For years now, the relationship between celebrities and influencers and the social media apps they frequent has been a relatively equal, two way street.
On Snapchat, for example, A and B-listers circa 2011 got a place to show their "real" lives and build their following, while the app got the perks that came with having a celebrity users wanted to see. Namely, more daily users, which in turn made Snapchat more valuable to investors.
Now, however, it seems like we may be on the verge of a shift in the equation. Or, at least, on the verge of celebrities and influencers realising that they can wield their influence in ways that expand beyond the apps they use.
The most recent incident is on track to go down in social media history. Earlier this week, Kylie Jenner, one of the first celebrities to learn how to use Snapchat to her benefit, posted a single tweet about how she no longer uses the app. In doing so, she might have shook the world outside Snap: Jenner's influence has been linked to a $1 billion-plus drop in Snap, Inc.'s market value.
While it's unlikely that one tweet alone would lead to Snapchat's downfall in the way some have been speculating — it has less to do with Jenner, and more to do with the sentiments of the larger user base — the tweet's newsworthiness raises an important question: Will social media apps need to do more to keep the celebrities who have brought them so many new users for free (Snapchat and Instagram say they do not pay celebrities to be members), and, for some, is it too late to opt out of the equation?
"Celebrities initially viewed social networks as platforms to share content and connect with their audiences and these platforms helped the celebrities that did it well and offered them value," Evan Asano, a CEO and founder of social media agency Medakix, told Refinery29. "Celebrities that grew their reach quickly became much more culturally relevant for these platforms."
Snapchat launched in September 2011, but did not begin recognising its celebrity users until November 2015, when it announced Official Stories. Verification came with the status perks of an emoji next to your username (Jenner, the unofficial Snapchat queen, got the crown), and appearance under a special Official Stories header when other users searched for them. Just a few months later, Vanity Fair hailed it "the golden age of celebrity Snapchat."
However, while verification might have allowed celebrities to grow their following, it didn't do much for influencers without a Hollywood pedigree, who weren't verified. It also didn't offer any of the useful metrics that celebrities and non-celebrity influencers need to ink lucrative brand deals with sponsors — the very deals that can make being an influencer on social media so valuable.
It wasn't until last week that Snapchat announced it would finally provide this data to its most popular users, including information such as the numbers of total views and unique viewers, completion rates (i.e. watching a story from start to finish), time spent watching, and audience demographics. While this information is certainly not too little, it may be too late for influencers who craved this data for years to no avail.
Instagram, where many of the same celebrities and influencers are also present, did things a little differently. Like Snapchat, Instagram (which launched in October 2010) took four years to introduce any kind of verification. When it finally did so in December 2014, it came not in the form of emoji, but in the form of the little blue check mark that's also present on Twitter. These badges were awarded to brands, organisations, and public figures that Instagram deemed at risk of impersonation. There are no ways for users to request or buy the badges.
However, Instagram offered the data tools that matter for these users' businesses much sooner than Snapchat and made them easier for people to access. In May 2016, the app introduced brand new analytics tools that included demographic information about users and numbers of new users per week.
In a sense, celebrities and influencers on Snapchat and Instagram are already paid to be there — just not by the apps themselves. They're paid by the brand sponsorship deals they make externally. However, as the Kylie Jenner Effect is unpacked in weeks and months to come, apps may face the harsh realisation that not all of their most popular users will stay, even with updated analytics tools available. As the power dynamic shifts, apps may continue to face new realities about their relevancy.