When you have as much money as Facebook, dealing with competition is normally quite simple: “if you can’t beat them, buy them.”
When Instagram started to become the photo-sharing phenomenon it is today, Zuckerberg dropped a casual $1 billion for the platform. Once it became clear that Facebook Messenger wasn’t likely to be the number one chatting app, he stepped up a gear, shelling out an impressive $16 billion for WhatsApp. But what happens when someone says “no?”
When Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel refused a $3 billion offer in 2013, he left much of the tech community wide mouthed in disbelief. He claims Zuckerberg tried to scare him with talk of releasing a rival app… something that Facebook has been trying to do ever since. Zuckerberg has made two attempts at creating rival apps, Poke and Slingshot, and there are now rumours of a third app, Bolt, to be released by Facebook subsidiary, Instagram. I’ll discuss each of these briefly and see what interest, if any, they hold for brands.
Did you use Poke? Did you like it? Did you mourn it when, on the 9th of May this year, the Snapchat-clone was quietly withdrawn from the iOS store?
Chances are you did none of the above because chances are you didn’t even know it existed.
Poke was a Facebook-funded Snapchat clone which arrived a year too late… Snapchat was already well-established when Facebook launched Poke and, as a consequence, it never really stood a chance. It failed to feature in the top 25 iOS apps for long after its launch and quickly ran out of steam. Facebook has never released official user stats but it’s safe to assume that they didn’t reach the level required to realistically challenge Snapchat, hence its quiet withdrawal and closure.
Enter Slingshot… while not a complete copy of Snapchat (like Poke) a lot of Slingshot’s design and some features will be familiar to Snapchat users, and sending a sling works much like sending a snap – the difference is on the receiver’s end. In order to open the photo you have to reply FIRST and Slingshot will demand these pre-emptive replies for every Sling that you want to open.
The idea is to get users stuck in a never ending cycle of slinging (a little like the good old-fashioned Facebook poke) but the reality is that some users have found it annoying, which has probably contributed to why the app doesn’t seem to have caused much of a sensation.
While it’s not too late for brands to try and use Slingshot, it’s worth noting that it’s currently more complicated to use than Snapchat and has far fewer users. There would also be no promise that the app wouldn’t simply disappear overnight like it’s precursor.
Snapchat has a very young user-base. Facebook, while still by far the most used platform, is far from ‘cool’ these days. It’s now a platform full of inquisitive parents, aunts and even the occasional tech-savvy grandparent – this has forced young people to flee from prying eyes and seek refuge in apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp or Instagram.
If Facebook wants to release a “cool” app, maybe they need to have Instagram launch it. Rumours are buzzing that they may do just that.
The speculation started with an in-app ad banner that appeared recently to a number of Instagram users. The banner claimed to lead to a “one tap photo messaging” app called Bolt… in reality it led nowhere.
At this point all we can do is speculate, although given Facebook’s plans to continue releasing new apps this year, as well as a history of premature/accidental launches, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if another app was in the pipeline.
An Instagram-owned photo messaging app could prove to be a more interesting option for brands to connect with a young audience, but it is hard to say at this stage as Instagram hasn’t commented on the slip.
What does this all teach us? We’ve seen that Facebook is pretty much desperate to get into disappearing messaging. We’ve seen that no matter how much money gets waved at Spiegel or thrown into building rival apps, Snapchat isn’t going anywhere. It remains a highly viable way for brands with teens, students and yo-pros, and Facebook has yet to release anything that has been able to directly compete.