Snapchat burst on the scene in 2012, but in those early days brands mostly stayed clear – in part because it became classified as the “sexting app,” and in part because it wasn’t immediately evident to brands how to use the platform.
In the last year all that has changed. Snapchat added functionality that helps brands tell less-fleeting stories and reach a wider audience. Even more, a handful of Snapchat celebrities are gaining massive followings … and letting brands in on some of the fun.
“With Snapchat, it feels less like a creator/viewer relationship and more like a friendship – like a text message between friends,” says Snapchat expert and celebrity Shaun McBride, who snaps under the handle Shonduras. He’s worked with many brands, including Disney and Red Bull.With @Snapchat, it feels less like a creator/viewer relationship & more like a friendship via @Shonduras Click To Tweet
“When you add someone on Snapchat, you have to type in their name to add them. It’s hard to add someone. And it’s hard to grow a following. It makes the relationship feel more personal,” Shaun says.
Snapchat videos have 10 billion views everyday (Facebook is at 8 million) with 100 million active users each month, according to Bloomberg..@Snapchat videos have 10 billion views daily with 100M active users each month via @business #socialmedia Click To Tweet
How Snapchat works
Snapchat began as the disappearing photo app, allowing users to share photos and messages that vanished after being viewed the first time. Today people still use the platform to share time-limited photos and videos, but a newer feature called Snapchat Stories lets users (and brands) post content that lasts 24 hours rather than immediately self-destructing.
By patching together a series of photos or videos during a day, you can create longer, more engaging narratives. Earlier this year, Snapchat launched Discover, a new way for brands to reach viewers in a one-to-many relationship. Discover lets brands feature their editorial content in-app; it’s a feature still largely used by media companies to promote owned content but with plenty of opportunity for content-focused brands.
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How brands use it
Snapchat is hugely valuable for brands because of its core demographic: teenagers. Brands have four primary options:
- Sponsor a celebrity – For a low-risk start, collaborate with a Snapchat celebrity to underwrite one or a series of video adventures. The brand will appear in the storyline in some way as agreed to by both parties. The most common sponsorship relationships involve getting a celebrity to attend (and video record) a big event, or finding a natural way to feature a brand as part of a fun-filled adventure. Top Snapchat celebrities charge tens of thousands for one-time stories.
- Share great content – Ready to share your own snaps? Use Snapchat Stories to piece together photos or short videos, attracting one follower at a time. For your content to be seen, someone must be following you, unless you …
- Sponsor a story – Snapchat gathers users’ stories for longer, local streams called Our Stories. For example, the New York City Story is a montage of user-generated clips from the city on a given night (accessible only if you’re in the area). National and global streams are also available from time to time. Brands can buy ad space on Our Stories channels, letting their submissions appear in the collection with other users’ submissions.
- Scale it – For content-heavy brands wanting more exposure, check out Snapchat Discover, the new paid location on Snapchat where brands can share owned content with a larger audience.
How not to mess it up
Let’s be clear: A lot of fast-growing platforms stall when they try to monetize their massive followings. Vine, for example, has gotten a lot of flak for letting brands saturate the platform – which lately feels more crowded than cool.
Snapchat has emerged if not immune to the problem, then at least thoughtful about balancing the need for brands to use the platform, while still keeping the experience fresh and unfussy for users. If you’re thinking of jumping in, consider the following:
- Choose your ID wisely – Snapchat users must make an exact match when they type in your company (or brand) name. Make sure your Snapchat ID is intuitive and simple (e.g., you can find General Electric by typing “generalelectric” but you’ll come up empty with “general electric”).
- Do not make your image picture-perfect – This is a channel where live and unrehearsed win over fussy and perfect. “You’re doing it wrong if you present perfectly curated stories with Photoshopped pictures,” says Shaun (aka Shonduras). “Keep it real, raw and interesting on Snapchat.” (One look at how brands are behaving on Snapchat will tell you this advice isn’t widely understood.)
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- Tell great stories – Like any other social channel, it’s all about great content. “Don’t go on and try to do an ad or promote a deal,” Shaun advises. “Show behind the scenes, bring people down to the essence of your brand’s story.” Once you’re telling great stories, it’s OK to offer freebies or special offers, but don’t make that the primary focus of your Snapchats.
- Build your following – Rather than relying on followers typing in your company name to find you, share your unique Snapchat ghost (Snapchat’s version of a QR code) so users can take a picture and connect. The Wall Street Journal temporarily converted its logo on Twitter to its Snapchat ghost to promote the journal’s new presence on the platform.
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- Piggyback on someone who’s doing it well – The easy way to experiment with Snapchat is to hook up with a Snapchat celebrity. As with any type of influencer relationship, you get access to that person’s audience. Even more, you can learn how to communicate on Snapchat from an expert.
Shaun shares his Free Stuff Fridays promotion as an example of a valuable brand-celebrity partnership: “Almost every Friday, I work with a brand to give something away … and people love Fridays. It’s my most engaged day out across all my social media because people are getting free stuff. I make a cool story out of it and do something exciting. People don’t mind if a brand is involved.”
- Don’t try for subliminal product or logo placements – Some marketers may want to include subtle product placements when working with Snapchat celebrities, but Shaun cautions against it. He says it’s much better to put the sponsor/celebrity relationship out in the open. “Make the brand the hero of the story,” he says.
“When I work with a brand, a lot of times they want it to feel really organic and natural. They’ll say, ‘Why don’t you just casually use our product or happen to be wearing it?’
“I don’t think that’s the right approach. People have been subtly advertised to for a long time … I’m going to the college playoffs with AT&T. Instead of saying “I’m going to the college playoffs today,” and casually having AT&T in the background, I’m saying, “Me and AT&T are tight. They’re sending us.”
He continues, “I talk them up and say we’re homies. As long as you’re creating really cool content with the brand and they’re the one who helped create it, people get excited.”
- Go on an adventure – Most of Shaun’s Shonduras stories begin with an adventure. Whether it’s snowmobiling, partying, or skateboarding, he takes his Snapchat friends on epic, 60-second trips that emphasize fun with a heaping dose of frenetic energy. It’s the perfect way to tell great pint-sized stories.
Consider how Snapchat can fit into your content marketing strategy. If it’s a channel where your audience is, you’ll want to make sure to follow these tips to create an effective Snapchat strategy that enables you to truly engage with your customers or, as Shaun says, “to be homies.”
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute