OUR TAKE Emma Dagres
Ephemeral Messaging: All Good Things Come to an End

Snapchat, whose long-awaited IPO is finally upon us, introduced the world to “ephemeral messaging.” The perceived cocoon of safety that disappearing messages created was a smash hit with younger users (desperate to avoid the glaring eyes of parents, schools and would-be employers), establishing a new expectation of social platform privacy in its wake. So, in honor of Snap Inc.’s move into the public domain, let’s take a walk down Messaging memory lane and visit some key evolutions along the way.


The history of messaging: A mild beginning to an explosive evolution.

Messaging can be traced back to the 1990’s, when AOL created Instant Messenger. Yes, I just threw it back to IM. AOL changed the way we communicated with our friends and family. We moved from face-to-face interactions and landline calls to online conversations. People quickly became obsessed with the tool. Soon enough, new technology challenged old software, and people turned from their computers to their cell phones. Circa 2002, text messaging dominated society. Before long, advancements once again interrupted the messaging culture. Smartphones were created, merging computers and cell phones into one device. In 2008, messaging apps replaced texting, and everything changed. As apps were born left and right, social and sharing features sky-rocketed. Words turned to pictures, and emoji’s turned to GIF’s. Fast forward to today, where users and brands are creating disappearing content as a primary form of communication. Oh, how times have changed.



Now that I mentioned disappearing content, let’s talk ephemeral messaging. What is it, you ask?

Ephemeral messaging is essentially a “disappearing conversation.” When a user sends a multimedia message, the receiver looks at it, and then after a pre-determined period of time, the message automatically disappears. Ephemeral messaging takes away the need to physically delete content from a device, an action that users resort to with iMessage and most applications. Disappearing conversations have evolved over time and caused a change in behavior, allowing people and brands to share more intimate, impulsive, and imperfect content with not just one person, but an entire network. And it all started with Snapchat.


Along came a ghost.

snap_ghostSnapchat took the world of messaging by storm in 2011, when it was the first platform to focus on ephemeral messaging. The photo-sharing service took off on college campuses, given that the likelihood of sending a regretful message was higher for that demographic. Teens quickly caught on, and in 2013, 350 million messages[1] were sent per day via Snapchat. Snapchat liberated teens and young adults from the digital permanence of that time.


And still today, Snapchat is used as an avenue where users can share private, raw, and authentic content with whomever they want.

  • 161 million daily active users[1]
  • Users spend an average of 25 minutes per day on Snapchat[2]
  • 16-24 year olds are the most engaged user base[3]

Other players in the game.

The viral growth of Snapchat led to the creation of ephemeral messaging app clones. And big social networks took note of Snapchat’s success. Check out who hopped on the ephemeral train and how each app matches up to one another.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 4.15.24 PM (2)

Snapchat dominated as an ephemeral messaging app for quite some time, even after the birth of competing apps like Wickr, Wink, and Slingshot. Snapchat was on cloud nine. Until they weren’t… Instagram swooped in to the ephemeral messaging space and created Instagram Stories, a nearly identical feature to Snapchat Stories. Now, with the addition of disappearing live videos and ephemeral direct messaging on Instagram’s platform, the social network is here to say. 


One-on-one intimacy -> daily content curator.

When ephemeral messaging caught on in 2011 with the birth of Snapchat, users were interested in sending secretive and intimate messages to friends that would disappear after 10 seconds. Private conversations were top-of-mind. A few years later, it was no longer about chatting with one friend. It was about sharing and discovering relevant and current content within an entire network through these mediums:

  • 2013: Snapchat “My Story”
  • 2014: Snapchat “Chat”
  • 2015: Snapchat “Discover”
  • 2016: Instagram “Stories”
  • 2016: Snapchat “Groups”
  • 2016: Instagram “Ephemeral Direct Messages”
  • 2016: Instagram “Live”

These mediums encourage users to share daily moments with a connected group of people. What is more authentic than streaming a moment in real-time? I can’t think of much. And once that moment has passed and the content vanished, it’s on to the next. And guess what? Brands have caught on.

Messages that last as long as our attention span may be extremely beneficial for brands.

Messaging has become a regular medium for brands, whether it be through community management or chatbots. And more recently, ephemeral messaging has entered the minds of social media managers. The introduction of both Snapchat and Instagram’s ephemeral features has changed the way brands create content and the way viewers consume it.

Businesses are bringing their stories to life in a whole new way with:

  • Vertical, full-screen media
  • In-the-moment and imperfect content
  • Serialized content
  • A fast and furious posting cadence

And now that we (consumers) have been exposed to “snackable” content, we cannot get enough of it. We crave content that is as short as our attention span and as relevant as today’s gossip. Our anticipation forces us to return each and every day looking for a new story. Brands have the opportunity to create authentic, exciting, timely, and self-destructing stories that are more relatable to users than ever.

(Danah Boyd, Researcher and Author)
(Danah Boyd, Researcher and Author)

Can I see a brand case study?

To reveal a new pair of pink sunglasses, J. Crew used Instagram Stories to create an ephemeral journey featuring a give-away. The give-away included 50 pairs of sunglasses and only lasted one day, similar to the story itself. J. Crew used CTA’s that enforced a sense of urgency, pushing viewers to their site to purchase the sunglasses before it was too late. J. Crew took advantage of the ephemeral nature of Instagram Stories by creating a promotion that was just as short-lived as the content.


What about advertising?

Within the last year, both Instagram and Snapchat have begun monetizing Stories. By placing advertisements in Stories, ephemeral storytelling has the ability to expand to an enormous, engaged audience in a carefully curated and highly relevant space. And with the audience’s undivided attention, these ads will be more valuable than ever.

Snapchat ad products include:

  • Snap ads: An up to 10-second, vertical, full screen video that appears in the context of other Snaps. Adding an interactive element is also an option.
  • Sponsored Geofilters: A piece of art that will reach Snapchatters based on location.
  • Sponsored Lenses: An interactive ad where users press and hold on their face to trigger an animation

Instagram Stories ad products include:

  • Ads in Stories: Immersive, full screen ads within Stories. The product is in testing with 30+ clients but will soon be available to all advertisers.


The future of fleeting.

Ephemeral conversations are not a trend. They are here to stay.

Think VR. Virtual reality is an in-the-moment experience that disappears once the adventure is over. People consuming amazing content through a VR headset are focused and dedicated to that moment in time, to that experience. Isn’t this the same for people watching a 3-second snapchat? An Instagram Live video? Ephemeral content will continue to grow with technology, just as it has for the past 6 years. Before we know it, we will be wearing an Oculus headset, watching a real-time video in a group chat with friends, while sending a snapchat selfie to our mom. Hello, future.

 Like I said, all good things come to an end.

I think we can all agree that ephemeral messaging has changed the way we communicate with one another. A 10-second selfie has turned into a world of disappearing content. And the content is continuously improving. It is beautiful. It is immersive. It is impactful. It is reliable (I know I’m not the only one who gets their daily dose of news from Discover). It is also intimate. We are more connected than ever to our friends and our favorite brands. You want to know why? Because we are in constant communication with each other.



Emma Dagres is an Associate, Social Strategy, DigitasLBi Boston






[1] Mejia, Tatiana. July 23, 2014. “Choosing to Be Forgotten with Ephemeral Messaging.” Adobe Blog.

[2] Lynley, Matthew. Feb 2, 2017. “Snap Has Finally Filed Publicly for It’s Massive IPO.” TechCrunch.

[3] Asano, Evan. Jan 4, 2017. “How Much Time Do People Spend on Social Media?” SocialMediaToday.

[4] Statistica. 2015. “Snapchat: Age Distribution of Global Audiences 2015.”