A marketer’s first month as a Snapchat user

Are you still trying to make sense of the Snapchat craze? Columnist Blaise Lucey talks about his experience with the wildly popular social network and what marketers can gain by joining it.

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There are a few different waves of adoption when it comes to social networks. First, the classic early adopters. Then, the friends peer-pressured by those adopters. Right before the social network goes mainstream, there are the resentful adopters who don’t necessarily want to manage another social network but are curious enough to get started with it.

As a content marketer, I fall strictly into the last camp. I’ve had Snapchat on my phone for a few years, but I’d never put it to any serious use. The user interface was confusing. I found myself frantically swiping at my screen in every direction and hoping something would happen.

Over my first month, though, as I’ve started using it regularly and understand a bit about the behavior of your average Snapchat user, I’ve become really, really intrigued.

By refusing Facebook’s $3 billion acquisition offer in 2013 (the app is now valued at $16 billion), Snapchat has forged a new path for content and social interaction. Snaps, Snapchat Stories and the “Discover” features from big-name brands can show us where mobile content especially is heading in the next few years.

In one month, here’s what I found out:

1. We have officially entered the age of self-made media

Like on Facebook, people aren’t going to Snapchat to interact with brands. They’re going to create content and watch content from their friends.

An impressive 60 percent of users are creating content on Snapchat, and a third use Snapchat Stories to share photos and videos over a 24-hour period.

Snapchat has made it easier than ever before to become your own television personality. Sure, maybe five people see the show, but those five people are now dedicating their attention to a digital medium that has closed brands out of the loop completely. Snapchat users are turning to their peers for fresh, funny, original content.

2. Ads are extremely expensive & extremely easy to skip

There are rumors that Snapchat charges about $750,000 a day for a disappearing ad. That means the company is only going after the top brands that can pay top dollar. These ads will interrupt the content posted by the brands in the “Discover” section of the app, but it’s easy to swipe them away.

On the other hand, the ads can be creative, colorful and engaging because they are made specifically for Snapchat. This allows marketers to explore new opportunities in how they can connect with their audiences… as long as they have the budget for it. 

3. Video is the present, not the future

When the internet first launched, it allowed every brand to become a publisher. Snapchat is now going to turn all brands into production studios.

Just about every piece of Snapchat content that I find engaging is a video, a flashy animation, a filter or a heavily modified image. All of my friends are taking videos instead of photos. Heavy Snapchat users are filling their Stories with multiple videos a day.

That makes sense, considering Snapchat says 10 billion videos a day are created across the platform. As smartphones consumerized photography, people flew ahead of brands when it came to taking photos. Now they’re lapping them when it comes to producing videos.

There’s no question that videos are the future. The question is how companies keep up and how marketers can make interesting videos that aren’t polished but aren’t unbranded, but aren’t advertisey but still kind of sell things.  

4. Gamification is a real thing

Scrolling through the stories in Snapchat’s “Discover” feature feels like an adventure. It also reminds me of that fun, popular buzzword, “gamification.”

There have been great examples of gamification in the past, but Snapchat brings it to a whole new level. National Geographic has a video of a rainforest, then a quiz about rainforest facts. Comedy Central has a video of an excitable Carrot Top trying to guess what’s under a hat. Swipe down and he lifts up the hat.

Gamified, interactive content is more engaging and more memorable. It might even be the solution to retaining users for more than 1:41 seconds, which is the average time a Facebook user spends on a news website when referred there.

5. Vocabulary is at a 3rd-grade level

There is no social media network where vocabulary is exactly Shakespearean. But Snapchat content thrives with quick, childish exchanges of funny faces and goofy videos.

Maybe that’s partly the demographic (45 percent of users are 18–24), but it’s something I can’t help but notice. Even ordinarily mature, serious adults can’t help but laugh like third-graders when their faces get swapped around in a photo.

6. When you’re in Snapchat, you’re IN Snapchat

Snapchat is hard to track. You can’t link out of the app, which means you can really only create content that’s approved by Snapchat.

We’ve seen some workarounds — at Bitly (my employer), we’ve observed that brands like KIND use Bitlinks during promotions. The companies will encourage users to take a screenshot of the link so they can visit a promotion page, so it’s possible to track the customer journey from Snapchat outside of the app.

Either way, though, getting traffic in or out of the app is difficult. Unlike other social networks, you need to know a user’s username to follow them on Snapchat. There’s no easy way to discover others, either, which means that brands have to get creative when building a Snapchat following.

A lot of companies use Snapchat badges in their other social media profiles. Later (formerly known as Latergramme) discovered that you can actually deep link from Instagram to Snapchat, too, driving your Instagram audience directly to the “Add Me” feature of Snapchat, making it very easy for followers to add your brand on Snapchat.

A vanishing crystal ball

It’s not hard to start a Snapchat account, and it’s not hard to have fun with it. While it’s tempting to dismiss it, this is the same trap that happened to marketers back when Facebook and Twitter launched. This is why there’s still a disconnect when it comes to paid social ads and what kind of content actually engages people.

While marketing on Snapchat is still in its infancy, joining the social network and experimenting with the opportunities there can really help you understand how content and social media are transforming. With flashy, interactive, user-generated content, Snapchat is building a new kind of mobile ecosystem that is only going to keep evolving.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Blaise Lucey
Blaise Lucey is Head of Global Content at Criteo. Having worked both on the agency and brand side, he has built content programs from the ground up for Fortune 500 companies and start-ups alike and is passionate about bringing great content to life.

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