The Popularity of Selfies and the Price of Snapchat

This week it was revealed that the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year is ‘selfie’, so chosen upon because of the meteoric rise in its usage this year. The reason for this can almost certainly be put down to social media, a key element of which is posting and sharing photographs with others – either with friend networks or more publicly eg. on Instagram or Twitter.

What our changing language reveals therefore is an increasing reliance on and utilisation of social media. A ‘selfie’, which is a photograph taken by the outstretched arms of the subject itself, may have existed in pre-social media days however the reason it has really taken off is due to the ability to post such shots to a social media platform (I mean, when was the last time you saw such a photo printed off and stuck in a photo album? Or worse, horror, done it yourself?)

Whether or not these types of photographs interest anyone other than the user and perhaps 3 of their closest friends is debatable, but what isn’t is how the proliferation of sharing everything online is responsible for this trend. As there are new ways of taking photographs there are new ways of sharing them, too. Once, these ‘selfies’ would have made their way to Facebook, and then possibly Twitter. Now there are an increasing number of apps that allow photo streaming and sharing.

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Instagram, the app designed solely for photos (and, hot on the heels of Vine, now video) led the way for image sharing however the newest kid on the block, Snapchat, takes the best from the most popular social media channels – communication, sharing, images, instantaneous – and marries them together to create an app that has become the new zeitgeist.

As a result, and unsurprisingly, its swift rise has prompted an offer from Facebook and at $3 billion in cash, a very generous one too. However it’s one that Snapchat founder, Evan Spiegel, 23, decided to turn down. Is he mad? Possibly, but then again soon after that he was offered 4$ billion by investors, although he said no to that too.

It is understandable that Facebook might want in on Snapchat, not because, as Zuckerberg himself points out, they just want to be cool, but because it would make good business sense. On the subject of cool however, it’s possible that Facebook is seen to be lacking in that these days, which is why Zuckerberg is right to want to spread their wings and invest in up and coming platforms. He was labelled crazy when they (successfully) bid for Instagram for $1 billion, yet it has paid off. That move incurred a fierce fight with Twitter, and although the latter had more in common with Instagram it was Zuckerberg’s dollars which won.

It’s exactly this aggressive strategy that Zuckerberg is applying to Snapchat; and if he can see a sustainable business model in it then it’s likely it can be monetised in some way. As, for all the popularity with ‘the kids’ a social media platform may have, it is no use as a business model unless it can make some serious cash out of them.

But unless Spiegel has some monetising ideas that are worth $3 or £4 billion on his own, unless he gets further offers it may be that refusing to sell proves to be the greatest social media faux pas for some time.

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