The New Wave of Social Media Challenges
Updated: Jun 3
Viral social media challenges aren’t a new thing. The first one I remember was the Ice Bucket Challenge, which went viral in 2014. Even before that, we posted photos on Facebook that asked us to “tag the friend who…”. Yes, back when Facebook was cool.
But in the past few months, a whole new wave of challenges has taken off.
Why was everybody posting Bill Clinton on their Instagram story a few weeks ago? Why were people drawing carrots and tomatoes? What does ‘until tomorrow’ even mean? Why should I care if you listen to Tame Impala?
I have a lot of questions around the motives of these challenges, but I’m not questioning the fact that they’re on fire right now. My 50-year-old aunt even made an Instagram account just to post Bill Clinton with Duran Duran and Foreigner’s greatest hits (maybe not actually).
Story challenges have become a new way to interact with friends, express yourself, and just have fun on the internet.
Why is this happening?
The biggest reason is that story challenges are self-perpetuating. Sharing is baked into the content. If a challenge asks you to tag 3 friends, it could be shared 30,000 times through just 10 degrees of iteration. Some of these challenges are quite literally more viral than coronavirus.
Tiktok has its own host of challenges, mostly involving dances. But the most viral content has been simple image templates. This type of content is easier to create: most people would rather fill out a simple template than spend 3 hours memorizing the TikTok dance for “Say So”. And even if they didn’t, there’s no element of nominating your friends with TikTok challenges.
Instagram has recognized this trend to the point where they’ve even launched a new feature for it. Users can now add a Challenge Sticker to their stories, which lets them select from different challenges and tag a friend to do it next. They began rolling this out on April 23.
What about Snapchat?
I’ve seen some challenges take off on Snapchat, but not to the same degree as Tiktok or Instagram. Remember that Snapchat literally ~invented~ stories, just to get upended by Instagram at their own game. Well, here’s a few reasons.
Bad tags: Tagging friends in Snap stories isn’t nearly as easy or useful as on Instagram. For a while, tags weren’t even clickable and you could only see the tagged user by swiping up on the snap.
No song sharing: I’ve seen multiple challenges blow up around the idea of posting a song, and you just can’t do that on Snapchat. Music is a killer feature for stories, and I’m surprised Snapchat never implemented it.
No hashtags: There’s no way to see what’s trending outside your immediate connections, so trends don’t spread as easily.
Distribution: There are hundreds of Instagram pages dedicated to making story templates. This doesn’t exist on Snapchat.
At the same time, I can see a lot of untapped reasons why challenges on Snapchat could really take off.
More authentic: Instagram’s aesthetic vibe can be constraining, so people often post more real and unfiltered content to their Snap stories. I like Evan Spiegel’s comparison: Instagram is about status, Snapchat is about self-expression.
Better editing tools: Snap really lets you go wild with drawing, text, filters, and stickers. I’ve always loved the ability to cut out a sticker from any photo, and the editing tools are often easier than Photoshop for basic memes. Instagram has some nice tools of their own, but Snapchat blows them away here.
Unique stickers: Song integration helped a lot of Instagram challenges take off. Snapchat has their own stickers which might bring out new challenges. I’m confident Snap users can get creative with these tools.
Some stuffy survey shows that teens still love Snapchat more than any other app, even though they use it less than Instagram. (That survey is only made to tell boomers what teens already know, but I added it anyways in case you don't believe me). There’s just something about Snapchat’s UX that no other app can capture.
How do these trends get started?
This is a hard question to answer. How does anything go viral? In the case of the Bill Clinton challenge, some guy launched a website back in 2012 and it just kinda blew up this year.
But with anything on social media, popularity is short-lived. Tiger King was only a month ago and I almost forgot it happened. Whatever the next big trend is, people are constantly looking to be entertained and social media challenges are a great way to do it.
At the moment, there’s not a great way to search for new challenges and post them to your story. People look through Instagram pages dedicated to story templates or make their own templates in photoshop, but these are hacky ways to do something which should be pretty simple. There are apps that help you create stories (Canva, Over), but they’re mostly for aesthetic-looking photo montages and not viral challenges.
There’s also so much potential content that hasn’t been shared yet. Past challenges have shown me that people can take advantage of the story format in super creative ways, and we’ve only started to scratch the surface.
So I figured what the hell, why not build an app?
That’s why I’m building Snap Candy, a new app specifically for sharing challenge templates to social media. When I noticed story challenges becoming big, I didn’t see anyone else building something around the trend, so I decided to build something myself.
If you’re looking for new templates for story challenges, Snap Candy is the place to do it. Browse dozens of original templates, pick one you like, share it to your story, and tag friends. I’m launching the app soon, but if you’d like early access, add your email on the website!
If you’ve made it this far, let me know what you think – if you love the idea, hate it, feel indifferent about it, hate the name, hate everything I do or say or write about and wish I would just shut up (maybe phrase it nicer than that) – please tell me!
This is my first ever mobile app, and I’d really love your feedback 😎