Snapchat's appeal has largely been limited to young people who can navigate its famously confounding interface. It's one of the reasons why Instagram has nearly three times as many users.
But in a major shift that could make Snapchat more enticing to new users, the video messaging app announced Tuesday it will allow its public content to be shared across other social media platforms — not just inside its mobile app.
The Venice company, which long eschewed a serious web presence, said users can now share links to videos curated by Snapchat in the app's Our Stories and Search Stories features as well as videos from celebrities and other public figures known as Official Stories. The links will open on a web player hosted on Snapchat.com.
The hope is that the added exposure will demystify the Snapchat experience and help reverse user growth that has slowed to a pedestrian pace — in no small part because of competition from Facebook and its photo-sharing app Instagram.
Compared with Snapchat, both Facebook and Instagram welcome the sharing of content outside their platforms: consider how common it is to see an Instagram photo embedded online compared with a Snapchat screenshot.
By allowing users to share links, Snapchat is joining the ranks of other platforms in the business of trafficking that elusive content known as viral videos.
All that added attention could persuade reluctant visitors to create their own Snapchat accounts, but it could also undermine Snapchat's core proposition to its users: ephemerality.
To address that, the company said it will treat links shared outside its app the same way as public videos inside the app by erasing them after a few weeks (they also disappear if the creator of the video chooses to delete them). Posts from celebrities and other public figures, known as Official Stories, will remain viewable for only 24 hours.
The company said it will not include advertising in the videos shared outside Snapchat, though it did not rule out doing it in the future.
Snapchat said publishers also urged the company to provide more ways to view videos tailor-made for the app. Snapchat partners with a host of media organizations for content, including Vice, BuzzFeed and NBC.
This isn't the first time Snapchat has made its content viewable outside its app — though it is by far the most significant. In 2016, the company posted select Snapchat videos from the Academy Awards on its website.
Snapchat's parent company, Snap Inc., had been rumored to be looking at offering content beyond the app since last year. In December, the video news outlet Cheddar reported that a recently hired executive, Rahul Chopra, would lead an initiative called Stories Everywhere. Chopra had previously served as chief executive of Storyful, a sort of news agency for user-generated videos.
Building more exposure to Snapchat outside the app does come with some risk. The company could find it harder to negotiate rates with advertisers if users are seeing content outside the app.
And there's no guarantee people will flock to Snapchat the more they see it. Twitter's ubiquity in the Trump era, after all, hasn't resulted in any meaningful user growth for the company.
The sharing feature is accessible beginning Tuesday to users who have the recently redesigned Snapchat app, which will become available to more people in the coming weeks. To link stories, users must press and hold a story tile on the app, which will bring up options to share. That can include sharing over email or on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, the company said.
The new strategy comes after a punishing first year as a public company. After pricing shares at $17 for its March IPO, Snap saw its stock soar to as high as $27.09 only to crater six months later at $11.83. It closed Monday up 13 cents, or less than 1%, at $14.17.
The company, which is set to post its fourth-quarter earnings Feb. 6, has also been hampered by its short-lived foray into camera-mounted sunglasses called Spectacles, complaints about its chief of human resources and a report the company was threatening employees who leaked information with a lawsuit or jail time.