Snap (SNAP) Stock Could be Badly Hurt by Social Media Fatigue

Last week’s quarterly report from Snap (NYSE:SNAP) wasn’t a thrilling one for the owners of SNAP stock. Revenue and earnings both came in better than expected, and both were up from year-ago levels. But the number of daily users fell sequentially, from the first quarter’s 191 million to 188 million. It’s far too soon in Snapchat’s lifespan for its user base to shrink.

Fans and followers of SNAP stock attributed the lull to a redesign that was launched in February. Users revolted, and Snap (eventually) responded by dialing back some of the changes. But even the company’s staunchest supporters knew some users would never come back.

What if, however, the headwind Snapchat ran into isn’t really about the ill-advised redesign? What if there’s a far bigger, more philosophical hurdle ahead?

Finally Hitting a Wall

Most of the media never passes up an opportunity to make a mountain out of a molehill. In the case of Snap’s second-quarter results, though, the media mostly only used the company’s numbers as a reason to point to an existing molehill. I’m referring to the fact that people have grown weary of the whole social networking thing.

There’s other evidence to support the idea. Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) stumbled last quarter as well, topping earnings estimates but falling short of revenue estimates and providing guidance that missed expectations.

Bulls defended the company, arguing that the Cambridge Analytica scandal rattled users and advertisers. According to the bulls, these users and advertisers will likely come back after the dust settles. Maybe they will.

Or maybe they’re more done with Facebook — and social networking in general — than some supporters care to concede.

For several quarters now, whispers of “social media fatigue” have been circulating.  Some evidence that heavy use of social networking websites is bad for your mental health has surfaced. Investors did not take those warnings too seriously at the time, though, largely because social media continued to grow. Even the once-troubled Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) was making progress again.

Concerns about the longevity of social media as a business model have wiggled their way into the mainstream, though, and although not everyone buys into the idea of ‘peak social networking,’ more than a few once-loyal participants have become burned out enough to call it quits. A recent poll performed by Hill Holliday’s research group, Origin, found that one-third of millennials had recently deleted social media accounts. More than 40% of those who responded to the poll acknowledged that they had spent too much time using social networking apps.

They may be unknowingly feeling symptoms that University of Texas at Austin Professor Angeline Close Scheinbaum described in her book The Dark Side of Social Media: A Consumer Psychology Perspective, and explained again in an interview she gave late last year. During the interview, she said, “Backaches, neck aches, tension in their body, difficulty concentrating; you know, all these symptoms are stress-related. It’s just from exhaustion: overstimulating your brain and doing something all the time.”

And for the record, one-fifth of Facebook’s users said earlier this year, before the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to a head, that they were spending less time on the site.

The growing disinterest in social media certainly makes sense in retrospect.

A decade ago, when Facebook was fresh and young and not overcrowded with too many ads and too much commentary from “friends,” it was a charming, little gathering place. The charm, however, was rooted in its limited scope. Needing to grow, though, Facebook had to widen everyone’s digital world, thus killing the charm that led users to flock to it initially. It’s reasonably safe to say that Snapchat is running into the same headwind, even though it never reached the same critical mass that Facebook achieved with its first-mover advantage.

In other words, the world is finding better things to do than validate themselves through their online personas.

But it’s not catastrophic… at least not yet. It is problematic for social media stocks, including SNAP stock, though, since all big problems start out as small ones.

Bottom Line for SNAP Stock

Don’t misread the message. There will (probably) always be a Snapchat. It’s an established name, even if it’s relatively small compared to its rivals, and even if the company ends up going bust, someone out there will want to do something with it.

As for SNAP stock, however, its viability is no less in question than it was two months ago or two years ago. The world doesn’t really want or need another communication platform that lets you embellish photographs with stickers. The world doesn’t really want or need another communication platform at all. Clever? Sure. Built to last? Hardly.

The only remaining question is: When might the growing disinterest in social media surpass the number of newcomers who join it? If we’re not yet near that tipping point, it sure seems like we’re close. Once the industry becomes completely commoditized and Facebook “wins,” Snap Inc. may struggle just to survive, and SNAP stock may be in big trouble.

As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.

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