Should the Facebook/Snapchat Deal Have Gone Poof?

Certainly, the news of the week – after all, the Twitter IPO is so early November – is that Snapchat, the platform devoted to stuff that quickly disappears, turned down Facebook’s offer to buy it for $3 billion.


This led most of us to ponder these five things, stated below in order of importance:

1.     What would I buy with $3 billion?

2.     Boy, Facebook has a lot of cash lying around!

3.     Are Snapchat founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy complete idiots for not taking the money?

4.     Is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg a complete idiot for offering the money?

5.     What would I buy with $3 billion?

For the purposes of this column – which is supposed to be about social media instead of “Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?” – let’s deal with nos. 3 and 4. Who are the idiots, Spiegel and Murphy, or Zuckerberg?



I’m going to disappoint everyone by saying, actually, neither. These are people who operate in a universe that few of us can understand, even those of us in the business.

Certainly the offer, and its being declined, does say something about the ongoing paranoia of the tech set. In no other place would something that is entirely devoted to ephemera, and has no business model, be considered worth at least $3 billion.

However, even with those facts, there’s an extent to which Zuckerberg’s approach makes sense, and that’s to do with the hoary old media concept of reach, not to mention reach within the right demographic, which is young ‘uns.

By some estimates, Snapchat has about 30 million users, and for Facebook – a platform that just admitted to some declining interest among those fresh-faced kids – scooping up Snapchat represents a big opportunity to hold on to a growing, and crazily engaged, group. According to Snapchat, 350 million Snaps are shared every day.

But those stats, of course, beg another question: Does having all those people in the fold matter, when what they do vaporizes every 10 seconds?

That’s where this gets dicey, even for a company with as much money as Facebook. Think about it: Until Snapchat came along, the entire social media world was built on the premise that everyone’s lives be catalogued forever. And that’s the entire foundation for the ad models that have grown up around it.

The brilliance of Snapchat is in questioning this premise. While it can be wonderful to have photos, videos and even tweets and status updates preserved, we, the users, didn’t choose saving everything to be the default. However, it’s the hand social platforms have dealt us, so we simply deal. The average Snapchat user – full disclosure, I’m not one of them – has no such concern. All they are trying to do is communicate visually (insert private parts joke here) in the same transitory way of many other forms of communications. Remember what it used to be like to have private conversations on the phone?

But that makes the riddle of a potential business model for Snapchat all the harder to figure out. The company could presumably track its users for the purpose of serving them ads, but if that idea often goes over poorly on other social platforms, how would it go over with Snapchat users? Like a lead balloon, obviously.

Maybe the reality is that Snapchat will roll out different products with a longer shelf-live than Snaps, and that’s where the business model will live. (It actually just launched a new product, Snapchat Stories, which disappear after a yawning 24 hours, lasting 8,640 times longer than a Snap!)

Or maybe not. But the future is unknowable, which is why this potential deal happened in the first place. It could turn out that the future is Snapchat, and if you’ve got $3 billion lying around, making a bet on a popular social media platform -- that in many ways is the antithesis of your own -- is the one to take.

2 comments about "Should the Facebook/Snapchat Deal Have Gone Poof? ".
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  1. Noah Wieder from SearchBug, Inc., November 15, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.

    I think the offer disappeared in 1 to 10 seconds though. According to Om Malik, on November 15, 2013 (today), Google offered $4B for the company but Evan Spiegel declined.

  2. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, November 18, 2013 at 5:25 a.m.

    Fixed for you: "In no other place [except for Politics] would something that is entirely devoted to ephemera, and has no business model, be considered worth at least $3 billion."

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