Just when brands were getting pretty good at the big social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest), Snapchat had to come along and turn everything upside down.
Snapchat, once the playground of teens and a handful of celebs, has gone mainstream. Kim Kardashian joining in March 2016 was the first sign. Now, more brands are quickly adopting the platform and honing their Snapchat marketing strategies.
The fact that Snapchat seems to inspire such excitement among users—especially younger ones—makes it a coveted platform for brands. Snapchat’s originality compared to other networks is what makes it so attractive for users, but it also beguiles the brands hoping to harness its powers.
If Facebook and Instagram foster one-to-many conversations, Snapchat is designed for the opposite: one-to-one conversations, made all the more intimate because the messages last only for seconds—never to be seen again.
This concept has particular resonance given the lack of intimacy on other social media networks, particularly Facebook. Previously on the Content Standard, I wrote about how Facebook is trying to combat the effects of context collapse, which refers to the decline in intimacy as friend and follower counts grow. As people amass friends from different social spheres and eras of life, users become increasingly reticent about sharing the personal details with every one of their followers. Twitter and Instagram users also experience those same challenges to some extent.
But on Snapchat, that feeling of closeness is heightened because Snaps are fleeting. Share a Snap and you’re sharing a moment. Users get to select with whom they share—one friend, a few, or all. There are no likes. There are no friend or follower counts. You don’t see other people’s comments. There is no way to tell whether the Snap received from a brand or celebrity was sent just to you or to a million. Snapchat feels personal.
“It has become the closest social medium to emulate real life,” wrote marketer Sujan Patel in Forbes.
So compelling is the format that it’s attracted 41 percent of American teens ages 13 to 17, according to the Pew Research Center. Overall, Snapchat boasts more than 100 million daily users who spend 25–30 minutes daily on the app, Bloomberg reported. That’s far fewer than Facebook’s 1.65 billion users, but even so, Snapchat users consume a lot of videos. Users watch 10 billion videos each day on the platform, compared to Facebook’s 8 billion.
Celebs like the platform because it allows them more freedom to be themselves. Tennis superstar Serena Williams favors Snapchat above the other platforms for a specific reason: the lack of comments. Users can set their accounts to allow others to see their shared Stories, while preventing them from chatting back with Snaps.
“I absolutely love that about Snapchat,” Williams told the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t have to deal with the really mean trolls out there and the comments. I don’t read comments, but then there is always some that kind of pop up.”
Celebrity accounts tend to feel more authentic than on other platforms because of this. Bloggers and news media can’t easily snag the latest Kardashian Snap to craft a blog post (it can be done, but not without hassle). That has seemingly given celebs a green light to show more personality on the platform, versus more sterile content that lives forever on Instagram and similar social channels. Kate Hudson shares her workout routines; Rihanna goes wine tasting with friends. (Celebs—they’re real people, too!)
All of this has led Snapchat to feel like a more authentic network than its competitors. If sharing isn’t permanent, users can do so more candidly than they would elsewhere.
Brands are watching user excitement about Snapchat and are eager to jump on board. But the ways in which brands can best utilize Snapchat are still evolving.
An L2 study cited in Adweek revealed that brands on Facebook lag considerably behind brands on Instagram. Instagram adoption is nearly universal, but Snapchat usage ranges from 13 percent of brands surveyed in the travel category to 71 percent of brands in the sportswear category. What’s more, even brands that have a Snapchat account may not be using it. Nearly one-third of brands with a Snapchat account didn’t post over a one-month period, the report found.
Part of brands’ hesitancy might sprout from the limited options on the platform. Brands can purchase video ads spliced between curated content on the platform’s Discover channels. They can also purchase lenses to animate user snaps, like a Gatorade lens that gave users animated Gatorade baths. Geofilters are another option: brands can pay for filters that are targeted to a specific geographic location for a specific length of time. Of course, brands can also create accounts and share stories, but users have to proactively seek out and follow those brands to interact with their content.
As Snapchat matures, some of these opportunities will change. Here are a few likely areas for Snapchat evolution:
It hasn’t been officially confirmed, but Digiday reported that an algorithm is in the works for Snapchat. Users currently see new Snaps from accounts they follow in chronological order. An algorithm, as with on Facebook or Instagram, would reorder the posts based on relevancy to the user. It would also open up the opportunity for brands to pay for boosted placements to make their Snaps more prominent.
Users love Snapchat’s filters, including branded filters from the likes of Gatorade, Taco Bell, and Star Wars. Filters work through nifty facial recognition software, and perhaps one day we’ll see the same technology allowing a lot of other cool features—like letting you see what you’d look like with different hairstyles, makeup, or clothing. Filters are super fun currently, but adding utility to the entertainment could be a boon to brands that want users to be able to try before they buy.
Expect influencers and micro-influencers to become more important on Snapchat, just as they have on other networks—such as Instagram. If Snapchat implements an algorithm and forces brands to pay more to get a boosted ranking on the feed, influencers will become attractive ways to reach audiences.
Lack of public comments is a sweet deal for brands dogged by negativity when they launch new campaigns. Twitter can be a quagmire for brands that launch campaigns in the hopes of audience interaction—only to earn backlash. Like celebrities, brands can use Snapchat unfettered by negative comments. That could help brands avoid PR catastrophes similar to those some brands have experienced on Twitter (see Sea World, Starbucks, and IHOP). But even without comments, unhappy customers can still find a way to voice their complaints. For example, Starbucks’ sponsored filter on the platform promoting its rewards program became a vehicle for some folks to complain, Mobile Marketer noted.
Snapchat may still be in its infancy when it comes to creating opportunities for brands to tap into its audience, but its growing size indicates that more tools for businesses likely aren’t far off. As Snapchat increases in popularity, brands that were there first will have a Snapchat marketing advantage.