or developing features tailored to them as
YouTube does. Small moves would be welcome too, like
additional viewership statistics similar to what
Facebook provides, or a special identity-verifying badge
on their accounts reminiscent of what Snapchat gives
top users turn to unauthorized apps to post on Snapchat
because they are built to better save work or post on a
schedule, saving sweat and tears. But when Snapchat’s
automated systems catch someone using third-party apps,
it issues warnings and temporarily locks accounts — as
full-time Snapchat user Platco recently experienced.
Snap says the apps are hacks that threaten user
crackdown contrasts with video-streaming competitors
that are spending big on white-glove service. YouTube
provides fast-rising stars with training classes, a
dedicated contact, cash for big-budget productions as
well as space and equipment, including GoPros and 3-D
camera rigs. Facebook suggests good cameras and provides
guidance on following rules and ad laws. Its Instagram
app walks top users through new features and frequently
solicits feedback. Smaller firms including Live.me hold
intimate events, like bowling night, for big users.
Paul thought that’s the type of relationship he’d
have with Snap after attending a company party about two
years ago. Paul met Spiegel and appreciated the praise
of his craft. Since? Crickets.
can’t buy your wife a wedding ring and hope she stays
with you for 20 years," Paul said.
Instagram featured him as he toured Universal Studios
this fall, Paul added tens of thousands of followers.
Snap will lose users if it doesn’t start matching
Instagram’s tactics, he warned, noting that it’s
starting to pull even in terms of his income.
and McBride point to Vine — the six-second video app
that’s being shut down — as an extreme cautionary
tale. Though Snapchat isn’t as reliant on the top 1
percent of users as Vine, Paul expects some luster would
be lost. He was among about 20 top Vine users who
stopped focusing on the app after the Twitter-owned
service refused to pay each of them a $1 million premium
for a guaranteed number of posts.
take 30 minutes to make a Snapchat, and they don’t
take 30 minutes to honor them, and that’s where the
disconnect is," Paul said. "They’ve gotten
to the point where — ‘We’re Snapchat. Period.’
— it could bite them."
STORY CAN END HERE)
hears the complaints. Twice this year, it’s
highlighted users’ elaborate digital drawings to a
broad audience. But creators felt shortchanged because
their account names weren’t listed.
they support you, you stick around … you don’t jump
to other platforms," said Tristan de Burgh, a Los
Angeles influencer known for making fun of college
fraternity lifestyle on Snapchat.
OperAmericano, 20, is the rare influencer who describes
solid communication with Snap. Her talent manager
introduced her to someone who answered her questions
about features. But she wonders how much longer she can
Spiegel told advertisers last year that an emotional
line exists between their companies and people. Blurring
that line leads to content people find weird. So brands,
he said, shouldn’t try to humanize themselves on
social media — which is what they get from tapping
influencers. Instead, Snap offers video, banner and
animation ads that stick out from normal content.
have a very specific picture of where they want to go,
and I don’t think it involves creators,"
OperAmericano said. It’s too bad that Snap is set in
its ideas because influencers are a major way users get
the extraordinary videos they crave, she said.
for example, a remake of "Jurassic Park" that
a dozen big-name users produced together to post on
Snapchat. Cardboard cars, museum dinosaurs and water
guns made for a cheap look, but the nostalgia-inducing
re-telling spawned calls from fans to take on more
the power user who now fears account lockdowns,
organized the affair. He had no expectations Snapchat
would promote the flick like other apps might have. But
he holds out some hope Snap will come around on his job.
That "mplatco" sign he got from Instagram, he
hasn’t assembled it. Other apps haven’t won him
would be difficult to turn away from 500,000 followers
on Snapchat," he said. "Until the day I can
make that transition, Snapchat is going to have the
majority of (my) attention."