How Teens Use Snapchat

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These are not the teens we talked to for this story.

When news broke that Snapchat decided to pass on a cool $3 billion from Facebook for acquisition of its here-and-gone photo app, we initially couldn't put our fingers on why.

There was the idea that it could be about what Facebook has become. Mark Zuckerberg did, after all, admit it wasn't cool anymore. But cool or not, the platform is a way of life for so many of us. Snapchat reaches lots of people now, but with Facebook they'd leave no stone left unturned.

Then there were the teenagers who spoke at the panel for Business Insider's IGNITION conference. When they were asked about Facebook, they practically shuddered. Their parents are on Facebook! Facebook, for them, is the school dance where the chaperones keep the lights on and watch like hawks from the corner.

But $3 billion dollars. $3 billion dollars!

Turning down $3 billion dollars must mean co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel believes Snapchat has the potential to be worth so much more than such a paltry sum. What makes an app worth so much more? When the app becomes embedded into our everyday lives, so much so, that we barely remember life without it. So far, there haven't been many apps that have been able to revolutionize our virtual experiences. But if there was ever one, it's Facebook.

Yet Spiegel rejected it.

We wanted to get to the source: high school and college students. These are the people using Snapchat the most, and the ones apparently using Facebook the least, the fact which led Spiegel to believe the merge wouldn't be the best match.

Yes, we know one teen's opinion does not equal the opinion of all teens, or even a small group of teens.  But we are not teens, and we tend to see apps like this for more than just their fun aspects: we see and study the business of them. For an app like Snapchat, the target demographic isn't thinking about logistics.

I spoke to a few teenagers, including 14-year-old Michaela, a freshman in high school and, full disclosure, my cousin. As I suspected, she hadn't heard about the $3 billion dollar deal-that-wasn't, and, as I suspected, she didn't really care about it either way.

I asked her if she used Snapchat. "Sometimes," she replied. And her friends? They use it too.

What makes it so great? I wanted to know. Her answer was one I'd expect from my own friends: "it's cool, the pictures disappear, and you can just send them like you'd send a text."

She says she and her friends send funny and unflattering pictures of themselves to each other via Snapchat for laughs. So do my friends.

There was no disclosure of sexting scandals or teenagers flirting or dating via Snapchat. Though I'm sure it does happen, as anything is possible when an app exists so you can make it your own, it never came up in conversation.

Michaela told me they essentially use Snapchat the same way we do: for fun, for laughs, for a moment that won't stay in the digital space forever like a Facebook status or a perfectly curated photo of a Pumpkin Spice latte.

But did she see Snapchat as the future, as a way of life?

"Only until the next new thing comes out." 

Ah, and there it is. The fear that if Snapchat looks back now, its competition will gain on it. The realization that the next new craze is always one click away.

What about getting that bigger audience? When I asked her if she thought her mom would use Snapchat, much like her mom and her friend's moms use Facebook alongside their kids, her answer was simply, "doubtful."

Kevin, an 18-year-old high school senior, said he uses Snapchat all of the time. 

"I use it," he said, "to send amusing things to my friends that require more than a text. They aren't things I want to post on Facebook or Instagram and keep forever."

He also says he doesn't see the Snapchat craze dying anytime soon. "It's too simple and fun for most people to get bored," he told Business Insider, "even if something new does come out, I don't think it will replace Snapchat."

Molly, 20, said she downloaded Snapchat when it first came out, and hasn't gotten sick of it yet. The college junior told us that everyone she knows uses it, but that it can get "petty."

"Sometimes it's like a popularity contest. Like if you're out at a party you would snap a big group of people and send it to someone and that's supposed to say oh I'm with a lot of people, I'm popular just like if on Facebook you post photos of a party you went to."

She had not heard of the $3 billion dollar offer before our conversation. 

In a community of people who seem to be cheering on a younger generation to keep the business of Snapchat alive, these kids have no idea they've been appointed with such a task.

Gigi, an 18-year-old freshman at Syracuse, says the app "gets really annoying when people stop in the middle of a conversation to take a selfie." She says seeing people taking photos of themselves when they're by themselves is normal on her college campus, and she's guilty of it too sometimes.

"It's gotten past the point where it's a fun app. Now it's a form of communication. But I think it will eventually get old," Gigi told Business Insider. "You can only take so many selfies."



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