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Don’t Ghost on Snapchat: Vicarious Video Drives Views

5 Minute Read

The road to stagnant Snapchat content is paved with good intentions.

Plenty of brands have created Snapchat accounts, only to let their presences wither away. (If your brand is among them, no judgment.) Like all social media platforms, Snapchat requires a constant drip of content to grow an engaged audience. But because Snapchat differs from other social media platforms, companies struggle to consistently develop content that suits its particular brand of whimsy.

So how can companies with minimal resources catch up to ephemeral messaging and live video trends?

The first step is to rethink your Snapchat approach with psychology in mind.

The First-Person Advantage

Social media platforms have evolved to give people more tools to tell their own stories from the first-person perspective. Remember Facebook in its early days? Users could post status updates but only in the third person (e.g., Jane is __________). Eventually, Facebook switched to an open-ended format, allowing users to speak in the first person about whatever was on their minds.

There’s a reason this first-person approach made sense for Facebook and paved the way for the explosion of social media. As human beings, we’re inherently driven to share our personal stories with others; when someone shares something personal with us, we pay attention.

Personal stories are powerful. Our personal stories tend to be driven by emotion, and emotion drives audience interest. We feel emotionally involved because we imagine ourselves in the situation of the storyteller. These stories, biased as they may be, seem to reveal fundamental truths about our fellow human beings. First-person accounts, photos, and video somehow help us discern the true nature of things.

Among publishers, first-person storytelling has proven a compelling way to snag reader attention. Some personal narratives are designed to shock, but publishers are increasingly seeking more nuanced stories written in the first-person perspective. VOX has “Vox First Person,” featuring stories on everything from cancer to immigration to Meals on Wheels. The Guardian has “Experience,” featuring first-person accounts with headlines like “I saved a stranger’s life,” and “I accidentally bought a giant pig.”

Image attribution: The Guardian

These days, first-person storytelling has gone beyond mere text. To share our stories, we take photos, we shoot live video, we document life’s important milestones and everyday events. On Snapchat, this intimate, first-person look at the world really shines through.

“The whole experience feels much more like you’re peering into a world as opposed to sitting back and having it revealed to you,” said Tania Yuki, founder and CEO of Shareable, in an article for Complex.

The infamous Kardashian clan is an obvious example of first-person storytelling that’s strangely mesmerizing, but brands and publishers are getting in on the action, too. On Snapchat, when Kim posts a video of her daughter playing, she feels oddly accessible. When Mashable shares a video story about the latest new tech from Apple, it feels like you’re having a conversation. They’re vastly different topics, but the act of passing these messages somehow seems more intimate and real on this platform versus others.

Naturally, that’s by design. “We want Chat to be the best way to communicate—second only to hanging out face to face,” Snapchat said in a blog post.

The challenge for brands is finding the right intimate, first-person voice for the platform.

Telling a First-Person Story

While Snapchat is getting a lot of marketing buzz, for many brands the platform remains a head-scratcher. Research firm L2 surveyed 427 brands across nine industry verticles and found that 64 percent set up a presence on Snapchat last year. But about a third of those brands had fallen into inactivity. The other two-thirds were classified as active if they posted at least once per month, according to Digiday, suggesting that many are still failing to post frequently enough.

Those figures hint that a lot of brands aren’t sure what to do on Snapchat, even as they continue to regularly post on other social media platforms. But Snapchat isn’t rocket science. Even B2B brands in so-called “boring” industries can take advantage of the platform. For example, Cisco showed its human side with a Day in the Life of an Account Manager series that followed the workday of an account manager as he traveled to different cities. The snaps feature plenty of emojis, lenses, and humor, which helps the brand achieve that first-person intimacy with the audience.

Sour Patch Kids experimented with Snapchat Spectacles (perhaps the epitome of first-person video) and created a mock recipe tutorial with a heaping of humor. The video shows how to make cookies infused with Sour Patch Kids, although the methods showcased are a bit unusual—and perfect for Snapchat.

Other techniques include offering a behind-the-scenes look at events or office happenings. If you’re already working on a traditional marketing campaign, consider snapping a few behind-the-scenes clips to complement it.

If video seems like too much of an investment on Snapchat, photos can tell an equally compelling story. Consider how NASA shared the story of life on the International Space Station. Great photos, catchy copy, and a few choice emojis helped convey this story in a more personal, conversational way.

Even if your efforts start small at first, getting familiar with Snapchat is a win-win. Brands can get more used to working with vertical video while attempting to utilize a more first-person, intimate perspective. There’s little risk in giving it a go.

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Krystal Overmyer is a freelance journalist specializing in digital marketing trends. Her experience spans over a decade in journalism, public relations, and digital communications.

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