It was bound to happen. Snapchat, the vaunted unicorn and once controversial app known for teens up to no good, is officially for parents, too.
While this has been true for some time, that Snapchat has finally reached the mainstream has never been more painfully clear than in the last week.
Monday, the White House began an official Snapchat account. The week before,became the latest publisher — and the first American newspaper — to join Snapchat Discover, the app’s curated news page.
Let that sink in for a moment.
You can now use Snapchat, the app that was once casually dismissed as the sexting app for teens, to see emoji-laden updates from inside the Oval Office. And when you’re finished you can head over to Discover and read The Wall Street Journal, alongside updates from millenial-oriented outfits like BuzzFeed, Vice and, yes.
Though neither development is necessarily surprising on its own — Obama’s White House is known for embracing social media and Snapchat has been continuously rotating new publishers into Discover — it would seem to confirm what teens have likely feared for some time: Snapchat, the once hip upstart, is now an app for grown-ups, too.
Teens — notoriously fickle when it comes to apps and social media — it seems, may not be impressed. When Digiday took to the streets to ask young Snapchat users for their opinion of the new WSJ Discover channel, most expressed that they were puzzled by the move.
“If Snapchat keeps adding these, like, older-crowd options, I think it might die out,” one teenage Snapchat user ominously predicts in the video. Another repeatedly referred to said “older crowd options” as “negative” and “sad.”
But while the current generation of teens is known for abandoning social apps the minute their uncool parents join, the fact that Snapchat is becoming more mainstream is almost certainly a positive sign for the company. (Unless, of course, you’re a teenager worried about losing yet another parent-free social corner of the Internet.)
Of course, it was bound to happen at some point.
You don’t become a unicorn by only appealing to a single demographic, even if that’s what made you famous in the first place — especially not if you’re a social app. For proof, look no further than Facebook (which, incidentally, a recent study by the Pew Research Center found was still the most popular social network among 13- to 17-year-olds, despite years of reports that younger users are fleeing the network for Snapchat and other competitors.)
It’s well known that Facebook began as a service that was only for Harvard students. It slowly expanded to more schools before eventually opening up to everyone and becoming the social media juggernaut it is today. While its early membership restrictions, memorialized in The Social Network, helped the service go viral early on, today they are little more than a footnote in the company’s history. That’s because Mark Zuckerberg realized early on what so many other startup CEOs learn the hard way.
While some level of exclusivity can feed an app’s popularity early on, even the most viral of services will need to make some kind of mainstream play to enjoy lasting influence. Right now, Snapchat is rumored to be working on its own ad platform and an automated investing service, in addition to the publishing platform it’s built with Discover.
All that may sound ambitious, and it is. But it puts into perspective why the company needs to reach beyond its niche of young teen users. (Just look at Twitter, which has been one of the most influential social media platforms, but has struggled nonetheless because of its inability to sustain user growth.)
But if Snapchat can successfully negotiate its transition from teen app phenomenon to mainstream social media platform — and recent updates would suggest that it can — the app’s legacy will not be the delinquent teens who made it cool but something that even our grandmothers can appreciate.