Some of Snapchat's most popular users say the company has fallen short of its promise to welcome its creator community as partners, with one of its most popular users threatening to quit the app entirely.
Shaun McBride, also known by his Snapchat handle Shonduras, was one of the platform's first stars and has been as much a part of Snapchat's evolution as any user could be. "I am a Snapchat guy," McBride says during a recent phone interview.
That makes what he said next all the more surprising.
"They suck," McBride says. "They always sucked. They've never been nice to us. They literally sucked from day one."
For five years, McBride, who lives in Utah, has been involved in that exclusive internet celebrity community known as influencers, who can sell their online fame to sponsors for serious money. At one point, McBride was charging $30,000 just to send a Snapchat video with a brand mentioned in it.
"I love Snapchat as an app and I hope it gets fixed," McBride says. "But I am now at a point where I am so far beyond Snapchat that I don't really care."
A spokesperson for the company said Snapchat is more committed than ever to its creator community. The company is even developing programs that will allow some of them to earn money, the spokesperson said by email. Snapchat is working on shows—its most polished video programs that run commercials—with a handful of creators, who will share in the revenue, the spokesperson said.
"We're working hard to support our creators and create monetization opportunities," the spokesperson said. "This year, we focused on turning their feedback into action, including establishing multiple pro-creator programs, and we'll continue to listen and make supporting our creators a priority in 2019."
McBride, meanwhile, is building his own companies focused on digital marketing and influencers. One of his ventures in esports is called Spacestation Gaming, which serves a community of gamers. He also branched out from his Snapchat account, which has about 1.5 million subscribers, and is seeing more promise on rival services like Instagram and YouTube, he says.
Only lately has Snapchat made creators a priority, after years of keeping them at arm's length so as not to entangle the company's fortunes with fickle personalities who come and go. The discontent in the creator community comes at a time when Snapchat has been struggling to reach its next level of success.
Ad revenue is growing, but not as fast as it once was -- it reached close to $300 million in the third quarter of this year, a 43 percent increase from the prior year. At the same time, daily users have been declining, from 191 million at the start of the year, to 186 million daily users in the third quarter. And the company has seen significant turnover in its executive ranks of late.
Snapchat has two creator paths, one for people like McBride who are considered "storytellers," known for being able to make use of the app's most creative tools and video features. The second creative set involves lenses, augmented reality filters that people put on their selfies. Lenses can be fun playful animations and include gaming elements, too.
Snapchat has helped these creators by naming them preferred partners so brands can request their services through an online referral program. Snapchat also distributes their lenses on its app, which has a section for people to explore the most popular ones from the community. The creators say being featured in the explore section can propel lenses to extraordinary success, generating millions of views.
In May, Snapchat hosted its first summit for creators, which served as a kickoff for a storytellers partners program, where Snapchat could develop closer relationships with the creators who had felt neglected for some time.
McBride was at the summit with a dozen other creators, but he says he felt they were being used to help Snapchat workshop its problems rather than solve the creators' business needs.