How Snapchat Employed Follower Scarcity to Make Users Feel Smart

Plenty of Users, but None of them are Following Me

This was a common thought among early Snapchat users.

As a result, during Snapchat’s Scaffolding phase, users are made to work quite hard to gain followers. There is no search to add users. Early on, the only way to get more followers was through a username or phone number or Snapchat code. This is cunning Octalysis Core Drive 6: Scarcity and Impatience design

In Oren Klaff’s book Pitch Anything, Prizing is introduced and compared with three fundamental behaviors arising from our croc brains:

  1.      We chase that which moves away from us
  2.      We want what we cannot have
  3.      We only place value on things that are difficult to obtain

Snapchat’s decision to make users work hard for followers plays on the scarcity and impatience elements #2 and #3. What’s more, after they got those followers, those users experience Recruiter Burden (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness) and feel the need to care please these followers.

Here is of course where unpredictability and curiosity come in, the bread and butter and X-factor of any successful content creator. But Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity is not the focus of this article.

Before diving deeper into Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience in the context of Snapchat, let’s examine Snapchat from a broader Octalysis lens.

Snapchat’s Octalysis Graph

As a whole, Snapchat benefits from a balance of both intrinsic and extrinsic as well as right brain and left brain Core Drives.

Although I created a complete Octalysis Graph (build your own at, let’s return to Scarcity.

Scarcity of followers

We’ve already discussed how hard it is to get followers on Snapchat. In the early days, people had to build followings through word of mouth. Users commonly shared their username on other platforms, and even used their Snapcode as their Facebook or YouTube profile picture.

The result? Snapchat gets more marketing and press and social proof. (Side note: Snapchat’s decision to make it hard to get followers was a BRILLIANT motivational design decision.)

Not only did they avoid having to build a functional search algorithm inside the app, they also kicked off the following Core Activity Loop:

  • User gets Snapchat and has none or very few followers, but wants more
  • They ask a few friends by sharing their username or cell phone number in a text message or word of mouth
  • If a content creator user 1) writes a blog post, 2) shares with their YouTube following, or 3) tweets about their new account
  • User gains a few new followers, feels smart (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment), and repeats the Core Activity!

The genuine creativity and effort required to get followers means that users care about the users they bring to the platform and engage more heavily with them. (Compare this to your average Twitter followers, who you probably rarely interact with.)

The reward of genuine interaction and connection (especially considering the ephemeral image- and video-based medium) drove engagement between creators and fans. This Booster of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness also contributed to additional Core Activity Loops for creators. People continued looking for ways to Hitchhike Snapchat exchanges or stories into their daily routines.

Building Scarcity into Your Product

Like Snapchat, your product may already have some Scarcity built in, but if it doesn’t, you are probably missing an opportunity.

But rather than testing your hypotheses without a properly defined strategy, you should base your design decisions on firm motivational design foundations. Use the power of a framework that works, on the human mind: Octalysis.

Need help with deciding on how to do this? Talk to us today, we are here to help you out.

Contact Joris Beerda.

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