Blog Post

Snapchat reportedly plans to become a mobile platform, much like China’s WeChat

The success of China’s WeChat, Japan’s Line and Korea’s KakaoTalk has not gone unnoticed. A new report from The Information said that Snapchat is modeling its money-making strategy off these Asian mobile messaging giants.

It wants to become a platform for other services, like gaming or e-commerce companies, and is supposedly in talks with Stripe to integrate mobile payments. The Information didn’t have the full run-down on the details of what products Snapchat is considering — the plans are early in their development — but we can look to the Asian social media giants inspiring Snapchat for some idea.

[company]KakaoTalk[/company], WeChat and Line have introduced a variety of external and internal services to their platforms. There’s mobile games that people pay to play and access through their messaging app. There’s e-commerce functions, eBay-like peer-to-peer marketplaces. There’s gifting features built into messaging, so you can send someone physical flowers when you find out it’s their birthday while chatting to them. There’s portals for customers to manage their online banking. And lastly, perhaps most importantly, there’s specific branding functions for advertisers. Users pay to receive messages from their favorite celebrities, and clothing companies like Tommy Hilfiger chat one-to-one with customers to help them figure out their sizing.

When reporting on these money making efforts a few months ago, I pointed out that it would be difficult for [company]Facebook[/company], [company]Twitter[/company] and Pinterest, which are all born in the desktop era, to go the WeChat route. They’ve all essentially stuck messaging on top of a pre-existing product. Mobile-first Snapchat, in contrast, has all the makings for a WeChat product trajectory.

Like the Chinese app, Snapchat used a simple messaging function to grow its user base and keep them engaged. Now that its dominance is securely in hand, Snapchat is playing with new features like “Stories” that could lead to future money-making. Celebrities chat with fans via Snapchat, much like stars use KakaoTalk or WeChat to cultivate their audience, and companies tell short stories. In other words, the messaging context allows for new experimentation with brand building. That said, it’s not entirely clear how new services like gaming, e-commerce, or banking could be built on the ephemeral Snapchat platform.

The Information story comes the same day that Snapchat suggested it’s developing a public API. In light of the hacking of a third party with Snapchat data, the company published a blog post asking users to stop accessing third parties which are banned in the app’s terms of use. Snapchat said:

It takes time and a lot of resources to build an open and trustworthy third-party application ecosystem. That’s why we haven’t provided a public API to developers and why we prohibit access to the private API we use to provide our service. Don’t get us wrong – we’re excited by the interest in developing for the Snapchat platform – but we’re going to take our time to get it right.

Snapchat’s private API is reportedly very easy for developers to reverse engineer, which results in the type of data breaches caused by a third party like SnapSaved — the app that was hacked. But if Snapchat introduced a public API, it would have more control over who could use it and would be able to block access to those it deemed a security threat.

Not to mention the fact that a public API would be a key part of a future platform strategy.