Is Snapchat the next Twitter -- stagnant and stuck -- or does it still have a shot at being the next Facebook or Instagram?
That's the question as Snapchat parent Snap Inc. heads into its second quarterly report as a public company amid some concerns about the breadth of its horizons.
"Snapchat was seen as a heavy counterweight to Facebook and Google," said one ad agency executive, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Now there's second-guessing. It could be more like Twitter."
Twitter, a onetime social-media darling, is now routinely dinged for stalled user growth. Facebook this year reached 2 billion monthly users and kept climbing.
Snapchat, for its part, might need a stroke of innovation to take off with a much wider group of consumers than it's reached so far. But it hasn't shown the capacity to create new hit products, according to some analysts. And any innovation that has come out of Snapchat -- disappearing "stories," filters -- has since been replicated by Instagram.
At the same time, some advertisers say Snapchat's ad technology shows promise, and that their Snapchat ads are performing well.
Here's what advertisers should look for when Snapchat posts its new earnings on Thursday:
Advertisers will be eager to hear product announcements around ad technology. Snapchat is still developing its platform to serve brand and direct-response marketers. And just last week it upgraded its self-serve tool to better compete with Facebook for smaller buyers.
"You can't even compare Snapchat to Twitter," said Fabian Seelbach, VP of marketing at of Curology, an e-commerce startup, saying Snapchat's ad tech for direct-response marketers is far more advanced. "That's not a fair comparison."
Curology, a company that sells facial cleansers and competes with big-time advertisers like Proactive, has been early to test Snapchat ads and is pleased with the results. Its Snapchat ads perform 10 times better than ones on Instagram, according to Seelbach.
During its earnings report, Snapchat will likely have new performance stats to showcase select ad campaigns, but it typically does not release stats on overall price trends or the exact ad load -- the number of ads each user sees.
"Beyond a certain point, user growth stops mattering," said Aaron Goldman, CMO of 4C Insights, an ad tech and data platform. "What's important is an engaged audience that spends a lot of time throughout the day in the app."
Wall Street will still be looking for signs of user growth, but advertisers are less obsessed with overall active users. Last quarter, Snapchat said the average user spent 30 minutes a day inside the app. Snapchat's older users spent less time, however: 20 minutes a day. People younger than 25 check the app 20 times a day, and people over that check it 12 times a day, Snapchat said last quarter.
Earlier this month, Instagram said that the average user under the age of 25 spends 32 minutes with its Stories section, which is a copy of Snapchat Stories.
Last week, Snapchat announced a new six-episode show with Kylie Jenner, its latest original program developed by a media partner, NBC Universal's E! network. Other partners making shows for Snapchat's Discover section include A&E Networks, MTV and Vice. Facebook is chasing the same pool of media and Hollywood talent to improve its video fortunes.
"There's definitely a war being waged on the programming front," Goldman said. "It's important for everyone involved. It makes platforms stickier from the user standpoint and gives advertisers more 'brand desirable' content."
That content also informs ad technology and data, with more users showing interest and preferences in their viewing habits, giving more signals for targeting, Goldman said.
Of course, none of the ad tech or user numbers would matter much if Snapchat has another innovation up its sleeve. Many people, including investors and Snapchat employees, hoped that innovation would be Spectacles, the video-recording glasses that share directly to the app. Last quarter, Snapchat finally revealed numbers around its first consumer gadget,thought they weren't good. It only sold 8 million of the devices, not enough to change its fortunes one way or the other.
During Facebook's earning call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg even called out the Snapchat glasses as a sign that no one has figured out high-tech glasses yet.