Social Media

Yes, really, stickers are business. Behind Snapchat's $100M play

Snapchat's Bitmoji integration is indicative of a bigger trend — the shift from social broadcasting to messaging.

"Given that trend, it's no surprise that emojis are extending into the Snapchat space," said Jonathan Adams, chief digital officer at Maxus Americas. "Stickers are another good example of communicating more visually."

Snapchat announced Tuesday that users can now send Bitmojis — emojis that are personalized to look like the user. The digital stickers can be placed in chats or as an overlay onto pictures or "snaps," and allow users to create graphics that depict their group of friends.

Emojis are often free in the U.S. and somewhat prolific, as are the more elaborate "stickers" that often follow a unique character or have special keyboards. But make no mistake, companies have found ways to make big money on them — something Snapchat, too, faces as it looks to new markets.

The move comes after the social network site agreed to pay more than $100 million in cash and stock earlier this year to acquire Bitstrips, the maker of Bitmoji and those comics with personalized avatars that took over your Facebook feed in 2014.

"Both companies were working to make mobile communication more human and more fun so we're incredibly excited to be joining the fast-moving and innovative team over at Snapchat," Bitstrips founder Ba Blackstock said in a statement.

Snapchat Bitmoji
Source: Bitmoji

Japan's Line, a messaging app, spiked on its first day in the public market this month, in the largest tech IPO of the year. Stickers contributed to more than $270 million in sales, a main driver of revenues for Line.

Line's success in Asia — its top markets include Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia — has lifted it to the fourth-most popular messaging app worldwide, according to statistics cited by eMarketer. (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype beat it out.)

That kind of success could be what Snapchat needs as it approaches competition abroad. South Korean internet search giant Naver, Line's principal owner, also owns Snow, a Snapchat-like app that's especially popular in China, where Snapchat is blocked.

Snapchat, which announced the new feature on Tuesday, did not provide comment on its status in China or the terms of its deal with Bitstrips.

Getting brands onto valuable mobile real estate seems to be the next move for Snapchat, which has become an staple of the ad world with branded photo filters, or lenses.

It may be challenging for brands themselves to have a direct effect with the highly personalized Bitmojis, said Chris Gilbert, senior social strategist of digital agency Kettle. But the service could be "super useful" for celebrities and influencers, who are highly sought-after by brands.

Some brands have been able to use customized emojis to stay relevant in the quickly changing world of social media, Gilbert said.

Still, he said Bitmojis is likely to be more of a experience with any monetization being an added value. L'Oreal, for example, has an emoji keyboard for specific beauty trends, Adweek reported. Plus, Snapchat now allows users to hang on to their snaps through service called Memories.

"I don't know if anyone can make an accurate call [on Bitmojis] yet," Gilbert said. "Brands like Taco Bell have been really creative with creating graphics."

While it's too early to make a call on Bitmoji's success, Gilbert said one application could be taking a screen grab of a brand's creative product or ad and overlaying your personal Bitmoji to give it a different spin.

"That could be something fun to play with, especially now that Snapchat has rolled out Memories," Gilbert said.

— CNBC's Kate Rooney and Lauren Thomas contributed to this report.