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Snap What? The Pros and Cons of Snapchat

Let’s talk Snapchat.

It’s a social media platform that’s been dismissed by a great many authors, marketers, and entrepreneurs over the past couple years. Most likely, if you’re over age 30, you’ve put Snapchat in the “ridiculous teenager things” box.

But times are a-changin’.

Snapchat’s audience, reach, functionality, and business user base are expanding. In the tech world, we often see that the tools the “young’uns” use at first become the tools that everyone adopts later. To see what’s coming down the pipeline, look at what the majority of 18-year-olds do on their phones.

Snapchat has followed this trend and has come into its own.

More and more, authors and clients ask me if they should create a Snapchat presence. A couple years ago, I would have said it’s not worth your time, even if your audience is millennials. Today, though, I argue that Snapchat is indeed a strong and viable marketing channel. Marketers simply have to see its purposes and end goals differently than those of other social platforms.

Let’s get clear, first, on exactly what Snapchat is.

Snapchat is a mobile-only photo messaging app that began in September 2011. By April 2012, the user base had hit 100,000. A New York Times tech writer coined the app a “sexting” tool that same spring, simply based on the fact that it involves one-to-one communication through a photograph that disappears into the black hole of cyberspace after a few seconds.

In the months that followed, the app launched on Android and incorporated a video function. By winter 2013, they were seeing over 60 million snaps per day. Since then, a “story” tool has hit the app, allowing users to integrate a number of photos and videos into one single item that their whole audience can access.

Nowadays, the once-simple “disappearing photo” app offers lots of little additional bells and whistles: filters, time stamps, speed overlays, geo tags, replay abilities, text conversations, QR scanning, a “Discover” function, animated selfie lenses, advertising, and more.

So, what’s the big deal?

The app turned down a multi-billion dollar deal from Facebook a few years ago, which caused tech gurus and business folks to turn their heads for the first time and wonder what the gold is that they’re not seeing…

Snapchat is valued at $20 billion today.

Millennials dominate the app, with 13-34 being the average age. Approximately 60% of this demographic in the U.S. uses the tool, and 77% of college students use it daily. Snapchat is undoubtedly the winner when it comes to reaching this market–and that domination is only growing. It’s seeing a growth rate of about 50% per year–currently at 110+ million users–with estimated growth by investors matching the magnitude that giants like Google and Facebook have seen.

So, do authors and entrepreneurs need to be on Snapchat?

The short answer is that it depends on your brand, your audience, and your goals. I’d encourage you to give it solid consideration. Here are pros and cons to help you do so:

Pros

  • The self-destructing nature of the photograph/video requires the user to pay attention more than in any other platform. The very concept of “watch it now or miss it forever” significantly ups a viewer’s focus and engagement.
  • It’s built on individual-focused messaging, rather than broadcast messaging like Facebook or Twitter, which makes the user feel more connected to and known by a brand.
  • It fosters more “authenticity” than other video/social platforms. It requires a user to be real-time and spontaneous. There’s little space for photoshopped faces and scripted messaging. Users, especially millennials, find this refreshing and trustworthy.
  • It’s great for giving your audience behind-the-scenes looks at your brand, office, company, family, etc. Exclusivity and familiarity build brand trust; Snapchat is perfect for building this.
Exclusivity and familiarity foster brand trust; Snapchat is perfect for building this. Click To Tweet
  • Photos and videos disappear after a few seconds, which means that you have a little more license to be personal and creative. You’re not leaving behind permanent footprints and creating an ever-lasting brand portfolio, much like other social platforms do.
  • It’s where the millennials are. If you’re out to reach this audience, it’s golden.

Cons

  • The opportunities for measurement of engagement and effectiveness are almost none–or at least, they are far less extensive than those on other platforms. While there are ways to see numbers of opens and views, etc., the tools to measure engagement and to learn your audience are very, very slim.
  • If offers few advertising options. There are no opportunities for reaching small or niche audiences, and ad space is crazy expensive (as much as $750,000/day). You cannot target like you can on Facebook.
  • With Snapchat itself, it’s hard to be “found” by your audience. Searching is not nearly as helpful or broad as in other platforms, unless you know the exact username. The best way for brands and authors to develop a following on Snapchat is simply to cross-promote through other channels.
  • There is no opportunity to link out of the app and to a URL. For the sake of sales, this is a huge miss. You are required to get super creative around CTAs.
  • It does not offer tools to re-share content. So much brand messaging spreads on social media through organic buzz via re-tweets, for example, and that type of re-sharing simply is not an option on Snapchat.

How to use it

Cross-promote. If you want to jump on Snapchat, create a profile and then promote it through your other channels. Request that your Facebook folks, Twitter followers, blog peeps, etc. follow you on Snapchat. Tell them what nuggets of value you’ll give them there.

Be brief. Keep your interactions short and snappy. Studies show that the most effective brands keep still photos to a couple of seconds each and a total story (collection of photos and videos) to less than a minute or two.

Pull back the curtain. Show the “behind the scenes” of your life! Let your audience in to see more of who you are or who your brand/company is. Gary Vaynerchuk, a marketing genius who’s crazy about Snapchat, says, “The brands that connect with clients in a real way will win.” This is the tool to connect, to allow your brand to be known and seen beyond the shiny, scripted exterior.

Be playful. Showcase special events, office shenanigans, and funny moments in the writing process. Let yourself be playful, and even give control to your kids or employees from time to time.

Don’t silo it. Let Snapchat complement your other initiatives. Use this app to refer to your website, to remind folks of the awesome pre-order incentive there, to emphasize value mentioned elsewhere. Or, on your website or in emails, for example, let people know something special is coming through Snapchat: a coupon or password or awesome announcement.

Who’s doing it well?

I always suggest that you follow the marketing folks who do it well! We learn so much from watching others experiment, interact, and determine best practices. Below are three brands who rock Snapchat. Follow ‘em and see how they do what they do.

Everlane (everlane): A transparent, high-integrity boutique clothing company. They use Snapchat really well to show the behind-the-scenes of their office and processes, to introduce their staff, and to ask for audience engagement. It’s a young, playful brand. This is reflected well in their Snapchat demeanor and strategy.

Lara Casey (laralaracasey): A writer and speaker, creator of Southern Weddings. Lara is a mother and a business owner who’s high in inspiration and aesthetics. She uses Snapchat consistently to let followers see peeks into her home and her office, her kids and her “outside of work” hobbies. The audience comes to feel more and more as if they know her.

Gary Vaynerchuk (GaryVee): An online personality and marketing genius. Gary was one of the first to declare the value of Snapchat and say it’s the promotional/branding avenue in this day and age. He uses it constantly, showcasing his personality, requesting engagement, pointing to his other online properties, and more. You’ll be entertained!

I’d love to hear from you! Are you on Snapchat? What has your experience been like as an author, entrepreneur, or marketer?

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  • James Bryant

    Sigh… I guess I should get on another social media platform… in all seriousness though, this is getting a bit ridiculous hahaha so many different platforms, so little time!

  • I’m on it, but I literally could not figure out how to use it, and I’m usually pretty intuitive there (and with that, I felt like I should go apply for membership to AARP). I see the value of reaching millenials with this next book of mine, but learning ANOTHER social media platform just makes me feel…. tired. More? Still? Really? Sigh… I’ll do it if it’s fun. If it’s not fun for me, it’ll just exhaust my creative energy. Thanks for this though, Chad.

    • James Bryant

      Tsh I think you touched on something that I think a few of us feel – if social media was somehow fun I would jump on it. At this stage though I have an inkling that most of us have figured out that social media doesn’t really add anything to our lives, so literally the only reason I utilise social media is for work. So it is “work” and it’s not the fun part of work – it gets put on the “I know I have to, but I don’t want to” pile.

    • Tsh, yes, honestly, SnapChat made me feel old for the first time when trying to use it. That said, it’s grown on me and I have grown to like the UI/UX. It’s a new type of social media, which is why I think it’s blown up. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all are very similar (pictures, ability to comment, like, etc.). SnapChat has broke that mold, for good or for bad. 🙂

      I’ve used it to be interactive with a few people and maybe once or twice per week to do a full story. I don’t think people care about everything I do. 🙂