By Kurt Wagner. Updated January 04, 2017.
Facebook is worried about Snapchat. Big time. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of the most dominant social network on the planet, won't necessarily say that out loud. But as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and Facebook spent most of 2016 showing us just how much Snapchat is weighing on the minds of those in Menlo Park, Calif.
It isn't as though Facebook's Snapchat envy is new. Snapchat appears to be Facebook's greatest threat when it comes to capturing the attention of young mobile users, especially teens. That explains why Zuckerberg [seen here] famously tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion back in 2012, and has already built and then shuttered multiple Snapchat clones, including Poke and Slingshot.
But Facebook's strategy in 2016 has been different. Instead of trying to replicate Snapchat's entire product, which required users to download yet another app and hope their friends would, too, Facebook is tackling Snapchat one feature at a time by building them into its existing products: Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.
The benefits there are obvious. Why start from scratch when you can replicate some of the best things Snapchat has to offer in an app that already has a billion users?
Here's the list of features Facebook launched this year that appear to be direct threats to Snapchat:
* Facebook bought MSQRD, an app that creates silly face filters, in March. It has since added the face filter technology to the main Facebook app and Messenger.
* Facebook started testing a new Snapchat-style camera inside its main app. Messages sent using the new camera are ephemeral.
* Facebook built a Snapchat clone app called Flash specifically for emerging markets like Brazil.
* Instagram ripped off Snapchat's Stories feature. (It actually works pretty well.)
* Instagram also added ephemeral messaging.
Facebook's plan doesn't seem to center around stealing Snapchat's audience - it wants instead to put a ceiling on Snapchat's growth. It's trying to beat Snapchat to young mobile users in places like Brazil and India with Flash, while adding Snapchat features like disappearing messages and Stories to Instagram may keep older millennials and gen-x types from giving Snapchat a fair shot.
What we don't know yet is whether or not Facebook's efforts are slowing Snapchat's momentum. Snapchat has 150 million daily active users, but it doesn't share quarterly user numbers or engagement metrics right now because it's still a private company.
But Snap will soon be a public company, and we'll have some idea as to whether or not Facebook's plan seems to be working.
Facebook better hope that it is. The social network is massive, with more than 1.1 billion daily active users, but its growth is driven primarily from emerging markets. (Facebook's U.S. user growth was just 5 percent in the last year compared to 17 percent everywhere else.)
The U.S. users it still needs to court: Teens that are coming online for the first time. And that's where Snapchat poses the biggest threat.