SNAPCHAT IPO BANKS ON CHILDREN’S FRIENDSHIPS

In case you haven’t heard, Snap (the parent company of Snapchat) is scheduled to go public on March 2nd. It’s the most highly anticipated initial public offering in a while and might be to be the biggest since 2014. The company set market value for its IPO between $19.5 billion and $22.2 billion, which is a valuation range of $14 to $16 a share for the offering of 230 million shares.

Whether you think of Snapchat as the sexting app or the flower crown filter app, there’s no question that the the tool is the primary way that many young people communicate with one another. And why not? It allows them not only to easily shelter their online communications from their parents, but also to avoid the permanent record museum exhibition that is turned on by default in Facebook and Instagram.

And then there are the streaks. Snapstreaks, as they are officially called, signify how many days in a row you have snapped (not chatted) with a friend. They’re labeled with the fire emoji and a number next to them that tells you how many days your streak has lasted.

Snapstreaks are serious.

It’s not uncommon for kids to have streaks lasting 200 or even 300 days. So, what happens when kids break their phones or get grounded from them or are forced to give them up for a period of time because their parents are monsters? Kids have figured that out too. They simply give their login credentials (including passwords) to their friends to “keep up their streaks.” It’s an ingenious workaround for a problem, but not a great personal privacy practice.

It’s not new to incentivize users of an app for their constant use of it. Games will give you rewards that encourage you to play every day. The more I like and comment and post on Facebook, the better it gets at showing me what I want to see.

But Snapchat actively capitalizes on our children’s friendships, on their developmentally appropriate need to label their dedication to one another. Especially girls. DAU’s or Daily Active Users are social media gold. That’s the way these companies measure success or failure, and Snap needs to prove that they can continue to grow their DAU. They need to find more ways to give us reason to log in every day, no matter what. And they’re right to be afraid. Snapchat’s DAUs have begun to decrease in the time since Instagram started to copy some of their signature features, including ephemeral media and stories.

Here’s a hint at how important DAU’s are to Snap’s IPO from the Risk Factors section in their SEC filing from early February:

“We had 158 million Daily Active Users on average in the quarter ended December 31, 2016, and we view Daily Active Users as a critical measure of our user engagement. Adding, maintaining, and engaging Daily Active Users have been and will continue to be necessary. … If our Daily Active Users growth rate slows, our financial performance will increasingly depend on our ability to elevate user engagement or increase our monetization of users. ”

All this makes sense from a financial perspective, but how about from a human perspective? One of the biggest problems with the refrain, “Think of the Children!” is that we’re often thinking of the wrong thing.  While we were all worried about sexting, kids were busy streaking with their clothes on.

If you’ve spent any time around tween or teen girls, you know that their friendships are constantly morphing as they learn who they are and who they want to be. I believe the research that Lisa Damour cites in her excellent book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood. She writes that kids who have trouble getting along with their peers online are often the kids who would have had the same trouble getting along with their peers offline, long before Snapchat or Facebook, or AIM existed. But even kids who know how to have healthy friendships online and off can suffer from intense use of digital technology. I’m not writing this with guidance on what apps kids should use or how often they should use them. But its worth asking our Snapchat-using children about what Snapstreaks mean to them. If the success or failure of one of the most talked about IPOs in recent years partly depends on the behaviors of our children, we might all want to think long and hard before we don those flower crowns.

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