When I was younger, my pictures were not on Facebook. I grew up in a time when parents collected evidence of my existence with pictures they developed and stuck into private picture albums stacked on shelves at home.
Now parents share photo after photo of their children online, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, blogs, you name it. Unless intentionally removed or the platform goes down, all of this personal evidence is posted publicly on the Internet forever. Which brings up an interesting question: will the children whose lives have been broadcast on social media grow up to wish their parents hadn’t shared so much of their lives?
Snapchat is a social media platform that’s taking social media sharing in the opposite direction. Rather than public and permanent, Snapchat is private and temporary. Rather than creating discussions, forums, and engagement with big groups that many people can see and revisit, Snapchat’s ability is to create a real-time conversation with a few people that disappears immediately after it happens.
With digital marketing’s growth, social media’s constant crazy innovation, and a recent move in the marketing world towards personalized marketing centering on real human engagement, the options digital marketers have for connecting with consumers continue to bewilder many of us. As our culture’s ability to connect in fun, new, meaningful ways through technology continues to expand, marketers have to decide which methods of connection will be most effective.
Snapchat is one social media option that marketers haven’t fully explored or tapped into. Few brands seem to be experimenting to test Snapchat’s effectiveness as a digital marketing tool. Maybe because it’s only two years old. Maybe because it’s primarily used by teens and college-age students, not on the radar of marketing professionals.
Or maybe it’s because Snapchat represents a totally new paradigm - temporary engagement - that marketers see value in and can’t quite comprehend.
Will there be a rush of courageous businesses experimenting on Snapchat in 2014? Or is Snapchat better left to personal use?
Oh, Snap! Snappy facts about Snapchat
If you’re new to the Snapchat discussion, here’s some fast facts on what it is and how it works:
- Snapchat was founded in 2011 as a project by students at Stanford University.
- Since then, its growth has exploded. Users send around 350 million photos per day, according to an interview with CEO Evan Spiegel on TechCrunch.
- Who’s using it? The main demographic is 13-23 year-olds, with a growing 40-year-old demographic as well. It’s available for both Android and iOS at this point.
- Messages (photo or video) are called “snaps”
- You send a “snap” to a single person or a group.
- You have the option to personalize messages by adding text or drawings.
- The most prominent feature of Snapchat is that message self-destruct in a period determined by the sender - anywhere between one and 10 seconds - and can’t be retrieved or reviewed.
- If you try and take a screenshot of a message, Snapchat notifies the sender.
Snapchat is currently available for both Android and iOS. An interesting comparison with other visual social media sites like Instagram or Tumblr is that because Snapchat content disappears, Snapchat has no feed. There is no way to see content your friends are posting. You simply send content directly to friends and they enjoy it for a tiny window of time before it’s gone.
Why do messages disappear after you send them? What’s the point?
For the professional crowd, this seems to be the question. Why do these messages disappear? According to researcher Nathan Jurgenson:
"Most of our personal understandings of, as well as research on, social media presume that what we do online can be and likely is permanent. The photo posted today will be around tomorrow. Sometimes that is a satisfying thought: that we can one day look fondly upon this moment. Sometimes it’s the horrifying notion that something we are doing now will come back to bite us later…. Simply, what if we rethought the whole idea of the assumed permanence of social media? What if social media, in all its varieties, was differently oriented to time by promoting temporariness by design? What would the various social media sites look like if ephemerality was the default and permanence, at most, an option?"
It seems that the goal of Snapchat is to help people enjoy the present in the present without memorializing the present in a nostalgic way or creating tons of media to capture it so we don’t have to work so hard to remember all our memories.
Or, to simplify Jurgenson’s thoughts, even more, to just connect and share what’s meaningful as it happens, without the need to hold onto it - because by connecting in the present, we enjoy the present more.
What businesses are using Snapchat?
A very few courageous souls, it seems. Taco Bell, who's also on Instagram, joined a few months ago. A lesser-known brand is 16 Handles - a frozen yogurt store in New York that seems to have been one of the first high-profile moves to Snapchat (read about it on Mashable).
When writing this blog post, I had a heck of a time finding other well-known businesses or brands on Snapchat. It seems some smaller brands are trying it out, but as a whole, Snapchat is still unexplored territory
So… good for business?
In May, according to Business Insider’s look at the top photo sharing sites, Snapchat was second behind Facebook in photo sharing - at 28 percent, behind Facebook’s 64 percent of daily photo sharing. Instagram had 7 percent and Flickr had a mere 1 percent.
It’s big with a young audience
Gary Vaynerchuk says if you are trying to storytell to teenagers and young adults, you’ve got to get on Snapchat.
It offers a fresh, unique way to connect
Snapchat allows for direct communication that arrives directly in friends’ phones customized to target them. It’s a real-time connection that will get seen and will claim the viewer’s attention for a few seconds (provided they actually watch the snap you sent).
You can’t keep track of social media followers and track results
Without a public "profile" of sorts or any permanence of data, it's more difficult to hang onto results and evidence of a job well done on Snapchat. However, social media-savvy marketers could figure out a way.
Harder to measure ROI.
It’s already hard enough for many companies to justify their social media involvement, even though the benefits of being social are vast and can really build brand loyalty.
You’d need someone monitoring Snapchat constantly.
Somebody would need to respond to Snapchats and stay active in order for the real-time element to be effective.
Obviously, a marketer could get crazy and go to town with Snapchat, because the market is ripe for the picking, and now's the time to be the first to try things out. But here's a few ideas already circulating amongst marketers:
- Send a coupon or offer for the customer to redeem immediately
- Tantalize friends with pictures of products
- Make announcements in creative visual or audio ways
- Give behind-the-scenes “snapshots” into company life
What's your opinion on Snapchat's usefulness for brands and businesses? Comment below with your thoughts!