After redesigning Discover, Snapchat finds viewers grow but engagement drops

Two weeks after Snapchat launched a redesigned Discover section, channel partners noticed a significant uptick in overall viewers even as total views, completion rates and time spent per user declined.

In a presentation Snapchat sent to Discover partners earlier this summer, the company highlighted user trends on Discover, the section of the messaging app that features videos and articles from content partners like ESPN, BuzzFeed and Refinery29. In early June, Snapchat redesigned Discover from featuring circular logos of content partners to display tiles that function as a cover image for content that’s inside the channel.

Within two weeks of the redesign, the median Snapchat Discover channel doubled daily users to 1 million, Snapchat said in the presentation. The top 10 percent of Discover channels went from roughly 2 million daily users to 3.5 million by the end of June.

On the surface, this seems positive for Snapchat, which has been looking to grow users for the Discover section, publishing sources said.

But as much as the flashy, tile-based approach to Discover — as well as the integration of Discover content into the app’s Live Stories page — has boosted overall viewership, engagement is down. According to the presentation, number of views per user dropped 14 percent when comparing the two-week average post-redesign and the six-week average pre-redesign. Additionally, time spent dropped 6 percent and completion rate plummeted 32 percent, according to the presentation.

Another unintended side effect of the redesign: Viewers are opening editions just to check out the cover article. Discover publishers saw a 28 percent drop-off after the first snap, compared to 13 percent during the six weeks prior to the redesign. Publishers “need to give users a reason to go beyond the first snap,” Snapchat said in the presentation.

Traffic also became more volatile, with some publishers seeing user spikes of more than 200 percent on certain days when compared to the previous week.

“It’s the issue of discovery on social media in general,” said an executive at a Snapchat Discover publisher. “Before you had to go to a homepage and scroll through to find something. Now, you click a link in a tweet, read that article and not explore anything else. It’s the same with [the new] Discover.”

While Snapchat’s presentation only accounted for the first two weeks of action after the redesign, multiple Discover publishing sources confirmed that the trend has remained the same through the summer — viewership is way up and engagement is down. One Discover publisher said daily viewership can quintuple depending on how it formats the cover story.

Snapchat declined to comment for this story.

A potential problem area for Snapchat is how this might affect advertising on Discover, where channel partners and Snapchat sell vertical video ads that appear in between individual pieces of content in daily editions. If users are less likely to go deeper into the daily editions, they’ll be served fewer ads.

Discover partners are unconcerned by this trend. This is driven by the fact that growth in overall unique viewers means more people are likely to see ads, even if they don’t go as deep within the daily editions. Per the presentation, overall inventory was up 56 percent in the two weeks after the redesign versus the prior six weeks.

“I’m thinking about it more from an inventory perspective,” said an executive at another Snapchat Discover publisher. “I’m looking at how many people are there for six to eight stories and generating impressions and less concerned on a daily basis about how many people make it to the last snap.”

There are also signs that a growing number of users are returning to Snapchat Discover on a daily basis.When Snapchat rolled out the new Discover design, it also made it possible for users to subscribe to individual Discover channels. Once subscribed, content from these channels would also appear on the Live Stories page. Half of a channel’s subscribers tune in each day, Snapchat said in the presentation, with the featured section accounting for 63 percent of a daily edition’s views.

“The subscription number is what we review constantly, because that’s how we can create and retain a loyal audience,” said the publishing exec. “Even if somebody only comes in to read two or three stories, they’re still valuable from an inventory perspective.”

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