This message will self-destruct in 10 seconds.” Ring a bell?
This immortal line from Mission Impossible sums up the new social media phenomenon of 2016 – Snapchat.
Snapchat is a relatively new, but hugely popular, entrant into the social media space. It allows users to share photos or short video clips and place a timeline for their viewing. Any message, photo or video will disappear in a few seconds after it has been shared.
Snapchat has long suffered from the perception of being an app primarily targeted at Millenials; its unconventional user interface and the very nature of ‘self-destroying’ photos and videos lend it an air of technological immediacy that is often a barrier to anyone over 20. Apart from which, who wants to engage with another social network? Yet, when Facebook incorporates copycat features in its Messenger app, or when Stephen Colbert alludes to a new Snapchat filter while doing a skit with none other than President Obama – and Obama seems to know about it – you know you are doing something right.
How can brands leverage this medium?
Think about it. Snapchat allows delivery of bite-sized content that will disappear forever after having been seen. Make it interesting enough and people should be hooked. Snapchat is famously addictive, and it taps into one of our most basic desires: to constantly check our phones to see what is new.
Many brands have succeeded in using Snapchat well. Among them, there are a few unexpected names. Who would have thought General Electric (GE) would be among the most prominent exponents? Yet, despite being a huge but staid, science-focused company, GE has managed to generate considerable excitement by posting various product announcements and even agreements with various governments around the world. This also taps into a growing shift of public consciousness towards scientific advancement in recent years.
There are, of course, the usual suspects. In 2015, Red Bull, the energy drinks company, allowed the Canadian snowboarder and X Games champion Mark McMorris to take control of their Snapchat account. McMorris began by checking into a surf shop in San Diego in the morning and then heading to the mountains of Big Bear later the same afternoon. The decision was on-brand for Red Bull, and the content provided an unexpected source of entertainment for its user base. Naturally, with the amalgamation of the athlete’s fan base, Red Bull’s user base could only increase.
One could argue that during the latter half of 2015, any kind of Star Wars merchandise would sell itself, yet the Sphero BB-8 robot resorted to Snapchat influencers, who were shown playing with it. The campaign received 10 million views in a single day. The same year, in order to promote their CoverGirl Star Wars range of makeup, P&G used geo-targeting on Snapchat. Whenever users found themselves in proximity to one of P&G’s Ulta stores, they had access to a themed filter for their display photo. P&G is said to have found this campaign both cost effective and impactful.
The filters, are in fact, one of the major marketing tools available to Snapchat users. They are similar to the filters used on Instagram and other apps, the difference however, is that they can be animated, location-based (called geo-filters) and are often sponsored. The geo-location facility also introduces a new dimension to the service.
Making a location visible to users and augmenting the app features in this way, puts a ‘live’ and tangible spin on the content. A comparison can be drawn with Pokémon Go, which enjoys a similar appeal thanks to its ability to place content within real life locations.
There are several reasons why Snapchat is doing so well:
– In the past year Snapchat has added new features on a regular basis (stories, memories, filters) that have not only kept it on top of the news cycle, they have also generated great interest among marketers by providing them with new tools. – The time limit on content commands the attention of audiences by forcing them to consume the content quickly. – Snapchat followers are committed; therefore the followers of a brand are already interested when they subscribe to a brand’s feed and as a result several steps in the initial acquaintance process are cut down. – Younger people are less tolerant to, and less affected by, conventional advertising. There is an increased preference for ‘authenticity’ (as evidenced by the success of Facebook Live). By having a Snapchat account, brands can show they are capable of existing on the ‘fringes’ and their content is generally more immediate and ‘unstaged’.
Snapchat is the ideal platform for teasers for forthcoming collections and building brand excitement.
Several Pakistani brands use Snapchat, particularly those in the fashion world. Two of the most well known are HSY and Sana Safinaz and both actively interact with their fan base. As a medium that is focused on images and video (and that too, of the self-destroying variety), Snapchat is the ideal platform for teasers for forthcoming collections and building brand excitement.
CNN too is making excellent use of the medium. I received a video from them, summarising the highlights of the third debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Being 38 and therefore not necessarily a target demographic for Snapchat, I was thoroughly impressed. The video showed snippets of the debate; the results of a poll about who won the debate, top quotes, fact checks (the details were just one swipe up from each segment).
I found it to be entertaining, fast, and above all, technologically very intuitive.
I was only beginning to become acquainted with Snapchat for the purpose of this article and I started off rather sceptical. The CNN video convinced me that this is one app that is staying on my phone. Among the various guides on the internet regarding Snapchat usage (since it can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around), one thing stood out: if you want to learn to use it, just use it.
Snapchat has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in pushing content to users and posing a challenge to social media pages, web pages, and videos. As always, the only thing holding it back is the ingenuity of marketers and the quality of the content.
Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night.