In the era of Instagram as social king, how have millennials and Gen Zers changed their use of Snapchat?
The past two years have been difficult for Snap. Once the dominant social app for both millennials and Gen Zers, Snapchat was plagued by a poorly received redesign and competition from Instagram (especially with the Stories product) that resulted in stalling user growth.
The company has continued to launch products (games, shows, filters), and hit $1B in revenue in 2018. However, the lack of DAU growth begs the question of whether Snap is a few years away from becoming the next Facebook — just as many Gen Zers never made an FB account, the same could be true of the upcoming Gen Alpha and Snap. Facebook has remained a ~$500B enterprise value company thanks to its highly monetized base of older users, as well as properties like Instagram and WhatsApp. Snap, however, relies on growing and monetizing users on its core app, which never saw mainstream adoption by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers like Facebook did.
All of my friends have moved to Instagram Stories instead and I have even contemplated deleting Snapchat all together. Although my Mom does still Snap me occasionally.
-29 year-old survey respondent
We were undergrads at Stanford when Snapchat first took off in 2012, and saw the app become ubiquitous among our peers (young millennials). In the last two years, many of our friends have seemingly abandoned Snapchat (or drastically reduced their usage) in favor of Instagram. We were curious to see if the same has happened for Gen Zers, who are now in high school and college but came of age on the Internet alongside the rise of Snap.
We surveyed 200 Gen Z and 40 millennial users to answer four key questions about where Snap stands, as well as how usage differs between these two age groups. Key takeaways are summarized following each of the questions below — read the full article for more!
- Has usage of Snapchat changed over the past year? More than 60% of our respondents report using Snapchat less over the past year, and 28% of millennials and 12% of Gen Zers have churned off the app entirely. The remaining users are opening Snapchat fewer times a day and communicating with smaller groups of friends.
- What are people using Snapchat for? Usage has pivoted away from Stories back to the platform’s original use case of 1–1 and group messaging, as the product remains the fastest way to record and send photo/video content. Snapchat is stickiest for younger users, who find value in features like disappearing messages and streaks.
- Are Snap’s new features/products gaining traction? Snap Originals and Snap Games both have ~60% awareness among Snapchat users, but fewer than 5% of our respondents are regular viewers or players. Spectacles are not a desirable product for this demo, and the first big hit on the developer platform (YOLO) is reaching only younger Gen Zers.
- How has usage on other social apps changed over the past year? Unsurprisingly, the decline in Snapchat is mirrored by a rise in Instagram. However, Snapchat still ranks #2 among Gen Z social apps in DAU/MAU and frequency of use, so we feel they have a chance to maintain market share by doubling down on the core messaging product.
A big thank you to all of our wonderful Accelerated readers who took our survey and provided their insights for this article. We couldn’t do it without them!
We’ve organized the results based on our four key questions outlined above. We’ll give a quick answer (TL;DR) to each immediately below the question, followed by some more detail and data that supports our conclusions. We’ll also include quotes from survey respondents indented.
1. Has usage of Snapchat changed over the past year?
TL;DR — Yes. Though most users still have the app downloaded, frequency of use and friend group activity have significantly declined. This change is least prominent for Snapchat’s youngest users.
- Saturation of the app remains high. 87% of our Gen Z respondents still had the app downloaded at the time of the survey, as well as 68% of millennial respondents. This difference is even more dramatic for younger users, as 100% of 18-and-under respondents currently have the Snapchat app.
- Respondents reported a significant decline in usage. Just before the IPO, Snap’s team reported 18 opens per user per day — now, less than 40% of our respondents report 5+ opens per day. 63% of both Gen Z and millennial respondents said they use Snapchat less than they did a year ago, with 43% saying they use Snapchat significantly less.
- However, on an absolute basis, Snapchat usage remains high. 43% of Gen Zers and 19% of millennials still open the app 5+ times a day, and 75% of Gen Zers and 30% of millennials are daily active users. We’ll dive into how this compares to other social networks in Question 4 — but Snapchat ranks second to Instagram on these engagement metrics.
- Usage among friend groups has also declined. 47% of Gen Zers and 72% of millennials reported that fewer of their friends are active users of Snapchat now versus a year ago. The 18-and-under crowd again emerged as a bright spot, as 63% say friend usage of Snapchat has stayed the same or increased over the past year. Millennial respondents reported communicating on Snapchat with an average of six friends, compared to nine friends for Gen Zers (and 15 friends for the 18-and-under group).
My friends for the most part had a mass exodus from Snap which forced me to download Instagram to follow them. Now that I’m on Instagram, I do like the layout of the app more than Snap.
-27 year-old survey respondent
2. What are people using Snapchat for?
TL;DR — Snapchat is still the de facto 1–1 and group texting platform for many Gen Zers (particularly younger ones). Story creation and viewing remain popular, but much of this activity has migrated to Instagram.
Across both Gen Zers and millennials, the most popular use case for Snapchat is 1–1 messaging, essentially a replacement for iMessage (both photos and text) — 87% of respondents reported using the app for this. 65% of respondents also reported participating in group messages via Snap.
Ever since Instagram got Stories, I just like Instagram better for watching updates of people’s lives. Snapchat is what I use if I want to make a group chat or if I want to get someone’s contact casually instead of a phone number.
-18 year-old survey respondent
According to our respondents, the main benefits of Snapchat for this kind of messaging are the casual feel of the platform (everything disappears, so you can send informal or “ugly” content), the fact that you don’t need to ask for the other user’s phone number (enables conversations with more “casual” friends), and the ease in taking and sending photos and videos.
Many users reported that they used Snapchat less overall, but stayed on the app for a few friends or groups that they communicate with exclusively via Snapchat — though some of these conversations are moving to Instagram DMs or iMessage. We were also surprised to find that Snap streaks play a huge role in stickiness for the 18-and-under group (the appeal fades in college).
Young teenage users are DEVOTED to the app. I can see through my younger brother and all his friends an abnormal dedication to the app. These kids have a huge list of 900-day streaks, and they exclusively use Snapchat for group communication and individual communication.
-21 year-old survey respondent
78% of respondents say they’ll regularly watch friend or influencer Stories, but only 56% reported still posting Stories. There was a general consensus that Instagram Stories has a better UI and allows for a more polished look. Snapchat Stories continue to win for the non-polished, funny, or informal content that users only want to share with their circle of close friends.
Instagram stories are more “curated” (e.g. showing the best parts of a vacation) while spontaneous/drunk/fun times are posted to Snap.
-21 year-old survey respondent
The other popular features were using Snapchat’s filters to take photos/videos that can be exported elsewhere (24% reported regularly using this feature), using Snap Maps (22%), and browsing the Discover feed (22%). The Discover feed was perceived negatively, with many respondents viewing it as an inauthentic way to push ads on users — several mentioned that without the messaging functionality, they would delete Snapchat because of Discover.
On the other side of Snap monetization, we asked respondents whether they had ever made a purchase via Snapchat — 84% had not. By far the most common purchase was a custom geofilter (14% of respondents), followed by Bitmoji merchandise (2.5%) and making a brand purchase from a Snap ad (2%). Millennial users were far more likely to have made a purchase, at 33% compared to 12% of Gen Zers.
3. Are any of Snap’s new features or products gaining traction?
TL;DR — Not yet. Many of our respondents weren’t even aware of Snap’s new Originals and Games, and Spectacles still have a bad rep.
We asked about four of the new products/features that Snap seems to have invested heavily in over the past two years — Spectacles, Originals, in-app games, and the new Snap Kit developer integration (we used YOLO, the platform’s first hit, as a proxy).
- Very few Gen Z’ers own Spectacles, and Spectacles owners don’t use them frequently. 92% of respondents don’t own Spectacles, and only 13% of non-owners say they would want a pair. Of the 8% of respondents who own Spectacles, none are regular wearers.
- Snap Originals are not popular among this demographic. Only 4% of our respondents reported watching Snap Originals “regularly” — another 26% had watched at some point but were not regular viewers. We suspect this is partially a marketing issue, as 44% hadn’t even heard of them. This didn’t surprise us — Originals are difficult to find in the Discover feed.
- In-app games are not popular among this demographic. Only 2% of respondents reported regularly playing in-app games — another 34% said they had played at some point but not regularly. Similar to Snap Originals, 37% of respondents said they didn’t know Snapchat had in-app games.
- Despite reaching #1 in the App Store, most of our respondents had not downloaded YOLO. Only 5% of our respondents said they had downloaded the YOLO app — we suspect it’s significantly more popular among younger demographics (middle & high school students).
4. How has usage on other social apps changed over the past year?
- Instagram usage is (unsurprisingly) up. 57% of respondents report using Instagram more over the past year, while 18% report no change in usage.
- Facebook usage is down. 53% of respondents report using Facebook less, and 27% report no change — only 20% are using it more.
- Twitter remains less popular among this demographic, but usage is up. 33% of respondents had never used Twitter. Of those who had, 53% report using Twitter more over the past year, 21% report no change in usage, and 26% report using it less.
- TikTok has not penetrated this demographic. 87% of our respondents had never used TikTok. It’s hard to draw any conclusions around changes in usage given the small sample size of users.
We can’t directly attribute changes in usage of other apps to the decline of Snapchat. However, it seems likely that some of the activity that used to occur on Snapchat (particularly around posting Stories) has now moved to Instagram — we heard this frequently from our respondents.
Instagram Stories de-incentivized the creation and consumption of Snapchat Stories. As a result, few people Snap anymore.
-20 year-old survey respondent
I think less time and thought is spent on Snapchat now. This was most apparent when Instagram came out with Instagram Stories. The fonts and colors were more appealing.
-20 year-old survey respondent
It’s also important to note that while usage has declined, Snapchat still ranks highly compared to the broader universe of social products in terms of how frequently users open the app.
Snapchat also ranks second to Instagram in DAU/MAU among our Gen Z and millennial respondents.
Key Takeaways & Insights
In reviewing the survey responses, we formulated a few key takeaways:
1.) Social can be a “winner take most” market. When it comes to “broadcast” content (versus messaging), Gen Zers will optimize for the platform that gives them the greatest distribution.
Many of our respondents provided commentary about why they were using Snapchat less frequently than they used to, particularly to post Stories, and we weren’t surprised to hear that they had migrated to Instagram.
Why can’t they use both platforms and post different types of content on each? It’s less convenient to switch between platforms, and more importantly, most users will choose the platform where the maximum number of other users will see their posts. Many Gen Zers track their “seen” counts carefully for Stories, and will quickly move platforms if they feel they can boost their distribution elsewhere (as long as the product features are relatively similar).
Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories are often competing for similar types of content — photos or short videos that aren’t “polished” enough to post to the main feed. We suspect that Snapchat Stories are still popular among teens because it feels like a more private place than Instagram to post photos or videos of activities you don’t want associated with a public profile that parents or others may be following (e.g. underage drinking). This use case may become less valuable in college, but doesn’t disappear — which is part of why Gen Zers are staying on the product, even if they are posting less frequently.
2.) Snapchat has retained the young demographic as a messaging platform — the company’s efforts to launch new features/products have not been successful.
Our data clearly indicated that many Gen Zers and millennials are using Snapchat as primarily a messaging platform, with a secondary use case of watching others’ Stories. These users don’t know (and often don’t care) about the new features that Snap has been releasing on over the past two years, as comments from our respondents illustrated.
Apparently all of those new things you mentioned have been added to Snapchat, I had no idea that they existed. I prefer to use Snapchat specifically for 1–1 communication, whether that’s through a quick picture or a message.
-19 year-old survey respondent
When our respondents noted Snapchat’s Discover feed, they almost always said it was “annoying” and didn’t have quality content, which is a difficult perception to change in the short-term. We understand why Snap is trying to push users towards this feed, as it drives monetization. However, we don’t think it’s likely to retain existing Gen Z users or attract new ones, and investing in original content that lives on this feed seems unlikely to pay off.
Snap is a self-proclaimed camera company, and the ease of sending photos and videos to friends remains a core feature. While Snapchat is going through this “crisis period” with a stagnant or declining user base, we think the company may want to double down on this media messaging use case (the recent viral genderswap filter is one good example). This contrasts with the company’s recent focus on launching original content and gaming, or even getting into hardware, as Snap tried to do with Spectacles.
3.) Pre-college teens are currently Snap’s most compelling market, and the company has room for improvement in retaining users at the college transition point.
Measured by continued use of the app, frequency of opens, friend group engagement, and change in usage over time, users in the 18-and-under age group is by far Snapchat’s most engaged and loyal demographic.
Much of this is inherent to the middle and high school experience, meaning this group may “age out” of Snap over time. This demo is more closely controlled by parents (and thus derives more value from disappearing messages), is less likely to prefer the formal/curated feed provided by Instagram, and is arguably more susceptible to gamified features like Streaks, which “quantify” friendships. Several of our respondents mentioned a transition away from Snapchat and towards Instagram once they hit college, though they still watch Stories to stay in touch with younger friends.
However — the core messaging product is obviously sticky for this Gen Z demographic, and the product remains best-in-class for this use case. If Snap is able to evolve or mature the product experience to keep up with this group, they have a chance of increasing retention through college and beyond.
Between May 9 and May 14, 2019, we surveyed 240 people via a Google Form. 83% of the respondents were in the Gen Z group (aged 8 to 24), with a median age of 21. 55% of respondents were male, and 45% were female. 92% of respondents live in the U.S. — the plurality (38%) are in the West, followed by the Northeast (32%) and Midwest (16%).
Thanks for reading! We’re curious to get your thoughts on Snap and the future of consumer social for Gen Z — email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @venturetwins. And if you’re a founder working on a Gen Z social product, please reach out and tell us more!
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