14 January 2014 | MOF Team
Not many people would rebuff an offer from Facebook if they came along and offered you $3 billion (that’s more than the GDP of Liberia in 2012) for your company that loses money.
But that’s what happened in 2012 when the effervescent 23-year-old co-founder and chief executive of picture messaging app Snapchat Evan Spiegel rejected a buyout bid from Facebook.
Debate has been raging whether this was a sensible move. Snapchat’s strategy, presumably, is to hold out for a higher valuation by growing its fast-expanding 5 million daily user-base, making it more attractive to investors. But why does Facebook covet Snapchat so highly?
At a pow-wow at Stamford University in the US, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg talked about how he thought Facebook had created a unique space in which people could share – and this was exactly why he thought Snapchat was clever.
Snapchat, crucially, provides an ephemeral instant picture and messaging service, with users able to set a time (between 1 and 10 seconds) that the image can be viewed. It then disappears from the recipient’s device and is irretrievable. Research last month found that teenagers – Snapchat's target market - thought that Facebook wasn’t cool anymore. Many said that bad experiences of parents “friending” them had put them off and turned them towards Snapchat and Whatsapp.
Indeed it’s the teenage market that makers of social network apps need to focus their attention. They are the second generation digital fashionistas, the shapers of social networking trends in the years to come. Teens have grown wise as they’ve seen the dangers of posting images on social sites that can get you into trouble with your boss or your girlfriend, cost you that job you really wanted, embarrass you or make you look ridiculous. Today’s late 20-somethings and early 30 somethings have over-shared and have paid dearly – a mistake the savvier members of the younger generation will avoid.
Ask a teenager why he or she likes Snapchat, they’ll likely say it gives them greater freedom expression, allowing them to share irreverent content that they would had otherwise been uncomfortable sharing. Sending pictures you know can only be viewed for a maximum of 10 seconds encourages this. Snapchat, for its well-documented drawbacks (sexting, use by paedophiles) gives greater artistic licence to the youth of today where being cool and concern about being dissed are paramount.
“I think Snapchat is a super interesting privacy phenomenon because it creates a new kind of space to communicate which makes it so that things that people previously would not have been able to share, you now feel like you have place to do so,” Zuckerberg said.
So, you can bet that Facebook’s aggressive pursuit of Snapchat will continue. Usually the big brother gets his own way.