Since its inception, Snapchat has had to be very careful about molding their brand and developing a consistent and positive image. From public misunderstanding of the app’s stated purpose to inappropriate emails leaked from CEO Evan Spiegel, they’ve always seemed to be one step away from a legitimate brand crisis. Having deftly dodged those potentially brand-killing crises, though, the company (along with their once-maligned CEO) is now poised to expand the functionality of the app in some exciting and brand-strengthening new ways.
The app was built out of a simple idea: ephemerality breeds creativity and transparency. In other words, when millennials take painstaking time and effort to construct the perfect Facebook and Instagram posts, they do so because they are conscious of that content’s permanence. The ‘Timeline’ format reinforces the idea that a user’s Facebook page functions as a personal monument, one that will be available for others to view and connect with for as long as the user is alive (or longer). Snapchat, on the other hand, built their rapid rise to popularity on the idea that people would share more often and more creatively if they could control the length of time that their content stayed viewable. The model worked – with more than 70% of college students posting on Snapchat daily, while only 11% do the same on Facebook.
It Starts With a Story
Recently, though, Snapchat has been aiming to build on that basis of ephemerality and expand the functionality of the app to include narrative structure. In October of 2013, Snapchat introduced Snapchat ‘Stories.’ This feature established a way for users to build streams of content that would last 24 hours and be anchored to their name on their followers’ Story page. These streams could be comprised of both photo and video elements, and would have all of the same features available as the direct message snaps: filters, captioning, and drawing capabilities.
Effectively, this was Snapchat’s first step towards embracing narrative structure. At the time of its release, the company blog stated that the new feature would “add Snaps together to create a narrative… Your Story never ends and it’s always changing. The end of your Story today is the beginning of your Story tomorrow.” While that same post goes on to remind readers that the app will still be based on creating content that’s “ephemeral” (24 hours is a heck of a lot different than, well, forever), it was still an indication that Snapchat wanted its users to be able to use the app as an actual hub of personalized content. Before Stories was introduced, one would never think to actively seek out a friend’s Snapchat on their own volition. The only time the app was used was when someone was sending or receiving a current Snap. With Stories, though, users were given another way to use the app: building a personal narrative for friends and followers to check out whenever they felt like it.
Snapchat Stories was a successful development for more than just users, though. It also brought brands further into the fold. While businesses had developed Snapchat accounts before the new feature went live, there wasn’t nearly as much chance to build meaningful campaigns when only basic Snaps were available. With Stories, brands can develop their own hubs of creative content. The advantages for using apps like Snapchat to build your brand are extremely similar to the basic tenets of inbound marketing in general. If you’re able to create content that attracts users and customers to you, instead of interrupting them with sales-y commercials that come blaring out of their televisions, your customer feels more comfortable interacting with you and doing business with you.
The aforementioned spontaneous transparency Snapchat allows individual users to express (i.e. most millennials are far more inclined to share an unflattering selfie on Snapchat than on other platforms that feature streams of more carefully chosen content, like Facebook and Instagram) applies to brands as well. When brands like McDonald’s use Snapchat for building a brand narrative, they are doing so with an immediacy that gives the user an off-the-cuff, personal experience. Specifically, McDonald’s decided to let their Snapchat pull the curtain back on some of their more formal marketing output. They used their account to document some of the behind-the-scenes action while their expensive television spots were being shot. Stars like Johnny Manziel and LeBron James could be seen joking around and promoting the product while genuinely having a good time. This type of advertising is extremely effective because it feels less like a calculated pitch and more like a friendly ‘Hey, how’s it going? Here’s what we’re up to.’ In terms of branding, ‘friendly’ is always good.
Discovering How to Further the Narrative
Stories provide excellent branding once the user takes the initiative to seek out and follow your brand. However, wouldn’t it be great if Snapchat offered a different narrative platform altogether, where media brands could pay to have Snapchat feature their content in a more visible way? Well, luckily, they do. With the ‘Discover’ feature, launched in January of this year, Snapchat establishes a hub of journalistic brand-building opportunities. Approximately six months in, the results are pretty hard to ignore. The content is interactive and responsive to the user’s chosen path. Venture Beat called the feature “Probably the single best intersection of mobile + video + news seen since the launch of the first iPhone.” High praise indeed.
Social platforms linking with publishers for content infrastructure isn’t something unique to Snapchat. Just recently, Facebook announced that mobile users would be treated to Instant Articles, which will feature immersive, highly interactive journalistic content from high profile media outlets.
Currently featured on Snapchat’s ‘Discover’ are the following companies: CNN, Comedy Central, Cosmopolitan, Daily Mail, ESPN, Food Network, National Geographic, People, VICE, BuzzFeed, and iHeartRadio. Of these, National Geographic is the only overlap between the two platforms (so far).
Once again, though, Snapchat’s inherent ephemerality leads to unique results in terms of the content created. Users can swipe past sections of content they find uninteresting, or swipe right to get a more fleshed out, text based version of a story. The user experience is speedy, consistent, and fun.
More Than Just an Outlet
One company we didn’t mention that has a spot on Snapchat’s ‘Discover’ feature is Snapchat themselves. As of now, their feed features a varied approach: some comedic team-up’s with Funny or Die, high-quality videos of Snapchat employees, and some photo-based screens that users can personalize and send to their own friends and followers.
Recently, though, Snapchat appears to be gearing up to take this feed’s content creation much more seriously. They announced the hiring of former CNN reporter Peter Hamby to head up a “news division.” It’s still unclear what the actual structure of their more serious content will be, but they are already readying the team to cover the 2016 presidential election. With their unprecedented infiltration of the always highly coveted millennial demographic, Snapchat is trying to do the impossible: make young people care about serious issues. Whether or not this particular tactic is successful, the app is certainly extending its brand and functionality far beyond merely facilitating the exchange of disappearing photos.