Snapchat may have invented the whole concept of “Stories” with vanishing photos and videos back in 2014, but the app universe has changed and now Snapchat is changing along with it.
Meet “Spotlight.” It’s a new tab within Snapchat where users can watch Snaps (including short-form videos) submitted by other Snapchatters. Spotlight will serve up Snaps to viewers algorithmically, based on what users spend the most time watching and liking. Users can also click on hashtags within Snaps on Spotlight to see other Snaps around the same topic or event.
Sound familiar? An endless stream of user-generated videos is the same concept as TikTok, and now Instagram’s Reels. Snapchat already had a few different content types: You can send and receive snaps from friends, and watch their stories. You can also subscribe to communal, themed stories (like Oddly Satisfying), view geographical stories in the Snap Map, or watch shows or news content in Discover. Spotlight brings the platform more directly into the viral content sphere — with some interesting differences from TikTok and Reels.
The flashiest is that Snapchat is going to pay users whose Snaps go viral on Spotlight. It has committed to pay out “over” $1 million per day to Snapchat users whose snaps do well within Spotlight; Snap clarified to Mashable that “over” means at least that amount will be going to users every day.
There’s not a publicly set number of users or views necessary to get part of that pot; who gets what will change day to day, based on what is popping off in Spotlight. The payment incentive will extend through the end of the year, and ideally longer, according to a Snap representative. Users have to be 16 or over to submit to Spotlight and potentially earn money. If your Snap is selected, you’ll get a DM from Team Snapchat in your Chats, with instructions on how to get the money.
TikTok also has a system that pays users called the TikTok Creator Fund. However, only TikTokkers with over 100,000 followers are eligible for the fund. By contrast, any Snapchat user, regardless of whether they are a celebrity or just your average college student, has the potential to submit a Snap to Spotlight, go viral, and get paid.
That “democratic” architecture, as Snap describes it, is key to another aspect of Spotlight, which is privacy. When a TikTok goes viral, that user might gain tens or hundreds of thousands of followers. That’s not the goal of Spotlight. Since anyone can submit to Spotlight — including private users —profiles won’t be displayed with the Snap in Spotlight. Of course, if a user is a public persona, and is trying to build a following, they can enable their profile to show up. But in its DNA, the goal of going viral on Spotlight is not for the sake of getting a bunch of followers. It’s for the thrill of being creative or funny or weird and showing your creation to the world. And maybe the cash.
Another privacy and security measure is that there are no comment functions in Spotlight. Users can send snaps they see in Spotlight to friends both on and off Snapchat. But there’s no way to discuss the content on the Snap itself, nor message the creator if they are a private user who hasn’t enabled the publicity setting. (If a user is public, other Snapchatters can respond, which will show up in their inbox.)
No comments is a breath of fresh air, considering the toxicity that’s often present in TikTok and Instagram comments. Not to mention the chaos that’s ensued from Twitter’s rollout of Fleets, in which replies go to a user’s DMs. It’s already resulted in reports of a number of overwhelming and unwanted interactions.
While Snaps submitted to Spotlight will get surfaced algorithmically, they also have to comply to Snap’s terms of service and community standards, which generally mean no hateful, violent, or other objectionable kinds of content. A mix of human and AI review will enforce the standards.
The introduction of Spotlight means the look of Snapchat is changing, too. Just this past June, Snapchat broke out Discover content from Stories content, giving Discover its own tab on the far right of the home navigation bar. That change was short lived. Discover content is returning to the Stories tab (fourth from the left). The fifth tab will house Spotlight.
While Spotlight is a big practical product change, it’s also, in some ways, a philosophical change for the company. The backbone of Stories on Snapchat has been curation: Human employees sifted through Snaps submitted to various Our Stories, and assembled a narrative around a place, event, or theme. While AI has played a role, Stories were meant to be more than a random collection of videos. They were meant to be, well, stories.
But TikTok’s model of surfacing the best, funniest, most tailored-to-you content in a lean-back format that can go on forever is just too good. From an advertising perspective, it’s the perfect captive audience in which to serve ads. From a user perspective, there’s no need to search out accounts to follow or subscribe to. From an entertainment perspective, it’s just plain fun.
So yes, Spotlight is a new direction for Snapchat. But the times they are a-changin’. And at least the kids will get paid. Some of them, anyway.