Snapchat CEO's India Remark Underscores The Power Of Social Media

by Sohini Bagchi    Apr 17, 2017

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The social media is abuzz with criticism against Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel after a report quoted one of the company’s former employees as saying that Spiegel told him that the “app is only for rich people” and that the CEO was not interested in expanding the business to “poor countries” like India. Soon after the controversy erupted, #BoycottSnapchat became one of the top trending topics on Twitter and Facebook and Indians began to uninstall the app and give it poor ratings and reviews on various app stores.

While some may call the nation and its citizens “outrageous” [which to an extent is justified as some netizens confused Snapdeal with Snapchat and uninstalled the application with hateful comments​ :) :)] and Snapchats proponents also rubbished the statement later, but the damage has been done.

For brands, especially who rely on Web as a medium and there are so many of them in India as well as globally, the incident raises two serious issues. First, it underscores the power of social media and that it will not spare anyone trying with mess with social-web-mobile-savvy users - an eye-opener for brands and their representatives to be more careful about their comments because negative publicity can exert a harsh impact on their online standing. Second, Snapchat may just lose its chance of being part of the burgeoning digital sector in India just by its one ‘unwanted’ or ‘biased’ comment.

The Snapchat Fiasco

The bashing started when US-based news website Variety on Sunday quoted Snapchat’s ex-employee Anthony Pompliano as saying that company CEO Evan Spiegel in September 2015 told him that “the app is only for rich people. I don’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain”. [Read the full article here]

The comment after being featured on Indian news websites started to spread like a wildfire on social media. According to the app info on App Store, the “Customer Ratings” of the current version of the app was “single star” (based on 6,099 ratings) and all versions rating was “one and half star” (based on 9,527 ratings) as on Sunday. The rating for the app on Android Play Store was “four star” (based on 11,932,996 ratings).

“Dear CEO of Snapchat…why don’t you come to India and check out Indians’ phones,” wrote a user in review of Snapchat’s app. Many also went on to highlight that CEOs of top tech firms like Microsoft and Google are Indians and that almost every company is now eyeing India as its investment hub.

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While Snapchat, on its part, rubbished the allegations, the Anonymous Indian hacker group - one of the top bug bounty hunters looking to find vulnerabilities in software and services of IT giants - reportedly claimed to leak the database of 1.7 million Snapchat users. Last year, the Indian hacking group found some vulnerabilities in Snapchat’s database after which they siphoned details of the users, DailyMail reports. To mark their resentment against Spiegel’s remarks for India, the hacker group made the Snapchat database of these many users available on the darknet. 

The Power of Social Media

In today’s increasing digital era, social media is playing a greater role in every facet of our lives. This is true not only in people’s personal lives but is becoming more evident in the working environment too. And for a social platform like Snapchat that’s an app to share ideas between friends and colleagues it is rather unfortunate to get involved in such a disparaging remarks.

Peter Jenkins, digital editor with Caliber wrote in an article, “In business, maintaining a good reputation can be tricky. All it takes is a corporate indiscretion or two, a faulty product or poor service provision, or a misjudged ad combined with an angry, web-savvy consumer or employee with a social media account and revenge in mind, and it’s time to brace yourself for a PR nightmare.

“All this negative publicity can exert a harsh impact on your online standing, but if you know how to repair a damaged reputation and react swiftly, you can soften the blow and make a comeback in the search engine result pages (SERPs). This means having a well-thought out crisis management plan in place, which involves appeasement and action and can lead to redemption online and offline,” he said.

“Social media exposure is growing like wildfire. Today’s generation regularly uses multiple forms of social media both personally and professionally. Whether you choose it or not, your constant exposure can have a huge impact on your business. Whether the exposure makes or breaks your reputation, is largely up to you,” said Aparupa Patowary, CEO at Kreative Webtek.

Is it Opportunity Lost For Snapchat?

The second issue is about the future of Snapchat’s growth in the India market. The social site has around 12 million users in India, which is around 10% of its market share worldwide, a report by The Impulse Digital. The company clocked in 160 million daily active users in 2016, according to TechCrunch.

A comparison with its rivals may make things clear as why this can be an opportunity lost for Snapchat and things may take time to heal [if at all it does] Facebook now has 166 million monthly active users in India and over 95% of the traffic coming through mobile users. It’s Facebook Lite app itself had 100 million users in India. Even Facebook-owned Instagram has over 16 million users in India as of October 2016 and is already the second largest market for the company outside the US. 

Not to forget, the most popular among these is WhatsApp, which has 160 million monthly active users, becoming the largest market for the chat app. Twitter also has 23.2 million monthly active users in India, which is the second largest market in Asia-Pacific after Japan with 26 million users.

Snapchat not only has a small user base in India but also the company has been struggling with a viable monetization plan for the social media platform. But this comment can potential irk prospective brands in India from putting their money on the social media platform.