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Snapchat’s redesign is baffling publishers

Some publishers are seeing spikes. Others are seeing declines. Everyone is still trying to figure out Snapchat’s new algorithm.

DJ Khaled poses for a selfie with a Harvard student. Scott Eisen/Getty Images for Get Schooled Foundation

Users haven’t been very happy with Snapchat’s redesign. Publishers who create content for Snapchat’s Discover section, though? They’re still undecided.

That’s because the redesign, which Snap started to roll out broadly in the United States last month, is significantly altering the traffic that publishing partners are seeing for their shows and Stories, according to conversations with several publishing partners.

Snapchat’s Discover section
Snapchat

Some publishers have seen huge spikes in viewers, as much as 50 percent, while others have seen a decline. Still others have seen an increase in total viewers but a notable decrease in the amount of time those viewers spend watching or scrolling through the content.

The common thread seems to be that none of these publishers fully understand why their traffic is changing. Snapchat’s redesign moved publisher content into its own feed —separate from the stuff users’ friends create — and put it alongside content from events like the Super Bowl and celebrities like Kylie Jenner.

Snapchat is using a software algorithm, similar to the one Facebook uses to prioritize News Feed, to determine what content shows up near the top.

But unlike Facebook, where publishers have been learning for years how the algorithm works (i.e. it boosts live video and downgrades click-bait headlines), Discover publishers are trying to learn what Snapchat’s algorithm is looking for. The company hasn’t told them how it works, according to sources, which means they’re trying to navigate the new section on their own.

Most publishers appear to be prioritizing the metrics that Snapchat cared about before the redesign: Time spent and completion rates, which measure how long users watch or read a publisher’s content; and “loyalty,” or whether the same users are coming back on a consistent basis.

“We’re excited that the redesign will help us to a better job of serving the right content to the right people and help Snapchatters discover new content that they may not have known they are interested in,” a company spokesperson said.

A number of publishers noticed that viewers’ time spent has decreased, which has led to at least one theory. Stories inside Discover now play one after the other automatically, which means you could start by watching Kylie Jenner’s posts and next find yourself looking at the Wall Street Journal.

It’s an attempt by Snapchat to encourage people to discover new stuff, but it might help explain why some traffic is up and time spent is down, as people quickly leave shows or Stories they stumble upon but don’t find interesting.

The algorithm is super new. Some U.S. users were still getting the redesign this week, so these traffic patterns are far from solidified. It’s also possible other Snapchat partners — there are dozens — are having other experiences.

But it’s worth noting the changes given the trouble that Facebook has historically had with publishers — and with its all-powerful algorithm that controls who sees what content.

Snapchat has always been protective of Discover, hand-picking its partners and limiting the total amount of publishers to try and keep the content quality high. Using an algorithm to properly sort all that material will take time to master, but publishers will be paying attention. Discover is now responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue. That makes understanding how it works a potentially lucrative endeavor.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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