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There was once a time when beauty and social media execs alike were shook by the power wielded by one powerful duo: Kylie Jenner and Snapchat.
Snapchat helped Kylie transform herself from Kim Kardashian’s littlest sister to the owner of a multimillion-dollar cosmetics company. And Kylie gave Snapchat a youthful, celeb-friendly credibility back when it was known as the premiere app for mass-sexting.
But as Kylie tweeted last night, these days she barely opens the app.
sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad.
— Kylie Jenner (@KylieJenner) February 21, 2018
Users have been complaining about recent changes to the app, and Kylie’s tweet feels like an official warning to Snap Inc. that the end is near. But Snapchat has been so integral to Kylie’s success. If she’s over it, then who isn’t?
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Kylie and Snapchat: the good ol’ days
When Kylie Jenner was starting to craft her own public identity in 2015, Instagram was still dominated by a handful of A-listers like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Selena Gomez and Kylie’s older sister, Kim Kardashian West. Although her numbers were good, she never stood a chance at becoming the platform’s biggest power player or even cracking the top five.
Now, let’s be clear: Kylie was going to be rich and famous whether she became the Snapchat queen or not. But today, she’s not just rich and famous. She’s the CEO of a $420 million company and the youngest person on the Forbes 100. Becoming the best at Snapchat boosted her profile in a way that being in the top 10 on Instagram never would have — and it helped her reach her fans in a way that the 2015 Instagram feed never would’ve allowed.
When Kylie’s Snapchat reign began, the app was not being used by celebrities in any meaningful way. It was new, and even among young people, it carried a whiff of sleaze because of its formidable sexting capabilities. Plus the platform had, and still has, a discovery problem: you can’t add someone unless you find their username somewhere else. Even celebrities are tough to track down.
Still, Kylie jumped on the opportunity to become Snapchat’s first megastar, and it worked. Instead of jockeying for dominance with the established stars on Instagram, she turned herself into Snapchat’s first and perhaps only A-lister, then leveraged her Snap dominance to become a beauty mogul.
As one of the only teenagers with mainstream fame in the country on an app loved by high-schoolers, Kylie quickly became the most popular person on Snapchat. She nabbed the unofficial title of Snapchat queen thanks to her reported 10 million followers. The platform’s second-most-followed person reportedly didn’t even come close.
But this accolade alone isn’t what guaranteed her future success with Kylie Cosmetics. What mattered more was the content she was posting and the relationship she was building with her fans.
Kylie used Snapchat Stories to create the illusion that her followers were with her 24/7. She only uploaded a few minutes of content each day, but it was enough for fans to feel like they had a front-row seat to her glamorous yet surprisingly mundane life. She was reaching them directly, through a platform that marketers and other celebrities still didn’t understand.
This made her virtually the only celebrity (and later, the only beauty CEO) whose updates would be sandwiched between those of her fans’ best friends. Plus, Kylie’s Snapchat Stories were intimate in a way that you’d never see from a celebrity on Instagram.
While Kylie was slapping on a dog filter and talking about her Halloween costume like any other teen, she was earning major authenticity points with her fans. Meanwhile, legacy stars like Beyoncé, Britney Spears and even Kim were striving to use Instagram like normal people, but kept getting caught Photoshopping Instagram pics that were supposed to be candid.
And that was the difference between Snapchat and Instagram. On Snapchat, some unflattering angles might sneak through and the camera might shake, but users don’t care. There’s no such thing as a curated or fake Snapchat Story. Lo-fi is the norm. Even famous people will show their flaws on Snapchat, because the content disappears after 24 hours anyway. When you watch someone’s Snapchat Story, you feel like you’re getting to know them. Kylie realized this and made it work for her.
Kylie’s Snapchat stardom coincided with a glow-up of historical proportions.
Just before Kylie became popular on Snapchat, her appearance had completely transformed.
Thanks to her lip injections, wigs, heavy makeup and possibly a few more permanent alterations, she suddenly looked like a full-grown LA baddie. She went from Kim Kardashian’s little sister to the newest Hollywood it-girl everyone wanted to emulate.
And she wasn’t afraid to admit that this sudden aesthetic upgrade didn’t come naturally. Like Kim before her, Kylie shows (some of) her work. The difference between them, though, is that even though Kim will broadcast her cosmetic treatments, she has been fully primped and camera-ready the entire time she’s been in the public eye. Kylie, meanwhile, has had a full-on makeover, to which the entire Kardashian-cognizant public bore witness. This transformation is what set the stage for her budding beauty empire.
Kylie represented a totally synthetic glamour that you, too, could buy, if you had enough money. For a lot of teens, snapping your fingers and turning from an unsure kid into a glamazon like Kylie is the dream.
So Kylie decided to sell it.
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When she started slowly releasing the details of her first-ever Kylie Lip Kit on her Snapchat Story, it was game over for beauty marketing as we knew it. The intimacy Kylie had established with her fans through Snapchat, paired with her status as a self-created beauty icon, set the stage for her makeup to sell out again and again and again.
Just two years later, the brand is worth $420 million. That kind of growth is unheard of, and the Kardashian-Jenners’ various other beauty businesses have never come close to it.
Why has Kylie’s beauty biz been so successful? Because Kylie didn’t just put her name on a Lip Kit line and call it a day. She established trust through her consistent Snapchat presence, and she established beauty authority with her constant, meticulous attention to her appearance. With the combination of her Snapchat strategy and her infamous glow-up, she started marketing Kylie Cosmetics before the first lip kit was even designed. Why wouldn’t fans sink their cash into the beauty products she sold them from the comfort of her Calabasas kitchen?
Plus, as Kylie’s lip kits sold out, she updated users in real time on Snapchat about the products’ status and new launches. Her fans became as rabid for her products as sneakerheads or video game addicts. When else in history have women counted down the days until a specific new beauty product was launched?
And it’s not just the money that proves Kylie Cosmetics is a success. Not since Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds fragrance has there been a beauty brand with this much of a pop culture impact.
Kylie’s most notorious Snapchat marketing gimmick — a neat row of makeup swatches on an unidentified forearm — is now so famous, someone Photoshopped it onto her baby’s arm in her birth announcement. And Kylie has spurred a boom in celebrity-endorsed makeup brands that Rihanna, Madonna, Kim and more have since bought into.
Today, Kylie’s sitting pretty. But Snapchat is a little shaky.
In the three short years since Kylie started her Snapchat reign, the platform has changed.
Instagram copied Snapchat’s Stories function and didn’t even bother to rename it. Users mocked Instagram for its lack of originality at first. But gradually, people have stopped checking Snapchat with the regularity they once did. It’s all about the Instagram Story now.
Not to mention, Instagram had a major edge over Snapchat to begin with in terms of daily users. Today, Snapchat has 187 million daily active users, only 87 million more than it had when it was at peak buzz in 2016. Instagram, meanwhile, had over 500 million daily active users and 800 million monthly active users as of last September. They’re projected to hit a billion monthly users soon.
With the latest update, it looks like Snapchat is pushing aside Stories — the product they invented — in favor of its messaging function and native news stories.
This might seem like a weird move to someone who’s Story-obsessed. But if you’re friends with any high-schoolers on Snapchat, you’ll notice they barely use the Story function. Instead, the platform’s youngest users obsess over their Snapchat Streaks, or the number of days in a row that they’ve engaged in a one-on-one conversation with another user.
Like Facebook with its emphasis on Messenger and Groups, Snapchat seems to think the future of social lies in private conversations. If this is really the case, then Snapchat might be ahead of the game.
So where does that leave Kylie and Snapchat’s relationship?
As previously mentioned, Kylie announced the recent birth of her daughter on Instagram, not Snapchat.
She also abstained from pretty much all social media for the past few months — except, notably, when swatching for Kylie Cosmetics or promoting other products. Due to the birth of her daughter, Kylie’s public persona is in the midst of a massive change. But if she does go back to using social media Stories consistently, it’s safe to say she’ll do it on Instagram. If she did it on Snapchat, how would her fans even find it?
Snapchat, on the other hand, could go either way. Yes, their stocks fell after Kylie’s fateful tweet. And yes, celebrities have pretty much abandoned the app. But celebrities don’t use Facebook, either, and that platform isn’t going anywhere. Plus, younger people still love Snapchat for messaging because of the security and privacy it offers.
Facebook is hemorrhaging younger users, while Snapchat just keeps adding them. Snapchat’s adding users under 24 even faster than Instagram is, but this might partially be because everyone already has Instagram.
Judging by generation Z’s preference for dark social networks instead of public ones, Snapchat might just succeed for the same reason it propelled Kylie Jenner into a new kind of stardom: because of how intimate and private it feels. Either way, it’s safe to say that as it solidifies its grip on dark social, Snap won’t be relying on star power anymore.
still love you tho snap … my first love
— Kylie Jenner (@KylieJenner) February 21, 2018