The Kylie Jenner curse? Snapchat faces its defining moment

Evan Spiegel became a billionaire by proving people wrong.The Snapchat cofounder was early in evangelizing the...

Posted: Feb 24, 2018 9:40 AM
Updated: Feb 24, 2018 9:40 AM

Evan Spiegel became a billionaire by proving people wrong.

The Snapchat cofounder was early in evangelizing the potential for sending pictures to an intimate group of friends while many wrote off his messaging app as little more than a tool for sexting.

He shocked many industry watchers by turning down Facebook's widely reported offer to buy Snapchat for $3 billion in 2013, only to see his personal stake in the company top that amount when it went public last year.

Now, Spiegel faces what could be his most high-stakes decision yet. He must weigh whether to push forward with a controversial app redesign that could either reinvigorate Snapchat's growth or drive users, including Kylie Jenner, into the arms of rival Instagram.

The reality TV star and influential Snapchat user tweeted this week that she no longer uses the app. Jenner's tweet was enough to cause Snapchat's parent company's stock to plunge 6% Thursday, wiping off $1.3 billion in market value.

Jenner's potential departure, while certainly a threat to the company, is just one piece of the much larger, weeks-long user backlash that still shows no sign of letting up.

The app previously featured content from friends, publishers and celebrities on one page. Now, there's one page for publishers and another for friends. The goal was to attract more users and create a better user experience by separating friends from content.

Related: Snapchat responds to users critical of redesign: 'We hear you'

More than one million people have signed an online petition calling for Snapchat to remove the update, saying it's more difficult to use. The company has also been bombarded with negative app reviews, prompting one analyst at Citi to downgrade the stock.

"While the recent redesign of its flagship app could produce positive long-term benefits, the significant jump in negative app reviews since the redesign was pushed out a few weeks ... could result in a decline in users and user engagement," Citi analyst Mark May wrote in an investor note this week.

And that was before the Kylie curse.

Snapchat is hardly the first internet company to clash with users, even prominent ones, over a major new feature or redesign. It has become something of a rite of passage for tech companies, particular those building social platforms.

Roughly a million Facebook users joined a group protesting the company's decision to introduce News Feed in 2006. At the time, Facebook only had 8 million users. Twitter was hit by breathless complaints with hashtags like #RIPTwitter from users and celebrities in 2016 about its plans to shift from a reverse chronological timeline to more of an algorithmically ordered feed. Its stock also fell.

Yet, both companies pushed forward with their plans and later touted them as central to their success. At Facebook, in particular, the team's ability to stare down the user revolt is held up as an example of its vision and long-term thinking.

"I remember there were actual protesters in the streets outside our office demanding we change," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post on the 10-year anniversary of the News Feed change. "But one of the things I'm most proud of about Facebook is that we believe things can always be better, and we're willing to make big bets if we think it will help our community over the long term."

The Snapchat backlash could prove to be an equally defining moment for Spiegel and Snapchat. If he can once again prove the critics wrong, it may go a long way toward assuring investors and employees that he is the product visionary that insiders have built him up to be.

Unlike Zuckerberg in 2006, Spiegel's showdown with users comes in his company's difficult first year on the public market. Snap had just begun to show new life on Wall Street with a better-than-expected earnings report this month. Then the backlash pushed Snap's stock down to the cusp of its IPO price.

Unlike both Facebook and Twitter, Snapchat's audience has options. Facebook users may dislike certain features, but there's no other service that provides as comprehensive a directory of people - and their birthdays. Likewise, Twitter remains the top service for discovering real-time news - and for complaining about Twitter.

But Instagram has managed not just to clone Snapchat with its Stories feature, but also to make its clone more popular than Snapchat. Case in point: Jenner has shared more than 50 posts on Instagram Stories since abandoning Snapchat.

At first, Spiegel sounded characteristically unfazed by the user backlash, noting that some complaints actually "validate" his thinking with the redesign.

"One of the complaints we got is, 'Wow, I used to feel this celebrity was my friend and now I don't feel like they're my friend anymore,' " Spiegel said at a tech conference earlier this month. "Exactly. They're not your friend."

This week, however, Snap acknowledged that the redesign has "felt uncomfortable for many" and promised to tweak the app with certain vague concessions. It is not undoing the redesign, though -- at least not yet.

"Our goal with the recent redesign is to make Snapchat more personal for everyone," a Snapchat spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNN on Friday. "This new foundation is just the beginning and we will always be grateful for any feedback from our community as we roll out new products."

The longer the backlash drags on, the more likely it becomes Spiegel and Snapchat may waver.

"Everybody gets mad for a few days, but it eventually blows over," says Ryan Detert, CEO of Influential, a marketing platform that helps brands find influencers to promote products on social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. "This one is the longest I've seen, so that doesn't bode well for Snapchat."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 485230

Reported Deaths: 6554
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1006801585
Ramsey43047801
Dakota36254390
Anoka33274384
Washington22065255
Stearns18723201
St. Louis14794262
Scott13273107
Wright12517115
Olmsted1177988
Sherburne871572
Carver771040
Clay690387
Rice670091
Blue Earth593835
Kandiyohi579474
Crow Wing519681
Chisago498445
Otter Tail481870
Benton446190
Winona418049
Mower404131
Douglas392568
Nobles386847
Goodhue385568
Polk342762
McLeod339349
Beltrami337351
Morrison324247
Lyon313044
Itasca312746
Becker310941
Isanti305754
Carlton300149
Steele299711
Pine282016
Freeborn280523
Nicollet258141
Todd247830
Brown244637
Le Sueur235020
Mille Lacs227247
Cass219924
Waseca208917
Meeker207434
Martin189328
Wabasha18623
Roseau180217
Hubbard160640
Houston157314
Dodge15214
Renville149540
Redwood147027
Fillmore13728
Chippewa136335
Cottonwood134820
Pennington134116
Wadena130920
Faribault122917
Aitkin118933
Sibley117310
Watonwan11728
Rock115714
Kanabec107419
Pipestone101424
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9438
Jackson93510
Swift87918
Pope8025
Marshall77815
Stevens7418
Lake73718
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68316
Wilkin67110
Koochiching61811
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5062
Grant4918
Unassigned47968
Norman4768
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40821
Red Lake3625
Traverse3055
Lake of the Woods2191
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 362189

Reported Deaths: 5414
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58146549
Linn20653312
Scott18288207
Black Hawk16249291
Woodbury14961211
Johnson1383473
Dubuque13537194
Dallas1135890
Pottawattamie10765143
Story1021645
Warren555274
Clinton543284
Cerro Gordo533681
Webster518787
Marshall496272
Sioux494369
Buena Vista473236
Des Moines457661
Muscatine451191
Wapello4330108
Jasper416966
Plymouth394577
Lee375352
Marion359069
Jones294154
Henry292737
Carroll285548
Bremer280154
Crawford274735
Boone259630
Washington254147
Benton252854
Mahaska224346
Jackson221438
Dickinson217439
Tama213465
Kossuth208154
Clay193525
Hamilton192042
Delaware188839
Winneshiek188427
Buchanan185129
Fayette185035
Page183219
Hardin181039
Wright179731
Harrison179669
Cedar177923
Clayton168053
Butler166331
Mills163120
Floyd162740
Madison154518
Cherokee153935
Poweshiek153730
Hancock146829
Lyon145841
Allamakee145646
Iowa144423
Appanoose139147
Grundy139030
Jefferson138232
Winnebago138230
Cass134151
Calhoun133711
Mitchell130840
Louisa128241
Union126331
Chickasaw125213
Sac124218
Emmet121240
Shelby121033
Franklin118419
Humboldt117425
Guthrie116528
Palo Alto104921
Montgomery103936
Howard103121
Clarke100520
Unassigned9890
Keokuk98129
Monroe93128
Adair91928
Ida91032
Pocahontas85519
Davis82623
Monona81627
Greene77310
Lucas73821
Osceola70514
Worth6987
Taylor66412
Fremont5919
Decatur5789
Van Buren55918
Ringgold52020
Wayne48821
Audubon4869
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 33°
Mason City
Clear
29° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 22°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 29°
Austin
Partly Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 17°
Feels Like: 29°
Charles City
Partly Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 17°
Feels Like: 30°
Mild conditions expected this week
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events