Can Snapchat really save news? More than half of users don’t follow outlets on the platform

Will Snapchat’s users discover publishers?
Will Snapchat’s users discover publishers?
Image: Snapchat
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Publishers may have their work cut out for them when it comes to building a following on Snapchat. A recent study found that more than half of users don’t follow individual accounts belonging to news organizations on the platform.

The survey, conducted by customer-acquisition firm Fluent, interviewed 3,300 US adults about their impressions and usage of Snapchat on the day of Monday, Feb. 6.

Of the people the company surveyed, only 24% of the respondents, or roughly 800 people, were users of the millennial messaging app, whose parent company Snap recently filed with the US Securities and Exchange commission to become a billion-dollar public company. The rest did not not—which is already not a good sign, neither for Snap nor the publishers seeking to use it to reach audiences.

(However, 63% of the coveted 18- to 24-year-old crowd surveyed did say they used the platform.)

Of those who said they used Snapchat, 61% said they didn’t follow news accounts like CNN and the New York Times on the platform. (Fifty-eight percent said they didn’t follow sports accounts like ESPN and the NFL, and 57% said they didn’t follow entertainment outlets like E! News and DailyMail.)

Adults ages 25 to 34 were most likely to follow publishers’ accounts, according to the survey.

Now, that doesn’t mean users weren’t interacting with media brands on Snapchat.  The survey only asked whether users followed media brands. It did not ask whether users viewed snaps by outlets like The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Vice, and Refinery29 that were featured on Snapchat’s two-year-old Discover section, which highlights content by dozens of media partners. (Digiday previously reported that the survey measured followers on Discover, but Fluent told Quartz it did not specifically ask about it.)

Media brands like the Washington Post and the New York Times have been investing in Snapchat—and Discover, in particular—to cultivate millennials and even younger readers on the app. The Washington Post is building a team to produce breaking news for Snapchat Discover. And the New York Times, which also announced plans to launch on Discover, is hiring a Snapchat editor.

As of last June, Digiday reported that median viewership for a Discover channel was around 1 million daily users, with the top 10% of channels hitting roughly 3.5 million daily users, based on a presentation obtained by the outlet that was sent to Snapchat’s Discover partners. That’s compared to the 158 million people who used Snapchat daily as of Feb. 2, according to a company filing.

The publication also reported in December that a tweak in the app, which moved the Discover section lower on the Stories page, decreased the number of daily viewers for a couple of publishers. A spokesperson for Snapchat, however, told the publication that viewers for Discover had increased across the board.

The story is worse for ads

Also discouraging, the Fluent study found that about 69% of the Snapchat users surveyed skipped ads on the platform “always” or “often.” The study did not specify what types of ads were skipped or viewed in longer forms, but respondents were likely referring to the mobile-video ads that run between stories. Those are the ads that users can immediately skip by swiping forward, or get more details on by swiping up. Snapchat also sells sponsored lenses and geo-filters.

“The reason boils down to what users are actually using Snapchat for,” Jordan Cohen, chief marketing officer of Fluent, told Digiday. “It’s really about exclusive short, fun content… In addition to communicating with friends, they follow celebrities. They don’t really engage with ads or mainstream news outlets.”

To be sure, about 40% of Snapchat users also said they “always” or “often” swiped up to watch longer-form versions of Snapchat, which suggests that some users are engaging the advertisements.

Snapchat differs from other social media networks like Facebook and Twitter in that it doesn’t promote individual accounts, even those of major brands and celebrities. That’s because it’s trying to maintain a more intimate, authentic user experience as it grows, the New York Times recently reported (paywall). Anyone who has used the app knows it can be downright difficult to find accounts at times, and average users tend to follow people they know.

Snap declined to comment on the survey findings.