How Snapchat Will Challenge TikTok

It’s a battle for the youth!

Key Takeaways

  • Snapchat Spotlight is designed to mimic TikTok’s popularity while attempting to set itself as a place for creators to flourish with new financing options.
  • Snapchat’s ability to connect a younger audience to friends and interests makes it the prime vehicle to challenge TikTok.
  • Some changes Spotlight is seeking to make are contrary to the social media model and could impact potential growth.
A young person holding a phone out with the Snapchat logo on the screen.
Chesnot / Getty Images

TikTok’s dominance with the youth is hard to replicate, but with Snapchat’s unique growth, experts think Snapchat has the potential to siphon off the viral video app’s market share.  

Snapchat launched its latest venture, a TikTok copycat called Spotlight, in the hope of increasing its share of entertainment-based content. The new feature will allow users to submit Snaps to be shared with the company’s 249 million daily users (though, as of Dec. 3, it had rolled out in only 11 countries).

These Snaps will include custom content much like TikTok and Instagram Reels, complete with sounds, silly dances and shareable memes. The real test, however, is whether it will be able to compete with larger competitors, namely TikTok.

"TikTok has built a strong brand with a unique proposition… simply matching TikTok’s functionality won’t be enough to steal significant share," Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University, said in an email interview with Lifewire.

"Snapchat is clearly worried about the growth of TikTok and should be. To make headway, Snapchat has to offer something different and appealing."

Youth Market Disruption

How will Snapchat compete? With money: Snapchat offers a payout totalling $1 million per day to trending users who are chosen to be featured on its new Spotlight feature. The amount received by each user will be determined by engagement and unique views. 

TikTok and Snapchat have seen explosive growth over the years, especially among younger users. As Twitter and Instagram swerve into Snapchat’s lane with Fleets and Stories, respectively, the Santa Monica-based company is doing its own version of mimicry with the TikTok model to capitalize on its newfound publisher interest.

"Community on TikTok is part of the ethos, experience, and lively vibe. And it's why TikTok drives culture and memes in such a unique way."

Snapchat's audience size seemingly lags behind TikTok's, with about 249 million daily active users to TikTok’s estimated 800 million monthly active users, but the app has been a rare bright spot for publishers who have seen an increase in RPM (revenue per thousand impressions). Snapchat’s increased visibility and audience engagement have allowed publishers to see returns on their investments with the platform’s Discover content being a success with younger users. 

Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel said the company reaches more 13- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. than either Facebook or Instagram. And according to Q3 2020 numbers, the platform reached 90% of 13- to 24-year-olds. Executives suggest the growth can be attributed, in part, to the success of its Snap Originals, which saw movie stars like Will Smith debut on the platform with his series "Will From Home."

Spiegel says they "reached more than 75% of the U.S. Gen Z population so far this year," (an estimated 35 million people), with Snap Originals helping them double-down on their success with the youth. Also, its coveted Discover page is used by more than half of Gen Z, signaling a desire for publishers to partner with Snapchat.

The company is seeing record user growth and year-over-year revenue, helping it chip away at TikTok’s dominance with the younger market the two giants have found a way to capture. 

Flipping the Script

Snapchat is already making moves to ensure its growth is prominent and less like the gimmick that came to be Instagram Reels’ attempt at TikTok disruption. Unlike Instagram Reels, which allows users to share TikTok videos with a TikTok watermark, Spotlight disallows such cross-platform sharing. It completely bars uploads of videos with watermarks.

Young people recording social media video on a smartphone.
 gahsoon / Getty Images

Instead, users are challenged to create unique content for the video-sharing app: an ingenious way to protect its market share and make its viability as a TikTok alternative more pronounced.

One noted difference is Snapchat’s removal of the comment system. It may be an attempt to remain brand-safe and cut down on comment moderation costs and resourcing.

The community-less engagement model will need to be reworked if the company hopes to make a sizeable impact. Part of what makes TikTok tick is the comment system, where people congregate in emoji-filled memeing and flame wars with verified users and brand accounts.

The comment section is an integral part of the social media experience and helps build community on otherwise isolating platforms. From Instagram and Facebook to YouTube and Reddit, the community aspect is part of the business model and what keeps users coming back.

"To make headway, Snapchat has to offer something different and appealing."

On some TikTok videos, you will even find comments with more likes than the video and similar engagement. Spotlight’s insistence on a comment-free experience, particularly for a social media platform so linked to intimately connecting users, might be shortsighted, according to experts.

"[It] makes Spotlight feel like an isolating vs. community experience. I suppose that echoes the platform's one-to-one messaging roots," said digital marketing professional and author Ann Handley in an email interview with Lifewire. "Community on TikTok is part of the ethos, experience, and lively vibe. And it's why TikTok drives culture and memes in such a unique way."

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