INSIGHT: Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and the myth of a single digital identity

People now want - and take - greater control over their digital identities.

It is a sign of our times that a technology company is considered radical - or even foolish - for promising to stay away from building invasive profiles of its users to sell to advertisers.

But Snapchat is wise for understanding that people want - and take - greater control over their digital identities than the likes of Facebook and Google give them credit for.

Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat, made the comments in an interview with trade publication Ad Week ahead of his keynote speech at one of advertising’s big events, the Cannes Lions International Festival Creativity.

It’s a policy that stands in stark contrast to those of many of Snapchat’s social media peers.

Not long ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said people should embrace “radical transparency,” implying that those who kept their personal and work lives separate or offline were somehow less honest.

The blurring of these boundaries would, of course, fit neatly with the social media giant’s aim of building comprehensive user profiles to sell to advertisers.

Google’s actions have spoken louder than words. It has made joining its largely unwanted and unloved Google+ social network a necessary step to get the most out of some its most popular services, including YouTube and Google Play.

Both Google and Facebook have since toned down these drives, with Google appearing to wind down Google+.

Whatever the case, Snapchat is popular because its estimated 200 million-plus monthly users can be active online in ways that many in the social-media establishment had assumed to be bad for business.

It enables people - kids especially - to communicate in ways that Facebook and Google+ don’t really allow.

That’s not to say the future of all social media will be anonymous and ephemeral, with the media and messages we generate self-destructing to leave no traces of our digital selves.

Kids still use other social networks, depending on who they want to speak to and what they want to say. People want “be themselves” in different ways in different places when they are online, just like in the real world.

The challenge for Snapchat will be convincing brands that its light touch approach can deliver a return on their advertising budgets.

But as long as the company can continue to operate a place where millions of consumers want to be for a significant portion of their online lives, advertisers will still want to be there too.

By Rob Gallagher - Research Analyst, Ovum

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